First Impressions – Kakumeiki Valvrave

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That was one premiere that could never be accused of being boring.

Sunrise is probably the epicenter of the mecha universe as far as a plurality of anime fans are concerned.  While some (me included) would argue Evangelion is the seminal mecha anime (and probably anime, period) of all-time, and some (me included) tend to prefer the stylistic flair of BONES, Sunrise is the old-school studio that’s built the empire on the backs of the mecha in their sci-fi canon.  As such, it’s quite right that they should have an entry in this season, the most sci-fi and mecha heavy in many years.

It’s undeniably great to see so many old-school sci-fi shows this season and originals at that, and Valvrave the Liberator may just be the most old-school and traditional of the bunch.  The first half of the ep, in fact, is about as traditional as any Gundam series could possibly be – well-made and entertaining but rather predictable.  It’s when the series starts to spring some surprises in the second half that Valvrave gets really interesting, though.  If Majestic Prince is playing like a satire of mecha anime, this show may just be a reimagining of the genre.

The pedigree here is an interesting one.  Director Kuo Matsuo has strong mecha credentials (many Gundam credits, among others) but has also directed the likes of Natsuyuki Rendezvous and Kurenai.  Writer Okouchi Ichiro has a somewhat eclectic resume too but is undoubtedly best known as the creator of Code Geass, and there are definitely elements of that series in the premiere of Valvrave.  We also have another series where Ohsaka Ryouta is cast as the male lead – and doing a fine job – further cementing his status as the hottest rising star among male seiyuu.  With Tomatsu Haruka set to play the female lead, we could hardly ask for a better scenario in terms of casting (hopefully the Kaji Yuuki role is as minor as it appeared to be this week).

The basic setup is that humans are mostly living in space thanks to the successful development of Dyson spheres (sci-fi geeks everywhere rejoice), and hero Haruto (Ohsaka) lives in the prosperous nation of JIOR, which exists as a neutral outside the conflict between galactic superpowers Dorssia – which has initiated the “Third Galactic Reich” – and ARUS (Atlantic Rim United States).  Not too subtle, that – and while Sunrise has never shied away from dabbling in politics in its mecha shows, it’s pretty rare for an anime to so openly echo the fault lines of World War II as Valvrave does.  Japan’s involvement in that war isn’t a topic proudly discussed among most, and it’s a sort of open secret that a large chunk of the political establishment (including the current Prime Minister) are still fighting that war the way some in the old Confederacy are still fighting the Civil War.

Haruto’s high-school life is as normal as can be.  He’s well-liked but seen as a bit of a wuss who won’t commit to anything, and pines for his tomboyish pal Shouko (Seto Asami).  Just when he’s about to confess his peaceful life – and that of JIOR – is shattered when JIOR is invaded by a Waffe unit from Dorssia, whose advance force is a group of kids posing as students who infiltrate Haruto’s school.  Their leader is L-elf (Kimura Ryouhei), who has an all-star cast of supporters played by the likes of Kaji, Mamoru Miyano and Fukuyama Jun.  The series takes its first shocking turn when Shouko is killed in the invasion, which prompts Haruto to climb into the cockpit of the mobile suit that was apparently the main target of the Dorssian attack.  That’s when things start to get very weird, as Haruto must agree to “resign as a human” before the suit – “Valvrave” – will respond to his commands.  Once he does, something is injected into his neck and he proceeds to kick the Waffe’s ass and foil the invasion, much to the delight of the online community that’s been following the invasion via live stream.

The storyline is pretty preposterous, really, but that’s not an issue in a Sunrise mecha show.  It seems likely that Valvrave was JIOR’s secret contingency plan against their neutrality every being compromised – developed underneath the school Haruto attends – and somehow Dorssia got wind of it. As to why Haruto has to agree to resign as a human, given what happens at the end of the episode – which is one hell of a good plot twist – it seems likely he was injected with some sort of synthetically developed virus which has effectively made him some kind of vampire.  Suffice to say I’m interested in seeing where the show goes from here – the first episode is quite well-done, and the contrast between the tone of the first half and the second is very effective.  The look is fine – not as gorgeous as Gargantia, say, but pleasingly not oversaturated with CGI at the expense of very good drawn animation.  It’s Sunrise so it’ll have a decent budget, and the talent involved – both staff and cast – make this a series to keep an eye on.  I wasn’t blown away by this one, but all in all it was a very solid premiere.

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31 comments

  1. A

    Yeah, I thought this was a pretty solid effort as well. I like all three mecha shows this season quite a bit so it was good that the final one to air ended up being good as well. I'm optimistic for the future of this show although a bit worried because of the writer/studio involved- but I'm hoping for the best.

    Also, I wouldn't really bet on Yuuki's character being minor- he looks to be one of the main antagonists based on promotional art and the OP. Maybe he'll get killed off quickly, though.

  2. C

    So you can say that now both of these men are now bonded by blood :3

  3. G

    Great episode that really packed a punch. The eye color is a little too neon-bright for my taste, but I suppose I'll get used to it. You can totally tell it's Okouchi's writing with so much drama already happening in the first episode. Hmm…I don't why I have a feeling that Shoko is not really dead…but will probably appear again somewhere, having joined the force opposing Haruto's. Hey, if you want to be old-school dramatic, might as well add in that tidbit we are all so familiar with. But in all honesty, I don't know where this thing is headed and I'm excited to find out.

  4. E

    Obviously. We don't get to see the corpse after all.

  5. M

    Old school isn't the right word, you mean derivative…

    Usually with this amount of pedigree you could dress that but I'm afraid Sunrise has been here many times before. That piece at the end was too corny to be inciting.

    I'd rather more Orenji-kun.

  6. Z

    About the only thing I liked was the Dyson-Sphere right at the beginning.

    The 'vampirism' thing is their 'gimmick' for this series I suppose.

  7. Are you two the same person? You always seem to post one right after the other and say exactly the same thing.

  8. M

    No, but it seems obvious you take issue with people who think differently to you.

  9. i

    No GE is always polite and gracious even when opinions diverge. You'll see it eventually. Anime is a divisive medium after all.

  10. M

    I appreciate that ishruns. But I fear I may have already seen the best of Enzo. Or at least his interpretation of "polite and gracious". Our first divergent opinion resulted in him vilifying me as a "troll" and then proceeded to 'ignore' me, until now.

    But I don't mind so long as I have the freedom to voice my opinion among the rest of you. But I can't help it if my opinions leave a dent in Enzo's pride along the way. That's the nature of the internet for you.

  11. And again, straight to the personal insults. To thine own self be true, I suppose.

  12. M

    Just calling it as it so plainly is.

  13. i

    What do you suppose is the difference between mediocrity and boring? Because I found it the latter in the first half and the former in the second.

    Derivative is a good word for the whole show. I'm sure there is a manual somewhere in the anime industry, originating from Sunrise no doubt, on how to write a typical mecha anime. And this first episode was volume 1, chapter 1 of it.

    It had:
    Weak willed, pacifist main male character
    Living in a neutral country
    Attacked by a small enemy force looking for a powerful secret mecha
    Which the main character for some reason gains entry to
    And decides to use
    And then after initially being uncomfortable in it
    Blows away opposition.

    Now how many premiere episodes from Sunrise (and others) did I describe?

    The drama for me was weak and pretty corny. I mean it seemed more like a set up then natural. Shinjeki no Kyojin felt far more intense when dealing with death, via its camera angles, last words and BGM.

    And in terms of animation and OP scene IG have Sunrise beat again with Suisei no Gargantia. The OP in particular looked very flashy but less well made then IG's ones.

    In my opinion since Gundam Seed, the only Mecha animes that have truly attempted to add some freshness to the genre are:

    Eureka 7
    Code Geass
    Star Driver
    Tengen Toppa
    Flag
    Bokurano
    And partly Gundam 00 S1

    I might have missed one or two more but for the most part only these have tried to do things really differently without relying on too much on moe or ecchi.

    And hopefully Suisei no Gargantia will too.

    If it weren't for the last scene, I doubt I would bother tuning in for next week. That bit alone had any hint of Code Geass like plot rather than Gundam.

    Pedigree is all fine and good but I never associate Sunrise with it. Gargantuan talent and money but pedigree is more something I give the likes of Bones, Madhouse and the smaller studios like Kyoani and Brain Base. May be my interpretation of the word is wrong.

  14. Yes, it is wrong. Pedigree doesn't necessarily connote any positivity or negativity – it's simply a reference to the track record of the people behind the production.

    As to your opinion about the show itself, it's certainly not wrong, because it's an opinion. It just happens to be different from mine. As I said in my post I generally prefer BONES approach to mecha shows over Sunrise, and from this season I certainly don't think Valvrave is as good as Gargantia. But I do think it's very entertaining and quite handsomely made.

    I also find it ironic that you cite Code Geass as one of your model mecha shows and then rip Valvrave for not being like it, when in fact the creator is the same man. Wheras I liked the premiere and don't especially hope it does turn into Code Geass, as I find that show pretty overrated.

  15. i

    Yeah I wan't sure on the use of the term.

    The thing is that there are a score or so Gundam animes and I really am not a fan of them since they're all pretty alike for me and I really see them as just being rebooted every few years for a new generation of preteen boys.

    Code Geass on the other hand was rather different (albeit still using children which I felt TTGL, Bokurano and Bones did a better job with)

    I did say the most interesting part of the whole premiere was the omake at the end which was more like Code Geass and less like Gundam, so credit to the creator for that.

    Also its not exactly model anime I'm citing but rather shows which tried to make the mold, which the above all did to varying degrees. Its not that I don't think CG is overrated, I do especially the 2nd season, its just that it was a mecha anime from Sunrise that wasn't the nth version of Gundam (season 1 that is).

  16. i

    Sorry break the mold

  17. l

    What kind of naming sense do Japanese have, I sometimes wonder. Okay, 'Valvrave' is not the dumbest ever word they've ever produced (that belongs to Gackt), but it's still up there. Wtf do these guys smoke during the naming process?!

  18. i

    Methane Hydrates.

  19. E

    While I agree with most of your opinions regarding current season's anime, I definitely stayed on the 'hater' boat when it comes to this anime. Because It's really cliche beyond belief:
    -the main character lived a peaceful life but suddenly dragged into a conflict out of nowhere
    -he is shy person who hesitates to confess to the girl he likes, and getting angst sometimes
    -the love interest is a genki girl who even crawled to behind while class is in session
    -the love interest got killed while they are about to get to the good part, by stray bullet/laser which conveniently shoots at her instead of all other hundreds of students
    -the main character gets really angst and swear for revenge
    -the main character gets power up
    -the main character can drive mecha like a pro without prior training

    Yeah, the final 5 seconds is only the good part of it. Let's see how it turns out later. Will he become a vampire king, and create more and more minions by biting people? That will be not bad. Or. Will he become the government's dog / secret weapon? Bleh…

  20. I wonder when I read a comment like that – how do you feel about mecha anime generally? I don't consider myself a huge fan, though there are several I love – there are far more that do nothing for me, and I look at them on a case by case basis.

    But to me I wonder if it's possible to hold mecha to that cliche standard without being someone who rejects the genre for the most part. I mean, these tropes are such a huge part of the system that it's pretty rare to see series come along that really do anything original with them, or so it seems to me anyway. I can definitely understand how the extremely standard elements of this series would drive someone crazy, but I guess my standards with mecha are pretty low – I just accept that most of the time it's going to be that way, and hope it's executed well.

    I don't see Valvrave as that rare mecha series that really does something new with the genre, and those are the ones I do tend to love. But I think it may have intentionally been as cliche as it was to open, to act as a kind of feint for the eventual twist. And even the cliche parts were executed quite well, at least for me.

  21. E

    They ought to have proper reason for being good at driving mecha. The main character have to be proper soldier to begin with. Just like Redo who's probably has been raised as combatant ever since he's a baby, judging from the combat time and his youth appearance. In Gundam 00, those guys are also raised as combatants ever since they are brats. In Muv Luv : those main characters are introduced as skilled soldier of respective countries. I hate it not because it's a mecha show who failed my expectation. The way some normal high schooler, who has lived peacefully his whole life, can suddenly turn bad ass, is too much for my stomach. *shrugs* Also, it's a plot that has been done to death. Nobody can deny the cliche-ness.

  22. A

    I figured he was good at piloting Valvrave because of those nanomachines that were injected into him when he agreed to pilot it.

  23. i

    I think enjoyment of any media comes from two main sources:
    Excitement
    Familiarity

    With Valvrave people enjoying the familiarity of a typical mecha anime will stick with it, while people who want something exciting will see it as a cliched and bland story that has been done twenty times by the Sunrise.

    Also when I say exciting I mean unpredictable and fresh really. I doubt many people find watching even Lord of the Rings for the tenth time exciting.

  24. Z

    The pilots don't have to be aces but even in a series like Majestic Princes, a series with a much lighter tone, the main characters are all trainee pilots. So they can all be expected to at least know how to operate military-grade machinery.
    It is a problem with these big war mecha shows that they often end up relying on cliches and formula, which is probably why I generally prefer smaller team/unit-based mecha series like GiTS and Patlabor.

  25. K

    This series already reminds me of Code Geass, no surprise with the who the writer is. It just felt way too over the top and ridiculous to me. *shrugs*

  26. R

    I wasn't planning on watching this one initially but changed my mind — it wasn't as bad as I thought. It may be too early to tell, but I like this one better Majestic Prince. That's no way that you can reason how things come together and why characters act the way they do here, but at least it is visually entertaining. It's quite a star-studded show, and the EP isn't bad at all. The end scene certainly put a cliffhanger there…I guess I will check this show out again next week.

  27. .

    If I've learned one thing from Ep 1, it's that becoming a undead mecha pilot automatically gets you 36000+ friends on space Facebook…

    Yes, I'm following that Liz Lemon Sims quote. :p

    On a side note, what is the social stance in Japan amongst its society regarding its role in WW2, as mentioned in your post? Is it considered a kind of officially/unofficially censored topic of discussion amongst Japanese citizens?

    I'm curious because this contrasts heavily with the political situation in mainland China, where their education and social system heavily nurtures anti-Japan sentiment in regards to their role in the war. Part is due to unmade apologies by Japan, while part is the Party's effort to rally their people under the banner of Chinese nationalism, and to extent the Party itself.

    As a Southeast Asian Chinese, I don't hate Japan, but I can clearly understand the Chinese viewpoint in this, given that the Japanese presence in Southeast Asia was…less than kind to the Chinese population there as well as in China.

  28. Google "Yasakuni Shrine" and you'll get a pretty good idea of just how difficult this issue is for Japan. Better than I could ever explain it.

  29. Z

    Japan's involvement is heavily downplayed in history textbooks. For instance words like "invaded" are replaced with more neutral ones like "advanced". History has been whitewashed.

  30. A

    I was certainly blown-away! I mean…LOOK AT DAT PLOT TWIST!

  31. A

    The first part of the show really feels like a classic Gundam show. If they renamed the show as such, it won't feel out of place. Even the OP (or ED in the 1st ep) features TMR.

    While it has claims to be grand, Gargantia edges it out in terms of characters and plot, at least personally. Still, Valvrave looks to be exciting and enjoyable. It can certainly be a better outing for Sunrise after Gundam AGE.

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