I confess it’s not a coincidence that Charlotte sat in my queue a little longer than the other shows released this weekend. I’ve tried to go into it with an open mind, but stuff kept getting thrown at me that made me highly cautious (including being told directly “You’ll hate it”). There were a lot of cautionary notes here, but as a P.A. Works series from Maeda Jun this is simply a show that has to be considered (despite the fact that I did indeed hate their prior collaboration).
Well – I don’t hate Charlotte. Not yet, anyway. There were parts of this premiere that came pretty close, but generally speaking I found most of it pretty tolerable. One of the things I heard going in was that it was putting people more in mind of a KyoAni show than PAW, and I get that – there’s something in the character design (both physical and literary) and premise that has a strong KyoAni feel to it. I also heard that the main character was a douche, and that there was an insufferable imouto character – and I can’t honestly say I disagree there either, though the MC at least has the merit of not being bland.
Let’s be clear – Otosaka Yuu (Uchiyama Kouki) is indeed a scumbag when we meet him. It’s not unforgivable, maybe, that he uses his special power to possess anyone in his line of sight for 5 seconds to peek up skirts and cheat on tests – merely juvenile. But using it to force a truck driver to crash into a stone wall so he can have a chance with the girl he’s hot for is beyond juvenile – it’s psychotic. But I’m prepared to work with a protagonist that starts from a very dark place – it gives plenty of room for a real character arc.
I’m not sure where Maeda is going with this notion of teenagers developing flawed superpowers in puberty, then losing them when they enter adulthood – maybe a riff on the chuunibyou idea, or a general commentary on the social disorder that is adolescence. Maybe there’s the germ of an interesting story here, maybe not – Maeda’s career certainly suggests it can go either way. But Otosaka better prove up to carrying the show, because none of the other cast members make a very good first impression, and the attempts at comedy are generally pretty unfunny.
And then there’s that imouto, played by Asakura Momo. Lolimoutos really are a bane, an invitation to the worst kind of pandering and lazy writing. Has there been a good one since Momiji from Cross Game? Writers really should have to pass some kind of Adachi test before they’re allowed to use one, but until that day shows like Charlotte are going to be dragged to their knees by them, because mangaka, light-novelists and scenario writers just can’t resist. A better show could survive Ayumi, if she’s used in moderation – I don’t know about this one.
In the end, I really think it’s a longshot that Charlotte is going to be a good series, but it’s not as bad as I feared it might be. Maeda Jun and P.A. Works (though not together) certainly have had their share of high-quality anime, but their involvement is far from a guarantor of success. Apart from the main character being so Machiavellian so early in the narrative I don’t see a whole lot that’s distinctive here – maybe Maeda plans to take the show in an X-Men direction or something, but it looks an awful lot like a generic school fantasy for the moment. With this writer and this studio working together an absolute debacle is certainly possible, but there’s also the slim reed of a possibility that Charlotte could end up working a lot better than it looks like it will right now. That gives me enough curiosity to stick around for another week.