Saturday, July 13, 2013

Valvrave the Liberator (Season 1)

Directed by tired jj abrams joke

I ended up watching Valvrave this season entirely by whim. Someone on my Twitter kept pointing out the seer oddity of it, so I decided what the big deal was. I was unaware at the time that the series was from Sunrise and the main writer of Code Geass, and that explained a lot. What I'm trying to get at here is that Valvrave genuinely surprised me, even more so than Attack on Titan. Whether that's a good or bad thing is up in the air since it has only just started, but I'm leaning on the good side right now. See, this isn't exactly just a giant robot show, no. It follows a similar style to Code Geass and throws in a mythical element, but it brings with it a sense of camp and drama that doesn't quite mesh in the same way Geass did. Geass was a tragedy, while Valvrave seems to be trying to be...well, I have no idea what it's trying to be. Which I kind of like.

Valvrave starts off with neutral nation in space JIOR being invaded by its more militaristic (and German) neighbor Dorssia. In the chaos, the young Haruto finds a giant robot that was being hidden under his school and uses it to fight off the invasion forces and save his module, with the rest of his country being defeated and taken over. Oh, and there was this part where the mech asked Haruto to resign his humanity in order to pilot it, which Haruto did, and then he was killed and turned into a space vampire and bit an enemy spy on the neck and took over his body and that's only the beginning of the insanity that is Valvrave. Space vampires, body snatching, robots piloted by idiot high schoolers and shit I can't even begin to describe!


To describe the plot of Valvrare would spoil far too many "WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED" moments, so just trust me when I say that Valvrave is both the dumbest and most brilliant thing I have seen in a long while. See, Valvrave is what we call a reconstruction, a show that takes the clich s of its genre and tries to make them work again with a big, goofy smile. Except it's not because when bad things happen, bad things FUCKING HAPPEN. People are ripped apart, bodies are floating everywhere, good characters are forced into horrific decisions and any idealistic belief is ground into dust before the weight of reality unless the show goes "nah, we'll let them win this one." It's an exorcise in tone schizophrenia, making Code Geass look like a kid on some serious downers. And it actually works somehow.

What I really like about Valvrave is that the show is entirely honest with what it wants to say and how it feels about the subject matter presented. When it wants to have some fun, it has some fun. When it wants serious drama to occur, it's going to slam into you like a brick. It's the exact opposite of pretentious, completely aware of what type of show it is and not trying to be more, instead trying to be as good as that type of show can be. It's exciting, it's funny, it's goofy, it's gripping. Valvrave has all the necessary building blocks. The problem is that the foundation is a bit shaky, knowing what to wants to be but not knowing where to put the materials. It comes down to the tone and pacing, taking a bit too many ideas from the mech genre and not mixing them together properly.

Do I get a dead bird hat?

The show, despite all the explosions and hilarious engrish yelling, is surprisingly slow. The entire first season spends its time building up the main cast, throwing twist after twist and getting some basics of the world presented down, but fails to really go into detail on the bigger picture and moving the main plot in any significant direction. Oh, things do happen, mainly involving revelations with the Valvraves and L-Elf the spy and local Lelouch stand-in (with a name that nobody in the cast can seem to pronounce), but each episode works with the exact same formula. Dorssia attacks the module, the Valvraves fight back, they get their asses kicked, something happens that brings all the characters closer together as a team and then the bad guys all get blown up. Every damn time, even in the last of the first twelve episodes.

What keeps this somewhat interesting is the constant promises of greater things on the horizon. Valvrave makes it clear early on that there's why more to it and much of the cards are being held close to its chest. Episode seven in particular has a pretty massive revelation that shows that the writing staff has big plans for the series, followed up in some of the final episodes. The season finale is even a big cliffhanger filled with revelations, character developments and a final cementing of the main conflict. The rest of the time is used well to develop the massive cast, but I wish there was some more time used to develop some of these concepts a bit more. That's where the meat is, and it would have made that thing that happened in the tenth episode much easier to digest, because that episode unleashes one big old can of worms that takes two episodes to address.

Shoko: Idiot Savant

The other issue is that the tone switches a round pretty damn hard. Now to be fair, this is part of the point. Valvrave has some Blood-C style shenanigans going around and handles it well, plus some of the silliness is used well to highlight more serious subject matter by contrasting with it, but it tends to go a bit too silly early on. Most the cast are nearly one note jokes at first, and while most of them get some development, that joke part still hangs around. They even make a cheesy music video, which makes sense in context but is also so overly cheery that it borders on obnoxious. This thankfully dies down towards the later half, but as it does pop up then, it just becomes distracting, especially with the bombshell that goes off in that last episode. There is point, dealing with morale and trying to keep a sense of normalcy, but it tends to be a bit much at times, especially with Shoko. For one of the most important characters and the effective political leader of the entire main cast, her ideas come off as harebrained and without knowledge of how reality works. Which is kind of the point because she doesn't know how reality works and this is a plot point, but there is a point where you go from naive to outright insane.

And as weird as this sounds, I think these are all both weaknesses and strengths. Valvrave loves what it does so much that it's hard to stay upset with it. Every time it does anything, it does it with gusto and full resolve, if the moment calls for it be damned. Even at its silliest, it's an entertaining show if you don't mind watching something that isn't trying to be a deep commentary on something. It takes the best of serious mech shows and super robot shows, slams them together and just goes nuts with it, and that is a sight to behold. It that will continue to work is questionable, but it works well enough here. Plus, there will be at least one quote and moment you'll remember forever. For mean, that is the supermarket jump. That moment is the best thing that has ever happened.

Valvrave: Serious Mech Drama!

Where it's more uniformly strong is in the presentation. All the Japanese VAs are wonderfully lively, some outright hammy in wonderful ways. Asami Seto's Shoko is a thing of manic hilarity, while Jun Fukuyama's A-Drei will be forever remembered for that wonderful, stupid, impossible to make out yelling. The music is loud and powerful, always fitting with some great battle themes and dramatic scores. Visually, it's bright and colorful, with lively character designs and interesting mech designs. The Dorssia forces all have very practical, imposing designs (like the shield arm mooks), while the Valvraves all have their own over-the-top weapons and designs, like yellow's many arms for punching the shit out of enemies or blue's shield. The CG mech fights are also an explosion of sensory pleasure, with tons of lights and movement keeping things lively. Shame the ending themes are forgettable, despite the first having a great opening hook. The opening is a bit better, but it took me awhile to really groove on it.

Valvrave's first season is messy, but it's a damn fun mess. It keeps your interest and introduces a ton of interesting ideas during that time, along with a lot of fun characters and exciting moments. It does so much right that everything it does right crashes into each other and damages it, and I mean that as both a criticism and a compliment. I can't wait for the second season in October, because I have to know if this roller coaster in space is going to go all the way or derail in spectacular fashion. It's something to check out, that's for sure.

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