Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: Valvrave the Liberator (2013)

From the emotionally intense Chihayafuru S2 to the mind-blowing Attack on Titan to the happy-go-lucky Uta No Prince Magi Love 2000%, the lineup for early 2013 was well-received amongst all Otakus. With such strong favourites, what could possibly rival against these popular titles? A mecha series - believe it or not - and it's none other than Ko Matsuo's Valvrave the Liberator which sneakily declared itself as this year's unexpected dark horse contender.

Thanks to the success of mecha predecessors such as Code Geass, Gurren Lagann and Macross Frontier, many would have brushed aside Valvrave the Liberator due to the overrated status of the genre. However, the Sunrise production has proven itself to be a worthy addition to the mecha family as it surprisingly rejuvenates the genre with its bizarre style and twists.

Set in a futuristic date, Valvrave the Liberator focuses around Haruto Tokishima, a student from Sakimori High School living on the sphere's 'Module 77 . Caught amidst a battlefield, Haruto stumbles upon an abandoned, highly-technological mecha called 'Valvrave' and uses it to defend the module from a Dorssian invasion.

But with the almighty Valvraves under Module 77 s control, the enemy have their ambitious eyes on the machines and threaten to invade and claim the Valvraves as their own. The students of Sakimori High soon abandons JIOR territory and announces Module 77 to be an independent state. Students running an independent country? As ridiculous as it sounds, this rebellion will amuse viewers greatly as we begin to wonder what the students will do with their newfound independence and power.

In a shocking twist, Haruto gets approached by L-Elf Karlstein, a Dorssian spy who intends to revolutionise Dorssia one day. Knowing L-Elf is the key to success, both Haruto and L-Elf join forces in an unlikely alliance to secure the sovereignty of their new formed nation.

To put Valvrave the Liberator in a few words that many would understand, the show is basically a mix of The Host, Twilight, Code Geass and Gundam. Yes, a bit of odd combination but you will need to watch the show in order to comprehend the eccentric hybrid conceptand it's all because of the Valvrave machines.

When a pilot first enters a Valvrave, he/she is forced to answer whether they're willing to give up his/her humanity. Sounds ominous, doesn't it? Naturally, one's acceptance of the Valvrave machines come with fame, power and status.

But just as Haruto discover the cursed fate of piloting a Valvrave, other students encounter hidden Valvraves deep within the school and decides to join Haruto in fighting the enemy. While the Valvrave machines appear to be significantly powerful (than usual mecha machines) with its destructive, lightsaber-like attacks, it is the thrilling twisted power and its consequences that a Valvrave user must face that continuously grasps the audience's attention.

For such a popular series, Haruto the protagonist is rather disappointing as he is naive, foolish and often acts upon his emotions in an illogical manner. He carries no distinctive heroic quality and the first sign of naivety demonstrated by his character was when he spontaneously decided to invade a Valvrave after believing he had witnessed his long-term crush being killed.

Anti-protagonist L-Elf is much more accomplished as the perfect rebellious protagonist as he is very much like Death Note's Light and Code Geass's Lelouch. Mysterious, silent, ambitious and psychopathic, you will witness thrilling explosive action scenes instigated by L-Elf himself. And as a result, L-Elf's badass character balances it out with Haruto's one-dimensional character, ultimately saving the anime from losing integrity and the audience's interest.

Besides L-Elf, Valvrave the Liberator would not have been successful if it weren't for the occasional death or betrayal as each episode reveals a twist that will surprise the audience in some unexpected way. Nothing beats the controversy shown in Episode 10, but luckily for the series, they were clever to messily cover up the drama in its own twisted way.

While Valvrave the Liberator seems like the typical mecha anime, the show doesn't take itself too seriously nor does it aim to be highly intense. On par with Macross Frontier and Gurren Lagann, Valvrave stands out on its own and manages to entertain and hype the audience at the end of every episode.

It's the perfect show for teenagers as it contains light-hearted romance, adventure, rebellion, great animated action scenes, engaging plot twists, and a fantastic soundtrack. While Valvrave isn't as epic as Code Geass, it brings out the nostalgic feeling of watching mecha anime and reminds us of how brilliant and fantasical the genre is. And because of that, it's no wonder that Valvrave is set to return for a second season next month (October). Will the second triumph over the first season? We shall find out!

Rating: 8.5/10
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