It's no secret to anyone who knows anything about the anime business that Sunrise are a huge name when it comes to Mecha series and their latest offering, Valvrave the Liberator, was another big hit for the studio. With a distinct Code Geass feel to the relationship between our two lead characters, and a more than intriguing story and feel to the series, Valvrave was the type of series we'd been waiting to see since Code Geass ended.
So, just how well does Sunrise's offering stack up overall? It's safe to say I'm not a huge fan of Mecha anime. It isn't that I dislike them, but they aren't my first choice when picking out which shows to watch each season. I do, however, value the shows Sunrise put out incredibly highly, so when Crunchyroll announced they'd be streaming Valrave as it aired I had no reason to ignore it. Safe to say that this was one of the better choices I made in 2013 when it came down to anime and I don't regret this choice. Valvrave is a brilliant offering from a brilliant studio.
Set in a world caught in war between two sides (as many of our Sunrise plots start off), we're introduced to the students at Sakimori High School, a school set in a neutral nation called JIOR. The kids here have a peaceful life away from the war between the Dorssia and ARUS nations, but as any good anime viewer knows, a peaceful life doesn't last very long and during the opening episode we see the Dorssia forces invade the school. Among the chaos that ensures we're introduced to Haruto Tokishima, one of our main characters and a quiet guy who does his best to avoid conflict. However as the Dorssia forces invade and Haruto's crush, Shoko Sashinami, is seemingly killed Haruto loses himself to taking revenge and jumps aboard a nearby mecha. The mecha, known as a Valvrave as we later learn, asks Haruto if he's willing to give up on being human to which he chooses yes, a choice that he may later come to regret. Valvrave does what it sets out to do very well, we've only just been introduced to Haruto, Shoko and his group of friends and yet as we see Shoko seemingly meet her end we can really relate to Haruto's feeling and why he's so hell-bent on taking his revenge for his lost love and childhood friend.
It's within the first couple of episodes that we're introduced to the other lead character of our show, L-Elf. A secret agent for the Dorssia forces, L-Elf tries to kill Haruto and take control of his Valvrave. However things don't go as planned and it's here we learn that not only are the Valvrave pilots un-killable, but we also learn that by biting someone they can take control of the other persons body. Haruto takes control of L-Elf's body and the actions that follow leave L-Elf looking like a traitor to the Dorssia forces, meaning L-Elf has no choice but to trust in Haruto and the other students to reach the goals he has in mind. Of course being from the Dorssia side L-Elf comes with his own cast of, former, comrades and as the series progress these characters and their bonds with one another and L-Elf are developed nicely.
The relationship and bond between Haruto and L-Elf are the driving force of the series. The two start out as enemies, but over time begin to see eye to eye and decide to share the burden of the curse of the Valvrave's together or not at all. Once the students of Sakimori High School decide to take matters into their own hands and create a nation of their own it's up to Haruto and L-Elf to lead the growing team of Valvrave pilots and hold the world the students hold so dearly together.
Valvrave never holds back. Right from the off it refuses to tackle things carefully or be afraid of the level of violence quickly piling up. Valvrave does what it wants to do and successfully tackles a number of tricky subjects, like Haruto being overpowered by the curse running through his blood and sexually assaulting one of the other Valvrave pilots. Not once does the series suggest that what Haruto did was right, of course, but the fact it tackled the issue at all and never once in any form used it as an excuse for fanservice is something to really appreciate. The fact that the series is never hesitant to kill off its characters, part of the main cast or otherwise, is also something I deeply appreciated because it proved it wasn't going for a perfect ending where nobody dies. Valvrave may deal with things bluntly, but it does so rightly and felt like a refreshing change from the types of shows I've watched recently.
That isn't to say the series is perfect, and sadly it really isn't. The first season of Valvrave does rather well for itself and finishes with a big cliff-hanger, however once the second season kicks in things take a bit of a dive. The second season starts off by introducing us to the world of Valvrave in the future, by doing so it reveals a couple of characters who are ensured to live and has them tell the story by looking at their pasts. The problem with this is that the series never feels like it has enough time to explain just how this future came about. Well, it does and it doesn't. The series does end off nicely, but doesn't quite go into enough details in regards to the future and how certain characters managed to survive and still be around years and years after the events of the present day. It's not a huge issue and didn't hinder my enjoyment of the series too much, but it did feel like a shame that they didn't explore it a bit more.
Many viewers compare Valvrave to Code Geass, as I did at the beginning of this post too. The main reason for this is Haruto and L-Elf. The two feel very much like Lelouch and Suzaku, both as characters and for their friendship. The two are both doing everything they do for the people they care about, which again rings true with our Code Geass stars, so it's easy to compare the two series. A lot of the team behind Code Geass are involved with Valvrave too, and while the two series are very different in terms of their story and setting, it's not hard to draw links between the two here and there.
Overall the animation for Valvrave is very, very pretty and what you'd expect having a studio like Sunrise behind it. There is one episode in the second season that makes quite an iffy judgement and distracts from what the plot is trying to do, but otherwise it's top notch stuff.
The soundtrack really can't be complained about either, with two brilliant and up-beat openings across the two seasons as well as a number of sombre and more emotional ending songs. The series itself uses a large range of tracks so it never feels like you've heard the same music twice, which is a credit to the series.
In closing: Valvrave is another brilliant series from Sunrise and while its ending doesn't quite live up to the rest of the series, it's well worth watching. Especially if you watched and enjoyed Code Geass, fans of the series will get a lot of enjoyment out of Valvrave.
* Overall: 8/10
* Animation: 8.5
* Story: 8.5
* Soundtrack: 9
* Characters: 9