This Coffee Could Have Used More Sugar
I mentioned a few weeks back that starting October I would be reviewing some of the stuff that aired earlier this year. So I figured the perfect show to start with would be the first cour of Valvrave The Liberator which starts off its second cour tonight. I had previously dropped Valvrave due to a drop in quality as well as a specific sequence that I felt the show did not build up enough respect from me to go through with, but I decided to pick it back up and finish it.
JIOR is caught up in a war with the Dorssians, a obvious nazi-analogy that doesn’t stand out among all the other hundreds of mecha shows. Where the show does stand out though, is how it handles the piloting of the titular Valvrave Units.
We follow Haruto, a high-school boy who ends up resigning his humanity to pilot the Valvrave Unit when JIOR is under attack. I won’t spoil specifically what this does to Haruto, though it’s revealed very early on that he is more than just a mecha pilot. Haruto is not a bad protagonist for the most part, he’s somewhat dull and free from personality, but not to the point where it feels like he’s just a standard blank insert-character. While I can’t say I like his character, he doesn’t irritate me in any way.
Among the other main characters we have Shouko, the daughter of the prime-minister who in the first episode is revealed to be in love with Haruto, hoping to confess to him before all hell broke lose. Shouko is somewhat shallow and clueless as a character, but servers her role well for the most part. The problem is that the show seems to forget that she exists unless she absolutely needs to appear for the sake of dramatic tension. A problem with many of the female characters in the first half to be honest, they only seem to appear or have importance when someone else needs a push or when the viewer is meant to feel sad for something.
What hopefully will be the exception to this is Saki, another girl who has a interest in Haruto, but at the start more superficial than Shouko. She’s a former Idol pop and movie star who is trying to find a world she can feel at home in. While her importance seems to be key to the overarching plot of Valvrave, the actual execution of her for the first twelve episodes is somewhat lacking. She has some development as a character, but just like Shouko she seems pushed to the side to often. She also suffers from the fact that she’s exploited as a plot device more than she’s utilized as a character, but that’s all I can say without getting into spoilers.
Let’s move on to one of my favorite characters, L-Elf, or as I like to call him, Ehuhuhueuheruufuuuu. This guy is amazing as he is basically space-Batman without a cowl when it comes to smart. He’s one of the Dorssians and is able to plan tactics to the point where he is basically a battlefield oracle, L-Elf is cool to a silly extent and brought me a lot of laughs. He also have the best exchange of dialog in the entire show when he’s talking to Haruto piloting the Valvrave Unit in the middle of the series. He’s mysterious, interesting and really entertaining.
Another character that became a favorite of mine was Akira, a hikikomori girl who we don’t learn much about until the end of the cour. She has, in my opinion, the most well-written and well-executed character development and character defining sequence in the entire series so far.
She’s also the only female character in the show that I felt have in any way been given proper focus as a human being rather than a plot-device, which is really nice.
With as much as I’m talking about women being used as empty plot-devices, it might sound like I’m trying to say Valvrave as a series is sexist or misogynistic. I’m not. While I do think some of the execution in how the show handles writing regarding these female characters, it’s not at a point where I would call it out on this just yet. It’s clear that Saki has huge importance in the long-run and I just mentioned that Akira is a great character. So while an argument could be made for it, I will not go out and call this show misogynistic until I’ve actually seen where the show is taking us, a small mistake does not always a complete failure make.
That’s not to say I am going to praise the show on its writing though. Valvrave is, as a story, completely insane. Characters act unnatural and every single villain is over-the-top to the nth degree. Even the weapons that are used in the combat sequences are sometimes laughable in design. It’s camp and goofy in the best way, but it ultimately hurts the show. When you can get into the flow of how silly the show is, you’ll laugh and have a great time. But all of a sudden the show will decide it wants to be dark, serious and gritty and it most often clashes with the style in a way that doesn’t work and just takes you out of the show and leaves you with a bad feeling in the gut.
Visually, the show is stunning. While the CG is not on the level of Majestic Prince the show makes up for it with some great 2D animation whenever it can. The character designs are good and the Valvrave Units are all really cool looking.
If I had a complaint, it’d be that JIOR looks somewhat boring. You have a giant nation floating in space, you can do something more interesting than just another Japanese City from around the 2000s, but at that point I’d be nitpicking a great looking show.
The soundtrack is fabulous as well, but I can’t do this review and not mention the vocal songs. The opening theme, “Preserved Roses”, is performed by T.M. Revolution and Nana Mizuki and is one of the most exciting songs from this spring. The lyrics matches the camp writing of the show as well. The first of the two ending themes is also really good. “Boku Janai” performed by angela who previously did the amazing opening theme for last year’s K. I can’t get enough of this song, or angela in particular, and still listen to it on almost a daily basis.
The voice acting is strong as well. Ryoto Ohsaka does a good job as Haruto and Ryouhei Kimura‘s L-Elf is simply perfect. I am also a big fan of Aoi Yuuki who plays Akira, she’s another actress who have risen to be a favorite over this year. She also played Komachi in My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU which was the show that really made me like her voice. Asami Seto and Haruka Tomatsu do well as Shouko and Saki, but they don’t really stand out enough to be notable despite their stance as main characters. I’d chalk this up to them being underused overall though.
I remember saying early on that I felt Valvrave The Liberator was a goofy show that knew exactly what I was doing. I somewhat regret that as I’m writing this, because it’s clear the main problem is that the show has no clue what it’s doing. When the show is entertaining, it’s a absolute blast, but when it tries to be serious or dark it almost always end up making the show look desperate by trying to generate some shock value. I have hopes for the second cour, but the first cour was problematic in a lot of ways because of this.