Concrete RevolutioShinkai era 41. Shinkai era 47. Jiro Hitoyoshi is a human who protects humans from superhumans. Jiro Hitoyoshi is a superhuman who protects other superhumans. As the years and the words change the motivations reamin the same, Jiro is a young man who works for the clandestine organization, the Superhuman Buearu who tracks, records, and if necessary destroys "dangerous" superhumans because he thinks it's the right thing to do. But who protects the superhumans? As it becomes more and more clear that the superhumans are only pawns in larger schemes Jiro begins to doubt what he does. And so this phantasmagoria story tells the two sides, before and after Jiro's split.
It's funny that I now say that all of my favorite superhero stories are anime (Strong Female Protagonist has been less-than-strong as of late and that was really the only western contender) since anime cover very different grounds than most western superhero stories and when they do overlap with themes and ideas anime runs in a completely different direction. Much like Samurai Flamenco from a few years ago, this show is about JUSTICE and the way I understood it that boiled ever further down to "is it childish to still want to protect what I believe to be good even if there are consequences than to take the path that avoids them altogether?" I want to say that the show has taken the unique approach by giving the opposing forces the more interesting, varied, and nuanced views than the Superhuman Bureau but making the "villains" more complex is hardly new, what's different here is that the "heroes" are static and uncompromising but those against them seem to be constantly looking at the world in new ways.
Part of that divide is reflected in how the Bureau is filled with non-human characters who seem a bit outdated to my modern eyes. A ogre (oni) princess, an unchanging ghost, a part-human part-jaguar time-traveler, an alien, a witch from another world, and a person to fill the "humans are the worst monsters" trope make up the group and all of them are rather uncompromising about their ideas, due to both their natures (Fuurota the ghost, Emi the oni), and their past (Jaguar and Magotake Hitoyshi, likely that Kikko the witch and Akita the alien will be the same in the future). Kikko and Fuurota, the "younger" members, are less sure of themselves but everyone else is very confident in their views and rooted to them, they do not care if their actions are heroic or villainous, these are just the things you have to do to protect others as an "adult".
By comparison, the forces that oppose the Bureau (calling them all villains is a misnomer, I'd only truly call Claude a villain since everyone changes too much otherwise) are all very human despite being cyborgs, grotesque experiments, more-or-less-magic-users, and a monster (kaiju) in a human body. Earth-chan really is the outlier in this group since she's literally a robot but given that even Earth-chan seems to change in one of the flash-forwards and that means going against her programming then dammit good guys, you look really bad with your uncompromising march of "progress"! These guys go from being bad to good, good to bad, something to good and bad ideas with violent ways to achieve them, and I think it's both that change and their specific actions which endear them more to the audience. Like one of Aikawa's previous series, the thematically similar Un-Go, the show never tells you outright which side you should be rooting for, the problematic truth or gentle lies, but it's also hard to imagine that the viewer wouldn't side with one over the other.
I've seen some people hold back from watching the show due being intimidated by it's real world history and you don't need to be! The basic things you need to know, and could pick up on it in the show even if you hadn't read this review, is that the years directly relate to years in the Showa era so this is set in the 1960s which means the Cold War, fears of military action, and large-scale protests and Japan is still working out who they want to become which is frankly something you see in every generation. Really that's it, I loved that a lot of the more detailed connections to real life events (basically, kaiju/superhumans represent nukes so a lot of the events with the American military are about real history) but that's because I love history and was doing deep research on Cold War-era nuclear bombers for work while the show was airing. And if you do want more info on specific events, feel free to ask in the comments since I still remember a lot of them and Geekorner is a great resource as well. Plus, some of these references are so obscure that I doubt even the Japanese fans were picking up on them ("oh they chose this year for the King Kong monster not based off of the release of the original movie but because of the release of the now lost, silent film about King Kong in Japan!") so there's no reason to feel bad if you feel like you missed something.
My only real complaint with this series, other than the fact the first episode was messier than it needed to be, was that I felt like I was gypped over Kikko. She's introduced as the point of view character and while she is a fairly important character and we know her backstory plus some goals and motivations, we don't really know her. Viewers knew from the first episode that Jiro was going to split with the Bureau and it was also fairly obvious from the beginning why so for me the question became "why does Kikko stay then?" We don't really get an answer, if you're being generous you can read the few moments we see of her post-split as someone who is staying out of obligation or that being here continues to further her own, secretive goals, but we still really don't know much about how she thinks or how she interprets the idea of justice. We see her going along with the Bureau in some of their worse schemes even before Jiro leaves and while it's never quite unwillingly it's certainly with a lot of reservations. I suspect the show will continue using time-skips in the second half but that they'll all be post split and Kikko would be the natural choice to "show" what the Bureau is doing so hopefully we'll get more insight into her. She's arguably the most complicated character in the entire show since her needs/goals/restrictions actively conflict with her wants [to do good] at times and that's a conflict which is more unique than you'd think! So I'm hoping the second half of this show (starting in April) is even better than what we already got and that hopefully not too many people are put off by the pop-art style and catch up with the show (I unabashedly love how the show looks, it's so much fun and so appropriate!).