Monday, June 27, 2016

Anime Review: Concrete Revolutio: Superhuman Phantasmagoria: The Last Song

I don't believe it, I somehow managed to hold out all the way until the spring season batch of shows without running out of things to blog! I'm pretty thrilled by this turn of events, although I didn't watch many spring shows so I'm going to actually run out of things to blog pretty soon. 

Hmm, well for the moment, as per-usual my first review of the season is my favorite show/the one that really needs as many views as it can get (places like Funimation have said that the views that count towards determining if a show is going to get a physical release or not are all of the views while the show was airing+one week, although I've missed that window). I talked about the first half of Concrete Revolutio earlier in the year so I suppose this is my last shot to convince folks that yes, this is yet another superhero anime worth watching.

Concrete Revolutio: Superhuman Phantasmagoria: The Last Song

It's been several years since the Shinjuku protests/riots and the public is more hostile to superhumans than ever. More and more of them are staying in the shadows and Jiro is on the run from everyone, there is no friendly side left for him.  But Jiro is still trying to save people, still trying to embody and understand the selfless justice of his heroes from long ago, and still trying to inspire other people to follow their own codes of justice.

A few years ago when I was reviewing Samurai Flamenco, I said something along the lines that SamFlam was every superhero story mashed into one story.

I would like to amend that statement a little bit.

SamFlam is every kind of genre, every possible superhero plot line, crammed into just 22 episodes. The show was jam packed and was trying to express a lot of ideas at once, I wouldn't have thought it was possible for another show to attempt to put in even more.

Yet here I stand, having seen 24 episode of Concrete Revolutio, barely more runtime, and this show brought even more to the table. ConRevo attempts, and I would say succeeds, in having every possible superhero idea in one story. Character types (and designs) don't always look like they're from the same show, characters have completely opposite ideas of how the world does/should work, and despite all of it's high falutin ideas it ultimately boils down to a very simple conflict in the end. This is a show about the idea superheroes and yet, unlike SamFlam, you don't have to be a diehard superhero fan to enjoy it since the story only brings in what ideas are relevant to the current plot and also sets the story against the moving backdrop of post-war Japan (having an interest in that time-period, or even just the pop-culture of that time period, will make the show much more enjoyable). It's messy, convoluted, and ultimately has a few deep flaws (like the lack of development for it's two female leads) but I'm really glad I saw this show, and not just because I adored the character design and overall artistic asethetic.

I know one thing that turned off a lot of viewers initially from the show was it's heavy-handed use of timeskips and, while I'm happy to report that the series did lay off of these a little bit in the second half (possibly due to how many guest writers they had and the need to write more self-contained stories), I also think that this was a brilliant idea for the series as a whole by connecting various parts of the timeline together thematically and emotionally. . I actually have an odd interpretation of the timeskips so hear me out:

Life happens in spurts and gaps, there’s momentum and then a pause as you try to get things rolling again. Heck, if anyone has ever paid attention to a revolution in real time (like the Arab Spring, related uprisings inEgypt a few years ago, Occupy Wall Street etc) then you know that there is a period of momentum when it seems like anything can happen, it’s finally going to change, and then usually there’s a quite period. It may oscillate between these two moments for a while and by using timeskips, ConRevo both manages to convey the sense of time that any kind of change takes without limiting the story to looking at only one event, there's no other way that the story could have covered over ten years in just 24 episodes. I'm honestly not quite sure why the staff decided that the story needed to take place over such a long period of time, my best guess was so that the story could match up so well with a multitude of pop-culture references, but it also serves to  further hammer the idea that revolutions don't happen over night, and more often than not you'll lose. By having a set of huge protests as the climax of the first series, show how little they ultimately affected everything at the start of the second half (an what change they did have was negative), and then the story ends as the characters try to rock the boat again and change/save the world with what's at some level another large, superhuman filled protest.

Despite the quick pace of the show, there were still some quieter moments so I have absolutely no idea why they weren't used to develop Kikko and Emi who are very much main members of the cast and, while they've always been in the spotlight, never felt especially fleshed out in the first season. Emi gets a bit of development/explanation in the final act but we still don't know that much about her or how she even became involved in the first place, heck one of the biggest details of her, that she's actually half human, came from a line in a preview that was never used in the episode itself!

Kikko has it even worse, we learned some of her backstory in the first half (not human, a witch, come to Earth to find a mate/as a candidate to be the queen of the devil world, is semi-powered by people's belief in her) and yet a lot of her motivations were still left vague and I was hoping that, especially since Jiro would be separated from a lot of the cast, that we would have a chance to see why she stayed with the Superhuman Bureau and what motivated her. This didn't happen at all! As far as I could tell she only stayed so she could see Jiro again, which seemed odd since even in the first half it was clear she liked Jiro but she wasn't quite THIS boy crazy over him, and other aspects of her were handled weirdly, like it took seven years for her to (accidentally!) find out that she actually lost the majority of her devil powers. On the one hand I wondered if losing her devil powers meant that she lost her chance to become mature and this is why she still acts so childlike, but there are multiple references to how she will now age without those devil powers so I don't think the show meant for that loss to mean two, contradictory things. It's a real shame that out of the five/six person cast, all of the men (Jiro, Fuurota, Jaguar, although not Dr Hitoyoshi) were given a chance to be fleshed out very early on and yet the girls didn't get that chance. I do think that Jaguar's actions were sometimes inconsistent, just saying that someone is playing a long game doesn't automatically make everything else fall into line, but it's weird that the show's ultimate focus is on Jiro, that this is his story from explosive beginning to end, and yet that it had trouble creating that same kind of understanding for some of the other characters.

Despite those flaws, which are both rather noticeable and yet not enormous in the larger context of the story (since Emi and Kikko always remain supporting characters in some ways), I still feel like this was a compelling story that I would whole-heartedly recommend to a certain audience. It was both overly ambitious and not very unique in some ways, two "damning with faint praise" phrases but I also thought the show was rather clear about both of those ideas from the start. It's hugely influenced by all kinds of stories that have come before (I wish my links showing just how closely still worked!) and was clear from the very start that it was going to cram in as many ideas as it could, I find it much harder to fault a series for both being very honest about these facts from the very start and for coming close but not quite sticking the landing. This show, more than any other show since the first half of ConRevo, gave me something to think about every week and I appreciated that. I'm sure it'll be even more interesting during a rewatch (possibly on Daisuki instead of Funimation since apparently there were some differences in the subtitles) and I hope this is a show that even a small group fans discover for years to come. This is not the typical "there was injustice in the world and then we showed it!" story, it's much closer to "I fought the law and the law won" and that odd bit of realism, the ever present acknowledgement of how hard and complicated it really is to save the world, made this show special to me.