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Friday, 19 September 2014

Shirogane no Ishi: Argevollen (First Course).


Why is this up so late?

Dude. Scottish referendum last night.

Dude.

Shirogane no Ishi: Argevollen.
(First Course.)


 There are a couple of split-course series hovering about, so I'll be reviewing each course as they end rather than the series as a whole. It's more manageable. Also, it means I get to review Aldnoah.Zero more quickly. Everyone wins.

Shirogane no Ishi: Argevollen, one of many mecha anime offerings this year, tells the story of Susume Tokimune, a young soldier in the army of Arandas, a country being invaded by the resource-hungry and warmongering nation of Ingelmia. The fantasy countries seem mostly there to avoid controversy and to provide an excuse for the giant robots, as the world is otherwise completely like our own, and the nations draw heavy inspiration from Japan and America respectively.

(One thing I noticed was an odd and disquieting tendency for fans to bend over backwards to excuse Ingelmia's actions, seemingly entirely based on it being vaguely like America. Which really says wonders for said fans' ability to think critically about their country's foreign policies and ethics.)

Tokimune more or less falls into the cockpit (okay, not quite, its handler, a girl called Jamie, tells him to get in) of advanced prototype mecha Argevollen, and thus our story begins. Sort of. Kind of.

Mechas.

… You know, I could not tell you what the running narrative of this anime is.

It's not that it's horribly incoherent and riddled with plot holes. That's not it. It's that, very often, events seem to occur within a vacuum, affecting nothing around them. There's very little sense of one plot event leading to another – instead, they seem to stand more or less on their own as snapshots of the ongoing war. As the first course draws to a close, we've finally started getting the beginnings of a bigger storyline, with a smirking villainous officer showing up, the suggestion of a conspiracy, flashbacks about a previous Argevollen prototype, and an angry eyebrowful blond Ingelmian officer being angry about things. But it took a long time coming.

Which is a bit of a problem, especially when the quality of those episodes is highly variable. The first time I watched the first episode, I gave up part of the way through because it was just so boring – and that's true of a decent chunk of Argevollen's episodes, actually. More than there should be.

Lt. Should Be Getting More Screen Time In This Anime
Because She's Badass.

When it's good, though, it's pretty strong. Since it was on a Thursday, it was competing for my affections with Zankyou no Terror, and at least some of the time, it won that particular contest. Highlights include an episode focusing on one of Tokimune's friends, as they're stationed in his hometown shortly before an attack – which was a prime example of an event which really had no effect on anything else, but made for an excellent twenty minute character piece exploring one of the more minor members of the cast.

(It also does an excellent job of humanising the Ingelmians. Not so much that it's not obvious that they're in the wrong – despite the fevered protestations of some – but enough that you can feel genuinely sorry for the Ingelmian men and women on the ground who are suffering for their country's stupid and unethical foreign policy decisions. Although part of that is that Ingelmia doesn't seem to be nearly as prone to committing war crimes as its real-life counterpart is. Never let it be said that the US doesn't commit war crimes like James Bond commits to relationships: Frequently and with almost no lasting consequences for him but with a strange tendency for the people on the other end suffering and perishing.)

Yeah, I know, that last paragraph seems awkwardly phrased to
me, too.

But it doesn't help that while the characters are likeable, they're not, by and large, massively interesting people. Nor does it help that the action is pretty lacklustre at times – which is purportedly a staple of the 'realistic giant robot' genre, and which is probably one of several reasons why I don't watch the 'realistic giant robot' genre. That, and that I think that if you have giant robots anyway, then frankly you've jumped the gun as far as realism goes and should just throw yourself in to making it as awesome as possible. It feels like a waste of what are, really, some pretty excellent mecha designs that they didn't push the boat out a little further on action, even if it might have strained realism a bit.

(The action is still better than Break Blade, though, which might win a prize for some of the worst giant robot action I've ever seen in an anime. Also, for one of the worst – let's put it this way, it was so bad that when I tried to review it I physically could not make myself do it.)

Ingelmia's robots were clearly designed with maximum evil in mind.

So this is an odd one. It's not the best thing that has been on this series, not by a long shot, but it has its moments, especially when it's doing character focused stories – the giant robots, frankly, seem almost surplus to requirements, since the anime does its best work when it has half an episode focused on all the characters going to a bar, or our two leads exploring a city during time off. There are twelve more episodes coming up after a short break, which seem likely to take a more rigourous focus on the plot – which might be to the anime's detriment, despite my belly-acheing about the lack of a continuing narrative – and to develop the seeds of the conspiracy plot a little further.

I look forward to it, but – tentatively. 

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