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Saturday, 27 December 2014

Shirogane no Ishi: Argevollen (Second Course).

Shirogane no Ishi: Argevollen
(Second Course).

I usually start these reviews by going over what I thought of the first course, but I actually can't remember what I thought about the first course. I think I liked it, but what I am realising is that while enjoyable, nothing about this series is very memorable. It's just kind of there, being aggressively middle of the road. This was the problem that initially turned me away from the first episode the first time I tried to watch it, and it's not really gone anywhere.

Shirogane no Ishi: Argevollen is set in the nation of Arandas, under attack from aggressive imperialists Ingelmia. In this war, young soldier Tokimune accidentally becomes the pilot of a prototype super-mecha, Argevollen. As the second course kicks in, though, all is not well: In Arandas, a conspiracy led by the slimy General Cayenne plans to use Argevollen's data for nefarious purposes; while on the Ingelmian side, ace pilot Richthofen is given his own prototype super-mecha, Sturm Alpha. 

I have to say, while I do enjoy Argevollen, it is almost never particularly striking or memorable.  It's easy watching that you put on in the background while you do other things, for the most part. In this second course, it does occasionally hit greatness, such as during Richthofen and Tokimune's battle in an abandoned structure, where Tokimune goes berserk, resulting in Richthofen delivering a no-holds-barred mecha beatdown on him, including tearing off an arm; or in the final episode where a previously bloodless show suddenly produces a torrent of mild gore. But for the most part, it's calm, easy watching that not only never reaches the heights it could, but never seems to really try.

If this image makes this scene look a touch lifeless, then it's doing its job in this review.

Certainly, it's not that the source material lacks potential. You have a war, giant robots, a romance, the threat of horrifying brain damage, conspiracy: Any one of these plots could lend itself very well to drama, and yet the show shies away from taking advantage of them. Instead, we're left with an ultimately toothless war where the main characters are all safe; rather lacklustre giant robot battles (the battle between Argevollen and Sturm Alpha stands out as the exception, but their rivalry never receives a proper conclusion, as Richthofen dies without the two mechas ever meeting in battle again); a romance which is often shoved unceremoniously into the background and also never receives a proper conclusion; a brain damage threat which is solved without any real fireworks or struggle; and a conspiracy which is interesting, but also never concluded. 

This series had more loose threads at the end than a frayed jumper, and while it might well be so that they have plot threads to pick up for a sequel, there is yet to be any suggestion that a sequel is actually coming.

The animation definitely doesn't help. It's not that its quality is terrible, although I've certainly seen better, it's that every scene looks the same. If they're outside, it's generally lit in bright green and blues, or sometimes the orange of the Ever Recurring Giant Mecha Anime Desert (I grew to hate that desert over the course of watching Break Blade), and if they're inside it's warm blues and reds. The repetition is dull as dishwater, and makes each scene and episode blur together - the few scenes set at night are godsends just because they vary the colour palette up a little. 

I feel like orange is an aggressively bland colour.

The characters are all very likeable, but they don't really develop, with the surprising and welcome exception of severe unit leader Captain Samonji and his second-in-command Suzushiro. They both develop in ways that parallel each other, with Samonji becoming more remote as a leader and a person as he becomes more obsessed with the legacy of his dead girlfriend and with ending the war (something that comes off as a little strange, as we never get it hammered in that this war really has any stakes), culminating in him essentially snapping in two as a person, while Suzushiro grows into a leadership role, becoming more canny and severe in the process while still retaining her core nature. That's some nice parallel development there, and it pleased me.

Some of the more fascinating characters end up getting not nearly as much screentime as they deserve. Arnold Holmes, a cold and Machiavellian Ingelmian colonel who, we are told, intends to overthrow his own government, is interesting to watch but lamentably underused. So too is his subordinate Liz, who eagerly pushes Richthofen towards greater and greater levels of brain damage, but whose motivations for doing so are never clearly established.

Lookin' good, Richie.

In general, while I liked this anime, it feels as though the writers were a bit too obsessed with the 'realistic mecha in a realistic war' concept and forgot that they were actually making a piece of entertainment - and while the result is enjoyable, it lacks any particular depth, and it's totally forgettable. I'll be very surprised if Argevollen gets a sequel, but if it does I probably will watch it.

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