I ended up watching this more as a whim. Someone had made a comparison between it, Kakumeiki Valvrave, and Aldnoah.Zero, and I felt somewhat compelled to look it up and at least give it a try.
After an incident where his classmate, Hina, rescues him from an assassin, Aoba Watase, a high school student and basketball student, is thrown seventy years into the future, into the middle of a war between the Republic of Zogilia and the Free Pact Alliance. He quickly ends up joining the Alliance as the pilot of a Valiancer, a giant robot that can link its pilot's mind to another, with Aoba's partner being Dio, a remote and gruff fellow pilot. But events are complicated even more when Hina, who doesn't remember Aoba at all, appears on the battlefield - as a pilot for Zogilia.
It got off to quite a strong start when I was watching it. Dio, Aoba and Hina are anime cliches, but if I automatically hated every anime that jumped into the cliche pool I would hate nearly every anime, and they are at least fun cliches. The animation isn't amazing but it is very smooth, and the action scenes are pretty fun to watch - the slowness and ploddiness of giant mechas is pretty much done away with entirely in favour of them always fighting in mid-air, swooping about in kind of strange melee gunfights that draw their inspiration from planes and birds as much as they do from giant mecha shows. After a thousand shows where half the battles consist of stomping across the giant, empty, grassy-or-desert-take-your-pick battlefields, it was nice to see some actual speed and pacing out of mecha battles.
Where it kind of started to wear thin was that the show took its first three episodes and then apparently copy and pasted their scripts several times over, making minor alterations as the plot required, while stalwartly refusing to ever actually advance the plot.
'We are flying somewhere,' the captain would say gravely, at the start of the episode. 'But we may be attacked.' Either Aoba would be angsty about Hina with Dio irritatedly telling him not to be for a while, or Dio would be angsty about his family with Aoba trying to prod him into cheerfulness for a while, until eventually the captain's foreboding prophecy would come through and the enemy would attack. By 'the enemy', I mean the same squad of Zogilians every time. I think you're meant to see them as kind of a deuteragonist squad, but they're never given enough screen time or development for you to form any kind of attachment to them. Aoba and Dio would get into their mechs, perform a Coupling, and face off against any of the three strategies the Zogilians seemed to use: Mines, waiting out their time limit, or surrounding them. Invariably, Aoba and Dio would overcome this challenge with the power of love, invariably this would cause the leader of the rest of the mechs to yell something about how they'll join the battle too, and the Zogilians would be defeated for at least, and indeed at most, an episode.
The plot became so staid and repeated that several times while watching I actually ended up starting on, say, the first half of episode eight, and then accidentally ending up on the second half of episode nine, and the two seemed to fit together well enough that I did not initially notice this.
|"Since you've lost your giant robots, here are two functionally identical ones.|
In the very next episode."
Even when the show tried to change things up - for example, having Aoba and Hina spend an episode trapped in a storm - it still seemed to find a way to work in most of the parts of its formula, just with 'battle' replaced with 'search and rescue operation.'
But the show is clearly meant to be about character than plot - indeed, I would argue that it is meant to be about romance, both between Dio and Aoba (come on, guys, 'coupling' is the word Japanese people use for 'shipping', they are practically weaponising the power of being an OTP; the title of the show basically works out as Japanese slang for 'sexual fixation on a friend') and between Aoba and Hina, and on that count, it actually also fails miserably. Dio and Aoba have plenty of time to develop their relationship but never do - we're informed by the end that they've become fast friends, but god knows I would not be able to tell you how that happened, as their behaviour to each other is identical from start to finish. Hina and Aoba barely interact over the course of the series, and Hina's change of heart not only feels very much out of the blue, it feels like it comes too late to actually make the events of the first episode - where she very much gives the impression that she knows Aoba well and that they've been working together for some time - make any sense.
I put some effort into enjoying this show, and it just didn't really work out. If the intention of the show was to recreate the experience of time travel for its audience, then by god it experience, as I spent most of the show's run feeling like I was repeating chunks of my life.