SoltyRei

SoltyRei (2006)

[Spoilers appear further below]

Two things bugged me about SoltyRei, although otherwise I really enjoyed the series – but I’ll get to those two storytelling issues in a moment.

SoltyRei has a lot of aspects that I tend to seek out in an anime; a futuristic setting, mechanised gear, even an android to go with the other science fiction tropes. It also features bounty hunting and conspiracy plotlines, and there are some moe elements that bring a fun balance, though I could see some folks making the argument that those aspects clash with the more serious bits. 

The series is quite character-driven, featuring a fairly large cast, but remaining mostly focused on Roy’s compelling struggle as a father, along with Solty’s adjustment to human society. While the large cast means certain storylines rise and fall in terms of importance and screen time, they certainly do tie together in the end.

The anime has an episodic feel in terms of cases that the unlikely pair of Roy and Solty must solve (at first), but the main storyline does come to the fore quickly enough.

Tonally, there are a lot of lighter moments (it was fun seeing Solty learn to cook for example) and while her solo-travelling arc stood out too, it’s not wholly uplifting even if it was among my favourite episodes. Above all other elements, I think Roy figuring out how to take emotional risks once more was the thing that hooked me most. There you can see the classic ‘detective with a troubled past’ trope, but I’m one to dig anything vaguely film noir 🙂

I’m about to get to my two main issues, which will include spoilers, but firstly, the fan-service can present another drinking game opportunity if you’re watching the direction. (Partial spoilers right below too).

Before they kill off a few of the female characters, Gonzo and AIC never miss an opportunity to get the girls into showers, baths or pools. And if you do need to get drunk (to borrow that game from Irina) just take a drink each time there’s a low-angle panning up Rose’s legs or a shot framed to ensure Solty’s shapely butt is visible.

Okay! To the problems I mentioned earlier – I think I’m extremely forgiving when it comes to most shows, and I know that not everything I consider a fault is a deal-breaker (or even a problem) for each viewer, but I wanted to raise two character issues:

  • Our villain, Ashley Lynx has a reason for being what he is, but that information is rushed in at the end, in time for his death scene. It seemed like this was done to evoke some last-minute sympathy – but I didn’t care about him so it didn’t land for me. Had some of this info been delivered earlier, I think his ending would have packed a punch – because there’s some sincere tragedy going on, but it ends up tied to a generic villain that doesn’t get the chance to be much more.
  • Rose is presented in quite an inconsistent way for such a vital character. Her motivations are both contradictory and/or hidden from the audience at different times, making her actions seem bizarre instead of mysterious. And while things were half-explained retroactively, during the period where the audience was kept in the dark, I lost some interest in her future. (This obviously lessened the impact of the ending episodes for me).
  • Half the time, as I watched her playing at villain I was thinking you have no reason to do this and you’re far too smart to fall for this tosh. And I remember thinking those things because previous episodes had taken some pains to establish Rose as clever and as having her own stubborn moral code. When she went ‘off-script’ for no reason, I didn’t find it intriguing, I found it an example of poor charactarisation – not the choice to have her essentially switch sides, but what I thought was a failure to present her motivation onscreen.

Now having spent all that time attacking the way important info about Rose was presented, I’ll also say that I reckon some things about her certainly are foreshadowed well.

Elsewhere, there were enough hints of upcoming things to keep me satisfied in that department overall, but for the anime as an entire story, I’m not sure whether my rating below is slightly reactionary.

For instance, I thought SoltyRei really was ‘great’… save for those two flaws, and so maybe my disappointment drives it down to ‘good’? I dunno, what’s in a rating, right?

(Again, the general sci-fi elements and Roy’s struggle were real highlights for me, in spite of the issues I mentioned above; in fact, those things rise above my doubts about the charactarisation in the end anyway – and there’s a great final episode too.)

3.5 Stars

Special 7: Special Crime Investigation Unit (Keishichou Tokumu-bu Tokushu Kyouaku-han Taisaku-Shitsu Dai-Nana-ka -Tokunana)

Special 7… seemed to sneak in right around the end of last year and I only stumbled across it earlier this month – I wonder if what I imagine was a lack of fanfare came from the time of year, or the fact that the show didn’t ‘take off’?

Special 7… 2019

In any event, I thought I’d give Special 7… a shot because it promised detectives and the supernatural, and after I started, the pacing was nice and brisk.

It’s not a show with a giant budget however, so if you take a look I think you’ll probably be following along due to the main plot rather than other aspects. For me, it was the ‘troubled detective with a past’ trope that had me watching as much as anything else, that and the never-fully-fulfilled promise of bold supernatural elements. (Ichinose was also interesting in that he wasn’t a typically-athletic tough guy either).

The supernatural wasn’t absent either, but on the other hand, having elves, dwarves, vampires and dragons co-existing in a city sounded like it’d be perhaps a little closer to the chaos of Blood Battlefront Blockade. Instead, it felt more like regular crime show – although I think the CSI/Criminal Minds-feel here was also perhaps a little light.

Ultimately, it was probably mostly the character backstory of a select few team members that kept me watching, and the occasional flash of humour. Not a stunning fantasy show, but if you like crime too, there might be enough here for you.  

3 Stars 

Un-Go (2011)

Un-Go (2011)

This series was fascinating.

It’s hard for me to accurately describe why I found it so – probably because of the contradictions within.

On one hand Un-Go feels like an uneven detective series and on the other it feels like an uneven philosophical text… and on the other hand it’s aesthetically pleasing, even stylish at times. On the fourth hand that I apparently have, it’s one of those shows that appears not quite able to add up to more than the sum of its influences, yet manages to become compelling.

Now, maybe I’m in a bit of a minority here with Un-Go but by the end I was ready for more cases and more of the interplay between detective Shinjuurou and his ‘boss’ Inga. The series is short (eleven episodes), with one double-episode length OVA as a prequel. I’d like to come back to that OVA actually, but for now I’ll mention that there is an overarching story that I preferred to some of the episodic parts.

While some cases felt rushed into single episodes, once Un-Go passed beyond that establishing phase the multi-part mysteries let the storytelling breathe a little, especially the final half dozen. In addition to what I consider an uneven start I feel like the pacing encourages the viewer to gloss over some plot holes or uneven character beats but the mysteries of the setting, the cases themselves and most of all, the exact nature of the contract between Shinjuuro and Inga were the main draws for me.

Secrets upon secrets

Un-Go is pretty good at drip-feeding it’s secrets too, and that’s another aspect that kept me watching – as did the oddness of Inga, who is basically a mix between Ed from Cowboy Bebop and Harley Quinn but it kinda worked. The anime takes on some big topics (albeit too briefly) around autonomy, privacy, war and finding purpose, and is far more adult in nature than say, Full Metal Alchemist. How’s that for a segue? I mention FMA because Un-Go is helmed by Seiji Mizushima and features Shō Aikawa in the writing chair.

However, I hope I haven’t misled anyone into thinking I believe FMA shies away from difficult themes, but its tone is a fairly different to Un-Go. And related to the question of tone – if you’ve seen this series and notice a reasonably pessimistic streak running throughout, then it might come from what is (to some extent) the source material.

Ango Sakaguchi was a post-war writer who seems to have been understandably struck by strong disillusionment, and one of his works Meiji Kaika Ango Torimono-chō, is the base for Un-Go’s lead, Shinjuuro who can appear to have lost hope at times. (But I think that’s about all that’s used from the source, since among other differences, the novel is set in the Meiji era and the anime is futuristic/alternate Japan.)

The show often gives little name flashes as reminders when we first see a character in an episode.

Finally now, I’m returning to the prequel I mentioned earlier.

The prequel is the most compelling of all the episodes in the series and perhaps even has slightly higher production values too, if that sorta thing matters to you. It also adds a bit of clarity to some of the Buddhist hints throughout.

But more important for me, was that Inga Chapter offered a lot of answers. Earlier I mentioned how I thought the show did a great job of maintaining my curiosity and it was pretty high by the time I saw the prequel. However, there’s a bit of debate out there as to when you should watch it – either before you begin the series or after episode eleven. On my DVD the OVA is on the final disc and so that’s how I saw it, and I liked that approach because it was enjoyable to finally get some back story for the lead characters and solve a few mysteries that had been hinted at since that tiny glimpse at the beginning of episode one.

(As a quick aside, the air date of the prequel was actually during the series itself, which is interesting.)

It’s clearly too late for me to watch Un-Go any other way ‘for the first time’ now, but if you’ve decided to hunt this show down then I guess consider what kind of viewer you reckon you are.

If you don’t mind having secrets held back for a long time, so as to build anticipation, then watch the prequel last.

If you suspect you might be a bit annoyed by a series that takes its time to return to the main concern, or if you like being one step ahead of the main characters and catching all the little hints they sometimes miss, then maybe watch the prequel first.  

Okay, another ridiculously long review! Next time, I’ll aim for a shorter write up 😀

3.5 Stars