Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination — Revolution Machine Valvrave

Revolution Machine Vlavrave
directed by Ko Matsuo, written by Ichiro Okouchi, released 2013, available on Crunchyroll

Model UN with mecha

Valvrave starts with a sentence that can really only be uttered in anime: so there’s this high school in space…

It gets a little more complex than that, obviously.  Sakimori High School is on the space station Module 77 of the neutral nation of JIOR.  The evil Dorssians invade JIOR without provocation and pacifist (and otherwise unremarkable student) Haruto Tokishima discovers there’s a giant invincible giant robot located under the school grounds, which he pilots against the invading army, forcing them back.

However, things quickly get complicated.  The Russian Soviets Dorssian military makes repeated attempts to conquer the plucky high school, despite catastrophic losses suffered each time.  Meanwhile, the American ARUS forces try to constantly force and coerce the newly founded JIOR government of Sakimori High School – they declared sovereignty (and it was recognized), thus forming a new government funded entirely by donations and Kickstarter – into handing over more and more of their power, until it comes out that both ARUS and the Dorssians want the Valvraves because…they do.  Of course, that’s the larger story that happens in the background while Haruto discovers that use of the Valvrave mecha seems to carry with it some sort of mutation into a semi-vampire, because Haruto begins randomly attacking people, often biting them to drink their blood but on at least one occasion, he rapes them instead.

Did that make sense?  No?  Well, that’s because very little of this show makes sense.
Story – 2 out of 5
Valvrave’s story is about as typical as it gets in anime: evil military attacks for no identifiable reason.  High school student with no training discovers a nigh-invincible giant robot and pilots its successfully, defeating hundreds of highly trained and experienced mecha pilots.  A love triangle.  One of the two teachers that survives the military attack on the high school turns out to be a highly knowledgeable government agent.  A nigh-omniscient enemy agent defects to the high school (being high school age himself) because despite a decade or more of intense training, he’s actually trying to take down the enemy army from the inside.

And then there’s the whole mystical element.  The Valvraves are sprinkled with – oh, yeah, there’s more than one Valvrave under the school, and each is a different color and has different powers, but can only be piloted by one person – various mystical and pseudo-religious elements that make no sense and offer next to know explanation.  A handful of people reference the Valvraves using biological terms (survived, grown, offspring, etc), and the highly colorful, cartoony sprites for the Valvrave operating systems are revealed in the last episode to be living entities that are related, referring to each other as brother and sister.

Worth noting is the abrupt injection of ‘grittiness’ that happens half a dozen times in the show.  The show feels like your typical superhero-style mecha show.  Things get tense, but the good guys always come out on top, usually because of pluckiness and a naive-like commitment to their ideals.  A great example of this is when the characters decide to sing a Christmas song to raise money for their fledgling nation and, somehow, it raises all the money ever.  Because why wouldn’t it?  In and of itself, that’s fine; that’s what happens in these kind of sparkly/good-wins-out shows.  The problem is that the show is occasionally injected with really garish, ugly reality (a supporting character dies a graphic and abrupt death, the main character rapes one of the other characters really vividly, etc).  But this isn’t like, say, Joss Whedon’s work where occasionally people die unexpectedly because it’s life.  These sudden bursts of grittiness really clash heavily with the otherwise sunny feel of the show, to the point that it feels schizophrenic or like a rogue author slipped these scenes in when nobody was looking.  It’s not jarring in the way real life is; it’s jarring in the way bad writing is.

All in all, it’s very trite, almost like a paint-by-numbers plot rather than anything resembling original.

Art – 4 out of 5
While the story is simultaneously trite and nonsensical, the art is really excellent.  Most characters aren’t too zany in their appearance, yet still are distinctive enough to have a personal feel.  The world is beautifully illustrated and nicely detailed.

The one except are the Valvraves themselves, which (when in motion) almost hurt to look at, they’re so visually busy.  Much like the insect-like designs of the Transformers from the live-action movies, the Valvraves have way too many components to be able to tell what is what when the mecha is zipping around the screen.

Animation – 3 out of 5
The animation is unremarkably good.  It does it’s job, does it well, but isn’t too outstanding.  The action sequences outside the mecha are fair to good, while the mecha squences themselves are mostly grandiose and over the top.

Characters – 2 out of 5
Anime functions on stereotypes to establish characters, and then begins to break their mold so as to develop them more fully.  Valvrave does this first part very solidly (establishes the stereotypes), but then never breaks the characters out of their molds.  There is no character progression or development at all.  The characters aren’t bad per say; just two-dimensional and uninspired.

Acting – 3 out of 5
Having watched the Japanese voice cast, I can’t speak for the English voices.  The Japanese actors were all thoroughly mediocre.  It’s hard to say what may have been acting and what may have just been the thoroughly unremarkable script and dialogue.  Whatever the case, the acting didn’t distract from the show.

Overall – 2 out of 5
Valvrave is an example of a really ‘okay’ show, with occasional flourishes into sub-par regions, but never without turning truly bad.  Nothing about it is awful, but nothing about it is particularly good.  It’s just sort of there.  No element is outstanding and worthy of mention, but nothing about it is poorly done or worthy of warning.  It’s a show that exists.  Sadly, that’s about the best praise it can deserve.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s