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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review: Chrome Shelled Regios

Facts:

Post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi shonen adventure. 24 Episodes. Available on Hulu.

Bottom Line:

Lots of fun. CSR features enjoyable characters and quality action sequences set in a fascinating sci-fi world. There are few surprises and the characters all draw from familiar archetypes, but despite that there are enough expertly juggled threads to the plot that it never gets dull and the characters for the most part develop and present a measure of depth. Aside from the novel setting, CSR farms the intensive margin of the genre and succeeds because of solid narrative craftsmanship, not because it attempts any significant innovation. Overall, a solid piece of entertainment, all the more so the closer you are to the teenage boy target audience.

Fanservice:

I am going to blow past this point because it really deserves its own post (or rather, long series of posts). There is "fanservice" in this show, including the seemingly obligatory pool / spa episode. The "camera" sometimes has trouble finding the faces of the female characters, who all seem to involve their breasts in their gesticulation. This diminishes as the show progresses, as if the animators were assigned some sort of tit quota that they were anxious to hit early on, but never really goes away. Every worthwhile woman in the show is motivated, either partly or wholly, by their love for one of the dominant male characters. That said, compared to the typical run of this kind of shonen show, the fanservice is fairly mild. One could easily see CSR descending into harem subplots and the bodies are all reasonable. Mild, of course, is really more than we should have to put up with in the 21st century, but it really is light enough to not detract too much from the action.

Keep Hope Alive:

CSR treads over well trod paths. Our hero is a superpowered transfer student adopted by the lowest strength platoon (that is really the strongest once their inner power and teamwork is unleashed). Our hero is supported by the Girl Who Tries Her Best, the Playboy Who Is Secretly Talented, the Tsundere (with another on the way) and the rather flat mechanic Harley, who is so unexceptional that even his EVA suit has a metal facsimile of his trademark backwards ballcap bolted on top. There are villains seeking revenge for past slights, a hero destined to brood over past failings, and a Moe threesome that falls in love with said hero. 

And, despite the fact that it makes absolutely no sense in the context, our heroes are part of an academic city, completely self reliant both as an educational facility and an economic unit despite having no one over the apparent age of twenty. The one good thing there is to be said for all this is that CSR never shows classes taking place (because they would be absurd), shows only the facade of economic activity where absolutely necessary, and never dwells on the question of where any of the resources (except fuel) that power all this comes from.

"Have you ever wondered why this world doesn't make any sense?":

The above is a direct quote from a mystical figure during a scene set in an interdimensional rift.

The great strength of CSR is the world building. In brief, the surface of the planet has been overrun by contaminoids, warehouse sized beetles that have turned the ground into a wasteland and the air into poison. The only place humanity can survive is on giant mobile cities, the Regios, each of which moves about the world in accordance with the whim of the city's electronic spirit. Some cities actively seek out contaminoids and others avoid them. When a city is destroyed by contaminoids the electronic spirit goes insane, with predictable results. Also, the warriors of each city are full of magic kei energy and they fight a lot. This is quite a bit of disbelief suspension, but the Regios side of the world all fits together quite nicely and presents a world that has a lot more to explore even after the series ends.

Starting in episode three there is a side plot of sorts that begins. The first time through I though I had changed to a different show part way because it suddenly changes to a much darker animation style, very different setting and, most jarringly, some hilariously bad English dialogue (not sure how this part gets played in the dubbed version though I really can't see it being nearly as entertaining without the borderline Engrish read by voice actors for whom it is obviously a distant second language). Just trust me that while the action movie sequences never really make sense, they do tie in to the main plot near the end and open up a lot more depth to an already interesting world.

An added bonus is that this is post-apocalyptic like you never see it in western media. Sure, the world is desolate and harsh, but the show only once turns dark and the threats to survival come in the colorful action sequences, not as a pall cast over the general proceedings. This is a tonally positive post-apoc world, and perhaps despite that never undermines the credibility of the setting.

Recommendations:

This show is one of a fairly large genre. If you liked this you can pretty well close your eyes and pick another show and chances are you will land on something similar. Sadly, very few shows of this type place as much emphasis on world building, though the widely celebrated Fullmetal Alchemist does well in that department. For a more focused (and more fanservice laden) series, try Infinite Stratos, and for a slower, more expansive show consider D. Gray Man (all 150 episodes, and still cancelled before reaching the end). If you must pursue this sort of exuberant sci-fi without regaurd to overall quality, Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere is a fascinating world and also one of the most unique (both good and bad) shows in the mainstream shonen style.

Finally:

This show is just good fun. It is content to be mediocre in a lot of places, but let's not kid ourselves, a mediocre shonen anime is pretty damn enjoyable. The fact that the setting and multiplicity of well handled plot threads are really wonderful just compounds things and makes Chrome Shelled Regios one of the more memorable and enjoyable shows out there. A must watch for shonen fans, and a good recommendation for sci-fi fans of any stripe.

Based on how much I enjoyed it, I give Chrome Shelled Regios an 8/10.

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