Though the idea of futuristic cyber worlds has been recycled time and time again, depending on the quality of the production it can be either fascinating or boring; Baldr Force, fortunately, is of the former category. Yet, to my dismay, it had one giant hurdle that it had to overcome: time constraint. It certainly made a valiant attempt at doing so, presenting both a complex and unique world occupied by interesting and depth-driven characters, but ultimately fell short.
The basic premise of the OVA is that mankind has advanced technology to allow a person to project himself or herself into a virtual world by "plugging in" to the net. By means of electronics, computers can basically hi-jack a human's brain functions and translate them into this alternate reality with relative ease, allowing access for just about anyone interested. It comes with a price, however: the process is physically taxing on the body, limiting the amount of time one can spend inside, and forcing a period of rest and recovery before one can re-enter. More importantly, though, due to the high amount of electricity flowing through the human body, any sort of trauma incurred while in the virtual world can cause disruptions in this electrical flow, resulting in severe physical injuries and possibly even death.*
That said, the OVA follows a young man by the name of Toru. Immediately after the opening scene, you find he's been apprehended for attempting to hack into a government agency, Flak. He had been with three others at the time, but during the hack one of them, his best friend Yuya, had been killed by someone in the organization. Flak, basically the police of the virtual world, are in the midst of hunting down a hacker who has been brutally murdering people on the web, and decide to offer Toru a deal. They recognize his top notch skills, so they offer him a deal: he helps Flak hunt down the killer, they give him clemency. Though on the surface he accepts seeming to accept the deal for his own personal freedom, his main goal is to hunt down and kill the member of Flak who happened to kill Yuya.
The story explodes from there, and soon we find Toru involved with a huge web of organizations and characters as he keeps getting deeper and deeper into the case. Keeping in mind that this spans only four episodes, let me list them for emphasis: Steppen Wolf, Flak, VSS, Fei Dao, and Ren. There are a number of singular characters who appear as well apart from these major groups; the total is probably around 20-25 characters, all of which have some connection to him in one form or another. They are integrated into the storyline rather smoothly, however, but as I shall touch upon shortly, are simply too numerous to really connect with the viewer in a brief span of time.
Fortunately, Baldr Force doesn't dawdle with trying develop characters which it knows it doesn't have time to do, so the focus is shifted almost entirely to moving the storyline along; boy does it move. It changes direction faster than a child with ADHD, taking you through a whirlwind of twists and turns. Yet, it ends with a resounding thud, as the series runs out of time before it can really tie up any of its loose ends. As such, the ending is awkward and defunct, even if really not all that bad in itself. Had Baldr Force thirteen episodes to convey the same amount of content it tried to do in four, I think it would have been a fabulous series, but alas it ends up only as a decent OVA.
*Let me make a note for the faint of heart: this is not a happy or pretty OVA. People die consistently throughout the course of the four episodes, and the process can be rather graphic at times. Also, a number of other touchy topics surface as it progresses, including a rather brutal rape scene. Definitely not for younger audiences.
Not the most tantalizing display of animation, but certainly of high-quality OVA standards. Unlike many anime series, the duplicitous installment of CGI alongside the main style of animation actually worked rather well in this instance. There seemed a particularly strong emphasis on synchronizing the two to look visually similar, which prevented the CGI scenes from being distractors rather than productive content. As a result, the normally animated scenes have a realistic feel to them while the CGI scenes have a much more cybernetic flavor. Given that the disparity between the two was one of Baldr Force's central themes, I felt the animators did a splendid job at showcasing this without any real fragmentation.
Being an avid fan of Kotoko's works, I loved both the opening and ending tracks. In fact, I stumbled on the opening theme purely by accident (it's a remix of one of her older songs), and that ironically lead me to discovering this OVA. Of the two, however, the ending theme, Undelete, is definitely more memorable. If nothing else, I found Baldr Force a fruitful watch just for being able to listen to this song -- it's extremely melancholic and absolutely beautiful.
As I mentioned in the story section, there's just way too many characters. Most series wouldn't dare impliment this many in twenty-six episodes, much less four, and with good reason. Though the OVA progressed surprisingly well despite this, I felt many of the emotional aspects of the character relationships were overshadowed. The plot continually shifts direction, but does so in such a manner that it leaves way too many loose ends undone.
Toru and Ayane's grudge, for example, becomes virtually nonexistant as a plot element in the final two episodes, despite it being the foundation of the first two. This was frustrating to say the least, as he makes for a fantastic lead with his passionate, loyal personality and firm dedication to vengeance. The skeletal framework for a much deeper and intense relationship was built, but no meat was ever placed on the bones. Just when you come to expect a climax, it ends abruptly.
Unfortunately, all of the key character connections suffered similar fates. Far too much time was spent on raising questions and not enough on answering them. While Toru's character flourished in spite of it all, it did not remove the bitter taste of artificiality. I could sympathize with Toru, but I couldn't have cared less about anyone else. Again, in the grand scheme of the anime it's not really important that I did, but it would have qualified the characters as "great" instead of "good."
In lieu of all the negativity, however, I did enjoy the OVA. Its flaws occured from an abudance of depth rather than a lack thereof, which certainly offers for a more satisfying experience even if not all that stunning. Some impressive scriptwriting and plot development, and my only disappointment was that the side characters were not given enough time to properly develop.
Regardless, it only takes a couple hours to watch, so there's really no reason not to try it out. Baldr Force probably would have worked better as a thirteen episode series, but its level of production quality allows it to pass as an OVA. Overall, one of the more solid short-length productions and worth your time if you're interested.
Touru Souma was a hacker in Steppen Wolf, a rogue group of four who caused mischief in the wired world. But during their final hacking session, they attacked the government agency known as FLAK and Touru’s friend Yuuya died in the process. Haunted by his memories, Touru vows to find the ones responsible for murdering Yuuya, even if it means he must join the enemy to do so. Further complicating the matter is the emergence of the terrorist organization Fei Dao; but the largest challenge Touru must now face is his forgotten memories – especially one involving a girl who continuously reappears in reality...
Though I'm a big fan of slice of life and romance, I'll watch just about anything that catches my interest. My opinions tend to be pretty level-headed, but I have been known to be controversial from time to time! Feel free to lay into me if you so desire, as I always appreciate feedback - positive or negative. I hope you enjoy reading!