Some of you fondly remember being a twelve year old anime fan. Back then the foundations of incredible storytelling--compelling plot twists, subtle characterization, and good acting--seemed of little import. What mattered most was whether the battles were awesome and the characters looked cool. For those of you deeply in touch with this younger self and a few hours to kill, run along and watch Sacred Seven. The rest of you, stick around a bit before you decide how to spend your time.
Sacred Seven works by mashing together a number of interesting-but-worn tropes and wrapping it in some solid fight scenes and stellar visuals. As a plan of attack it works just fine at delivering meat-and-potatoes shounen, but I doubt you’ll remember much about the plot. Aruma Tandoji, the series’ taciturn lead finds himself the recipient of a mysterious heaven-sent power that can cause massive destruction. His hurting others with it causes him to shun his classmates and spend his time searching for a lost amulet that his mother gave him. But, when strange monsters start attacking Japan, he finds himself allied with Ruri Aiba, her mech-driving combat butler, and army of maids against an unknown enemy. Yes, there’s a rival corporation. Yes, there’s a human experiment angle. Yes, there’s a school fair. Nothing here steps far afield of familiar territory and you will see the ending coming a mile off. But, like, whatever.
Despite the presence of halfhearted machinations and minor character developments, the core plot fixates on its monsters-of-the-week encounters. Here, each new beastie provides a unique encounter or the chance to design a fun set piece battle that serves as each episode's climax. From strange earthquake-causing bugs to a gigantic sky octopus to an animated statue, Sacred Seven coughs up some attractive enemies and fun situations for Tandoji to overcome, even if his powers (which manifest via a ring-menu from which he selects and activates them) provide a solution to each new problem with mundane regularity. Also, the show’s short running time removes any space for the narrative to build tension or create believable plot twists. Much like Black Blood Brothers, the no-frills approach takes much of the oomph out of the final battle which fails to generate the emotion that would make a you rise out of your seat.
Sunrise has more money than God, and they want you to know it. Despite all of the narrative or characterization failings this show has, it sure looks great. Transformed, Alma looks like an updated Proto-Man, with tight-fitting chitinous body armor and a deadly scarf (yes, the scarf can kill things) and the enemy Dark Stones posses a distinctly otherworldly quality that makes them both easy to pick out from the landscape and thematically consistent (they come from SPAAAAACEEE). The bog-standard humans' designs fare just as well on the whole. Each maid in the Aiba Foundation army, for example, each sport her own hair cut and slight variation in outfit. And, while the girls' uniform for school isn't the most imaginative, the attractive boys' clothes recall the designs from D.-Grayman giving the series a fanciful touch even in its more mundane school life scenes.
But the battles are really where the show flexes its animation muscle. Impressive explosions, creepy monsters, visceral choreography, this studio knows how to make action intense and engaging. Sure, some of Alma's powers are what my roommate would call "cheaty-face" but when you watch him dodge the dragon-headed tendrils of a floating jellyfish on a hover board it's hard to care overmuch.
Fiction Junction's OP "Stone Cold" is every bit as good as the one they performed for Pandora Hearts, if not a little better. The song captured the anime's aspirational feeling its moderate tempo fit like a glove with the opening animation. The show’s ED theme, while serviceable, doesn’t rise to quite the quality of the OP, which proves unfortunate when the two themes switch positions halfway through the run. However, both songs speak to the series' musical texture which relies heavily on poppy electronic background tracks that set the mood well without being terribly memorable.
Only Toru Ohkawa’s performance as Onigawara rises above the rest of the competent cast's turns. He subverts the “cute-character-with-verbal-tic” trope (think Ika Musume de gesso) by delightfully emulating a samurai trapped in a trashcan; in doing so, he makes the sidekick character a source of savvier laughs and prevents many of his clunker lines from falling completely flat.
In its short run, Sacred Seven brings too many pieces into play to make good use of them. True, some serve as cast-offs, like the maid army or the two girls obsessed with Kagami. But the show also teases at development for members of its secondary cast in a manner that piques your curiosity before abandoning them in the wake of a quickly unfolding plot. A veritable laundry list of missed opportunities includes Kagami, Fei, Knight, Wakana, and SP, who all show tiny hints of deeper histories underneath their exteriors, but the show only touches on each before moving back to the central story of Alma and Ruri.
Sadly, even this core dynamic feels hollow. Alma’s reluctant protector schtick was on its way to being tired whenBleach's Ichigo took up his spot as the archetype’s spokesbrat. While our hero’s meager development fits with the space given and follows a believable path, it’s also terribly unoriginal. Given that there exist comfort anime that know how to subvert a trope for dramatic effect (see: Kage Kara Mamoru), Alma’s arc just comes across as lazy by comparison. As counterpoint to him, Ruri Aiba is hamstrung by her physical incapability. While she’s an extremely effective administrator and possesses steely resolve, her inability to adequately avoid danger turns her into a plot-token at the appearance of any monster. As a result, despite having vast resources and knowledge at her disposal she remains the lesser partner in her relationship with Alma.
Here’s the thing: Sunrise makes a strong claim for the idea that you can throw a lot of money at something and improve it. Sacred Seven’s action set pieces and solid sound direction make the core parts of each episode shine despite the mediocre writing that dominates the series. If you’re in the mood for some cheap thrills and cool artwork, look no farther; if your brain needs a little workout, however, keep it moving.
Following a violent incident in his childhood, Alma Tandoji has been left an outcast at school and wants nothing more than to be quietly left alone. But one day Alma's solitary peace is shattered when a strange monster known as a Dark Stone attacks his hometown. Suddenly the boy finds himself thrust into the struggle between this strange creature and the ones fighting it: the Aiba Foundation and it's leader, the wealthy Ruri. Though reluctant to fight at first, amidst the battle, Alma learns that he possesses a power known as Sacred Seven that is linked to not only these mysterious creatures but also his forgotten past. Now, along with the help of Ruri and her bestpectacled butler Makoto, Alma must take up the mantle of protector to save the world from this new threat.
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These days I load up on comedy, slice-of-life, and horror shows, but I'll watch almost anything that sports a good voice cast, an interesting story, or looks particularly pretty. I tend to relate anime I review to other shows I've seen, because that's just how my mind works. Whether my warped view on a particular show totally misses the mark or you believe I've hit the nail on the head, I'd love to hear from you and welcome feedback and intelligent discussion of just how wrong I might be.