A few years ago, I found myself attending one of Anime Boston's yearly AMV contests. That year, one of the finalists in the Drama category was a video for a series called No. 6. The video was very well edited. In fact, it was so well edited, that I decided that I had to give the series a watch. Everything about the music video suggested that this was a post-apocalyptic show worth watching -- an exciting new entry into the zombie-apocalypse canon. Only, it wasn't. Although the show certainly contains dystopian elements and influences, it's far less action-packed than I was led to believe. The series instead focuses on certain recurring themes. Shonen-ai themes. It's a gay drama. At least... it tries to. We'll get to that.
First, it needs to be stated that I'm not a homophobic person. However, it need also be stated that I'm not a homosexual person. I say this because although I can appreciate the story that No. 6 (tries to) tell, certain elements are lost on me. I have little doubt that the inclusion of crossdressing, and the overall theme of shirtlessness are hightly relevant to a lot of viewers' interests. However, these components of the show are lost on me. I will do my best to review the show on its other merits, but as for the fan-service, I'll simply make the statement: it is present, but not superfluous
Story and Setting
No. 6 (the series) starts out in No. 6 (the city.) It is a seemingly ideal place to live, but one that holds more than a few secrets. On the night of his twelfth birthday, Shion's room gets broken into by an injured runaway named Nezumi. Shion makes the decision to help Nezumi, and to treat his wounds, without prying into the events that brought Nezumi to him. For this act of kindness, however, Shion is punished for harboring a fugitive, and his family's rank is stripped. Things get even worse for him when four years later -- timelapse -- he is arrested for a strange murder that he did not commit. Nezumi returns, and is able to rescue Shion from custody, the two taking refuge in the slums just outside of No. 6.
Seeing the outside world puts a lot of things into perspective for Shion, which is one of the major themes of the series. The story focuses on Nezumi's hatred of and desire to tear down No. 6, and Shion's desire to return to and restructure it. A strange plague infecting the city, causing people to age rapidly and die, is cause for concern in both characters. As the series progresses towards its conclusion, more complex ideas begin to be introduced, and the series begins to fall closer to the science fiction genre than anywhere else. Also, of course, is the overarching relationship between Shion and Nezumi. Thankfully, it is never heavy-handed, and -- refreshingly -- its not yet another take on the concept of a young person coming to terms with their sexuality. It actually comes across as something of a non-issue, which is nice.
As a whole, the setting of No. 6 is very good. The story, however, overreaches. They try to include different back-stories, and to characterize everyone, and to sculpt a complex story filled with plot twists and pseudo-intellectual motifs. The problem is that there simply isn't enough time for the series to accomplish everything that it sets out to accomplish. No. 6 is an eleven-episode series, and considering this short length, it would have been wise for Bones to have gone for a more focused work. As it stands, there are lots of interesting branches coming off of the main storyline's tree, but few of them have any leaves, and none of them have any fruit. If it was trying to be deep, it failed. But it could have been a really fun exploration of a dystopian society if weaker parts of the story had been cut.
As was already mentioned, owing to its duration, No. 6 fails at giving each character as much definition as it would like to. Shion and Nezumi are fine, but neither of the two are examples of great character writing. We grow to understand their differing ideologies, with Shion being kind and gentle, and Nezumi being harsher and unforgiving, but there's a lot of blanks left unfilled. The fact that Nezumi is a crossdressing actor (actress?) comes up in one episode, but it's not really explained. It's plausible that this is just a hobby of his -- with what little the show gives us, this is as likely a scenario as any -- but having such unique characteristics without a proper explanation comes across as a little bit unusual from a storytelling point of view.
Characters aside from Shion and Nezumi are characterized to varying degrees. For example, there is Dog Keeper who -- you can probably guess -- raises dogs. We're not given anything more for that character. Other characters, such as Safu, Shion's childhood friend who has something of a crush on him, are closer to the story's plot. However, in the case of Safu, we are never really told what it is that makes her special. We are just left to believe that she's special because the story demands that someone to act as the plot's MacGuffin. Like the two main characters, most of these people are not unlikable, but none of them are memorable either.
Art and Sound
No. 6 is a 2011 anime, and it shares many aesthetic qualities with other anime of recent years. Lines are bold and even, color is strong, and surfaces are very clean. To it's credit, CGI is used sparingly, to improve scenes rather than distract from them. No. 6 isn't a groundbreaking series in any way. It looks like a typical modern anime, which is to say it looks quite good. However, it wouldn't have been unwelcome had character designs been a bit more original. Nezumi looks rather appealing, and Shion's design is passable, but most of the secondary characters are lacking. In terms of artwork, nothing sticks out as being anything less than adequate, but then, not much extends past that level either. In this manner, the art reflects the overall quality of the show itself.
The opening theme, Spell, by Lama, is the kind of song that you fast forward through each time, while the closing theme, Rokutousei no Yoru, by Aimer, is the kind of song that you stop to listen to, at least some of the time. Basically, the music maintains the show's one-for-two batting average. Voice actors used are not -- or were not, at the time -- of the highest-tier in terms of popularity, but they are a reasonably talented bunch. Yuki Kaji, the voice of Shion, has notably gone on to lend his voice to Eren Jaeger in Attack on Titan; so that's the level of talent No. 6 is working with.
As I hinted in the introduction, there are certain romantic aspects of No. 6's story, however not enough to really be off-putting. This raises an interesting question though: if No. 6 isn't telling the story of Shion and Nezumi falling for each other, what is it doing? The answer is: not a whole lot. There's nothing in this anime that will offend anyone, but that's because there's nothing particularly exciting going on in any area. It's watchable entertainment, but not it's definitely of the throw-away variety. It could have been really good, but it's just... not.
Final Score: 5.5 out of 10.0