What’s the best proof that a certain work of fiction has achieved success and influence? When other works of fiction in the same vein start popping up. I’m talking about “Bakemonogatari”, whose lead this curiously-titled “C³ - CubeXCursedXCurious”, an adaptation of a still ongoing light novel series, follows to a good extent. More of a "Bakemonogatari meets When they cry", actually. The result, however, is a typical part action, part horror, part harem/love comedy flick, with some brilliant moments here and there, but a general lack of originality.
Yachi Haruaki is a high-schooler who’s always been naturally immune to curses; for this reason, his father keeps sending him cursed tools, called “Waas”, in order to free them of said curses. One day, he receives a mysterious box, an instrument of torture called “Fear in Cube”, whose human form, a young silver-haired girl, soon appears to Haruaki. The two, along with Haruaki’s friend Konoha, will have to fight together against other cursed tools and their owners.
As the arcs progress, more girls (or cursed tools taking the form of girls) will add to the cast. Those who have seen “Bakemonogatari” will probably start to see a pattern here. After an incredibly non-indicative first-and-a-half episode filled with silly, annoying ecchi/moe comedy material, the action and even psychological elements kick right in, providing lots of pretty intense action scenes, lots of blood, some surprisingly disturbing moments, a couple of interesting character development sections… and still lots and lots of fanservice and silly ecchi comedy. The presence in the plot of various organisations centred around Waas, providing the role of “villains”, spices the story up a bit, but the abrupt and unsatisfying finale typical of light novel adaptations leaves so much stuff hanging, so much development mid-way, that all the interest and questions go straight out the window, and make the whole series feel a bit useless. Despite all this, however, the mystery and suspense are really well crafted, the plot twists are effectively prepared and pulled off, there's an overabundance of ecchi-centred situations but some moments are genuinely hilarious, as some others are genuinely disturbing, even creepy. After the awful first impression it had given me, I was amazed at how I was getting increasingly invested in the characters. Again, it’s not original, and in the last arc some parts do feel a bit forced, but some effort is definitely there.
To go on with the Bakemonogatari comparison, C³ knows it has a simple and agonizingly unoriginal plot, and thus focuses on pulling it off instead of being all brilliant and dialogue-heavy; by doing this, what it loses in originality it gains in impact. Maybe if they had more episodes to show further developments it could have made the story more memorable, but as it is, it’s like you suddenly left your host's house without a word just as they finished getting dinner ready: it might have been a perfectly good meal for all you know, but you haven’t eaten it. Therefore, all you're left with is lots of wasted potential, and lots of panties, boob gags, and some BDSM equipment.
The protagonist is an extremely selfless boy full of good intentions using his special qualities to help others; bland and bidimensional, but not unlikeable, despite being basically an harem lead with some Araragi Koyomi mixed in. Fear, the female protagonist, starts off as a typical loli character (you know, clumsy but arrogant, always insulting but with a sweet side, hyperactive and easily distracted…?), but soon reveals a kind of “double personality”, a different side of herself she wants to get rid of, and her inner turmoil is actually pretty good; I’d even say she’s the one with the most potential out of all the characters, but unfortunately it never fully pays off. Then we have your cute obvious childhood-friend-with-a-crush Konoha, a type B tsundere with glasses, twin braids, big tits and everything (yes, I do like her, why do you ask?), who surprises at first by showing a personality quite different from your first expectation, but remains underdeveloped despite a lot of potential and mystery. Lastly we have Kirika Ueno, your typical serious, selfless class president, with an interesting twist and small inner conflict which manage to make her intriguing, and a pervert loli whose name I can't even remember. As you can see, it’s your stereotypical cast ready to create the usual harem dynamics, but still it’s well balanced and well done enough to be appreciated for what it is. Plus, all of them are likeable enough to connect to the viewer.
Regarding the minor characters, I’ll say I was surprised by how clearly they managed to flash out some personality for everyone of them instead of just making them walking plot devices (especially Shiraho, the school superintendent and his secretary), and most of them have their moments in the comedic spotlight; when this happens, it’s always a big plus for me.
This is where I say clearly “how Bakemonogatari should have been”. Just like Bakemonogatari, this simple story is directed by a “virtuoso” anime director, Ōnuma Shin; but unlike Bakemonogatari, here the direction actually manages to improve the atmosphere, instead of distracting from it. The most prominent feature would probably be the various filters applied to the background at appropriate moments, especially during confrontations (as to create an “isolated” environment for the key events to take place), but also very clever symbolisms (like chains, or bind eyes trying to open when Fear is trying to keep her inner self at bay…), shōjo manga-like frames, little hearts or stars appearing in the eyes or mouth for comedic effect, sudden art shifts, wide angles… even decoupage-like animations with the characters moving like puppets on a theatre-like background or turning into sketches of themselves, creating a very gothic atmosphere that I find perfect for the arc these ideas are used in. The animations and CGI are also very fluid and intense in the action sequences, and the design of the various weapons is really nice. However, the character design is incredibly generic, and this weakens the impact a bit.
The music does its job decently, but I found it a bit lacking and generic. It fails to stand out in any given moment, and there are times where it could have helped a lot. Both ED songs are your typical Obligatory Sappy Ballad(TM), while the OP songs have somehow a nice “Japanese” feeling to their melodies that, combined with the beautifully edited credit sequences, gets easily stuck in your head.
The voice acting is where I was surprised the most. Tamura Yukari (who performed as Tenten in the Naruto franchise) as Fear, in particular, managed to annoy me with the characters’s initial personality one moment and then creep the hell out of me with a deep, violent voice five minutes later; she conveys a very large range of emotions, and she does an astonishingly good job. I was also surprised at Mako’s performance of Mummy Maker, a very minor character with quite little relevance who still somehow managed to feel sympathetic to me thanks both to the few character-establishing lines and her subtle voice acting. The names of Chihara Minori (Nagato from the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise) and Saito Chiwa (Senjōgahara in Bakemonogatari) as Konoha and Sovereignty, respectively, are always a guarantee, and this series doesn’t make an exception. Heck, one scene of Saito’s in episode 8 is to be crowned as this anime's most affecting moment and probably as one of her career's highest achievements, I believe. I also found Ohara Sayaka (Milly in Code Geass and Selvaria in Valkyria Chronicles among others) very convincing in her portrayal of the psychopathic first villain. The rest of the cast also does a solid job, although I will say that Kaji Yūji as Haruaki (also the voice of Ōma Shū in Guilty Crown) didn’t fully convince me.
So in the end…is this anime unoriginal? Yes. Does it feel useless? Yes. Are a lot of its scenes a poor excuse for harem comedy, fanservice and panty shots? Yes. Is it bad? I say, no. Despite all its flaws, and its clearly commercial nature, I have to say it has potential and effort, it manages to be emotional here and there, to crack me up one moment and creep me out the next, against my own better judgement its characters managed to somehow connect, and the direction, animation and voice acting are simply superb. Still, unless the adaptation of later novels brings its unexploited potentials to light, it’s one of those forgettable, skippable ones, so…if you liked Bakemonogatari, you may like a darker and more action-packed version of the same type of set up; if you can't stand ecchi comedies and harem-like situations, don't waste your time here; if you think what I described here may be suited for you, by all means give it a shot, but otherwise, feel free to skip this one, you’re not losing very much.