I had extremely high hopes for Juuousei after the first couple of episodes. The series efficiently sets up its premise, characters and world in an extremely short amount of time, after which the anime rockets off on an extremely promising storyline. Indeed, the first half of the series is excellent.
For one, the characters after episode one are all initially likeable. None of them are particularly deep, but the character designs are excellent and the seiyuu do a good job. More importantly, the pacing of the early episodes is flat out fantastic. Unlike some shows, which half-wittingly bumble through their episodes as they try to introduce everything, Juuousei is extremely good at showing the audience the world while developing the story.
Unfortunately, this efficiency ends up being the series’ downfall; put simply, Juuousei’s collapses under the weight of its own ambition. The overarching storyline is so vast and grand that eleven meager episodes can’t possibly do it justice. From the government conspiracies to the wilderness survival stories to the global politics, there’s just far too much to cover. As a result, the writers need to take massive shortcuts across the entire storyline. There’s a three year time jump. Massive plot twists abound, but are so frequent and unrelenting that the viewer never really gets a chance to digest them. The end, especially, suffers from information overload – a sloppy mess of hurried resolution, clumsy tragedy and borderline melodrama.
What’s worse, the initially likeable set of characters suffers as much as the storyline, if not more. Supporting characters seem almost blurred by how quickly they rush in and out of view; you’d care for them if only you could see them clearly. On the other hand, the protagonist develops so quickly and randomly that even though he’s in every episode, you don’t really feel like you know him by the end. Tiz, the primary love interest, somewhat escapes this, but certain events make her a largely unsatisfying character anyway.
This deficiency is made all the more painful from the fact that this is Juuousei’s only real weakness; everything else in the series is rock solid. Animation is amazingly clean and crisp for what was probably a small budget. As mentioned before the character designs are appealing both before and after the two year time shift, and the action scenes are always serviceable and sometimes even good. Of particular note are the backgrounds of the jungle, which are vibrant and luscious to look at. The sound also compares favorably to shows of its budget. The voice acting is fine with few exceptions, and the background music is competent at setting the mood of the show, albeit somewhat forgettable. Of particular note is the OP, which, using blaring trombones and catchy Engrish, absolutely rocks.
Still, an ambitious anime that needed to be longer is certainly better than a safe one that should have been shorter. As so many series pad their running time with meaningless side-stories and tedious flashbacks, Juuousei is notable for being fresh and new the entire way through, even as the pangs of disappointment start to kick in. Even though there have been plenty of other “survival” anime made already, Juuousei never feels trite or clichéd. Overall, Juuousei doesn’t approach some of the other titles released this year, but should provide a satisfying time to those looking for a relatively short shounen flick.