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Saturday, 20 April 2013

Final Thoughts: Vividred Operation

This week I was initially planning to write my first thoughts on other series that have just started airing this season, however found pretty quickly that I didn't have as much to say about them as I thought I would. Luckily, last Sunday I picked up Vividred Operation on a whim, a sci-fi series that aired last season, so I can talk about that. Please note this technically isn't a review, if I were reviewing it I would take a more objective look, these are just my personal feelings about the series. I happened across it as I was downloading the latest episodes of a few of this season's series and despite knowing nothing about it, decided that it couldn't hurt to look into it. Twenty seconds in, I started to worry I'd been mistaken...

Though, while I may not particularly like ecchi, I'll generally put up with it in two situations. If a series is built around its fanservice and wouldn't work without it (e.g. Golden Boy, Panty & Stocking) then I'll put up with it because it's a fundamental part of the series. The other time I'm willing to sit through it is when it's there but doesn't get in the way of telling a story and is merely there as some bonus for those who do happen to like it (e.g. Saki). I'd prefer if such series didn't have ecchi because it doesn't need it, but as long as we don't get derailed every 5 minutes to end up in an unrelated situation where the girls need to take their clothes off and the plot continues I can deal with it. Fortunately, Vividred Operation falls mostly into that second category excepting a few occasions that are sparsely scattered. While there's ecchi in it, it's usually an occasional camera angle that provides the fanservice and doesn't halt the story's progression.

Speaking of the story, I was quite surprised by the end of the first episode. Not because it's story is anything unique or special, but because for all it's sci-fi cosmetics, Vividred Operation is at its heart a magical girl series. That might turn some people off from the series straight away but I've always had a soft spot for magical girl series. In the series everything that would usually be caused by magic is a result of technology but it's all still there: cute animal sidekick, transformation sequences, special moves, monster of the week formula, the incredible power of friendship and a trope made popular by Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the antagonist who may not be as evil as she seems.

So this series is basically Madoka and Nanoha except the magic is replaced by science and it never gets quite as dark. The tone of the series is far more uplifting and joyful, which isn't to say there's never a sad moment, but they're merely used to counterbalance the highs of the series and aren't constructed to create the same feelings of shock that Madoka provides. It also uses a similar moral choice to the one presented in both the first and second season of Nanoha. If both sides are fighting to save lives, who is right? However it never delves into the matter and the tone of the series makes it obvious from the beginning there will be a nice way to fix it all at the end. While this lack of aspiration to explore such a theme is a  weakness in the series, personally it didn't take away from my overall enjoyment. It would have been nice to see some more depth written into the otherwise standard magical gril~esque plot.

The characters are what you'd expect from a series like this and do little to break their archetypes. A number of viewers will likely find them uninspired and boring, however I generally found them likeable enough to grow attached to over the course of the series. Our main protagonist Akane is an energetic girl who likes making friends and helping people. In standard fashion, we're introduced to the other girls over the course of the first few episode and they're each given their ability to transform. Akane is soon joined by Aoi, a friendly but somewhat reserved rich girl, Wakaba, a kendo ace with a soft spot for cute things and Himawari, a genius introverted technophile.

Where I felt the series stood out, however, was in its art direction. Its character and costume design (excluding the absurd school uniform), the architecture and location design and the overall crisp clean look of the series. Battle and transformation scenes are fluid and full of life and a colourful variety of visual effects. The sequences and designs that result from characters' ultimate technique 'docking', where Akane combines with another girl to increase their powers, are all stunning and beautifully crafted.

The alien designs are diverse and interesting. I've heard that there are similarities with the designs of the aliens in the series Strike Witches but having never seen it I couldn't help but draw parallels with the designs of the Angels in Neon Genesis Evangelion. The enemy design for the final battle is particularly memorable and really shows off the talents of the art team behind the series. Overall the art and the animation supporting the series really helps bring the anime to life creating an aesthetically rich and detailed world.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Vividred Operation far more than I expected to, finding myself attached to the characters and immersed in its beautiful world that I was sad to let go of at the end of the final episode. It's not an outstanding series by any right, there are flaws in its underdeveloped story and characters, and the fanservice, while tolerable, brings nothing to the series. However I'm glad I picked it up for its wonderful design and uplifting spirit that sincerely improved my own mood at the time I watched it.

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