My relationship with anime has always been lukewarm to say the least. Even in the 90s and early 2000s, which were something of a Golden Age for the medium (at least in production and storytelling if not popularity), I gravitated to more mature, somber tales that had the good fortune of finding a devoted audience in the West. The memories of my first time watching Cowboy Bebop, 08th MS Team, 2nd Gig and Macross Plus are carved into my mind and I can never replicate or relive them. This good if you are a lover of fiction and want to know exactly what a fictional medium is truly capable of.
It’s bad if you want to be a fan, however. And, despite my attempts, I could never really call myself a fan of anime. There are plenty of anime shows and movies that I like and watch, even in the current generation (HELLO SPACE DANDY). However, while I’m happy there is an audience for the medium, so much of it feels lacking to me. In my case, it’s usually easier to wait for recommendations instead of scrolling through Hulu and hoping for the best. If all else fails, at least I would be able to watch an interesting train wreck and dissect the bloody bones left in the inferno.
Which brings us to Cross Ange.
Considering who I follow on Twitter, I’ve heard more than a few opinions about Cross Ange over the past few months. This series it’s either the literal Sixth Seal of the Apocalypse, or it’s better when you get past all of the sexual molestation. As for me, I was more than happy to sit on the sidelines of this one up until last week because something about the design sent a dull ache through my bones. Last week, my Twitter feed had some choice words for Cross Ange and, unfortunately, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to watch an episode. And not just any episode, but the final one: Episode 25. I figured that, by that point, whatever issues that led to its reputation would be ironed out and the show would put its best foot forward to end on a positive note: especially with a potential second series in the pipeline.
And I thought these things because I am clearly a glutton for bloody punishment and have only gotten what I deserve because at ten minutes in all I could think was, ‘This is everything I hate about anime’. Not even the series as a whole, because I only saw ONE episode. Yet, it managed to hit every negative button I have when it comes to the medium. That…shouldn’t be possible. It just shouldn’t be possible.
‘JP IF YOU JUST WATCHED THE ENTIRE -’
HEEEEEEEEEEEEEELLLLLLLL NAAAAAAAAAAAW. This is the first and last time I discuss Cross Ange and only because I promised on Twitter I would elaborate the issues it brings up. After all, this is the biggest forum I have to deliver a commentary on this. I do understand if this type of discussion isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and we will return to our regularly schedule programming momentarily. However, I also rarely get a chance to discuss one of the biggest influences of the EVN community here, so when I get a chance to do it I like to take advantage. Like I said, I’ve only watched one episode of a twenty-five episode series. I’m not going to get every detail and character right and I’m not trying to. My only goal here is to show how this one episode encompasses the issues I have with anime. So, let’s just take this episode beat by beat, ala my RWBY reviews, and see if I can sum this all up without devolving into a vengeful rage.
Also this reviews has some pretty suggestive images, so just treat everything as NSFW…as if the Leather Crucifix Ange’s hanging from in the header picture isn’t a dead giveaway.
Episode 25 of Cross Ange starts off with one of the female characters dying. She probably could have lived if someone got her to a medic, but she’s such a badass she decides to go out with a cigarette. This also serves as the first time your humble reviewer gets to see the battle outfits for the mech pilots and it is, frankly, the dumbest damn thing I’ve ever seen. It’s not a real critique, I’m holding my ammunition for the next paragraph. And I also realize this is a show where the ‘titillation’ flows like water. But, seriously; it has a tail. That’s just dumb.
Can I just ask why this particular form of fanservice must be so blatant? I know I’m not the expert in this, but I will never comprehend how trying too hard became sexy in anime. It seems to me that you could best pull off fanservice subtly: using the design and appeal of the character to add something extra to the scene instead of exclusively rubbing half-naked bodies in the audience’s eyeballs. Perhaps I’m just showing my age, but I’m okay with that because idea of sensuality leads to characters like Angel from Big O and Faye from Cowboy Bebop. Cross Ange’s fanservice will be dated in a few more weeks when someone else figures out even more ridiculous battle attire.
Next we have the opening credits and, well, let’s all just look at it because it wasn’t until I watched the opening credits the entire way through did I realize what bothered me so much about the show without ever looking at an episode. That ‘feeling’ always hits me when I’m looking at something done by Mitsuo Fukuda. Who is Mitsuo Fukuda? That bastard is responsible for my most hated anime series of all time: Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny. You can see GSD’s influences all over the opening credits. Hell, the main blonde girl has a passing resemblance to Stella from GSD (who deserved a far bloodier and much more painful death) and the main brown-hair guy is a near dead ringer for…a character from the SEED franchise who is an entirely different can of worms and we won’t be getting into here because I can rant about him until the next Ice Age.
Unfortunately, the design and look of the episode doesn’t seem to be the only area where GSD had heavy influence. But we’ll get to that soon enough. Shortly after the death scene we cut to a woman in a dress waking up on an island floating in space. This would be our main character Ange and she doesn’t look thrilled to be there. She eventually runs into some blond guy in a suit, who I’m assuming is the main villain of the show, who begins monologuing about his role in the story. Apparently he was a scientist on Earth working on different quantum theories, when an experiment went wrong and suspending the floating island outside of the time-space continuum. From there, he realizes he is right in the middle of a DC style multiverse and can interact with the parallel Earths. So, he decides to be a douchebag and play God in the different Earths to try and perfect humanity.
Annnnd pause! Because this storyline is one that has a tendency to come up in Japanese media: the ‘malevolent deity’. Whether it’s a human who ascends to the role of ‘god’ or a ‘god’ whose plans for humanity clash with humanity’s plans for itself, the Malevolent Deity is a well anime, manga and video games loves to draw from. The idea is that this character trope raises the stakes for the protagonists, however I find that the opposite effect is usually true and the stakes decrease with the antagonist’s omnipotence since there is no chance of the Malevolent Deity winning in the end.
And that’s just the positive side of that particular Trope Coin. On the negative side, you run the risk of making the goals of the Malevolent Deity common and petty. At that point, the antagonist stops being a threat and their omnipotence becomes a gimmick. So, which side does Cross Ange’s Douchegod, apparently called ‘Embryo’ here, land on? Well, having done such a great job manipulating humanity so far, he has decided to destroy the multiverse and start fresh with a new breed of humans. Again, typical, but there is a small, familiar deviation in it as well: he wants to screw Ange.
Please note that I didn’t say, ‘He’s in love with Ange’. No, this dork just wants to have sex with her for the rest of eternity, whether she’s willing or not. This is a problem on a few levels, but let’s just focus on two. The first is that Douchegod’s goals are obviously petty, but by having such ridiculous, debasing goals it circles the final episode around saving Ange from him. Actually, let me go a bit deeper because we are talking about the season finale. ALL twenty-four episode of Cross Ange, with their own plot threads and moments, ALL of it is a lead up to Ange needing to be rescued from Douchegod. Even if I was curious on how the rest of the show went, knowing that all of Cross Ange leads up to a glorified rescue mission would deflate any good will I’d have built up watching Episode 25. Yes the whole ‘destroy the world’ plot line is still here, but the relevant story line is strictly on saving Ange.
I am sure, however, that some see no problem with the stakes of the final battle orbiting around Ange as Ange is the main character of this show. That brings me to my second problem with this turn; the fact that Douchebag’s sick desires aren’t a real threat. Please listen carefully here because I don’t want to be taken out of context, however according to the research and opinions I have seen on Cross Ange, sexual exploitation is common. The entire series frame Ange’s debasement as a shock and thrill: there to titillate its viewers just as much as it is to advance the plot. So, why should I be concerned about Douchegod threatening Ange with what the creators have already done?
It’s pointless and pointless threats are something that anime pulls off on a level I have yet to see in other mediums of entertainment. I can turn on a series like Game of Thrones or Hannibal at any point of the season and understand the stakes, the character motivations and give a damn. The weight and urgency for their goals are clearly there and the objectives are big enough to warrant their time, talent and ingenuity. Cross Ange I have come in at right at its last moment: it’s supposed crowning achievement and the best they can come up with is this petty asshole called Embryo wanting to rape this insignificant Ange chick because that’s just the way this show works.
Round of applause for Fukuda and the rest of the Cross Ange team. Surely it took them all of three minutes to figure this storyline out. Bravo. Oh and side note here, I love the fact that for all of Ange’s apparent training and badassry, all it takes to stop a frontal attack from her is a slap to the face. I’m making note of this for a reason and we’ll bring it back up in due course.
Anyway, as Douchegod prepares to rape Ange (see above), the crew of the ship she’s apparently been on are talking with dragons. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the humans and dragons were enemies before Douchegod overplayed his hand and they have since united to bring him down. Apparently the only way to break the space-time continuum and take on Douchegod is with Ange’s mech: which only she and the girl who just died can pilot. NOW I understand why she had to die! To have this pointless dramatic moment! The only other guy in this heap, apparently named Tusk, is Ange’s lover and because of this he is urged to try and find a way to pilot the mech. I do love the fact that dragons tell them that the mech activates if the pilot has a ‘strong will’: because THAT’S a cliche that hasn’t been beaten to death in anime.
We go through a few more drawn out minutes of pointless drama and just as Douchegod binds Ange with vines (go with it), Ange starts singing (?) Tusk starts crying (??) and the mech activates (???). A few of the other girls get in their mechs and Tusk opens a Boom Tube (I’m not sure what the anime calls them, but I will always call them Boom Tubes) that drops them right on top of Douchegod before he can do the deed. Shame; they were so close to a Big Damn Heroes moment. If only it wasn’t so cliche and couldn’t be seen coming a hundred miles away. Oh, and this happens:
Anyway, since we’re at the halfway point of the episode, you know what that means? IT’S TIME FOR THE FINAL FIGHT! And Mister Fukuda you can come back in the room now because this part deals directly with you. Technically there are two battles here with Tusk and Embryo fighting man-to-man, and yes Tusk does hold his own in a battle against Embryo despite Ange getting taken out with one slap, and Ange (now in her mech) and her friends taking on Embryo’s mech piloted by his….essence? It’s a ridiculously convoluted idea that becomes even more convoluted when Douchegod spawns exact replicas of the other mechas. This should have been a fun mech battle, but that would assume that there was a mech battle.
Right as everyone prepares to get down to business, Douchegod pulls a chump move and psychically controls the girls mechs. So, what was once a straightforward cliched battle has become a convoluted mess of a battle with a very predictable end: Tusk kills Douchegod and the girls break free from his control through their own willpower and defeats his machines. This isn’t a new problem for Fukuda, as several battles in Seed Destiny tried to hide their formulaic nature by making the scenarios more and more convoluted. In fact, the only battle in that series that actually stands out as something of an original is the battle with the Destroy Gundam. That, however, was due to the sheer size of the damn thing AND because Stella died. (If only she had taken a few other Seed characters with her). Other than that, you could set your watch to the battles on that show and the trend has continued here.
This brings me to yet another issue I have with anime: a lack of imagination. When you’re talking about mech battles on an animated scope, you’re trying to get the audience to suspend their own disbelief and get caught up in a moment of sheer awesomeness. Even if we don’t care about the pilots involved, the action alone should overwhelm and excite. With this battle as presented, we’re just waiting to see the moment when Ange and her friends seize back control for Douchegod and put him down. That eliminates any remaining feeling of threat and any excitement I could have had watching this play out.
Unfortunately, that’s not as bad as it gets.
As Douchegod apparently gets the upper hand and starts taunting Ange, you know the moment is coming when she overrides his control with her willpower. After some mutual encouragement, all of the girls declare, and I’m paraphrasing here, that they are bold, independent women who don’t need no man. This declaration is strong enough to break Embryo’s control and the curb-stomping ensues. If you are like me, then you face is firmly implanted in you palms right now. If you can, peel your hands away and ponder something with me for a moment; is Cross Ange supposed to be a feminist anime?
Okay, I can’t hear over all of the angry shouting from actual feminists. I’m not saying they did it right, but let’s look at the facts on the ground. You have a majority female cast whose main character is forced to become independent due to the degradation brought on by her world system. This ‘independence’ allows her to find personal value as well as camaraderie and even love (or lust at the very least) on her own terms. The final enemy is what most would consider a misogynist: someone who only sees women as a whole, and Ange in particular, as tools for his own sexual gratification and little else. Bonus points for him designing worlds that inevitably lead to the suffering of a metric butt-ton of women, for no other reason than his own amusement.
Again, I’m not saying they did it right. Hell, the whole mid-air, naked face-sitting thing tells me that much. It’s just a question about the series and its approach to female characters that makes me wonder how this was intended to work. I leave that one open for other people to comment on, because I do not know. Either way, it was a stupid thing to say out loud and it only made a predictable moment groan-worthy. The whole ‘overcoming fate through willpower’ theme has been beaten to death and this isn’t doing it any favors, although apparently Fukuda didn’t get that memo.
SO, the machines are destroyed, Tusk kills Embryo and the dimensional convergence is stopped: returning Douchegod’s island to its place in Earth Prime. Ange resolves to form her own country on Earth Prime where everyone can be treated equally…although everyone outside of the Dragons and the crew of the ship are stuck in the multiverse. Well, that is unless Ange is planning to use her new knowledge of what Embryo was doing to try and help those left behind…and the fact that I had to say it means that isn’t what happens at all. She gives the multiverse a big FU and we cut to her home planet falling apart in a sea of blood and warfare. Now, this is where things really get stupid. I know you think we’ve already crossed that line, but this; this is its own grade of stupidity. Allow me to quote myself from earlier in this very feature on what Embryo’s ultimate plans, other than rape and sex slavery, are:
‘So, which side does Cross Ange’s Douchegod, apparently called ‘Embryo’ here, land on? Well, having done such a great job manipulating humanity so far, he has decided to destroy the multiverse and start fresh with a new breed of humans.’ -JP, Just A Few Paragraphs Ago
And knowing this, Ange’s newfound goal is to allow the multiverse to destroy itself and start fresh with her friends, a liberated breed of humans, on a new world. Yes, that means that in death, DOUCHEGOD HAS WON! Just from this scene of Ange not caring about what might happens to anyone outside of her boytoy and friends, it tells me that she hasn’t grown one tiny iota since the beginning of the show. She is the exact same spoiled princess that was so rotten that I remember people defending the degradations that ripped him from the seat of luxury and turned her into a mech pilot. Only now, instead of being blissfully ignorant, she’s blindly vengeful. Both are equally useless which makes Ange completely useless. As the main protagonist, the only thing she didn’t give up to the villain was herself. Everything else has gone, for lack of better terms, according to plan!
Our Big Damn Heroes Everyone! Doing the job the villains are too stupid to do themselves! And to anyone about to scream that Ange’s supposed to be morally gray: bullshit. Anime has done moral ambiguity before. Hell, GUNDAM lives and breathes on morally ambiguous characters, with the exception of when MITSUO FUKUDA brought us SEED and couldn’t write ambiguity to save his ass, which led to everyone who didn’t fall in line with Jesus Yamato being wrong and/or evil. Ange is just a pretentious, lazily-written character: PERIOD.
So, that was my experience with Cross Ange and it had everything I’ve ever hated about anime. Every character involved is a cliched cutout of a better character in another show, the storyline is predictable at best and insulting at worst, the battle had no imagination, the threat is non-existent, Ange can kiss my ass and ultimately nothing was accomplished and no one deserved the ending they got. These are things that anime, as a whole, not only embrace but excel at. Cross Ange is why I avoid anything without a recommendation from someone I respect and the fact that this is getting a second series speaks volumes. Unfortunately, knowing my nature, it won’t be the last time I have to deal with something like this because I’m a glutton for punishment.
But with that done, I need my faith in anime restored. I hear Blood Blockade Battlefront is good, so I may check that one out. Also, I may watch the Grisaia anime since Sekai Project will be distributing it sometime later this year (I think). Until next time, JP3: OUT.