Unpopular Opinion: Qualidea Code

Qualidea Code is one the most fascinating anime I’ve seen in several years.  Normally when I say that about a show I consider that as a positive, however in Qualidea Code’s case it’s a rather neutral description.  If you’ve seen any of Qualidea Code you’re probably wondering what the fuck I’m talking about.  Episode one was thoroughly generic, to the point that even the names and appearances of the invading enemies were uncreative as fuck.  In addition the  visuals were subpar at best, so I thinks it’s a pretty safe bet to say that this show didn’t attract too many fans.  So I assume the question on everyone’s mind is “how is this at all fascinating?”  There will be spoilers ahead.

Well for starters if you’ve seen the entire show, then you know the premise is actually a bit of a bait and switch.  It starts looking like another post-apocalyptic humans vs monsters story like Attack on Titan, except this time the titans are spaceships and the humans have superpowers.  The big twist is that the dumbass high school kids haven’t been fighting aliens at all, instead the aliens were the one that took the children out of cold sleep and using some kind of microchip, overwrote how the human brain perceives information, which means the all the generic “alien” ships the kids kept blowing up were actually unmanned drones sent by the local remnants of the human race to attack the actual aliens and rescue the kids.  That concept itself is actually not a bad one and while the reveal was obvious as fuck by the time Suzaku, who is ostensibly the main guy but kind of not at the same time, found out it was still a cool concept and the execution was decent.  The only thing that really undercut the reveal was the OP, because Canaria is literally the first thing you see in the OP and that would be weird if the show genuinely killed her off before the halfway point of its run.  So that was a case of poor planning but otherwise the big reveal was not too bad, especially since literally the stupidest character in the show figured it out first, which incidentally was much cooler than the actual reveal with Suzaku.  All that said I don’t think this twist was what really made this a fascinating show, it just added to the real meat of what made this show unusual.

What impressed the most about Qualidea Code was what the show did with its characters.  The actual characters themselves range from mildly interesting to outright awful, but many of the roles and archetypes we see all the time in anime were mixed up and changed around.  I discussed this before, but it definitely merits an update.  For starters I think it’s interesting that Suzaku, who again is ostensibly the main guy, is neither the strongest character nor does he ever become the strongest.  This is almost stupidly rare for anime in general and it’s an especially nice touch because Suzaku is such an ass and so obsessed with power levels and rank, at least when he isn’t obsessing over Canaria.  Speaking of Canaria I’m glad that she’s as important as she is.  I think Support-type characters (not support characters but characters with a support skill set like healing, buffing, etc.) have started gaining more relevance after years of hiding in the shadows of OP leads, and Canaria is a good example of that.  Even though she has literally no offensive powers, she’s ranked 10 out of hundreds of superpowered kids because her ability to buff everyone is so good.  And of course she is the key to victory in the final battle though in that case all she’s doing is singing. None of these things are a particularly big deal but they are nice touches.

Continuing onto the other characters I think one of the more interesting things to note is Suzaku’s rival, Kasumi, and how he kind of fucks with everything.  At first he seems like a clear case of as YouTuber Digibro puts it “the overdog posing as underdog trope” wherein a character’s strength is not recognized by the system and he’s actually the strongest guy around even though no else realizes that.  Because despite his near bottom level rank Kasumi seems to have no problems killing the “aliens” and in some ways he’s better at it than his higher ranked allies because of his skill and precision as opposed to raw power.  However it quickly becomes apparent that he’s legitimately weak, he has no heightened physical abilities like being able to hold his breath underwater for 15 minutes for example.  This presents an interesting dichotomy in that Kasumi can swap between being a genuine underdog, and assuming he has good positioning, an overdog.  Moreover there’s a good case to be made that Kasumi, not Suzaku is the main character.  After Canaria “dies” (ie is captured by humans and freed from brainwashing) Suzaku becomes a husk and does nothing outside of lash out at people and Unknown until he recovers.  During this time Kasumi takes center stage and he uncovers the truth behind their situation, tricks the first genuine alien into revealing it’s hand and indirectly kills it.  He also has lot more character interaction than Suzaku ever had during this span of time and after all the main characters are freed from the brainwashing, Kasumi continues to play a leading role in the final fight against the Unknown.

However my favorite two characters are Hotaru and Maihime.  For starters they are the top two fighters in the entire show, which is great.  It’s rare enough for a girl to be the strongest character in any given show where both men and women have some kind of special powers.  So for both of the top two to be women is so rare that it sort of deserves to be appreciated for that alone.  Of the two Hotaru is definitely the less unique, she pretty clearly follows the serious, smart girl archetype and her only quirk is how she gets a withdrawal of sorts if she’s away from Maihime too long.  She does however have the outright best fanservice scene in the show, a positive for me, and she does get one episode mostly dedicated to her alone and how she takes charge of things.  Maihime on the other hand is one of the weirdest characters I’ve seen in a while on the conceptual level.

She clearly falls into the genki (energetic and usually dumb) girl archetype however that’s not all there is to her.  Maihime’s values are very much in line with a typical shounen hero, she cares about people, she leads and fights for the greater good of her comrades and she’s also really really dumb.  But unlike a shounen hero, who generally starts at the bottom and eventually becomes the best, Maihime is the best from very beginning and no one else ever even gets close to her.  And I’m not just taking about rank, though the fact that she doesn’t give a fuck about rank and is ranked number 1 and regularly interacts with the rank obsessed Suzaku is fun.  In episode two when everyone goes for a swim Hotaru, the second ranked fighter, can hold her breath underwater for about 15 minutes, and Maihime can hold her breath underwater for 3 hours.  If we assume the length of time underwater is proportional to power level, then Maihime is about 12 times stronger than her closest competition.  Even if assume the breathing isn’t connected, Hotaru regularly kills squadrons of enemies whereas Maihime wipes out entire armies or giant flagships and never appears tired.  All of this is to say that Maihime is not a typical kind of character especially for a girl, most of her closest equivalents are in fact shounen heroes, so while she is limited because of the general low quality of the show, I think she represents an interesting idea and a potential way to break out of or change the archetype molds that so many characters are trapped in.

The final point of interest is pretty minor but I do think it’s a cool idea.  The aliens of Qualidea Code are called Unknown, which I initially wrote off as the least creative placeholder name for an alien race to ever make it into a published product.  Now it is still an uncreative name but at least it sort of fits.  The whole conceit of the alien invasion was that the Unknown can’t reproduce organically, so they invade other worlds and steal and modify their babies into new Unknown to increase their population (or something along those lines, the show brought the idea up so fast that it wasn’t expressed too clearly).  And the line that got me into this idea is when Airi, the pinked haired woman and final boss of the Unknown invasion on Earth, said that the Unknown have drawn offspring from so many other races that they don’t even know what they used to be anymore, that they really are Unknown.  And while the line itself is a little corny, I think how she delivered lent it quite a bit of impact and communicated how she felt about the Unknown without her actually explaining her feelings.  And as a concept, a race that has gone to such lengths to survive that it no longer knows what it used to be is pretty damn cool and very rare, the only other example I can think of off the top of my head is Suisei no Gargantia (a show I like much more than Qualidea Code).

All of that said I would not recommend Qualidea Code to anyone.  It’s visually unimpressive, the character interactions generally suck, the combat is uninteresting and there’s so much crap crammed into the last episode that a lot of it has no impact and/or just feels like an asspull.  The only episode worth watching was episode two because it was the swimsuit episode (and Hotaru totally won the swimsuit contest) and it was where the only OST I remember first popped up.  Episode eleven is ok too, because Kasumi’s mom is the actual Best Girl in the show and she fires the biggest gun in the show that episode.  But while Qualidea Code as a show is pretty shit, it has a lot of good ideas with regards to character archetypes and character dynamics.  Character archetypes and dynamics are some of the most codified aspects of any given anime genre, and they can get incredibly stale.  So seeing a show, even a bad one, challenge the status quo and do something different is encouraging and I would encourage any creative reading this to likewise think about creating characters that break out of the common storytelling templates we see so much of.  That’s it really, the show is bad even if the ideas it has are good, kind of like how a good premise doesn’t automatically mean that the show will actually be good, and I’ve nothing else to say.  Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

Season’s Greetings: Summer 2016 Follow-up

This season follow up is going to be a bit different than normal.  Rather than talk about everything I’m watching in brief and say this show is good, like Mob Psycho 100, or this show is ok, or this show has been dropped, I want to talk in more detail about a couple of shows which I feel mostly strongly about for this season.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Arslan Senki:  This is a fantastic sequel, which makes me very sad because it’s already half way over.  I still don’t know why the show is stuck with only eight episodes but damn has it made each episode count.  We’ve had some good battles of the small and large variety, major political developments like Andragoras’ escape and subsequent banishment of Arslan.  The setting has drastically changed as the focus has shifted to the coast, a welcome scenery change and more importantly a place where Farangis’ skimpy outfits look much more appropriate as many people in the region are indeed wearing less clothing.  Perhaps most importantly though, the show has given Hermes some surprising depth as a character.

Now Hermes worked fine as someone solely consumed by revenge, and to some extent he still is that guy, but now we have much more insight into his background and character.  How it took multiple betrayals for him to truly turn to hatred, how the masked sorcerers have been intent on using him since the beginning and have egged him onto his path of destruction.  Best of all though was the reveal that he had a woman he truly cared about and in his own way appears to still care very much about.  Hermes’ revenge has become more justified than ever, though his actions have still gone too far to be considered just, and the man himself has become more nuanced and human than he was before.  In season one he was just the raging anti-hero-turned-villain who had nothing but cruelty and rage to his character, now he has much more.  Love exists in him somewhere, his rage has multiple sources from which to boil.  Hermes has become a far more interesting character with a single episode of backstory to flesh him out.  Well done Arslan Senki, well done indeed.  Also Andragoras has become even more hate-able and I’m all for his eventual downfall.

Hitori no Shita: The Outsider:  I’m not going to lie I don’t have a lot to say about this one.  It is not visually impressive though I don’t think it looks bad either.  Most of the characters are a mess thus far, some are edgy, some naive, some so blatantly fake you’d have to be dumb, deaf and blind to miss it and some who orgasm while sitting atop a corpse, not fucking a corpse mind you, just sitting on it.  That said there are few things I find interesting.  Everyone of note in the show has superpowers but instead of the superpowers being generic or inventive and having all kinds of variety, all of the powers revealed thus far have some connection to Chinese lore and mysticism, a welcome change for me as a guy who’s into lore and mysticism himself.  But what truly saves the show is the main girl Baobao/Houhou.  Baobao looks like the girl from the ring, has a great deadpan voice even if her reactions aren’t always deadpan, and she fights incredibly well with her knife.  In the first episode she reminded me a lot of Shiki from the Kara no Kyoukai films, which I like, as she mowed down a horde of zombies with her knife alone.  And episode two showcased her fighting prowess again but also hinted that she is far stronger than what we’ve seen already as her final attack on the main guy, powered up by his special kung fu, happens off-screen.  I can’t say this show has a lot of promise but it does promise a lot of action and I’m down for that, especially watching if I’m watching Baobao fight.

Nejimaki Seirei Senki: Tenkyou no Alderamin:  This is a show I’m guessing has been badly overlooked.  The title alone is a headache to read and none of the characters or locations have memorable names because all their names are shit.  That said the show looks decent both visually and in terms of plot and characters.  The setting in particular shows tons of potential as pre-WWI tech is fused with magical spirits to add some flair to the combat.  Likewise the politics of the show seem notably more interesting than normal even though the show hasn’t really done anything with them yet.  Most importantly though I wanted to talk about the male and female leads.  The leading lady is not all that interesting as an individual but I definitely like how she is much stronger on a physical level than the main guy and can use her skills to either save his ass or beat his ass whatever the situation.  The main duo draws inspiration from the relationship between Ferris and Ryner Lute from Legend of Legendary Heroes when it comes to their chemistry, and they improve on that formula by not having the main girl beat the main guy pointlessly for laughs.  The main guy is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a Ryner Lute clone though he’s still very different.

Now I was lukewarm towards the main guy in episodes one and two but episode three seals the deal for me.  The whole time he acts like a playful dick, save for a few moments when he gets serious and almost kills the princess, who’s very forward towards women.  That last bit mostly seemed to be played as joke but in episode three the squad he ends up being assigned is controlled by it’s sergeant, the daughter of a woman the main guy slept with before the show started.  This is what sold me, because it means his forwardness wasn’t just for laughs and stupid light novel dialogue, this guy has actually got some action and with a milf no less.  This is pretty rare for anime and I find myself impressed that they went this route, it added a lot to my investment in the main guy.  I don’t think this show will ever be great, but I do feel like it’s being overlooked and underrated by many.

orange:  Orange is the show that I feel is doing the best job of wasting it’s potential.  It’s hard to say where this show starts fucking up but if I had to pick a starting point I’d say it fails at a conceptual level.  See the thing about orange is that you could take a lot of what it already has and tweak it to make a much more interesting show.  Before I get to that let me explain why I feel the premise is wasted on what is essentially a shoujo romantic drama.  For one thing I’m not a shoujo man, I can’t stand seeing people freeze up and get flustered over the most insignificant shit.  I remember what it was like to be an awkward teenager but shoujo characters amplify that by an order of magnitude beyond my own experience, and I wasn’t even a confident outgoing guy.  This is especially true when the premise of this show gets involved.  See the problem with shoujo genre and the premise of the show, sending a letter back in time to clear your regrets and save your friend, is that they don’t mix very well.  For example it’s very hard to see how Naho playing the final round of a softball game and getting her team to win helps save Kakeru from dying or clears any meaningful regret.  Look I get that people have stupid regrets that stick with them, every now and then my brain loves to remind me of this one screw up I made during a middle school basketball game, but that screw up has no bearing on my life and I don’t really regret it anymore, I just laugh at my stupid mistake from the past.  So how the fuck did Naho not playing that one round of softball stick with her after she had a life, a marriage and kids?  It just seems so stupid.

Some tips from her future letter are more obviously helpful like getting Kakeru to play soccer but still it seems like Naho is undoing minor shit thus far and it seems altogether to childish and shoujo-y for lack of a better term to have any impact on me.  And the only time this is subverted and real dramatic stakes are in play is held together by pure contrivance.  See the dramatic twist was that Kakeru’s mom committed suicide when he was hanging out with the group in episode one, and to the show’s credit that was a dramatic event and shows that this show can go beyond shoujo bullshit.  However what many fail to realize is that the whole thing was contrived bullshit.  See future Naho knew about the consequences of Kakeru hanging out with the group but she didn’t write them in the letter so they could have the dramatic suicide reveal later.  But the thing is, Naho would never have done that, if she behaved in character future Naho would have told present Naho about the suicide and how to prevent it and present Naho would have made sure it didn’t happen.  But future Naho doesn’t do that, so that the writers can have their dramatic reveal.  This is bullshit, you should never have to make your characters act out of character to make something happen, it’s bad form.  Moreover you don’t have to, it would have been so easy to make this show far more dramatic without resorting to contrivance.

What they should have done was make orange a drama thriller with some romance on the side.  In this orange, which for ease of use will be dubbed Bloodorange, you introduce drama not by failing to tell consequences but by having consequences future Naho doesn’t predict.  See in Bloodorange, the idea would be the letter works perfectly a few times, so it seems reliable, but then new scenarios it doesn’t predict pop up, or actions that didn’t lead to consequences before lead to worse consequences now because of the changes made to this timeline.  The point is that Naho should be able to find security in the letter’s advice only to have that security ripped away when changes to the timeline render it less helpful and possibly useless.  You could even subvert the letter early on by having minor changes to the predicted scenario occur, say maybe on the third regret the event was a bowling event instead of a softball game, but where the outcome is not affected by the prediction so it still works out, making the letter seem reliable while planting the seeds of the idea that it can be flawed for later use.

Because the thing with orange is that it has one great idea going for it, namely that what causes Naho and Kakeru the most pain is Naho’s inaction or hesitation to act.  It’s a great idea and one which would fit perfectly into Bloodorange, where Naho is forced to choose between following the letter’s advice, failing to act at all or ignoring the advice but acting on her own instincts because the consequences of each action is no longer known.  By the end of either show, Naho should grow up and become more assertive, gain confidence and put more faith in herself so that she can save herself and save Kakeru.  This would be even better if in the future she was single and a wreck, or had married Kakeru only to lose him and become a wreck.  That way future Naho wouldn’t be undoing regrets by advising her past self but instead attempting to save herself and her friend/boyfriend/husband in the process.  Bloodorange, needless to say, would be a fucking awesome drama thriller and I’d love to see it. Unfortunately orange is not Bloodorange nor will it ever be Bloodorange.  Instead we have a romantic drama, with heavy shoujo influences which just bores me to tears.  I dropped this show after episode three because it was such a slog to watch and because it’s best moment came from a contrivance.  And it makes me mad because in Bloodorange I see how you take most of what this show is already doing and change it up a little bit to make a much more interesting show, one I’ll likely never get to see.

Qualidea Code: Let me be clear here, Qualidea Code is not very good.  The visuals are unimpressive and possibly substandard.  The premise is generic and boring.  The enemies look terrible.  But here’s the thing, I already knew that from before the show aired, because in the synopsis it said the alien invaders were called UNKNOWN, and I thought “damn if you can’t even come up with a name for the enemy this show will not be creative at all.”  However I think there is something here worth celebrating and that’s the characters.  Not the characters as the actual individuals, those aren’t that good as of yet, it’s more of what they represent.  Qualidea Code has taken a bunch of light novel character tropes and put a new spin on them.  Most importantly the main guy is not the strongest and is unlikely to ever be the strongest.  This is especially good when you consider that the main guy is a dick whose obsessed with his spot on the school ranking system.  This guy wants to be number one and will do all sorts of reckless shit to get there.  He gets some additional depth in episode three but I think the most important thing to take away from his character at the moment is how he is the one obsessed with ranks and isn’t the strongest one, as that kind of role typically falls to the leading lady of light novel shows.  Speaking of the leading lady, I do think it’s a good thing that she’s highly ranked despite having no offensive power because her support is so good, but otherwise she’s not too interesting.  The main other characters of not are the main guy’s rival and the strongest girl.

The rival character borrows the archetype seen in shows like Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei, Rakudai Kishi no Calvary and Shokugeki no Souma, wherein he is a dangerous and powerful character but is unrecognized as such because of how the ranking system works.  However unlike the protagonists of those shows, who typically go out to challenge the current ranking system and prove it wrong, this rival guy doesn’t give a shit about the rankings at all.  He’s totally unbothered by his low and continuously dropping rank because it doesn’t hinder or interest him in the slightest.   It’s nothing spectacular but it is a nice touch and works well as foil to the main guy, who is obsessed with rank and thrives in the current system.  But best of all is Hime.  Hime is basically a girl version of Naruto at the end of his journey, she’s a total idiot, very good natured, and unstoppably powerful.  Hime is particularly interesting to me because a, she is far and away the strongest character in the show, b, gives no shits about rank while being ranked number one thus proving another good foil to the main guy, and c, is these things while being a total idiot and a girl.  Anime has a lot of strong women but in most shows with them the women aren’t usually the most powerful character in their show and I’ve never seen any show with a woman who acted so much like shounen protagonist before especially not when most people around her act more like jaded light novel characters.  Regardless of the coming execution of these characters I do think Qualidea Code is interesting for it’s willingness to try and put a whole new spin on some well established character archetypes.

And that about wraps this up.  If you made it this far thank you for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one.