Did you like X-Men but cannot entertain anyone over the age of 18?
Do you like pointless J-Pop sequences interspersed with Engrish?
Does time travel for the sake of time travel appeal to you?
Are plot holes inconsequential?
Do you like ongoing jokes about omelettes smothered in a gross pizza sauce?
If you answered yes to all of the above, watch Charlotte!
Now, if you’re thinking the tone of Charlotte is familiar; i.e. a band of teens drawn together by a common goal, forging an identity in a world seeking to oppress their kind, you’re not mistaken. AngelBeats! (2010) (exclamation is crucial), was another anime created with the assistance of Jun Maeda and Studio Key. Both animes are relatively similar, bar a re-skin here or there. Notwithstanding, there are a plethora of animes combining teenage torment with supernatural elements. It’s far from innovative.
I don’t particularly want this review to be a point by point comparison of the two, there are already many reviews online doing just that, and often with a heap of vitriol to boot.
Surprisingly, the protagonist of Charlotte, is not a lass called Charlotte, but male 16 year old High schooler Yuu Otosaka. In fact the anime’s namesake is ‘explained’ in about a sentence’s worth of dialogue, towards the end of the series. It could have honesty been called ‘Fanny,’ and it would have made no difference.
In the world of Charlotte, there are teenagers with superhuman powers that only manifest during puberty and disappear once the subject reaches adulthood. Yuu discovers that he has the nifty ability to take control of another person’s body, but only for 5 seconds at a time.
He exploits his ability to, rather unambitiously, cheat on exams and attract da females. He is eventually caught in the act by the ‘Student Council’ of a neighbouring school, the Hoshinoumi Academy. This laragely comprises of Nao Tomori, a stoned tsundere who can make herself invisible to a specific person, and Jojiro Takajo, a hench, sandwich-loving nerd who can teleport. The Student Council are fellow ‘super humans’ seeking to safeguard the ‘gifted’ teens from EVIL SCIENTISTS who seek to exploit them. Yuu grudingly accepts to transfer to their school, join their council and refrain from using his power for personal gains.
You may say, “wow, that Yuu bloke sounds like a conceited, amoral arsewipe who clearly believes he can manipulate his peers with his Scott Bakula power!” And you would be correct, insofar as the first episode.
Oddly, the writers appear to lose track of where they want to go with Yuu. From episodes 2 – 6, Yuu becomes a tag-along to the Student Council. a convenient plot device to propel viewers into Nao and Jojiro’s world, its awkward exposition and rapidly expanding roster of characters.
There are moments where Yuu’s ‘dark side’ resurfaces. Particularly in episodes 6-7, where following a tragic event, Yuu slumps into a bout of depression and re-abuses his power. It’s gloriously self-destructive, and more importantly, brings character to Yuu’s character! I genuinely believed that Yuu had gone so far off the rails that he would become Charlotte’s chief malefactor. Unfortunately, the writers appear to railroad him out of that ‘phase’ as quickly has he was catapulted into it. Yuu returns, not only to being an X-Teen but he is now also the show’s messianic saviour. Episodes 8 – 13 elevate Yuu to the status of Neo from the Matrix; there’s even a scene where he stops bullets mid air. It made my brain die a little.
Albeit not particularly special, I have to commend Charlotte’s attempts for at least trying subvert it’s audiences expectations. From the first few episodes, it is generally expected that the anime will follow an episodic formula where:
the Student Council locate an X-Teen
they investigate their power and situation
they convince them to stop using it so blatantly to safeguard themselves and other ueber-squirts from EVIL SCIENTISTS.
And I wouldn’t have been too nonplussed if Charlotte stuck to this, at least for a bit longer. Charlotte transitions from a rather comedic anime with supernatural elements to one of a dark time-travel thriller with all the grace of a reversing dump truck.
Apparently Yuu had ‘forgotten’ elements of his past, which can only be unlocked by listening to the music of ZHIEND, a J-Rock group inspired by lobotomies and Babel-Fish Japanese to English translations. Jarringly, this was likely studio Key’s poorly masked attempts to market their associated music CDs.
As Yuu awakens from his amnesiac slumber, we are confronted by a plethora of new characters. Most of which are allotted zero time for the audience to form any semblance of emotional attachment to them. Even character deaths, which are set up to have all the hallmarks of gut-wrenching cinematography left me feeling emotionally vacant.
As someone who generally favours shorter, self-contained story-lines, It’s rare for me to concede that this anime would have certainly of benefited from being longer! To fit so many concepts, characters and plot twists into a 13 episode run was ill advised.
In Charlotte’s favour, it’s one damn fine looking anime. It’s evident a lot of yen went into the animation budget, and it paid off. Charlotte is a visual delight, and that’s not a sentence I’m likely to say often!
Is this anime worth watching then? Maybe?
I’m not entirely sure whether there were high expectations for Charlotte, following Angel Beats! Or whether the summer of 2015 was a particularly lackluster period for anime releases, but I will make my (entirely irrelevant) opinion be known. Yes, Charlotte confounds itself with its own ambition, but it’s still watchable. Just prepare to have some potential squandered. A bit like adding cucumber to a perfectly good sandwich…. And then trying to ingest it through the wrong end of the digestive track…