Review for Absolute Duo
So which light novel adaptation is this? It’s the one with the magical high school, where students do battle, with the male protagonist the ringer, the one who doesn’t quite fit in for some reason, and the demure, quirky, soft spoken grey-haired girl is his romantic interest, and she is ridiculously powered up for her size. So which light novel adaptation is this? Do you ever get the sense that all these light novel anime are blurring into one? A medium that I once gravitated to for originality and innovation has in recent years become just as staid and as predictable as the Hollywood production line to which I was looking for an alternative. There still is the occasional standout title, but with the proliferation of anime on UK shores, it seems that we have to sift through more of the chaff to find it. And once in a while, the chaff turns out to actually disguise a diamond. Maybe Absolute Duo will do something completely unexpected with the magical school, outsider male, cute little grey-haired girl format... Maybe...
Tor Kokonoe is the Irregular who has enrolled at Koryo Academy High School, a special institution set up to instil martial arts discipline and talent to those students, the one in a thousand that can accommodate Blaze powers. An implant allows students to manifest weapons from their souls, only Tor is Irregular in that he can only manifest a shield. But he has another, secret talent and a dark past. He thinks he’s left it all behind on day one, when he meets a cute girl on the way to the entrance ceremony, hits it off with her, and they wind up sitting together, certain that they’ve both made their first friend in high school. Then the Academy President, Sakuya Tsukumo announces that their first test will be to fight the person that they are sitting next to, the winner will be allowed into the Academy, the loser will be expelled. As Tor winds up fighting his new friend, a shy grey-haired girl named Julie Sigtana watches with interest.
Absolute Duo is released here as a BD/DVD combo, but this time I got only the DVD check discs to review. It’s on 2 discs as follows.
5. Level Up
7. Silver Blonde, Yellow Topaz
10. Reign Conference
11. Killing Game
12. Absolute Duo
The DVD component of this release presents its content with 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC transfers (progressively encoded) and with DD 5.1 Surround English and 2.0 Japanese with optional subtitles and signs. It’s an unproblematic image on these discs, free of visible compression artefacts and low on digital banding, with smooth playback, especially on progressive equipment. The image is clear, and it’s another generic harem show, so the characters are recognisable clichés, but individual enough not to get sued by any other show. The backgrounds are fairly detailed, but the money has gone into the action sequences which are above average for this kind of show. The audio is fine, representing the action well, while the subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos. I merely checked that the English dub is present, which it is, but didn’t form an opinion about it, while the Japanese audio sees the clichéd voices applied to the clichéd characters.
The discs present their content with static menus and jacket pictures.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for Funimation NOW.
Disc 2 begins with a trailer for Assassination Classroom Season 1 Part 2.
There is an audio commentary here on episode 10 with ADR Director Caitlin Glass (Lilith Bristol), Felecia Angelle (Sakuya), and Anthony Bowling (Tora). The commentary on episode 12 sees ADR Director Zach Bolton (K), joined by Ricco Fajardo (Tor), and Bryn Apprill (Julie).
You also get the textless credits (1 opening, 3 endings), Promo Videos, Commercials, the US Trailer, and Funimation trailers for Blood Blockade Battlefront, Garo the Animation, Doamygar-D, The Heroic Legend of Arslan, The Rolling Girls, Yona of the Dawn, and World Break: Aria of a Curse for a Holy Swordsman.
These are the hardest reviews to write, not the brilliant shows, and not even the dross. It’s the shows that are decidedly average, that do nothing to stand out, that merely conform to a basic format and style, and are indistinguishable from half a dozen others just like them. I’ve been cogitating for a couple of hours now on what I have to say about Absolute Duo, and depressingly, the answer is Absolutely Nothing.
It ploughs its story furrow competently enough; it establishes a magical academy where students do battle, like countless other such institutions in various anime shows. It introduces its main character, and gives him a harem to play with over the course of its episodes, with the central female, the quiet, soft spoken grey-haired girl. It seamlessly supplies its slice of life antics, the harem hi-jinks, the fan service and the general silliness, while a plot which develops in the background gradually comes to the forefront for the end of the series when things get half-serious. It substitutes genuine character development with a whole bunch of flashback sequences to give the characters tragic pasts. It also substitutes a genuine story with oodles of jargon, and supposedly ‘kewl’ twists that keep on coming one after the other; the way an in-over-their-head gambler will keep upping the ante just to save face, long after it’s become obvious that he’s lost.
This review has been tainted by the cynicism of a reviewer who has just seen too many of this kind of show. I was actually watching two of them together for review this time, Absolute Duo and Mikagura School Suite. The latter managed to do enough to stand out from the pack, show an identity of its own, but Absolute Duo did not. It’s an identikit, by the numbers show. I wish I could reinstate some of that first time enthusiasm I had when I first got into serialised anime. I can fully imagine that if you haven’t seen a lot of anime, if this is your first high school, magical battle show, then you could very well fall in love with it, invest in the characters, latch onto the jargon, read into the back story, and in proper harem tradition, root for whichever girl you feel most deserves to end up with Tor Kokonoe. I was like that with Kiddy Grade, the first Gonzo anime that I watched, a cyberpunk sci-fi action adventure with oodles of mystery and conspiracy. I thought it was the best thing ever for a while, until I watched some more Gonzo anime, and realised that their stock in trade was the cyberpunk sci-fi action adventure with oodles of mystery and conspiracy.
If you haven’t seen too many anime and none of this particular genre, then Absolute Duo is worth a try. It tells its story competently enough, and it doesn’t step too far wrong with its relationship comedy. I have to admit that it did entertain me in this regard at least. It’s a nice, toe in the water show, not too spectacular, not too outside the norm; enough to give you a grounding in what an average anime show is like, all the clichés and foibles intact. But nothing of value will be lost if you happen to miss out.