Review for Charlotte Part 1 - Collector's Edition
It hasn’t been too long since I reviewed Little Busters for this site, the latest in Key/Visual and Jun Maeda adaptations of visual novels to anime form. And while I haven’t seen Air, I have seen enough in the way of Kanon, Clannad, and Little Busters to sense a degree of diminishing returns in the genre. Having said that, Jun Maeda and Key/Visual bucked that trend when they last created an original anime series, Angel Beats, which coupled with P.A. Works’ animation really made an impact. They do it again now with Charlotte, another anime original story from Key/Visual and Jun Maeda, (with Lia on the soundtrack), and it’s animated again by studio P.A. Works. The one downside is that it’s licensed from Aniplex, which means we get that archaic episode distribution and pricing. We’re going to have to pay for Charlotte, a 13 episode series split across two releases. This then is Part 1.
Yu Otosaka has an easier life than most teenage boys. After all he has a superpower, which has recently manifested. It’s not much of a power, taking over the body of anyone in his line of sight, for just five seconds, during which his body will be collapsed unconscious. It’s not good for much, except cheating at exams, getting into an elite high school, and he’s even figured out a way to make the girl of his dreams fall for him. All of that changes though when a girl from another school, Nao Tomori threatens to unmask him.
She essentially blackmails him to transfer to her school, along with his kid sister Ayumi. He’s not the only one with imperfect powers. A significant minority of teenagers develops abilities, and Tomori is one of them (she can become invisible, to one person at a time), and as head of the student council at Hoshinoumi Academy, she’s on a mission to find and convince these gifted children to transfer to her school. For one thing, the superpowers are a temporary thing, which vanish in adulthood. The second thing is that Hoshinoumi Academy is a safe environment for teenagers with powers, as the alternative is almost unspeakable, being found by the government, the military or scientific researchers. That’s something that Tomori has personal experience of, as powers tend to run in families. Now Yu Otosaka is part of the student council in Hoshinoumi Academy, reluctantly helping Tomori to find and rescue more power users.
The first seven episodes of Charlotte are presented on this Blu-ray disc from All the Anime. It’s a combo release so you get the DVD disc as well.
1. I Think About Others
2. Melody of Despair
3. Love and Flame
4. Moment of Earnest
5. The Sound You Heard Sometimes
6. Happiness You Did Not Notice
7. The End of the Exodus
Charlotte gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. The image is clear and sharp, and given the Aniplex source, it’s a splendid presentation of an anime, with no signs of compression or digital banding. The character designs are excellent, the line art smooth and pin sharp, while the world design is detailed, with an eye to realism. The joy of course is in P.A. Works’ animation, which really does focus on the characters and ensures that their personalities and emotions are confidently evoked through how they move. Once again, Angel Beats will be your touchstone as to how this series plays, with character quirks expressed through animation in an endearing way.
You have the choice between PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese with optional subtitles and a signs only track. The audio is fine, no problems with any glitches or drop outs. The characters are cast suitably for their archetypes, the action comes across well, making full use of the stereo soundscape, and the music is typically exceptional for a Jun Maeda creation. And Lia does provide the opening theme. I gave the dub a quick try and it too is one of the good ones, certainly I was impressed with the voice actor performances, and the suitability to the characters. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos, but there are some formatting issues, especially in episode 7, where sometimes the dialogue captions get pushed to the top of the screen, and presented in the smaller font the disc typically uses for text translations.
This is a combo release; you get the DVD as well, one disc which presents the 7 episodes in 1.78:1 NTSC progressive anamorphic, with DD 2.0 audio. In terms of extras, you get the web trailers for episodes 1-7 and textless endings 3-4 (one more than the Blu-ray).
The Blu-ray disc which I review here boots to a static menu and you do get the Web Trailers 1-7, but only the textless ending to episode 3.
The big extra, exclusive to the Blu-ray is the Beginning of a New Destiny featurette, a combination of stage event, behind the scenes, and interviews with the cast and the crew, helpfully narrated by voice-over man, and with plenty of screen text to translate too. Unfortunately, on my Blu-ray check disc, this extra is a failure, as the subtitles are out of sync throughout. Thankfully, I have been reliably informed that this shouldn’t be an issue on the retail release.
I haven’t seen any of the packaging or physical extras with this release to comment.
The first half of Charlotte is certainly a blast, a well animated, entertaining, and interesting action mystery sci-fi, with likeable characters and an engaging story. It’s just the sort of show that you’ll go looking for if you want more than your usual run of the mill action show with added fan service, but it isn’t too taxing on the brain cells either. It has more than enough in the way of quirky characters and idiosyncratic humour to entertain, while it has the right degree of character drama and odd moments of tragedy to move the viewer, get them invested in the characters.
Of course comparisons will inevitably be made to Angel Beats, and I have to admit that at times Charlotte does feel like Angel Beats redux, especially in the way that the story sets up the character dynamics. Also, Charlotte does pale in comparison to Angel Beats, the most obvious weakness is that the music just isn’t as good (there’s no on campus rock band for one thing), while the crazy things that happen in Angel Beats, the way that its story unfolds and its secrets are revealed can all be explained and justified by that story’s setting. Charlotte’s story takes place in the ‘real’ world, a world where some teenagers temporarily develop superpowers, and so the story can’t be quite as wacky as Angel Beats, and it’s also more prone to plot holes (there’s a significant one in episode 7) which can’t be explained away.
With teenagers developing superpowers, the initial temptation for many is to have fun with them, use them for personal gain, which is where we meet the show’s protagonist, Yu Otosaka. He’s using his ability to briefly possess others to cheat on exams, and get the girl, and he’s quickly gained the evil laugh of a criminal genius to go with it. Only when he encounters Nao Tomori of Hoshinoumi Academy, he learns that might be a bad idea. Teenagers with superpowers is just the sort of thing that governments and scientists would like to dissect, I mean understand, and they’ll care not that it’s just an illness, a phase that children go through.
Tomori has personal experience of this, but because Hoshinoumi Academy is a refuge of sorts for such children, she can use her position as head of the student council to find and rescue children with powers. It turns out most of these powers are imperfect. Yu’s possession skills are time and range limited, Tomori can become invisible but to one person at a time, her right hand man Takajo has super speed but no control over it, the prognosticator who helps them find people with powers can only do so when he’s soaking wet, and so on. She pretty much blackmails Yu into transferring to Hoshinoumi, along with his kid sister Ayumi (powers often run in families, even if Ayumi hasn’t yet manifested them), as well as joining the student council to help her.
It’s a fair bit of fun during the early episodes as they go looking for power users. The first one is Yusa Nishimori, a pop idol who’s wowing audiences, and has a big fan in Takajo for one. It turns out her ability is being possessed, although the only one who possesses her is her late sister Miya. Yusa’s a delightful, kind, sweet and charming girl, but Miya’s a bad-ass delinquent with flame powers. She joins the student council as well, much to Takajo’s delight, but the other users that they find over the next few episodes, they persuade them to stop using their abilities instead. It’s fun and light for the first five episodes, with just the occasional hint of darkness, the odd point of mystery raised, questions that you expect the story to answer as it unfolds.
Then along comes episode 6 with a kick in the teeth, a story development that completely changes the comic and light tone of the series into something darker and more emotionally intense. It’s a natural development that works in terms of the story world and how things have been set up, and it sets Yu off down a dark path, from which he’ll need redemption. Tomori seems to offer that chance at the end of episode 7, but you get the feeling that it won’t be that easy, and certainly the likelihood of the show going back to light comedy and daft action as in the first half is remote indeed. It will be interesting to see where the show takes the story though. Aside from a couple of minor subtitle formatting issues, this release of Charlotte Part 1 is solid enough. If it is an either/or situation, Angel Beats is better, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t watch both.