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Valvrave (whatever that means) is a show which I didn't bother to review until I had watched two episodes, because episode one left me very ambivalent about the show. The theme of bad guys breaking into some futuristic community, and a seemingly ordinary boy having to become an instant mecha pilot to fight them off, seemed pretty tired, since it goes all the way back to various incarnations of Gundam, if not further than that. What's unusual is the Evangelion-esque pricetag that becoming a Valvrave pilot seems to carry. The five Rohssian agents are psychopathic bastards who seem to enjoy killing people; the violence was sometimes startling. But they are so two-dimensionally evil that it gets painful at times. On the other hand, some very strange things happen which intrigue me and leave me wanting an explanation. For example, I wonder if the keyword 'Vampires' might be appropriate here. One of the bad guys, L-Elf, is framed as a traitor and may need to switch sides, which might be interesting. Since the series was only supposed to be twelve episodes long, I decided to stay with it, at least for the time being.
'Ambivalent', the word I used to describe my first impressions of Valvrave, means (IIRC) that you both like and hate some aspects of something, resulting in a more-or-less neutral opinion. One thing I hate about episode two is that stuff that could never happen in a million years cascades upon us here. Rohssian agent L-Elf is so resourceful and deadly that he makes James Bond look like a pussy. Or, I should say, he would if the stunts he pulls off weren't too improbable to believe. There's a difference between things that make you think 'wow this guy is really awesome' and ones which make you say to yourself 'there is no f---ing way anybody could ever pull that off'. What I want is more info on Haruto's fantastic powers, not fantastic things being done by supposedly normal people. But the strange twists, like Haruto's transformation, are one of the things I like about this show. Just when I was about to write the series as a whole off after episode three, another comes along and I can't help wanting to know more.
One thing I can say for this show is that it is fairly unpredictable. Haruto is obliged to team up with L-Elf, which is about the last outcome anybody would expect given what happened when they first met. Also bizarre is the plan the JIOR high schoolers come up with when they find they don't know who they can trust. Early on, I was feeling that this show was walking a tightrope between average and above average quality, and might still fall in either direction. It seemed that the main plotline was becoming unfocused, and is spending too much time on what would presumably be relatively unimportant matters instead of staying locked on to the main story. There seems to be little progress towards an explanation of just who created Valvrave, why it has strange capabilities, who is the strange girl with super long hair, what exactly has happened to Haruto, what L-Elf is up to, etc, etc. At the moment Haruto and Valvrave was acting as guardians of the Pod 77, keeping both the Rohssians and ARUS people away, but that sort of stasis can't go on forever.
The show slowly gets better. Episode seven was kind of neat; different factions--the teenagers, Haruto, the Rohssians, and L-Elf--struggle with one another, and the body shifting ability of a pilot that has been accepted by Valvrave is put to use in a surprising way. Haruto explains what sacrifices a pilot must make in exchange for the use of Valvrave, and his friends try to understand. Also, a startling and moving moment at the end makes it clear that this is not just a game. I liked the way another teenager came to be a second Valvrave pilot, and a fairly good one, too. This person has a personality with a little depth to it, and if we're not going to be told any more about Haruto, let's go with somebody else. Perhaps L-Elf is the most interesting character of all, perhaps because he's so enigmatic. We learn a little about his background later on. In case it wasn't obvious, Rohssia is Russia in the future--it even uses the Kremlin as its center of government—and ARUS is clearly led by the US.
In many mecha/teenager shows, some guy is forced by drastic circumstances to act as pilot of some strange mobile suit he has stumbled across, and, through courage and virtue, he prevails over the bad guys. The suit itself seems good at heart, if it has any personality at all. Here, there's a high price to be paid for becoming a pilot, so people are reluctant. The suits are mysterious and may ultimately be too much for their pilots to handle, with lethal consequences. This gives the show a touch of novelty and makes it interesting; new pilots need to be in a sort of distraught, nothing-left-to-lose mood for one reason or another, which gives them personality. Two new ones get started in episode nine. If only the bad guys weren't as stereotypical here as they are in the average mecha anime! Other than L-Elf, the Rohssians are cardboard characters who make no attempt to justify their views and actions. They are just bishoujo guys, sexy but devoid of personality. It is implied that we'll finally get an explanation of the origins of the Valvraves in episode ten, and I prayed that it would be a halfway decent one.
No, the explanation of the Valvraves didn't tell us much--like why does a system based on 'information particles' require a pilot to renounce his/her 'humanity'? But something rather shocking happens at the end of the episode, something the hero of an anime isn't supposed to do. It appears that Haruto has raped Nanami, the second Valvrave pilot, while undergoing some sort of bestial convulsion. She may not mind all that much, however, since she has been saying that they are in a new class above ordinary humans, and she likes him the best of the three Valvrave guys. Usually, the girl that the hero will wind up with is pretty obvious but Nanami is giving Shoko a run for her money. Her comment that she would kill Haruto if he totally lost control (earlier in the episode) was titillating. There was no mecha combat in this episode, but wondering how this act will be explained left me far more intrigued than a combat cliffhanger ever could.
I was certain that this would be a 24 episode series, since all sorts of plot strands were unresolved (the Princess, the long-haired girl, the origin of the Valvraves, the new pilots, etc, etc) and I didn't sense a climax approaching. But after episode twelve, the fansubs stopped coming. Episode twelve promised just one more abortive attempt by the Rohssians to capture the Valvraves, although they play a dirty trick here and might just do some serious damage to Unit 77. And then there was the WTF moment at the end, where we are introduced to a new faction, the 'Magius'. There had been no hint that there was anybody to worry about besides the Rohssians, or that this 'Kain' guy was all that important, but that's how it ends. Except it's not quite over; it turns out that Valvrave will have another three months--but not until October. Well, that's definitely better than the disjointed conclusion which we would have had to make do with otherwise. For all the confusion, all the things I didn't like (such as the four bishoujo villains), I find myself looking forward to October. I've gotten to like Haruto and L-Elf, and the Valvrave pilots, and I hope that they will survive, or at least die while putting up a good fight. I want to know where the Valvraves came from, why you must renounce your humanity to fly one, what happens to you once you do, and so on. In the end I would say that despite its slow start, Valvrave ended up second only to ShinKyo as my favorite series of the Spring 2013 season.
Last updated Thursday, January 09 2014. Created Tuesday, April 30 2013.