So, I was going to watch Vandread the other night as treadmill food, but I got really impatient in the middle of the second episode. There’s a kind of “anti-suspense” that comes about when you know something is going to happen anyway (in this case, the two factions forming an alliance), you just wonder how long it’s going to take and why the players just don’t get on with it. There are entire movies made this way and I can’t stand them.
Of course, one swallow does not a Summer make and I’m sure I’ll come back to Vandread. I don’t think it’s going to play like this again, and it comes highly recommended, but I was feeling the need for something other. So I decided to watch Pretear again.
If you recall, I watched this a few weeks ago and enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun, had some nice comedy and some well-imagined characters. My overall evaluation was “pretty good.”
Well, now that I’ve seen it a second time, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think it’s “pretty good” anymore.
I think it’s excellent. In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s one of the greatest anime series I’ve seen so far. While it doesn’t quite have the sheer greatness of Noir or Haibane Renmei, it’s more fun than both of them put together. As a matter of fact, if someone is dumb enough to come up to me and ask where they might find a starting point in anime watching, I’m going to recommend Pretear. (Special bonus: unlike Martian Successor Nadesico, it’s actually in print!) There are a number of reasons why, on a second viewing, the show just jumped out as well as it did. What are those reasons? Why, I’m glad you asked and STOP GROANING, YOU ASKED DAMN IT.
The number one reason is that, while on the surface, the show is an action-comedy, it’s actually quite deep. The characters, even the background comedy ones, have a depth and dimensionality that’s not only refreshing but it even drives the plot along. This is a story about emotional relationships, strengths and weaknesses, and how those relationships can destroy the world, or save it. It’s very, very easy to invest yourself in all the characters we meet.
Secondly, the narrative flow of the series is refreshingly positive. While Himeno, our heroine, suffers setbacks and doubts, she just keeps pressing on. This isn’t a story about coming to terms with fate, or escaping fate’s clutches. This is a story about making a determined effort because you want to, not because you have to, and fate be damned.
Thirdly, the characters, as suggested above, are excellent.
The basic story is that Himeno, a sixteen year old girl, has somehow been born as a possible “Pretear,” a being of great power and ability. She’s unaware of this until she runs (literally) into Hayate, self-styled leader of the Leafe Knights. The Knights are fighting against the villainous Princess of Disaster (rolls eyes), who drains the life-force from entire worlds, and the Knights know we’re next. They’ve come here to find Earth’s Pretear, because while they’re powerful on their own, they’re not powerful enough without one. A Pretear is able to take on the essence of a Knight and, basically, turn that Knight into a both a shield and a weapon.
Of course, while Himeno and Hayate hit each other hard, they don’t hit it off at all, and they snipe at each other for the next few episodes. Anyone who doesn’t see where this is going seriously needs to read more in the Big Book O’ Movie Clichés. As it turns out, there’s a very good reason why Hayate acts like a big jerk. It’s perfectly in character, given his past…
The Princess of Disaster herself is a marvelously scary and complex villain. She not only commands an army of monsters but has the ability to amplify a person’s depression and feelings of worthlessness. She’s very, very good at this, striking a person’s weak point with precision—and the key is, she doesn’t create these self-doubts; they reside within us all. She’s just able to find them, and feed them.
But the best character is Himeno—I’d go so far as to say she’s one of the best anime characters I’ve come across. While a perfectly normal sixteen year old, she has a great inner strength that defines her. She’s determined to do what she has to do to the best of her ability, and she’s not going to back down. With the help of the Leafe Knights, she’ll fight on. (The fights against the demon-creatures are great; they’re just long enough to be exciting without going into tedious repetition.) The thing is, she also has a great heart—she’s able to see good in almost everyone, and she acts on those beliefs. She cares about everyone, even these Knights who’ve suddenly popped into her life. (The Knights can suffer injury while protecting her, so she practices a great deal so the fights can be won quickly, without risking the Knight she’s using.)
Let’s see, what else? The music is great throughout. The comedy, as noted, is first-rate. Fan service? Fan service confuses me, but I think I’d rate it at “none,” though when she takes on a Knight’s essence, Himeno does lose her clothing—but everything’s hidden through angles and energy clouds. (She then reappears wearing clothing that reflects the Knight’s powers.) The Knights themselves are a fun, varied bunch, ranging in age from (guessing) about four or five years old up to (guessing) mmmmmmaybe mid-twenties. All of them are male except a little girl who is, maybe, eight or so. (I suppose I should mention that Kei seems pretty male, though he wears a fetching ensemble complete with adorable high-heels.)
This is definitely in my top five shows—I’d be willing to put it at number three–and I highly recommend it.