On the eleventh day of anime, an anime studio sent to me…
…L-11 with guns a blazing.
Whether an anime is a masterpiece or just an atrocious train wreck, I’m always drawn to anime that generates a lot of discussion, which I see as a good thing. Unfortunately, when discussions degenerate to shallow dismissals and bashing of characters (“Why is Haruto so whiny? Why is Shoko such a b**ch? Why the ridiculous mecha designs?”), it can be hard to look at a show more objectively, to see not just its glaring flaws but also what’s done right.
Valvrave the Liberator (Kakumeiki Valvrave) might be nothing but a train wreck, but it does succeed in drawing some kind of emotion out of us. Even if that emotion is nothing but bemused laughter.
The reason why I mention Code Geass and Guilty Crown is become they serve as the spectrum of what I’ll tentatively call “The Plot and Story Pacing Spectrum.” Now, Code Geass haters might disagree with me when I say Code Geass is one of the finest (and audacious) anime that’s come out in the last ten years, but for the purposes of creating a spectrum, I’ll place Code Geass as the premier example of a well-paced and and well-articulated story of revolution (regardless of the plot holes, Code Geass’s pace is markedly consistent, at times may haps moving even a little too fast). On the other end, we have Guilty Crown, the atrociously paced and well-meandering (in other words, LOST) tale of humanity’s struggle against an all-consuming virus.
Valvrave, like a sinusoidal wave, vacillates somewhere in between the two. Not unlike a certain spring mecha anime, Valvrave, particularly in the first season, can’t seem to decide what tone its storytelling pitches, and the drastic changes in atmosphere (typical school comedy with deadly serious intergalactic warfare moments) pockmark the series so much, you’d wonder if they’re satirizing the satirizing of classic mecha tropes.
It’s Like Code Geass, but not!
I want to reserve judgment since I have yet to watch the final episode (which I anticipate lots of gaping plot holes, some really epic, over-the-top mecha battles, and of course a gushy, heartfelt scene in which L-Elf declares his undying love for an amnesiac Haruto), but with one episode left, I’ll go ahead and touch briefly on one of my favorite aspects of Valvrave- the relationship between Haruto and L-Elf (also known as Michael).
One useful way of looking at their relationship is how they love, which tells us the kind of love that they represent.
Tokishima Haruto’s love is the unconditional, all-encompassing kind, the love for humanity. It’s ironic that the most loving guy of all ends up being forced to lose his humanity (then again, Sunrise writers are infamously sadistic to their teenage mecha protagonists). Certainly, he has a particular crush on his childhood friend, Sashinami Shoko, but in general he’s the type of guy who looks out for everyone, no matter the cost.
If Haruto’s love is unconditional and universal, L-Elf’s love is focused and selective. He guards his heart closely (given the life he leads, it’s a wonder that his heart is still intact) and dares to love only one–the Dorssian Princess Lieselotte. It’s a steady, passionate love that gives L-Elf the mental fortitude to face off and overcome overwhelming odds.
Valvrave’s love song is the song of revolution and because of this, one can’t help but draw comparisons between our two pairs of deuteragonists: Haruto/L-Elf and Lelouch/Suzaku, respectively. While such a full comparison merits a whole future post, I’ll briefly mention the similarity of the moment when the pairs set aside their philosophical differences to unite under a single cause and take on the rest of the world.
Only at the edge of despair, at the moment of their greatest loss (Haruto having realized that all future hopes of being with Shoko are dashed the moment she sold him out to JIORian and Dorssian forces and L-Elf reeling from the fact that his one and only love is dead), do the two confront each other so earnestly. Now a confrontation between the two is just how they roll, seeing as their philosophies are completely opposing but it’s the first time, they’re both so openly vulnerable. No witnesses, just the two of them on the surface of some floating hunk of space rock, with their oxygen virtually depleted–at this point, you realize that pretenses like keeping a brave face or forceful optimism are pretty much pointless.
Old wounds are ripped open as the two lay bare the cold truths–that Haruto killed Shoko’s father (albeit unknowingly) and that L-Elf’s one and only love is a member of the very species trying to subjugate humanity from behind the scenes.
It’s so comically melodramatic but somehow it works. The two realize that what they love are basically the same thing–a sanctuary for humans and Magius, free from political and military manipulations.
And you can’t help but get pumped up for the final battle, now that our main couple has finally stopped fighting each other. You’d think that since it took this long for them to realize the commonality of their goals, the destructive mess that came before–the so-called revolution–was a necessary development for them to arrive at their oxygen-deprived epiphany. You might even go so far as to say that this moment points at the show’s ontological statement of revolutionary mecha shows–that before the moment of greatness can be forged, there’s a lot of mess beforehand.