“Haste makes waste.”
Entertainment is a cut throat industry, and while every studio and publisher scrabbles around in a desperate search for the next big thing, they must continue to make ends meet in some way. When it comes to anime this is usually achieved by creating a one season adaptation of an existing manga, game or light novel, and the aim of these shows isn’t simply to generate revenue, but also to test the market for potential franchises. There are other methods though, one of which is to string together several well known base concepts, add something resembling a story, and release the finished article as an “original” work.
Now while the latter method can produce some very good titles, more often than not the results are … underwhelming.
Sacred Seven follows the exploits of Tandoji Alma, a seventeen year old high school student who leads a solitary life on the outskirts of a port city. One night he sees a ship on fire in the harbour, and whatever has caused the incident also triggers a reaction in him, one that he desperately fights off. The next evening Aiba Ruri, the CEO of the Aiba Foundation, pays him a visit in an attempt to recruit him, and she seems to know more about his secret than he does.
One of the problems with bringing together several “popular” themes is that all too often something fundamental is sacrificed in the process, and that’s pretty much what happens here. The plot may initially seem interesting, but once the story gets going it quickly becomes clear just how rushed this show actually is. In addition to this there’s a distinct methodology to the composition of the series, almost as if director Ohashi Yoshimitsu and writer Yoshida Shin adopted a “check-box” approach. Unfortunately this brings the major issues to the fore, one of those being the rather obvious drive to include certain scenes and events – some of which have no bearing on the story. There’s also an automatic limitation placed on the narrative, and while the lack of imagination and creativity is palpable, it’s the knock-on effect on the development of both the plot and the characters that really stands out.
In contrast to the lacklustre storyline Sunrise appear to have done a half-decent job with the visuals, and there’s some interesting design work on display – especially where the monsters are concerned. The animation is a little on the utilitarian side, but there’s a surprising fluidity and range of movement during many of the action scenes. In addition to this the characters are well realised, but this is tempered by the fact that they’re also rather mundane and a little too reliant on certain stereotypes. This is also reflected in the banality of the settings and background imagery, and these factors attest to the speed with which this anime was completed.
Sadly, these aren’t the biggest problems with the visuals.
There are several errors that any sort of basic quality control would quickly spot and rectify, one of those occurring at an auction in England where Aiba is bidding on a new gem. The auctioneer clearly states the closing price is £990,000, but the display reads £9,900,000, and while this may seem like nit-picking, it’s the ridiculousness of the mistake that lowers the viewer’s expectations of the show.
That said, the auctioneer does have one of the best British accents in anime, but that’s one of the few high points where the acting is concerned.
No amount of preparation or talent can resolve the problems with a script that, like several other aspects of Sacred Seven, is too reliant on what has gone before. While the actors try to do the best they can, it seems to have been impressed upon them that their characters should speak or behave in certain ways. The dialogue is far too manufactured, and with little in the way of natural flow to balance conversations, this results in some severely wooden performances.
The strange thing is that the music seems to have received more care and attention than any other part of this anime, with much of the background music being well suited and choreographed to the on-screen action.
To many people it can seem as though Sacred Seven features two opening and three ending themes, when in truth all that happens until the end of the final episode is that the first OP and ED swap places. “Stone Cold” by FictionJunction is quite the upbeat techno track, and the opening animated sequence does a good job of introducing the main players whilst being stylized enough to be eye-catching. The second theme, “Kiseki” by Nanri Yuuka, is a more traditional blend of J-pop/rock, and its accompanying animation is well choreographed and suitably heroic. As for the third track, “Tsunagaru Made” by Nakajima Megumi is a much quieter song that plays out at the conclusion of the final episode..
Now some of you may have noticed that there has been no mention of ending sequences. The reason for this is simply because Sunrise, like so many other studios, don’t think it’s worth the effort of making a decent one, and aside from some spinning jewel thingies in the first ED, both rely on still images.
Strangely enough, this sentiment also appears to ring true where the characters are concerned, although admittedly part of this is due to the check-box approach taken by the director and the series writer. This is a heavily manufactured anime, and this fact becomes very clear when one considers not just the portrayal of each character, but the manner in which they develop as well. While it’s true that Alma grows more than anyone else, the simple fact is that he starts the series as nothing more than a blank sheet with little to no personality, and given that situation it’s very easy to make the character appear more defined by the end of the story. Sacred Seven uses age old methods to ensure this happens, including Alma’s solitary lifestyle, hidden power and traumatic past.
Throw in some alien meteorites and you’re supposedly on to a winner.
On the other hand Ruri is rather well defined from the beginning, but alongside this is the fact that she doesn’t really change at all over the course of the anime. The only supporting character to receive any kind of back story is her personal butler Kagami Makoto, but aside from giving the viewer a reason for his dedication to the Aiba family, he remains nothing more than a stereotype (you know, the intelligent, dark haired guy with glasses who’s always stern and serious).
Everyone else is treated as narrative furniture, and given that Sacred Seven attempts to include some kind of human drama, this is nothing short of wasteful.
Even with its many flaws, Sacred Seven is still a surprisingly watchable series, and Onigawara offers some genuine moments of amusement that break up the monotony. While it falls just short of being “no-brain entertainment”, the simple fact is that the heavily manufactured storyline and characters make it both familiar and easy to follow. Unfortunately the price of this is that far too many questions remain unanswered by the end of the anime, which is a shame as there were a few interesting ideas that really should have been given more detail. The sad part is that if more time had been given over to developing the series before it hit production, many of its issues could have been resolved – but as everyone knows, anime is a serious business.
One of the most basic rules of storytelling is that it should never be rushed, but in a world where time is money, such sentiments are normally viewed as idealistic nonsense.