In the year 2059, the earth has been plagued by aliens for several years. In an effort to learn more about these aliens, Dr. Noguchi and his assistants Maki Agata and Takuto Kaneshiro try to revive the professor's experiment, a large Bio-Mechanical alien named Frank. During this process the alien comes to 'life' and the lab is subsequently destroyed leaving Takuto the only survivor and the alien disappearing into the wilderness. While Frank roams the wilderness he meets Hattie, an emotionally distressed young girl whose parents are killed in the first 'close encounter' war. Oddly enough she is able to communicate with Frank and soon after they are taken into custody by a secret agency known only as 'Funeral'. Meanwhile, Takuto wakes up in a hospital bed with his life in shambles, and his face disfigured. Motivated by vengeance and heart break, Takuto accepts an offer from the mysterious 'Mr. X' and receives a new identity as a ranking Funeral officer named Ryu Soma.
When others describe a show as a "hidden gem" or "obscure title" it immediately calls to mind something that you've stumbled upon by happenstance with no prior expectations. These are the titles that come in and out of focus partially thanks to the presence of much more all-encompassing works made around the same time period. It's a common occurrence that spans across every medium but perhaps most notable in anime, where only a handful of shows per year are thrust into the limelight, while the rest are left to gather up dust and become yet another mortared in brick to support the weight of the
juggernauts resting on top of it. These "hidden" titles were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Like in the case of 2015's superhero show Concrete Revolutio, which unfortunately had to compete for views in the same season that aired the much more popular One Punch Man. Or even self-indulgent titles like Sword Art Online, which ultimately received a far bigger viewer base than 2012's Accel World, an anime made by the same author, Reki Kawahara. Had these shows aired at a different time, the chances of it receiving better coverage could have been amplified, for better or for worse.
And when it came to being at the wrong place at the wrong time, Argento Soma could not have picked a more unfortunate release date; being produced during a period where any title with the slightest use of biomechanics and distressed young pilots were quickly dismissed as "Evangelion clones." This decade-long dark period also saw with it the likes of RahXephon, Brain Powerd, Fafner of the Blue Sky, Gasaraki, Brigadoon, Betterman and much more receiving that label for either legitimate reasons, or simply for the sake of grouping anything remotely similar under the same umbrella. Argento Soma was no different, becoming another statistic forced to carry the burden of that appointed buzzphrase. The reason for the label was pretty self-evident too, given the ominous aura that was ever-present throughout the mecha show's production. The pervasive nature of that 90s to early 2000s aesthetic that dominated all genres at the time, where anime entries were drenched in a pensive temperament, often dissecting itself and the broader storytelling landscape as a whole. This all served towards Argento's quick dismissal, almost being instantly forgotten upon arrival. But that's where the thin line of surface-level evaluations ended, as the show never stayed under Evangelion's thumb. Unlike the fate befalling some of its brethren like RahXephon, whom to this day still can't shake that "Eva-clone" label, Argento quickly grew into its own identity, taking a stance against its patriarch and choosing to draw from influences outside the medium altogether. Its statement may have been lost in the clutter, but for those that heard it—and more importantly—understood the bold proclamation; what they came to encounter was nothing short of an interesting artifact. To quote the words of the infamous ThatAnimeSnob: "Argento Soma, is to me, a deconstruction of Neon Genesis" and honestly, that's as befitting of a description as any. Instead of following the trendsetter at that time, Argento chose to challenge it in a way not seen before or since. Argento Soma is a "hidden gem" in every sense of the term.
Starting off in a semi-episodic structure, we're introduced to our protagonist and residential edge-lord, Takuto Kaneshiro, who, like many others, found himself involved in a lifestyle where the military's far-reaching hand became a part of everyday life, thanks to an ever-present threat of alien invaders. After a series of unfortunate events, Kaneshiro took on an officer role in a paramilitary group called Funeral; a subsidiary of the army made for the sole purpose of combating the increasing wave of alien invasions. And as the fight against these extraterrestrials rages on, new information is slowly unveiled that changes not only the course of the battle but also humanity's stance on the perceived threat as a whole.
The biggest forewarning that should be brought to your attention before viewing this is the choice of pacing. Argento Soma operates with a sense methodical arrangement, where everything is laser-focused to serve its characters and narrative, as it slowly builds towards its penultimate third act, where all its careful planning exfoliates into a much grander concept. A slow-burn that never concerns itself with side-show theatrics to maintain short-term attention spans, and as such, may require a bit of patience on the part of the viewer. It's the defining feature that separates sci-fi from hard sci-fi, Stars Wars from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Where the minutia of individual character involvement and the events of all things big and small are all held accountable; introduced with the promise of a return in investment. If pathos drove Evangelion, then Argento functions on precision.
The benefits of this slower-paced first act can be seen with the metamorphosis of our protagonist, as well as the side characters that make up his surrounding environment. As already stated in the synopsis, Kaneshiro is motivated by vengeance, which gives way to a lead that's enveloped in a lot of mental grief and suffering due to his circumstances. He's possessed by this idea of "getting even" with the aliens that robbed him of normalcy and happiness, and it's seeing this very mindset mold him that brings a great deal of intrigue towards his growth throughout the series. As if donning a mask to hide his true feelings, we come to know Kaneshiro for a majority of the show by the alias Ryu Soma. An alias he chooses to adopt when becoming a member of the Funeral organization. But beyond the need to shield his identity, what's truly being put on guard is the person himself. Kaneshiro is in a state of denial about his shortcomings. Something we're made privy to as the veneer behind his actions slowly washes away, and he's forced to confront the true source of his grief.
The first half of the show entertains a "monster of the week" formula but never places it center-stage to its true intentions: the character involvement and the grander concept that awaits them later down the line. In fact, it could be argued that the first half of the series is merely there to flesh out the world, give weight to the increasing alien threat, and more importantly, to add dimension to our cast of characters. In order to achieve this, the show develops its cast byways of a collective character study; a situation where the actions of one could indirectly paint a picture of another. Developments that comes as a result of close-quarters interaction. And as all of this is being done, a slow paradigm shift from a character-driven story to narrative-based one is slowly being orchestrated in the background, as the show works its way towards the final thematic proclamation. One that makes broad implications yet remains intimate at its core.
And while screen-time is evenly distributed to most side characters to help achieve this third act revelation, the primary focus is always awarded to Kaneshiro. Seeing his slow metamorphosis and growth as a character was quite fascinating. His brash and somewhat pigheaded persona never felt like artificial drama but was branched out from a place of genuine angst. There was a poignancy there, something that similar works fail to grasp. He's driven by a need for redemption and lashes out, not because he's justified in his actions, but because the moment he seeks for the answer through introspection, the truth revealed is far crueler than the scapegoat he designates for his revenge. He's drowning in self-pity, searching for any means of resurfacing. And seeing his struggle, contemplation, and eventual catharsis through acceptance was something well worth the price of admission.
For those that have seen and appreciated Argento Soma, it's hard to fault the show's usage of deliberately slower pacing, as it's that very attribute that made its methodical reveals effective. But perhaps it's because of that that the show is practically unknown to a vast majority today. This isn't to suggest that the show had filler, but rather, it lets the narrative operate organically for far too long at times, even when it was done under careful observation. Ironically, the very free-flowing narrative that helped gave the events of the story a naturalistic expression is the same thing that contributed towards alienating its viewership. It was simply too long-winded for those that couldn't get behind this perceived "slower" pacing. This, as a result, has caused the few that have heard of it to either dismiss it altogether or shy away after getting wind of the unwarranted "Eva clone" mantra; a buzzphrase that offered a quick surface-level way to escape further elaboration.
This anime suffers not because of the actual content but because of the audience that surrounded it. As condescending as this statement may sound, this anime is intended for a more refined viewer, someone that understands the fundamentals of proper storytelling and the need for carefully planned build up to give later events more substantial impact. It's the difference between a person taking the time to appreciate the fragrance and taste of aged wine, as opposed to merely swigging it with the intent of getting shit-faced. The difference is patience and consideration. And for a medium that is known for attracting people that seeks expedience, Argento's quaint methods places it at a disadvantage.
Thankfully, for those willing to shift mindsets to accommodate this show's approach, it offers enough to justify its actions.
For one, the show never viewed things through an ideological lens but chose to let the content speak for itself. This made decisions on the characters' behalf to hold greater meaning. No one was ever "good" or "bad," they were simply human, making decisions that they deemed to be the best one. This sense of moral ambiguity was shared among all characters, whether their role was of primary concern or held tertiary value to the plot. And since the leads were composed of adults, it paved the way for far more nuances in their interactions than what you'll typically get from an anime cast overpopulated by teens. Adults weren't simply nowhere to be found while adolescence ran around "saving the day." This was a show that had enough decency and common sense to realize that including adults was not only appropriate but essential when it came to settling the moral dilemma of characters' choices. There are no redheaded tsunderes or emotionally detached lolis running the day-to-day operations of the military, but fully-grown competent leaders that think before they leap. To sell the seriousness of a story's conflict, accountability should come before marketability. Teen protagonists may sell like hotcakes for anime, but that's usually at the cost of legitimacy towards how plausible a scenario could be. Sadly, this is something that's mostly lost in the clutter of many anime titles, where teens seem to be the only characters of relevance. But in a way, it's because of tropes like these that the cast of Argento feels so refreshing by default. Whether the creators were cognizant of this or not, their decision to have a cast where there's only one teen, while everyone else was either young adults or older, ended up working out in their favor.
This is yet another defining feature that contrasts Argento with its patriarch. If Evangelion's relatability is with that of teens, then Argento shifts to the next logical step, cataloging sentiments meant for young adults to connect too. Teens blame the world, while young adults learn that taking ownership for their actions is the key needed to depart adolescence before entering the next chapter of their lives.
It's differences like that where Argento truly shines. Where its autonomy from the "Eva clone" mantra becomes crystal clear.
Beyond these strong narrative distinctions, the art and animation for Argento held up surprisingly well, as it contained fights that had a sense of weight to it, where the individual movements and the environment felt well-documented. From the swing of an incoming punch to gestures characters make under extraneous circumstances, every encounter was given agency. While there are instances where the show's age became apparent, it never got in the way of selling a scene. But perhaps the most notable inclusion was the striking character designs themselves, which looked like a crossbreed of sleek runway model-like postures and the lengthy stone-faced appearance of Gundam Wing's regulars; which isn't much of a surprise, given that Shukou Murase handled both Wing and Soma's character design work. This could also be seen with another Post-Eva work that he was involved in with Gasaraki. His aesthetic sensibilities are quite unique, taking anatomical body proportions and giving it a specific vogue-like neo-gothic edge. To get into specifics, the appearance of the main character was, for the lack of a better word, cool-looking. It's a type of blend between brooding and swagger that's rarely captured this well, but when done right, lead to some attractive creations.
Where the character designs lost points for creativity was with the aliens themselves, which lacked variety, as it was relatively the same design, with exception given to the one known as "Frank." The show could have greatly benefited with a few more distinct variations than the carbon copy lineup that was offered instead. While it could be argued that that decision to keep them all looking the same was made to correlate thematically with the show's "big reveal" towards the latter half, finding a way to work in more creative liberties to how they looked was still something that they should have entertained. Another issue that would immediately jump out at you was the characters' noses, or should I say, the lack thereof. If Escaflowne is infamous for its Pinocchio schnozzles, then Argento stands as its antithesis, sporting the Michael Jackson look whenever someone is facing the viewer. Thankfully, it isn't a jarring feature for long, as the problem subsides the more you watch it, similar to the effect Escaflowne had with its initial viewing.
The show's soundtrack was a mix-bag of melancholic songs, all synchronizing under the same dreadful feeling that loomed over the entire series. And while the soundtrack served its purpose well, tonally the genres were scatterbrained. They were unified under the pensive tone each had, but that's about it. The opening theme captured the essence of the title quite well, having a bittersweet swooning vocal passage carried off by the swelling rise of the instrumentals; a balance between sorrowful pitfalls and hopeful ascensions. The same cannot be said about the ending theme, however, which was quite jarring and far too bushy-tailed for the sobering tone that the series gave off. It was like if someone started playing the Bee Gees "Stayin' Alive" during a funeral session.
Outside of a few minor nitpicks here and there, the show does have its fair share of issues outside of pacing (for those bothered by the idea of slow buildup), one of which was its decision to name things in a manner that feels entirely too superficial. You see, Argento Soma was Sunrise's not so subtle attempt at patterning specific name and events after a classic novel, and in this case, that ended up being Frankenstein. But outside of the first episode, naming the found alien revived by a mad scientist "Frank," and having facilities and organizations named "Morgue" and "Funeral," there was very little that paralleled the classic novel and film itself. Instead, it's safe to say that the show only superfluously borrowed these titles, and had it been changed to anything else, nothing of significance would have been affected thematically. The usage of these titles should be treated as more of a motif than anything with symbolic annotation. In short, ignore the relevance of these titles, just as Evangelion's theology symbolism was nothing but window-dressing, so too is Argento's need to reference Frankenstein no more significant than an artistic decoration.
Naming aside, perhaps the most significant issue that the show faces has to do with the involvement of a character named Mr. X. Unlike the harmless usage of name choices, Mr. X's participation brought with it damaging plotting issues. This wouldn't be any more of an issue than what's usually found with most shows, but for one that operates with such precision, the inclusion of such a wildcard ended up jamming the cogs of what's been up to this point, a highly-functioning machine. Given how problematic his involvement is, I would save all of this for the spoiler section. Thankfully, not even the issues found with his inclusion could diminish the show's third act revelation, something I will also save for the spoiler section as well.
With the first half of the series being dedicated towards the character and narrative buildup, it's the second half that the series began to strut its stuff. With carefully foreshadowed moments that started peeling back new layers to the plot, and characters growing alongside the story to match it, everything started to come together, as the reveal placed the show on a league of its own. It stepped out of the realm of usual anime fodder and took cues from cinema instead. All of its careful planning and character fixation was finally brought to fruition. The mysterious fog that hid all agendas had finally lifted, leaving nothing but the naked truth behind all of the show's secrecy laid bare for the audience to see. With the revelation of the third act finally being unveiled, humanity, as the show comes to know it, was made humbled by the presence of something much more greater than itself.
For those that have experienced what Argento had to offer, join me in the spoiler section as we discuss this in further detail.
What made the third act so great was beyond the theatrics, it was what it represented thematically. What it managed to set up, in the beginning, resulted in the last few episodes being what I could only describe as "2001: An Eva Odyssey." It took the ingenious vision of Kubrick's film and pushed beyond its ending point by introducing a prologue that saw with it the genesis of humanity as a species, and the exodus of a new stage of human evolution into a grander sentient being. It literally and figuratively showed our limited understanding when brought face to face with an advanced species. Where humanity saw a brutal, uncaring race of otherworldly creatures, in reality, it was humanity that was the uncultured simple-minded species incapable of comprehending something beyond our current intellect. It's like a 2D person trying to grasp the idea of a 3D object. This plot twist even paralleled the journey of Ryu Soma as well, which made it a multifaceted reveal that serviced both the narrative and the characters involved. It's an idea that could have easily crumbled under its own weight but manage to pull it off with such gravitas. And since Argento had already committed to making its content as grounded as possible, the potency of this reveal was amplified even further. This isn't to say that Argento tackled the idea to the pedigree reached by Kubrick's magnum opus; far from it. But the fact that it even took the idea and ran with it was awe-inspiring within itself. It's honestly one of the most spectacular latter halves I've seen from any anime, period.
But outside of this achievement, the show does have a significant plot hole that hurt it towards the end, and that was the involvement of Mr. X.
David "Mr. X" Lawrence is by far the worst part of the show because, with his involvement, poor planning or split decision making on the part of the creators was immediately exposed. Earlier in the series, Mr. X was introduced as a sort of "devil on the shoulder" character that seemed to only exist in Soma's head. With his red hair, devilish features, and constant consumption of apples (obvious forbidden fruit reference), we as an audience was meant to believe that he was, in fact, a figment of the protagonist's imagination. But due to what I could only describe as a poorly executed retcon, this character was introduced as a flesh and blood human being that existed all along. Where the problem lies with that is that throughout the show, he was shown to have the ability to seemingly appear and disappear without anyone else outside of Soma acknowledging him. So when the reveal is made that anyone could have seen him all along, it rendered many instances of him appearing out of nowhere (from what we were shown) to be utter bullshit. One could argue that because of Soma's borderline delusional state, he simply couldn't follow Lawrence's movements and that his high-tech skills allowed him to evade cameras and personnel easily, but that still leaves the question as to how and why others were incapable of seeing him up until the point of the reveal. This was sadly a plot hole with close to no proper explanation given, but one I chose to consciously dismiss given everything else that the show had executed well in regards to the "Space Odyssey" third act, as well as Ryu Soma's character arc. That doesn't stop Mr. X from being a problem, and it's for that reason that my score was ultimately lowered. But aside from that point, nothing will take away that feeling of being awestruck that came about from the show's final act.
***end of spoilers***
I've never been one to care about the average scores accumulated by MAL users, but below 7 for this show is criminally low, perhaps being one of the most underrated and undeserving ratings given to any series I've stumbled upon in the medium up to this point. Sadly misunderstood, a show with so many layers that it effectively deafened itself to the general populace. And rather than take the time to decipher its themes, the quicker solution was to subject it to semantics and label it as an "Evangelion clone." Ignorance is bliss, unfortunately, that comes at the cost of things of greater value being dismissed by the collective out of convenience.
As a fellow anime enthusiasts, I saw this at the right time, never once being bothered by the episodic first half or the methodical pacing that it chose to contain everything in. With intriguing characters and a plot that slowly revealed its hand, the more I watched it, the more engrossed I became. The protagonist was one I've seen done wrong so many times that finally seeing his type done right was quite rewarding. Very few protagonists struck a chord with me in the way he did. This was a show that only grew on me as it went along, and after episodes 16-18, it became an addiction I couldn't stop watching. It was modest, never once flexing its accomplishments to obtain any further appraisal. It simply told its story and let the viewers that took the time to understand it to take from it what they will. It's that kind of quality that I actively seek out in media. And it's that very reason that Argento Soma won me over, flaws and all.
This title is not for the impatient. For those that enjoy and understand the need for carefully planned build up, the payout is satisfactory, but for anyone else seeking instant gratification, you shouldn't bother with this. I don't like to advocate the saying of "you're not ready for this show yet," but in all honesty, sometimes that's just the case. This is a show that could only be appreciated by certain viewers past a threshold with their experience exploring the medium. One only accessible to those well-versed in titles of now and those of yesteryear. To truly know the legacy, the lineage, the very building blocks that make up its foundation. But perhaps more importantly, it requires a mindset that's moved beyond the "critics before art" phase. To receive what this show has to offer is to approach it divorced of any pretense, of any conceit. Humility is a must. And as a viewer, until you've gotten past these crossroads, I suggest keeping this one tucked away for a later date. I can't promise that you'll receive the same level of payout that I did, but I can assure that anyone in the right mindset to accept what it has to offer will, at the very least, be given something deserving of the price of admission.
The anime was fantastic, yes the main character may might have been a bit villainous, but he shows his true self in the end. The anime is very mysterious, and it does have its fun moments, but it is a serious type of anime. I personally thought this was a masterpiece, and beats all the junk. Yes it was a bit repetitive in the middle, but it was all in the plot.
Overall 10/10 and it is a must watch, if you think the main character is too "emo" like the other review, then DON'T EVEN bother watching this.
This Anime was almost dropped. There are some problems with this show and they mostly revolve around the primary character Ryu .... err sorry Takuto is his name in the beging and this guy is an exreteme emo! He is a victim and he wallows in it. I won't go into his reasons for victim hood, but I will say that he starts as a emo and ends as one and I get the feeling he would be a wife beater. Needless to say, I greatly dislike Ryu. Fortunately, he is not the only character, more on that later.
Aside from Ryu, there is another annoying
aspect of this show, the music. Music was by Katsuhisa Hattori, a famous and accomplished composer / conductor. Argento Soma is a military show, based in the US, so they used military style music, kind of. It was more like music from a military graduation ceremony. Maybe in Japan, that is what they think of when they think of American military music. I don't know, but it didn't work for me.
But wait, the show is based in the US? Well, that is different and I like different. Also it is a military show, meaning adult characters, something else I like. In fact there is only one child, Hattie, in the show and she truly acts like a kid. Wow, an anime that realistically portrays the characters! Now, don't get wrong here, all is not peachy with the characters. Yes you already know I dislike Ryu, the others are likable but a bit shallow. After a few episodes they become fairly predictable but there are some surprises toward the end, so yeah, it's okay. They really take the edge off of dealing with Ryu and any one of the characters can carry a single episode with ease.
There are more things to like fore this is a Giant anime. Giant Mecha, Giant Aliens, and a Giant Robot. Yeah, the Mecha are pretty cool, the design is nice, and I really like the flight conversion, they are pretty unique although a bit underpowered. The Aliens, well they all look the same, but react differently, too bad they have no personality. The Giant Robot, Frank, I think he is the real star of the show. Frank is just a big bruiser, to fix things you just run up and hit it. If that doesn't work, hit it Harder! He also has a thing for young blonds, go figure.
Now the story. You have Giant aliens landing on earth for an unknown reason. The military is helpless to combat them. A special force is formed with advanced mecha to fight the aliens. The name of this force is NERV....... no no no it's Funeral.... Heheh, okay so the basic story is pretty much a rip of Evangelion without the religious overtones or teenage angst. But there is Ryu, he is full of angst! He is Shinji all grown up and he is still a whiner! Still the story does heavily borrow from Evangelion, transplanted to the US with Pilgrimage Point replacing Tokyo. It's okay though, there are no EVA's attached to extension cords, at least not really, there are no cords and the Mecha are not really EVAs , for the most part that is. Oh, yeah, and the ending is completely unlike anything in Evangelion, in fact it's pretty different and unique. Which is why I am glad I did not drop this anime.
Over all, it's Okay. Ryu is nauseating, the music is bad and the story is formulaic, yet I held out to the end and that is saying something.
Upon finishing Argento Soma, I finally understood why mecha+philosophy anime fans don't talk about this show often beyond them many simply assuming it would be another Eva-clone. Once you understand the core premise, see the introductory episodes and realize what the show wants you focus on, it's clear that, for better or worse, Argento Soma is actually a rather humble endeavor.
The Premise's Promise:
You wouldn't think so at first. In reality, Argento has one of the more gripping opening episodes I've seen in the post-Eva mecha genre. It has all the right ingredients to be spellbinding: Our main character, Ryu Soma, who already struggles to understand
those close to him, the villain alien enemies are appropriately mysterious, and enough mysteries are set up to hook anyone who enjoys their drama to have build-ups, moments of calm/reflection, rinse and repeat.
The setup features a highly intelligent and adaptable main character who suffers from a wide range of emotional issues anyone can relate to, ranging from Empathizing, Narrow-minded conclusion making, and an unhealthy amount of Self-Absorption. Normally such a character would be deemed "dangerously unstable", but since the first few episodes take the time to be delicate with presentation, it's actually not too far of a stretch to say that he becomes our sole motivation to finish out the show. Several of my colleagues, ZephSilver and ThatAnimeSnob, have labeled this show a deconstruction of Evangelion (TV series); when it comes to its utilization of the protagonist I couldn't agree more. Shinji Ikari's docile, reactive nature has always created enmity and controversy in Eva across anime fans, and even fans of Eva itself, thus having Ryu Soma just as damaged but amazingly more attractive (both aesthetically and behaviorally) is impressive.
Thus, the greatest aspect of Argento Soma is in his plight for revenge; revenge for preventing him for closing off one of the greatest opportunities he was so dedicated to see through. Ryu Soma, who would otherwise be a disposable sub-villain in another show deemed to be killed off because how obsessive he otherwise is to higher serving plot, actually grows in this show. Nuanced, self-learned, growth. Watching such graceful attention-to-detail for this take on revenge is not just welcome but inspiring and a definitely worthy enough to recommend the show all from this merit alone.
The Price of Admission:
But what causes the most gripes after these introductory episodes? Patience with the rest. You see, Argento Soma is not the first Eva-inspired anime, let alone the first who managed to tweak the approach successfully, but it does take the longest for it decide and stand sturdy on its own identity - the surrounding world building and mythos the show has; by the time we realize what the show wants to actually say, it simply happens too soon for the maximum effect to hit the audience as it should.
Indirectly, this is because of how loose the pieces are put together. Unlike the more recognizable mecha anime like Eva, RahXephon, Macross, and Escaflowne, there just isn't a sense of culture to the setting. For example, the supporting cast; They are looked into of course thankfully, but not nearly to the same degree as Ryu. Not even into the main heroine. We see a bit of their past, but not nearly enough to clue us in as to why they live how they are in the present or possibly where they want to go in the future; an effect not unlike a bait-and-switch fashion. A general who might seem career-oriented then has an episode specifically built around painting a more sensitive side that otherwise throws her initial persona out the window instead of building on top of that.
This creates a huge void of conflict between the characters when this post-apocalyptic, military-minded setting would suggest otherwise. Everyone other than Ryu it seems has it all together compared to him; not only does this create this odd air of naivety in how the writers want to portray secret alien fighter's mentality, but it reduces clash with Ryu and his journey - at least, to a degree where we realize they simply don't have as much interest or impact.
And this applies to the setting too. Even though this does take place in the Unites States, certainly interesting alone. You would never think so while watching it. There is nothing indicative of American culture rubbing off on this in any way. They don't visit any cities, discuss or bring up any stereotypes (even if just for sake of using the culture), nor do any characters have any traits that can identify as such. This is eventually touched upon as serving the plot more later on, but again this is assuming someone has the patience.
Is it Worth Watching?:
But enough of about the composition, let's talk about the rewards for finishing Argento Soma, the outcome, the part where the show does decide to take its pieces and decide an outcome: Is it a successful venture? Ultimately, yes. In deciding to gamble a simple approach in the post-Eva world - something that benefits from merging together multiple plot threads and character motivations, Argento Soma's thematic delivery resonates as would a fairy tale: Pure hearted, earnest, hopeful... but ingrained from an anticlimactic standing.
It resonates upon main character Ryu Soma's long-standing conflict beautifully otherwise mitigating the anticlimactic timing in how late the big answers are given. My heart accepted the message, but my mind could only lament in how this show was created ill-timed. Such a fairy-tale rendering of its conclusion would work better in a pre-Eva mecha world, but at least the creators did not let that hinder their ambition to see their vision through despite the lack of polish.
Now onto some aesthetics. Sunrise did a pretty respectable job in animating the combat scenes, the plot mostly uses episodic monster-of-the-week battles but definitely does not skimp on the numerous ways the heroes combat them. You won't be watching this show for the action, but at least you won't be bored during battles either. What is rather boring are the alien designs... or should I say "design". There is pretty much one design used for the entire array of encounters. Yes, the later episodes do excuse it, but I could otherwise complain that the writing polished up everything in the planning stage.
Animation is generally consistent; for moments of extreme intensity - detail is improved to strengthen.
Actually, the biggest hit to the art are the character designs themselves. Although Shoukou Murase is a hell of a director (Ergo Proxy), his designs - especially here are warped and lazy. When characters look straight on, nose detail is just abandoned; hell sometimes mouths are just streamlined. Given that the show stems on its character drama, this is a huge distraction. I'm not usually one to harp on technical polish, but it's especially bothersome considering his designs in Gundam Wing are rendered and animated with 10x more fidelity, over 5 years before this show, from the same studio, with practically DOUBLE the episodes. Just saying; done now.
On the whole, Argento Soma, when seen today, is something of an artifact, a dinosaur. Made in an era where most mecha shows had two seasons worth of airing whether they needed them or not, it also came from an era that used established and recent conventional storytelling to accomplish a serious-minded journey about restrained human angst, personal development surrounding anger and hatred, all capping off to a meditation on the quiet but undeniable power that is the human potential to understand and forgive. When I realized this anime was made by the guy who helmed The Bio O - a heavily Western-drenched atmospheric show that also dabbled in the pained, bruised human condition - this mecha anime is definitely a raw gem worthy of seeking out. Its sincerity and impact will definitely range from person to person, and double could be said about its plot structure's appeal, but when you're done you are left with an indelible memorable impression that can only humble the spirit inside you.
Story: 6/10 - The Eva-inspired "mysterious aliens invade earth for unconventional reasons" are second to the personal journey of Ryu Soma. While the alien plot is addressed, the revelation's credibility simply strains the foreshadowing led up to that. Nevertheless, the plot holes do not damage the core appeal and power of the thematic resonation so the end result is bearable.
Art: 5/10 - Definitely not the worst looking show, however it soon becomes clear as day that the production was definitely more concerned with aesthetics than polished rendering. Quality will dip and rise which with whatever is needed for at the time. Infrequent switches like this will be jarring so it's important to bring this up.
Sound: 5/10 - Serviceable yet uninspired, the soundtrack uses simple tracks mostly for delivering a scene's importance or mood. Thankfully, it doesn't dominate over the character drama (letting them carry the show) so it becomes a case of where the OST does the job and clocks out when done.
Character: 8/10 - While everyone gets an even-handed treatment, the real star of the show is main character Ryu Soma's character arc which is so magnetic, nuanced, yet eminently attractive that it bleeds out to every part of the show. Everyone else has their part to play but I couldn't help but feel that it was mostly in relation to his conflict and not their own.
Enjoyment: 7/10 - In viewing this show back-to-back, I will be the first to admit that the show's pacing was hindered by the monster-of-the-week format. Almost every episode has some sort of value so I can't readily dismiss any episode as filler, but at the same time, I know full well that this didn't need to be made with 26 episodes. Good news is, from a point on, enough plot details are dropped to have the show gripping again so when the show gains momentum it generally shows effort to uphold it.
Overall: 6.5/10 (rounded up to 7 on MAL) - An imperfectly realized gentle and graceful tale of all the positive hopefulness the creators have for humanity, part of me respects the entire show for never stooping to outright silliness to see this through. There are certainly more polished, gripping, complex, and even rewarding mecha dramas like this out there in this diverse quirky medium, but few play the humble card, and even fewer conclude with it resonating with such conviction. To that end, Argento Soma is a worthy experience in my book.
Put on your helmets and prepare for the explosions. This is a collection of the 20 best war anime from the thrilling 2D battlefield! So what exactly separates them from the rest? Explosions? Drama? Political intrigue? You name it, they've got it.