Set in the near future in Japan, year 2035. A major incident was known as "Burst" which was caused by researching artificial life. A certain AI called "Matter" has eroded the Kurobe Gorge. Entering the research city, which has been called as humanity's last hope, has been prohibited by the government.
Two years later, Aiko Tachibana, a 15-year-old girl who lost her family from the incident, was told by a transfer student named Yuuya Kanzaki the truth that Aiko didn't know regarding a secret hidden within her body. The key to solve the mystery is said to be in the Primary Point, the center of Burst. When a boy and a girl, who bears the future of humanity, meet, what will be the new truth?
After a streak of great Netflix original anime, I was worried this new series wouldn’t live up to the high expectations set by the previous anime released this year. Thankfully, A.I.C.O. Incarnation is another strong addition to the sci-fi thriller genre. Full of monumental twists, intense action, a strong protagonist, and a story with a surprising amount of depth.
In the near future in a city known for its advanced researching facilities, a catastrophe known as the “Burst” puts a swift end to the city’s utopian-like harmony. This catastrophe creates a giant mass of red matter that wreaks havoc on the outskirts of the city,
killing many people.
Through some relatively wordy exposition, we learn that researchers experimenting with artificial life were the cause of the Burst. Rather than incinerating the monster, the researchers choose to leave it be while the hide behind a wall around their city. They seek to learn how to create artificial humans by studying the monster, without caring about the actual people still surviving.
Only days before this catastrophe, our main character Aiko Tachibana gets into a car accident, killing her father but leaving her barely alive. Shortly after her accident, her mother and brother were killed in the Burst. Jump two years after the accident, and she’s rehabilitating, temporally wheelchair bound. She lives alone, peacefully ignorant of the horrors that occur just beyond the border, but with only the doctors to go home to every day. That is until the enigmatic Yuya Kanzaki transfers to her class, quickly becoming the most mysterious character in the show. From the moment they first meet, her character arc begins, she's literally thrown from her wheelchair and forced to get herself moving when they bump into each other. From their on, she's set on an arc crashing into gate after gate challenging who she was, changing her into someone able to face the world. One of those gates being the literal one bordering the city, the show's greatest use of symbolism that appears in every episode.
In one of the more melancholy scenes during the first episode, accompanied by Yuya, Aiko walks through her old (now empty) home to collect her belongings and face the truth that her family is gone. That is until Yuya drops the bombshell on her and us that her mother and brother are still alive.
Yuya tells Aiko that her body is an artificial copy created by her father and his fellow researchers before she was nearly killed in her car accident. He urges her that she’s the key to stopping the chaotic red matter and that she must travel with him to outside the city to the matter’s source known as ”Primary Point”. It’s a lot for her to take in as you can imagine, and this crazy story coupled with Yuya’s sterile personality is a recipe for long-term uncertainty between the two. But he gives her a reason to believe, to leave her ignorance and grow up. Her family is still alive at this Primary Point place, so he says. It's a shaky foundation for her to start off with. However, her frighteningly tough skin (that even repels knives as Yuya rudely demonstrates) and ability to occasionally share thoughts with the red matter pushes her, and us to become invested in their effort to reach the source.
Together with a group of hired ’divers’ to escort them to the source. They’re funded in secret by one of the more clear-headed researchers who seek to stop the matter rather than study it. They spend a majority of the show on their journey using high tech weaponry and vehicles to survive in the post-apocalyptic outskirts against the matter. This journey is a fight for survival, a fight to save the world. It felt all the more ironic watching these kids (15-20ish-year-olds) on the front lines trying to put an end to the monster that the researchers created and chose to ignore.
Considering the mixed track record of A.I.C.O.’s series composition staff, I was nervous how the writing would turn out. Thankfully, it's quite good. It’s self-aware and doesn’t challenge itself in ways that could make an uneven experience. Simple, comprehensive, and it even dives into some themes to give itself much welcomed depth.
A.I.C.O. loves setting up these thematically relevant scenarios to remind you who you're supposed to be rooting for and what the message is. The show’s color palette tends to be dark and muddy for the post-apocalyptic outskirts, but even this clashes with the semi-utopian appearance of the research city. Adding even more to the thematic duality.
Whenever the show isn't focused on Aiko’s journey it follows the researchers who wish to experiment on her much-coveted artificial body. She is, after all, one of the first humans to successfully be made out of artificial matter. We get plenty of useful information about Aiko’s origin, the experiments, the red matter, and world building though seeing the world from the scientists perspective. The world feels far-fetched but believable thanks to these moments. It’s not just generic sci-fi tacked on; it’s a real world that reacts to the knowledge-hungry researchers and the fear of the ever-growing red matter.
The duality between the scientist's dangerous lust for knowledge and Aiko’s group fighting for a brighter future further makes their roles in the story believable. I never found myself struggling to cheer them along on their epic adventure. Sure it’s straightforward and simplistic, but easy to get engaged with. Not to mention, this structure lends itself well to quieter dramatic character moments to develop its leads. With only a brief twelve episode runtime, these moments are valuable indeed.
Yuya, along with all the other cast members start off as relatively flat. Given that the show’s large character roster, it’s a blessing it doesn’t increase much after episode two because it gives them enough room to be developed. While it takes it a little while for their characters to take shape, I came to like them in a short enough time. I did find myself invested in their arguments against one another, their highs stakes fights against the matter, and occasionally the deaths. These characters are strengthened by well-defined personalities that have visible chemistry one another creating a fair bit of tension between them in and out of the high stakes action. While I wish the supporting cast of hired 'divers' were equally developed, I felt like the amount they received was adequate. The bare minimum necessary to engage with. At least the protagonists and antagonists respectively have clear motives and receive the full development treatment. Solid Japanese voice performances bolster these personalities as well. Not the dub though. Unlike B: The Beginning’s wonderful dub, this one’s full of awkward pauses, boring performances, and the dub’s script is the exact same as the sub’s (no acting direction).
At many times throughout A.I.C.O, we see quiet moments in which Aiko grapples with the idea that she’s not human. Questioning her existence and cursing her connection to the Burst that stole her family and the lives of many others. At first, I accused her of simply falling into the more trappings and having little to be attached to, but as the conflict deepened, so did her writing. She quite frequently butts heads with Yuya as he’s incredibly single-minded at first. Seeing her as a tool to fix the world rather than a person. They each grow in noticeable and satisfying ways; Aiko overcoming her fragile ignorant self for the sake of her family and friends, and Yuya learning to value emotion rather than only logic. It was a satisfying journey to watch play out, but I wish it had only ended with an equally satisfying conclusion. Everything is wrapped up so quickly and so immaculately that little is left to the imagination. I was left reflecting on the arcs the show successfully followed through on, but after such a cathartic final episode it felt rather restrained to end in the way it did.
As the show spends a majority of its time in the action-packed escorting scenes, it’s necessary for it to have good visuals at the very least. As expected of studio Bones, it looks good but I wouldn’t take my praise beyond that. There's an overall old-school style to the visuals that may put some people off due to the lack of details. This style carries over into the character designs, giving them each a defined look while still being of a modern quality.
The main enemy in the A.I.C.O., the red matter, contorts in ways that look quite frightening (more so when you learn its origins). Rarely does the show get violent, but it does dabble in body horror which is surprisingly effective without a reliance on gore.
Action scenes are fast-paced, rarely lingering on a shot to keep moving, but also to hide a lack of detail. There’s plenty of CGI during action scenes, but it looks good from a distance and never hurts the experience. To bolster thrills during action sequences is a pulse-pounding soundtrack with racing piano tracks and intense stringed orchestras. They don't sound like your everyday action music either, it strives to keep you on the edge of your seat. And oh man, the opening performed by TRUE is fantastic. It tells the story of the show metaphorically and beautifully with an awesome song to back it up. Ending each episode is a wonderfully relaxing song by Aiko's talent voice actress Haruka Shiraishi, with a simple walking cycle of her with beautiful background art by Studio Easter.
[Story: 7/10] Intruiging themes, simplistic, lacking storytelling.
[Character: 6/10] Good protagonist. Large cast gradually developed, but some are left underdone.
[Art: 6/10] Decent CGI, simple animation, old school style.
[Sound: 8/10] Amazing OP, great soundtrack, terrible dub.
[Enjoyment: 8/10] Exciting action, emotional drama, somewhat predictable.
[Overall Score: 7/10]
Perhaps A.I.C.O. Incarnation played it safer than it could have, but it exceeded my expectations and held my attention. Where it lacks in the unique direction of Devilman Crybaby and the fantastic visuals from B: The Beginning, it makes up for with old-school charm and a satisfying story. Safely earning its place in Netflix's growing library of great anime.
Not necessarily can easily tell that the show considered to be good or bad it flops current detail of what's lies beneath the whole main plot of the show.. Thinking how it's just another carbon-copy of Bounen no Xamdou on having same counterparts. Same main character who's especially not a human that invokes a lifeforms due to manifestation.
Downward spiral, Empty poor writing with sheer of plain visuals, as it depicts
how dreadful without leaving a direct complexity.. Characterization can grasp in a form of repetitive scenarios but it falls apart at the certain pacing of the series.
an angst yet cryptic concepts, Puzzling a rare dialogue is surely rare to adapt. Structures and set of features were beyond trippy in which it casually fits on the negative aspects. The problem with the ending – and much of the show – is that it requires the audience to care about seemingly minor plot points that are mentioned once or twice before suddenly transforming into “major” themes that Bones attempts to pass off as some dramatic climax. In short, the drama is so poorly presented, inadequately established and prematurely delivered to a point that some of the conclusions feel confusing. Despite the clusterfuck execution, It useless to say that the only can a show produce is far from being forgotten
which the variety of the substance leaving Pointless sub-plots crawled out of the depths of triviality to waste any opportunities to provide any consistency to the story. You are then filled with grave disappointment as you realize that with just the right amount of good care it could have been the bad senses you won't contradict.
Was alright I guess. Could've been crammed into 4x45-60min OVAs though and cut the crap.
Half the story (synopsis) is explained during the first 2 eps while the climax starts at the end of episode 8 onwards. So you know when to drop it fast or when to expect things to actually pick up.
The story was a bit cliche too. Your typical moral story about life and death, what is human and what isn't. There's been a few of these over the years which I can't really remember nor name but you know you're out there!
Once Takehito Koyasu as the VO for the doctor pops up,
you pretty much know what this'll be about which is both good and bad. I mean he tends to play his part pretty well. Radium from ZOE is what came to mind at first, but of course he appears in so much animu these days but that's what he does good even though it's become quite boring to say the least (not that he's bad or anything but because you know what to expect by now when he's in something).
Yuuya felt a bit TOO stiff but he's your typical "emotionless, I can solve anything by simply existing type" dude which works okay for the setting as the whiny char we got in say Valvrave or Guilty Crown is probably the last thing I'll ever watch again.
A.I.C.O. Tells the story of Japan being overrun with "matter", a sort of abstract material that destroys everything in it's path. The story is a bit generic but the pacing make's up for that. The biggest issue I had with this anime was the main character; Tachibana, Aiko. it's not that she lacks depth, it's the way she reacts to every situation. It's like she was made to be shocked at every turn. And it gets tiresome fast. The best aspect of the anime is the artwork. The elegant animations and fast pace of the series is what kept the two dimensional characters in check
and made the series watchable. I did like the small details that made the world of A.I.C.O feel more authentic, e.g. the artificial suits that needed to be fed in order to function properly. I wish a little more thought was put into the world building of the series, it felt like I was watching a CW series with good visuals. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but it does make for a good popcorn anime.