Charlotte can be described like a Golden Corral buffet table: you come in the hungry and with high expectation, and its packed to the brim with all sorts of things you love and recognize, such as selfish Lelouch esque protagonist, the reality of Chuunibyou, the (attempted) feels and moe of Clannad, the humor of Angel Beats!, a Kokoro Connecty set-up, siscom, time-travel, tsundere, yandere, super powers, Slice of Life, light-gore, pop idol songs, love confessions, etc. You read right; this show has yandere characters. This show is packed to the brim with cool motifs, but you're only able to leave with a sick feeling of regret post-binge. As you’ve probably heard countless times, Charlotte has a wicked concept, stellar OP, and is headed by the people who brought you Angel Beats! and Clannad. If you were like me and didnt know that before picking up Charlotte but instead only thought 'Hey that sysnopsis seems super cool, lets do this', well needless to say you will know by the end where Charlotte is coming from and whats its going for.
As I said, I didn't go into Charlotte knowing its creators, but I have seen and tend to like both Angel Beats! and Clannad. That being said, there were a number of times in which I felt treated to with a few nods to those shows. But then those 'slight nods' began to become outright recycling of Key's old content. Especially I'm talking about the baseball episode. What is their obsession of everything being settled by baseball in anime? Sure, it was cool and fresh in Angel Beats! and Clannad, but this is the third series of theirs (and like the fifth series total) I've seen in which the main characters have to join a baseball league in order to settle some sort of dispute. Would it really be that hard for them to play one of the hundreds of other sports related games so we would at least be treated to new content? And then there is the whole camping episode, which is again something reused from Angel Beats with the fishing scene. Or the dongos Yu eats. And the pop idol set up and music inclusion. Plus the whole getting locked in a bunker deal. Kidnappings. Etc. The argument here isn't that the entirety of Charlotte is just re-purposed Angel Beats!/Clannad material, but there's so much of Charlotte that doesn't come across as original that it starts to lose its own identity as a show.
But when Charlotte is establishing itself, it does so through sucker punches to your chest that knock the entire show off its feet. Episodes 1-6 are standard anime fare almost to the point of being episodic, very little happening that strengthens the characters relationships to each other but instead showcasing what the set-up is 'going to be', to the point that there were a couple times I sat there wondering exactly what the point of the show was if nothing was really progressing. That was until a certain twist delivered at the end of the sixth episode that changes the entire set-up, and making it at least moderately understandable what was being built into with the first half of the show. The issue with this though is that it's a double edged sword; as major of a shift as it is, it doesn't necessarily defend the wasted potential of the whole first half. Because, instead of capitalizing on said shift and making it important, Charlotte decides to resolve said conflict within a single episode just about.
And that's a major problem I have with this show; nearly every single conflict or problem that is brought up is resolved within the confines of the episode it is presented. Take the episodic nature of the first half: Yu gets up, has breakfast with his sister for bonding purposes, goes to school, stares at Nao, 'Such a turn off!', gets lunch with his boyfriend, gets called to the student council, they go off on a mission, does something Angel Beast! esque, they complete ‘ability of the week’ quest, Yu goes home, has more sister bonding time, role credits. Never is a conflict presented here that roles over into another episodes, besides maybe Nao’s older brother, and even an instance in which Nao is group tortured is never really explained or fleshed out, and merely serves to further bond Yuu and Nao, albeit poorly done. Even the major shift of episode 7 is resolved by its completion, with very few repercussions following, which was HUGE wasted potential, but more on that later. Then, the next beat down is delivered within episode nine, in which a SECOND major shift is made, though this one not an emotional but a physical change to the status of the world of Charlotte. Unfortunately, even this is resolved by episode 10, the ending of which left me literally wondering "Okay now what?" since there wasn't anything set up for them to worry about. Episode 11 brings around an entirely new foe right at the end of the series that literally has no name and is finished off by the episode’s end, while episode 12 takes place entirely in one single setting. None of this is truly spoilery information, as none of these situations are foreshadowed very well, if at all in the beginning segments of Charlotte. Instead, it comes across as if the creators simply made up whatever came to mind episode to episode to episode, choosing to throw in a little gore here and a little romance there whenever it felt like, and none of its singular pieces coming together to create a well unified whole.
And oh, speaking of holes; this show contains more plot holes than swiss cheese, and less originality than my jokes. Mid-season time travel is thrown in, of all things! But make no mistake; this is no Steins; Gate. So massive is this plot bumbling that an entire thread in the forum is dedicated to pointing such instances out. Even in casual watching, without committing to being overly critical, it was hard to stomach some instances in which the characters would present very thin reasoning as undeniable fact. Take, for instance, the episode in which they enlist a character named Yusarin. The reason this pop icon is being forced into hiding is because she someone got a hold of an executives phone and read some confidential texts on it. This is all that is said on the subject, and is largely accepted by the other characters in the show. Now: why on this heavenly earth did she pick up this guys phone, unlock it, read his messages, and then take his phone with herself (as she is still in possession of it until the episodes end)? How is that a normal thing to happen? But this level of Suspension of Disbelief is only a mere shadow as to what is expected. Without spoiling anything, I can still make the point that Yu having memories from a past, now no-existent self, goes both totally unexplained and is downright preposterous, besides just being impossible. Yet another instance that goes 100% unexplained, but instead is just waived as a ‘Mysterious coincidence’. I’m not going to spend the rest of this review listing every such unbelievable instance in Charlotte, but trust me when I say they exist in such blatant amounts that it’s hard to miss.
And really, on a whole, so much of Charlotte goes unexplained that you just sort of have to fill in all the holes yourself, or watch purely for entertainment purposes, without connection to the charecters. You may think to yourself that situations presented early on will be addressed by the finale, but instead, most of what happens within each episode fails to get mentioned later, and the ending is, while mildly interesting, a full deus ex cop-out write in for the entire arc of the conflict. It literally poses the most bombastic solution possible to the overall issue to the show, and condenses a sequence of events that could have been an entire anime unto itself into a single episode. Actually, that may have been a more interesting story...
And all this wouldn’t be a problem if there was at least some sort of overall message to it all, some well-timed character development, or valiant theme, but instead, the entire series is just a rushed stream of consciousness by the creators, with a smorgasbord of characters who either serve only as comic-relief or canon-fodder, and no emotional depth outside of a few shocks here or there. When supposedly major characters are only introduced at the final quarter of the series, there really is no hope at delivering a cohesive whole.
The largest issue of the series comes from how they treat Ayumi’s death. Not the fact that she did die, but no, the fact that she was allowed to come BACK. Her death was, if anything, at least added much needed interest to the series, and I was ready for the next six or seven episodes to be Yuu’s struggle to come back from that grief, with the help of his friends and maybe other ability users, and a cleaner handle on character development. Instead, within three episodes, she’s just resurrected from the dead, and its all good. How is that even allowed? Where is the emotional depth of her sacrifice now? Because when someone dies in real life, they’re dead. The end. You don’t get a go-back and redo everything just because your mystery brother could go back in time. I wanted it to be a choice for him, either to save her, or not to, and leave reality like it was. Instead, the anime expects you to just accept that even death isn’t deep enough for this anime to overcome. Is there no respect to the dead? They could have at least made the second half like his failed attempts at trying to save her, eventually going blind from futility, and Nao being the one to bring him back to earth yet again, fully realizing their relationship. Instead, they squandered the entire second half for some terrorism plot and a confession less sturdy and emotionally moving than a pan of strawberry jello.
*END OF MAJOR SPOILERS*
My ending point is the fact that Charlotte is an anime of massive wasted potential. Though I do like Key works, romances, and all the things put into Charlotte (the fact they went with such a selfish protagonist was a strong introduction say the least), they just come out in a garbled mess that looks pretty but tastes confusing and awful.