(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
My older sister used to be a dancer, both as a hobby and as a job. And when I was younger, we would always have to go to her recitals. A recital is basically many different dancing performances consisting of a different combination of dancers.
I hated going to them. The recital usually lasted four to five hours. They prohibited food and drink from entering the theater. I was not allowed to use electronics like my Game Boy. My sister was not even in all of the acts: out of the approximately thirty or so different acts, she was in maybe three or four of them. I realize now that I was there to support my sister as her brother, but back then, I could not have cared any less for these boring, time-consuming dances.
Venus Project: Climax is also filled with dancers and dances, although they use robots in conjunction with the idols. Even so, watching this anime was like watching one of those recitals, bringing with it the same boring and time-consuming feelings once more.
Venus Project is six episodes, which is about half the length of a regular anime season. As it turns out, that is six episodes too long.
The plot of Venus Project is a simple one: Eriko, a rising star in the world of “Formula Venus” – the anime’s term for idols who dance and sing and fight with robots – enters the “Rookie Queen Tournament” to compete against other rising stars and to prove she is the best among them. Thus, each episode includes a dance battle that involves – coincidentally enough – dancing and battling. The problem is that the dance battles are only used for dancing and battling. They do not serve a greater purpose to the characters or the narrative or anything else that the show is doing. Each pairing of girls just shows up and dances for a bit. The before and the after might be affected by the dance battles, but the dance battles themselves do nothing for the narrative.
With only six episodes, the anime cannot do much besides these dance battles, but the anime does try. Training montages, trips to Pooristan (Ruka’s self-titled, poverty-stricken country), and even an aside at the beach make up the downtime between the various battles. To be fair, these have more purpose than the dance battles themselves. The montage shows Eriko’s determination. The trip to Pooristan gives the audience the chance to understand just how excited everyone is to see Ruka competing. The beach aside (while mostly meant as fan-service) helps to take Eriko’s mind off of the troubles that were plaguing her. So surprisingly, the events that are not the focal point of the anime manage to have the most substance.
And in a way, this is somewhat the point. The show is less about the lives of the idols and more about the lives of the people behind the glamor and the success. This is further reinforced by the ending. In a surprising twist, Venus Project actually does not go the obvious route of Eriko winning. Instead, Ruka wins the overtime duel. Eriko winning it all (while it would have been nice to see) does not matter. What matters is everything surrounding their dance battles: the friendly competition between the duelists, the support of their respective parties, and the prospect of future fights. There is more to life than just winning, and Venus Project proved that through the narrative it constructed.
The show may have too much exposition, and the events themselves may have too much repetition, but again, for six episodes, the show does what it can to craft a narrative that is as purposeful and as well-constructed as it can be.
Some of the worst parts of Venus Project are its art and its animation.
Looking specifically at the art first, the anime does not have a wide variety of locales. The orphanage, the hospital, and the auditorium are the most visited areas, and even when the anime decides to go elsewhere, the attention to detail remains relatively low. This is most apparent with the dance-battles: the environment their robots fight in remains the same boring plain despite the song selection changing each time. All of this says nothing of the lighting and cinematography, both of which are practically nonexistent.
Getting back to the robots, each character has a robot that fights for them based on their dancing and their singing. Eriko has a giant, orange, humanoid robot. Ruka has a slender, purple, snake-like robot. And Miu has a small, dainty, nurse robot. These designs are not only bland in appearance – especially for giant robots – but also bland in their symbolism. Eriko’s is generic. Ruka’s snake-like abilities contradict her true persona. And Miu’s hardly fits her character. There might be a case for Horasu: her robot has big guns that coincide with her own “big guns.” Even so, some breast symbolism is not exactly worthwhile.
The rest of the designs are likewise lackluster. As idols, the characters, similar to their robot counterparts, just do not have presence. Again, Eriko is orange. Ruka is purple. And Miu is pink. Colorful and accessorized, sure, but none of their designs are necessarily interesting. As was the case with Horasu, there might be a case for Romi Oze since her design seems a bit more involved than the others, but that is not saying a whole lot.
But the actual animation is by far the worst part. These are supposed to be dancing idols, but they do not dance so much as they choppily flail around on stage. Their robot “fights” – which consist of little-to-no choreography and too many explosions – are no better. And everything in-between features the same sort of low-execution animation. There are some moments that have realistic hair shifting and some moments where the chest of the women bounce more so than usual, but these moments are a rare occurrence and do not represent the majority of the anime.
For Venus Project, there are three main characters: Eriko, Ruka, and Miu.
But they do not make up the entire cast. There are other side characters, like their coach, Tosano, who is there as a motivator for Eriko. Then there is Romi Oze, a newbie dancer, who demonstrates the harsher side to the idol world. And Asuka Kougami, the legendary Formula Venus competitor, who inspired Eriko and countless other women. Unfortunately, these characters are not the strongest. Tosano does have a character arc in the sense that he passes away due to his illness, but his actual character does not extend beyond a lot of shouting. Romi Oze is somehow forgotten about, so her aftermath is never revealed. And Asuka Kougami, while put on a pedestal, never actually interacts with Eriko and the other women she helped to inspire, turning her more into an idea as opposed to an actual character.
This is not to say that the anime is without at least competent side characters. The orphanage that Eriko grew up in has a little girl that is initially extremely shy, even around Eriko. But after watching Eriko battle her heart out and seeing the wonders of Formula Venus, she gets inspired by Eriko to break out of her shell. In other words, this chain of inspiration provides a nice full-circle effect to Eriko’s character. There is also Ruka’s manager. She is blinded by passion for helping her and Ruka’s country as well as by Ruka’s recent success. Such blindness causes her to not see the turmoil Ruka was going through until it was too late. From then on, she always kept Ruka’s well-being in mind, leveraging Ruka’s scarce performances to her and Ruka’s advantage. Again, these characters are by no means strong or even above average, but they at least demonstrate that Venus Project put some semblance of thought into its characters.
The same can be said for its mains – namely, Eriko, Ruka, and Miu. Eriko is the main character and arguably the best of the lot. When she was little, she was without family and without any hope. But as was said, when she first watched Asuka Kougami take the stage, she knew what she wanted to become. So she practiced. She trained. She battled for her spot in Formula Venus. This was all done in flashback, but her character progressed from a down-and-out child to a promising young woman. In the present, where Eriko is competing in the Rookie Queen Tournament, she goes through a lot of emotions: elation at winning her first battle, sadness at defeating her best friend, and acceptance at losing to her rival. In the end, Eriko does not win the battle but she does win the war: she has finally made a name for herself in the world of Formula Venus, fulfilling the dream her kid-self had those many years ago.
Contrary to Eriko, Ruka is arguably the weakest of the main characters. Ruka’s past is not divulged to the same extent that Eriko’s is, but given where she comes from (Pooristan, which has to be an in-joke of some kind) her looking nowhere else but forward is understandable. Ruka is known as the front-runner in winning and the one to beat in the Rookie Queen Tournament due to her magical voice. But what most people do not know is her secret: an incredibly fragile throat. Her voice is both a blessing and a curse, a curse that sees her lose to Eriko before the main tournament. Yet Ruka never complains and never lets the defeat get to her. In fact, it is presumed that she wants revenge against Eriko. In actuality, all she wanted was to sing her songs against Eriko as a rival and, more importantly, as a friend. Ruka wins for her country, inspiring millions and saving them from a life of hardship, which in turn earned her some much-needed rest. Ruka’s biggest problem, however, is that she not only has no personality but also has no development as a character. So while she is characterized well-enough, the other parts to her character are sorely missing.
As for Miu, her character rests somewhere in-between Eriko and Ruka. From a young age, her path in life was set: to take over mother’s position as head of the family company. That is, Miu was forced to take her mother’s dream. Miu, understandably upset, pushes back, choosing instead to become an idol. When she meets Eriko for the first time, however, she realizes that even this path might not really be the one for her. So when Miu loses to Eriko and follows through on the promise she made to her mother by quitting Formula Venus, Miu reviews herself. Her last few scenes showcase her cutting her hair – a common symbol for change – to demonstrate that the right dream for her is still out there. Maybe it will be at the family company, maybe it will be as an idol, or maybe it will be something else entirely. Regardless of what the dream actually is, Miu’s newfound determination to find this dream will prove that when shedoes find it, that dream will finally be the right one for her.
Looking at Eriko, Ruka, and Miu collectively, they are not awful characters for a six-episode anime series. They are also not amazing. However, they do manage to have something in common: the main characters each have a reason for fighting. They each have a purpose for dancing and battling and performing. For Eriko, she wanted to prove that the support from her family and friends was not for naught. For Ruka, she wanted to bring hope to her country where none was found. And for Miu, she wanted to run away from her mother’s dream to pursue one that was right for herself.
This is an interesting message because it is such a true one. Not everyone is out to make a name for themselves and are instead motivated by other factors. Yet people do not normally think about what someone else might be going through or what someone else might be dealing with. So Venus Project taking the time to show this in its main characters – how everyone involved has their own reasons for wanting to win – was a surprisingly human theme that added some depth to the characters where there previously was not any.
In any other genre of anime, Venus Project’s music would be subpar. But given that this anime is one all about music and idols and singing, the music is not subpar but awful.
Starting with the OP, the OP begins and ends in a cool manner due to the hard guitar. But once the remainder of the track starts to play, the smorgasbord of instruments and the low range of the vocalists turns the OP into a mess of a song. The ending theme fairs slightly better because the beat and lyrics are slightly catchier, but the vocalist still does not bring enough emotion into the piece, and the final few seconds feel way too out-of-place. Not to mention that both the OP and the ED are a bit too peppy for this arguably dramatic tale.
Perhaps Venus Project’s most egregious mistake is the lackluster original soundtrack. While the songs the vocalists sing are varied, the songs have no lasting qualities and are ultimately uninteresting to listen to. And this is not even counting the rest of the other songs in the OST. Boring piano pieces, lyric-infused montage ones, and a flute tune that can only be described as having been taken from a JRPG. But the worst track is technically not even a track at all. The transition track between the “A” and “B” parts of the episodes is so goofy and inappropriate that it singlehandedly ruins the episodes. And to top it all off, it is often played twice, back-to-back.
Even the voice acting fails to reach a level that plays to the strengths of this type of show. Sawako Hata as Eriko uses a voice that is a bit too husky. Riho Iida as Ruka does not nail the “Da’s” of the seemingly Russian girl. And Marika Hayase as Miu tries to mix a cute and mature voice that fits the cute and mature character, but her voice does not have any oomph to it. This extends to their singing during the Formula Venus battles: nobody gives a performance that is even remotely memorable.
Before watching this one, I actually watched an episode of the television series that accompanied the show. Meaning, I knew from the beginning that this anime was more or less an advertisement for the franchise it touts. But I have to give the anime some credit because it never felt like an advertisement. Yes, they sing songs that are most likely from the game (I have no idea since I do not play it). And yes, they have cameos of characters from other parts of the franchise (based on what I learned from that one television episode).
Sadly, this does not save this one from being an absolute chore to watch. I think the only scene where I legitimately liked what the anime did was when Kenta, Eriko’s biggest supporter from the orphanage, was revealed to be visiting the shrine every day because he was praying for her to win. That was a cute and clever moment. One cute and clever moment. Out of six episodes, if only a single scene did anything for me, that cannot be called entertaining.
Venus Project: Climax is a sorry excuse for an anime. Its abhorrent art and animation, its horrendous music, and its low amount of entertainment make it nearly unwatchable. Its story and its characters barely (just barely) save this one from bottom-of-the-barrel status. On second thought, those recitals do not sound half as boring anymore.
Story: Fine, the battles are worthless, and the exposition and repetition might be problematic, but the focus on what truly matters is not-so-worthless
Animation: Terrible, bad art direction, lame robot designs, lame character designs, below average actual animation
Characters: Fine, side characters like Romi Oze and Tosano could have been handled better, but some of the sides are fine, and Eriko, Ruka, and Miu are competent characters whose theme on personal reasons has a surprising amount of value
Sound: Terrible, poor OP, bad ED, poor OST, below average VA performances
Enjoyment: Terrible, very boring from beginning to end, except for one particular scene
Final Score: 2/10