What starts off as a setup with substantial potential in the first three establishing episodes of this series, rapidly devolves over the course of the next nine. Don't get me wrong -- a lot of the elements put in place for this anime are highly cliche and uninspired (and not in a satirical way); however, don't get me wrong in the other direction -- this anime is also not awful. In fact, I'd say the first three episodes led me to believe that it'd be significantly above average.
Enter Glenn Radars -- deceptively versatile, but incorrigibly opportunistic and frustratingly dispassionate. Did this anime attempt to make him an antihero but miss its mark? From the moments we meet him, showing absolutely no concern for his female students' right to privacy (and basking to their nakedness before him), to the final episodes, admitting harboring motivation that would see him wedlock out of shallow desire to never work another day in his life (through marrying up in caste), his lazy demeanor and sleazy treatment of other characters doesn't end up being integral to the primary plot (or his development as a character). (If we can even call this a plot -- it's mostly just a disjointed series of "things happening", which doesn't define an actual plot.) An anti-hero is supposed to be someone who acts out of self-interest because of their nature, environment, past experiences, and other context, and that says something about the world around them. For example, Holden Caulfield from A Catcher in the Rye is a true anti-hero; he's disaffected, cynical, and sarcastic because he experiences the alienation and isolation associated with growing into an adult world full of hypocrisy and fakeness. Han Solo from A New Hope is another great example - he does things that advantage him in a galaxy ruled by forced order mixed with unattended lawlessness. And while this Glenn Radars main character has clearly-needed back-story to exposit why he's first shown to detest magic (I suspected it involved tragedy that would be tied directly to the forthcoming narrative), when all of this is revealed it still doesn't explain why he is how he is. Why is he so lazy and so scummy? It only explains why he "doesn't like magic" during the first two episodes of the anime; otherwise, the reasons for his attributes are weakly expounded. He also had clear room to grow as a dynamic character that could face his past in an increasingly mature way while learning from his new experiences in a new position of guiding, teaching, and protecting his students. This also didn't happen. Holden Caulfield remains jaded, but at least he learns things and tells his story with surprising honesty. Glenn Radars doesn't learn anything. Han Solo realizes that there's value in risking his life for a greater cause of liberty and autonomy, through developing connections with Luke and Leia. Glenn Radars always knew that risking his life is worth it (as evidenced by his back-story), so why attempt to make him an anti-hero? If they wanted to do something that made sense with his back-story, the writers should have explored his dealing with loss in a much different way, instead of making him lazy and contemptible. But it's hard to make things funny that way with levity, so they built him into a chauvinistic asshat with little regard of other human beings as people with feelings, even behind the bravado of protecting Sistine's prospects of applied magic, or safeguarding Rumia's life. This lends the anime to funny moments, but also fails to delve into real, human experience of love, loss, sacrifice, withdrawal. Revenge and acceptance. Depression vs drive. It never feels like Glenn is internally vulnerable; he's too sure of himself and the backstory feels too devisive.
But the main character isn't the only flaw. I've already referenced it, but the more egregious problem (which probably ruins the characters in terms of development), is the narrative.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Sakamichi no Apollon. Usagi Drop. If you think of short-form 12-episode anime that are *exceptional*, their compact form justifies their scope and reflects their pacing. Everything starts from a strong foundation of structured, deliberate form, as well as unique storytelling of smartly-crafted character-driven narrative. Characters change. Relationships between them are ephemeral. And, most importantly, the narrative tells a story, through those characters, that means something. Kids on the Slope brings very contrasting characters together through mutual appreciation for the language of jazz. Usagi Droppu explores the challenges associated with raising children. And Madoka Magica is about existentialist themes of dedication and creating meaning. But I'm confused what Akashic Records is about. Is it about finding meaning after loss? Is it about pursuing passion? Is it a critique about just vs unjust use of power? This leads me to the core fundamental problem with this series - it's unfocused. It turns into a rushed jumbled mess. It assaults the viewer with so much sensory resulting in too many unresolved threads, fails to fully address plot holes or tie up plot points, or fully flush out the back-stories so that we can actually care about the characters more than, say, a "5, mediocre" status. We get a main character whose true characteristics (underneath all of the "lazy asshat" facade) are unclear, faced by antagonistic forces whose motivations are under-developed, rushed into the story's plotpoints with little establishment, with arcs that are unnecessary or random. Imagine attempting to cram 25 episodes of some great anime (say, Spice and Wolf or Code Geass) into 12 episodes, but then remove two key episodes and add two filler episodes. That's what this feels like.
It borrows a lot from current hype trends in anime, but it still had definite potential that feels wasted because of poor planning and a rushed structure . But don't tell me that I need to read the manga or wait for another season to come out, in order to have a firmer understanding of this anime's purpose. This should stand on its own merits alone. In the end, it's not meaningful to me, but it's still a fun time. Sistine is a cute, if overdone, tsundere archetype, and Re-L is adorably clueless. I like the way magic is represented in the anime, and the action scenes are competently choreographed and animated. The dialogue is good in general, if you can look past the contextual plot problems. The voice acting is pretty good, as well as other elements of the production value, and it's entertaining even while I'm frustratingly trying to connect with the characters or themes of the show. I won't bother getting into many details about the revealing character designs, the fan service, or the minor inconsistencies and weird plot arcs - this anime had more fundamental issues (than just execution) that I wanted to address, like how they dealt with the anti-hero and how they structured the narrative, and I think other reviewers have talked about these various other problems sufficiently.
Overall, I'd recommend this if:
* you want a new best-girl tsundere that's well animated and voice acted
* you don't mind a confused plot in an overdone magic high school setting
* you could use some light fun with moderately humorous scenes and dialogue
* I have to admit that it's a cute show, even if it's nonsensical - especially the preview cuts at the end of each episode, with this kind of self-referential humor, etc. that this anime doesn't take itself too seriously as an art form