Notabilities: Jun Maeda hasn’t had his name attached to an anime since 2012’s Little Busters! adaptation. He hasn’t written for screen since the hit anime-original Angel Beats! The last visual novel he was involved in was the Key title, Rewrite, but that was only for some of the music. He has presumably been busy working on the Angel Beats! VN coming out this year. All the writing work is probably done for that though, so he has lent his hand to this anime-original. Not only is he the original creator and lead writer, but he is also doing the music, as is typical for anime adaptations of his work.
I very much like his songs, and some of his titles. The ones he is most widely known for are the trilogy of Key VNs: Air, Kanon and Clannad, which have all received anime adaptations over the years. The director on this hasn’t had a lead gig, but they have a lot of episode direction credits for various Bones and P.A.Works titles, the latter of which is the studio producing Charlotte, whose last show was the fantastic Shirobako. It’d be fair to say Charlotte is going to be a Big and Interesting Thing.
The first five or so minutes of Charlotte feature one of the most compelling and hilarious openers to an anime in recent memory. Through following the absolutely devilish escapades of Otosaka Yuu, whom I can only describe as the satanic love-child of Amaburi’s Kanie Seiya and Death Note’s Light Yagami, this show is one that immediately had me sitting up in my seat and taking notice. Not only do we have a protagonist here whose despicable actions are portrayed completely unabashedly and without a hint of glamour (okay, well maybe some glamour), but we have this underlying five-seconds-only-body-possession concept/power. A power which is in the hands of an outstandingly self-important teenager, a refreshingly original conceit. Also, did I mention how god-damn hilarious this was?
I maintain that Charlotte’s lead character is a good one, with a lot of further potential to be mined, but things go slightly downhill from here. The female cast of Charlotte is frankly far less interesting than Yuu here, and we first see that in Shiranayagi Yumi, the girl our protagonist is trying to “make his”, with a ridiculous and risky ploy. A ploy that shows just how easy-going and reckless he is. A scheme that was surprisingly spontaneous and uncalculated for a guy who meticulously planned his free-ticket into a prestigious school via cheating using his special possession powers. Upon being saved by Yuu, this girl is quite smitten, and asks him out, just as planned. I was hoping for something interesting to come up now, since the ballsy opener had all been in service of this, but alas, all we learn about this girl is well, that she likes pancakes.
The spark continues to fizzle out more and more from here on out. As we learn that Yuu’s cheating and powers have been discovered, we see him try to escape, the life he has cunningly carved out for himself is now crashing down around him. And Charlotte then decides to match this moment with an utterly inappropriate comedy/action chase scene, that not only shows off luscious animation and energetic direction, but is also Charlotte’s way of tipping its hand to reveal its main “plot”, if it can be called one.
From here, Charlotte proceeds to undo any goodwill it earned from me because of its beginning bit by bit. Not only do we learn that there are other individuals with powers, but also that Yuu will be enrolled into a special school with other users to learn “to use his powers for good, rather than evil” (which isn’t necessarily terrible but far less inviting). This wastes the cool initial concept that could have been explored in more subtle ways if the rest of the setting was thoroughly grounded in reality with the exception of just this one power. However, the problems don’t end there, episode one fizzles out with an extended scene of Yuu talking to his annoying little sister, who seems to have no personality beyond her hyperactive nature and use of traditional vocal tics.
As mentioned above, the female characters in Charlotte are nothing short of terrible. Each of them possess a very simply defined personality that can be summed up by “they like X”, in lieu of receiving actual characterisation or engaging in personally-relevant back and forth conversation that makes us care for them as actual humans, instead of tropes. Episode 2 attempts to do this for our student council president, Tomori Nao, with mixed results. The entire story leading up to her tragic reveal had all momentum sucked out of it by lazy, inefficient storytelling. Firstly, the characters sit down to extensively explain the details of the new school system Yuu is attending, and then we watch them go about on the first of what will be many “cases” to bring power misusers to justice. This is ridiculously redundant, consider this seasons Classroom Crisis as an alternative example of how a show can clue us into the characters and setting via watching them go about their daily lives, and through incidental dialogue, as opposed to exposition. The first five minutes of Charlotte accomplish far more than the ensuing forty-five. It’s hard for me to drive in how how mind-blowingly little happens despite so much being said.
Up till the point of the reveal of Nao’s tragic backstory involving her brother’s powers and how it tore her family apart, she had only served to spout instructions at Yuu. This material didn’t have to be dramatically ineffective, and it shows Charlotte does have some greater ambitions it is aiming towards, provided the Big Bad and Central Conflict doesn’t just revolve around stopping Those Evil Experimenting Scientists.
Alas, any attempt at emotional affectation was lost on me because the prior material had been so vapid, devoid of any engaging events and detailed characterisation. I’ll give credit where it is due for the pretty visuals and slick comic timing, there’s quite a lot of good directorial flair this show has going for it.
Status: I’ll keep watching just because I want to find out who on earth Charlotte is.