Polysyllabic Support Lead
CROSS ANGE: Rondo of Angel and Dragon is a difficult, albeit interesting, show to talk about. Fusing equal parts mecha, fantasy, shoujo, fanservice, comedy, and ghastly human drama, it stretches itself in just as many ways and more in hopes of becoming something memorable, and depending on the viewer’s tastes, it just might succeed.
Taking place in a seemingly utopian fantasy world, Ange is the story of Princess Angelise Ikaruga Misurugi, first-born princess to the Empire of Misurugi. In Angelise’s world, all humans have been blessed with the powerful “Light of Mana”, a mysterious magical force that has seemingly eradicated all forms of war, suffering, and strife. There are, however, rare anomalies in this perfect world: Norma, supposedly barbaric, savage humans who have been born without the ability to use the Light of Mana. Nobody knows why Norma exist, much less why they are only ever female, but they are treated as though they are less than human. Anyone found to be Norma is taken away by the government and banished to parts unknown.
Unfortunately for Angelise, she is revealed to be a Norma and thrown against her will into a life of terrible struggle and battle, forced to accept that she is the same as the sub-human things she has admonished and looked down upon her entire life. Such is the main theme and crux of Cross Ange: the dynamic between “Human” and “Norma” and Angelise’s initial denial and eventual acceptance of what she is/has become. It’s a very interesting, powerful theme, and when Ange chooses to focus on just how disturbing this can be, it is a very good, very captivating show. All through the first episode, viewers will be assaulted by stark, shocking events appropriate for such a world, climaxing with Angelise being dehumanized in ways she had never imagined possible.
With Angelise fully humiliated and thrown into the depths of despair, her name is changed to “Ange” for whatever reason, and she is forced into her new life as a mecha pilot battling mysterious beings known as DRAGONs. Full disclosure: these are just dragons from another dimension, but Cross Ange has a full-blown acronym for them. I forget what it stands for. Ange adapts quickly enough after more ghastly, harrowing experiences, and quickly becomes a top-notch fighter. The mecha action can be hit or miss, and while some of it is action-packed and exciting, much of it (at this point in the season, anyway) is simply glossed over in favor of more traumatic experiences or gratuitous fanservice.
If that last sentence struck you as a bit odd, you’ve caught on to Cross Ange’s principal flaw: it’s never quite sure what sort of show it wants to be. One second you’ll be staring at a teenage mecha pilot’s perfectly curved posterior, and the next that same pilot will have been sliced in two, dying in a great spout of crimson carnage. The tone shifts back and forth between comedy and drama, and the changes are never quite handled effectively.
Pacing is another slight problem, in that it’s quite slow. A lot of time can go by with little development of the main plot, but at the very least there’s plenty of development for the (surprisingly large) principal cast. Still, each episode finds a way to weave in intriguing hints at what’s to come, enough so that even weaker episodes will hook you just enough to watch the next entry. There’s a deep, interesting world hiding behind all of Ange’s fluff, and I can only hope that future episodes will choose to continue showing more and more of it.
Let’s go back to that bit about fanservice. There’s a lot of it. There’s a lot of sexuality in general, and you’ll never go an episode without seeing at least one of the all-female main cast stripped down to their underwear or even fully nude (though there is a good deal of censorship). This sort of thing is rampant in anime, and while it’s mostly harmless, Ange also includes quite a few scenes of blatant sexual assault and various other eroticism, so if such content is offensive to you, I’d suggest staying away.
The more vulgar, disturbing sexual acts are in line with the story’s theme of “dehumanization” and “survival”, however, so if you can stomach them they’ll certainly make for powerful emotional moments contributing to the already dark story. Again though, your mileage may vary.
On the audio/visual front, the animation is well above average, as you’d expect from Sunrise, and the voice talent top-notch. Fans of Godzilla movies might also find some delight in the roars of the different DRAGONs, all of which seem to be borrowed from some of Toho’s classic kaiju films. Almost, if not all, of the mecha sequences are done with computer generation, and while I’m normally not the biggest advocate of CGI in anime, it’s handled decently well here, and lends the mecha a fluid look and feel during the airborne battles.
Ultimately, one’s personal tastes will play the biggest role in whether or not Cross Ange is an enjoyable show or not. It’s dark, violent, and mature while at the same time strangely childish and silly. It has warts for sure, but if you can look past them, you might just find a fantasy-bishoujo-mecha-sci-fi drama well worth your time. There’s a great show in there, sometimes you just need to squint a little to see it.