Review/discussion about: Charlotte
You find it strange that a line is missing for the ride, but you chalk it up to luck. At some point, you find the lone worker, his nametag reading J.M. He instructs you to climb the ladder before you, with you more than willing to do so. J.M. smiles and waves you off, and you climb.
The climb was quick because of how thrilling it was along the way. You are now at the top, with you overlooking the entire park. A sign says to sit down on the platform. At first, you wonder why there is no seat and no seatbelt, but then the ride starts. From behind, you feel a push. You start to roll forward down a ramp. It is not pleasant but it is at least tolerable. Thankfully the incline is not steep, so you are not rolling fast. You start to develop bumps and bruises, thinking that this is some kind of experimental ride.
Then, suddenly, you start to fall down steps. You start to hear bones snap as the hard edges of the stairs jut into your limbs. The stairs are made of wood, so your bruises start to scrape and then bleed. You start to panic, wanting off this wild ride, wishing that your parents had said no like they always did. At the same time, the steepness starts to increase, speeding you up at intermittent intervals.
Just before you cannot take any more, you are in freefall. You believe that it is over, that a trampoline will cushion your landing. But it does not. Instead, you land on a landmine, blowing your arms clean off. The steep steps continue, except now that you have no arms the angular velocity of your person increases, forcing you to shut your eyes lest the spinning-induced nausea makes you vomit. With each new step, you lose a tooth, and with every other new step, you lose a memory, the repeated impacts putting you in and out of consciousness.
You cannot tell who is what or what is where. And just when you cannot take any more for the second time, you land on a massive spike, impaling your chest, your insides now your outsides. Your breathing is sporadic and splinters have sewed your right eye shut. So with the last of your strength, you raise your left eyelid to discover the name of the ride you just rode. There, in white letters with a comet here and a swooping star there, it reads: Charlotte.
Charlotte is a poor excuse for an anime, and nowhere is that more evident than in the narrative it attempts to construct. A slew of problems plague it, sickening each of its areas to the point that no remedy available could possibly cure its ailments. From inconsistencies in the plot to the minutiae of the writing, the show is kept bedridden, prevented from performing at an acceptable level. It is a downhill tumble down a mountain, dwindling the health of the show and leading to its inevitable death.
Like any descent, it is best to start at the summit. The first episode of Charlotte is quite well-done. While the “high school kids with superpowers” is an overused formula, it managed to establish its setting in an interesting manner, placing the abilities and the main character in a negative light. The negativity, the intriguing side cast, and the supposed theme of self-correction poised the show as something grand. Then the problems start.
The most prevalent problem of Charlotte is the pacing. Pacing is the spacing of events – the more that goes on in a short amount of time, the faster the pacing and vice versa. For most shows, pacing is not a detriment so long as it is neither too fast nor too slow. It needs to rest in the Goldilocks region to maintain a leveled approach and keep its plot from careening out of control. Charlotte, however, effectively murders the golden-hair invader and dumps the molten porridge over her lifeless body. The anime transitions from tolerably slow to whiplashing the audience as it continuously ramps up the speed of the pacing. Yuu’s mental breakdown is the first sign – a high school student to a might-as-well-be drug addict over the course of a couple of weeks or so. Time travel is introduced shortly after. Terrorists follow, with the finale of the anime cramming together a literal worldwide, person-to-person vacation. The events are not illogical or even uninteresting but they happen so fast and so often that it becomes a disconnected smorgasbord of scenarios rather than a connected grouping of instances.
Pacing speaks nothing of the actual events themselves, which are arguably worse. Many of the plot lines or plot points within Charlotte either lead to dead ends or are forgotten about entirely, both usually the byproduct of the aforementioned pacing. Nao’s older brother receives a resolution halfway through the season, only to never be mentioned again. The lead singer of “Zhiend” serves as a trigger to push events forward, but has no spot in the narrative beyond her final song. Ayumi’s resolution is overly clean, with her likewise tossed on the wayside after her conflict is taken care of. When this or any anime does this, it causes the plot to feel disconnected, therefore reducing its cohesiveness and subsequently the strength of its narrative. Interestingly the show did take advantage of its own plot developments at times – having his original girlfriend appear and try to help him out of his rut demonstrates the show’s awareness of its own material. But the majority of the time, the anime exists in the former camp, cumulative fragments that turn the plot into an indiscernible mess.
Charlotte’s mess continues in other areas, specifically dealing with the writing itself. Again, to be fair, the anime does have its moments – Nao telling each of the earlier ability users to never use their abilities again to maintain the ruse against Yuu was clever. But a large amount of its other moments do not live up to even half of this execution. For example, Yusa’s “spells” are a comedic gag that treads into overused territory, the same reactions occurring every time. Also the time travel reveal, which is little more than a huge exposition dump. Worse still is the hospital visits near the end, where a series of characters appears one after another to make up for spending so little time on them in the first place. It leads to repetition and in most cases a distinct lack of purpose since each subsequent event is supposed to build off of the previous ones. But because the previous events are so weak due to a combination of the poor pacing, unused plot points, and the stagnant writing, the shaky tower they create is never capable of standing upright.
This trifecta sees its lowest point during episode eleven, now infamous for being absolutely asinine. The character whose family was conveniently taken hostage, Shun having never known of this character’s extended family despite countlessly time travelling, and Yuu going to the warehouse alone despite the group tailing him moments later are more than enough to constitute a failed narrative. The entire confrontation was not even about Nao, the terrorists, or even Pooh; the whole point was to remove the time travel variable from the equation. Any other situation could have been chosen yet the show decided on this one for a reason, the reason being to avenge Pooh and to “payback” Nao. But both bonds are not exactly taut: the former he barely knew and the latter he had always butted heads with no signs of affection. In other words, Yuu’s inspiration was likewise lax. So while not entirely representative of the anime, this episode made it evident how broken the show truly was.
Halfway through the descent, Charlotte has already broke but it does not stop hitting itself. Another issue is the title of the show, which is irrelevant. The comet it is named after is never seen or, perhaps obviously, never used throughout. It is simply mentioned as the source of the strange particle or virus that causes the people to gain the abilities. Granted it might be unimportant; the actual comet means nothing in the grand scheme of things, moving the attention away from it and to the abilities it technically contains.
At least, that would be the argument if it did keep attention on its abilities. Instead, one of the show’s biggest focal points is confusingly ignored. Besides “invisible” – which gets used a lot earlier – and “plunder” – which gets used a lot later – abilities often go severely underutilized, appearing only a handful of times. Some hardly get used at all – the opening episodes contain abilities that, once stolen, are used to a minimal extent. The time travel is even purposely prevented from being used. Charlotte’s finale also follows this trend: Yuu plundered thousands of abilities, but no more than ten were shown. To play devil’s advocate, similar to the comet the abilities might not even be the point of the anime. If space rocks and superpowers are not what the anime is about, then something else must be.
This is when the bottom of the mountain is reached because there is no point to Charlotte; there is no thematic presence. It never centers on one specific notion, with a fairytale ending of “living happy lives from now on” when they had been doing that (or trying to) from the beginning. There might be something about never giving up even in the face of ridiculous adversity, but the use of abilities makes this a moot point since the abilities lessen the adversity considerably. One might also argue that the show is about having and pursuing goals. Nao fighting to save others to have them avoid a fate like her brother’s, Yuu plundering everyone to earn a romantic relationship, and Shun time traveling to the point of blindness to protect his family and other “ability-wielders” (as they call them) showcase how a goal motivates and pushes people to do the impossible. But since Nao’s and Shun’s dreams fall on Yuu, and Yuu’s own goal is lost, this theme loses merit as well.
Thus, after falling down a mountain while crashing into rocks formed of horrible pacing, weak writing, and nonexistent themes, Charlotte’s narrative lands at the bottom, perishing in the process.
If Charlotte does anything correct, it is in regards to its art and its animation.
The art itself is vibrant, with locations varying. Schools, parks, and warehouses are featured, each filled with details that make them realistic in their presentations, appropriate for the realistic setting. Lighting is nuanced, with sunlight and fixtures casting shadows and shine where needed. Camera angles are likewise well-done, with low shots, up-close shots, and landscape ones constantly shuffled through to give the show a dynamic feel. Other tricks, like reflections in mirrors and rippling water, demonstrate the anime’s regard for its visuals.
The style of the abilities, when they are used, is also interesting. Invisible has a rainbow sheen combined with transparency, plunder makes Yuu’s eyes go green, and “collapse” causes the wielder to glow and essentially explode. A distinction for each ability is given – telekinesis has a purple outline, disintegration has a sparkly effect, and combustion produces flames – that makes each come off as unique as they are.
Unfortunately the character designs dip in execution. Many are rather plain: Yuu, Joujirou, and Ayumi, to name a few. Nao as well, but for her, her deep blue eyes and white hair contrast, coinciding with her outward cuteness and inward abrasiveness. Surprisingly it is Yusa’s older sister that has the best design. Her orange hair, red outfit, and ruby-colored eyes are a perfect fit for her fiery personality. Similar to episode eleven, she might be an outlier, but she showed where they could have gone had the designs refrained from being so plain.
Actual animation mirrors the art, staying consistently high throughout the season. Even disregarding the abilities, characters walk, flail, and react in nearly all situations, standing still for natural lengths of time. Alongside moving background objects, ruffling hair, and shattering glass, the anime always keeps its parts going, giving the show much needed strength.
Just when Charlotte starts to climb back up the mountain with its art and animation, it quickly falls down again when its cast is investigated thoroughly.
Investigating the side cast first is simple since the majority of them are either missing characterization, development, or purpose, sometimes a combination of the three. Joujirou, the Yusa-obsessed man in glasses, has that to his name alone. He is a huge fan of a pop star. Nothing else is learned or given about him past a certain point since the anime decided to ditch him to focus on the latter half of the show – Shun, time traveling, and world plundering. Yusa is arguably worse; she can sing and dance, her bubbly behavior allowing her to befriend anyone. But the development she receives is shoved into the span of a few minutes rather than throughout the season with her older sister visiting her family to eat food and her older sister writing her a letter. That is to say, while she does receive development, it is arguably worse than having none at all since what she was given was so lazy and lame.
Laziness and lameness are also found in Ayumi and Shun who oppose each other in a negative sense. Ayumi is the little sister, her adorableness and worrying attitude acting as a rock for Yuu. Plus, her pizza sauce skills know no bounds. She was poised to be a worthwhile character for the rest of the cast to connect with, but similar to Joujirou, following her death avoidance her presence diminishes nearly entirely. The worst part, though, is that this ruins her relationship with Yuu, which was a major driving force for his character. Shun is on the opposite side of the spectrum. The older brother, he was introduced late, so very little is known about him besides his friendship with Pooh, and even then the audience does not get enough of the two together to understand how connected they were. Meaning when Pooh dies, Shun’s breakdown does not have the necessary emotions established with the viewer to let them feel his plight. Furthermore, and opposite to Ayumi, Shun’s relationship with Yuu has no weight not because they stop focusing on it but because they never focused on it to begin with. Not during flashbacks and not during the present, either. Shun even purposefully hid himself from Yuu to keep Yuu out of harm’s way, meaning a relationship of any kind would not have the chance to exist. So when Shun gets emotional with Yuu or vice versa, once again the effect is not as strong as it portrays itself.
Moving beyond the side cast of Joujirou, Yusa, Ayumi, and Shun are Nao and Yuu, arguably the worst characters of the anime considering the proportion of on-screen time and development they undergo. Nao is a seemingly distraught person. She lost her family at an early age and she is bullied in school (questionable, since it only happens once and is never touched on again). As a result, she trusts and believes in almost nobody, keeping people away to stop herself from losing anyone ever again. This explains why she uses a camcorder: she places an obstacle between her and the world, treating the world with the same distance as she does people. It is clear that she is someone who is afraid of connecting with others, a person in need of help. She has traits that would supposedly see change, but she never gets it. As the leader of the group, she has to act as such, never exposing her faulty interior. During more private moments, she cracks slightly but only to the point that her emotions evaporate. Taking a step back and looking at the season altogether reveals that Nao never truly had the spotlight all to herself, so she never could progress past her problems. The ending tries to instill the idea that she has changed for the better – that she will start using her camcorder to record “happy everyday life” – but it literally occurs within the last minute of the show, indicating how much of a failed character she is.
But the worst character is undoubtedly Yuu for one reason: passiveness. Yuu, like the first episode, starts off really strong, a troubled person who was extremely full of himself. But after the first episode, he is sidelined, Nao, Joujirou, and Yusa taking center stage with Yuu making a comment or two here and there. The focus then shifts to Ayumi and Sara (the lead singer of “Zhiend”). Here, Yuu does not so much develop as he becomes an entirely different person, with the outcome having him go back to square one. The focus shifts once more to Shun, where both sides of his conflict use Yuu as a pawn. The final episode is the first instance where Charlotte puts Yuu at the forefront of its happenings. But as it was during Ayumi’s death, he becomes an entirely different person that has no relation to his earlier self, with this outcome even worse since he regresses not back to square one but to square zero. Sympathy is not possible since it is “too little, too late” to care about or have feelings towards him since he was relegated to being a side character for the majority of the show. In short, passiveness did him in.
Lastly, themes for characters are passive in a way, since they are at the mercy of the characters that control them. In order to investigate what message the cast is relaying, their abilities should give the answer because each individual person has a power of their own. Joujirou’s speed makes sense given his overzealous outbursts. Yusa’s dual-self coincides with her normal student and super star status. Shun’s time travel represents his determination and willingness to sacrifice himself for something bigger. Nao’s invisibility makes sense given her loner persona. Yuu’s plundering strangely works since he is a person who has no discernable qualities of his own. Thus, the superficial view is that…people have traits that make them who they are. This is too commonplace and inherent to be a theme. Instead, it could do with uniqueness of traits – that everyone is different – but this fails since the abilities of people sometimes overlap – Pooh’s ability-wielder-finder ability exists in others. It might deal with the abilities themselves; each one has a peculiar caveat attached to them. Joujirou’s speed cannot be controlled, Nao’s invisibility can be applied only to one person at a time, Yuu’s plundering causes him to pass out for five seconds, and so on. So it might be that people are imperfect, that everyone has something about them that is off-kilter. Sadly this does not work as well since the reasoning for the defects is not expounded on, the imperfections a penalty rather than a talking point.
Therefore there is no point. The abilities do not provide a meaningful message, an expected answer since the narrative also proved that the abilities were not what mattered most. Thus the characters are without themes and, coupled with their missing development, are left in dire straits at the bottom of the mountain once more.
The opening theme is the last strong point of Charlotte. The piano and vocalist are in harmony throughout, creating a hopeful piece, fitting the tone of the anime. The ghostly reverb in the beginning, the quick, soft lyrics in the middle, and the resounding violins in the end combine to make a piece that is simultaneously familiar and otherworldly, once again finding comfort within the confines of the show. The ending theme somewhat counteracts its counterpart, the piece filled mostly with a repetitive middle section despite the strong vocals. The start of the song with its onomatopoeia is a soft lead in to the soft piece, said softness more or less matching Nao’s longing. The guitar, violins, and slow lyrics pad the song further, making it, if nothing else, an alright method of easing the audience out of each episode.
The remainder of the soundtrack is filled with a variety of pieces to fit the occasion. Lots of piano tracks to heighten the somber moments, hard violin pieces to maximize tenseness, and silly sounding instruments to increase the comedy. While the OST is not particularly memorable, it effectively bolsters the scenes it takes part in.
Voice acting is similar, resting somewhere around average. Kouki Uchiyama as Yuu has a voice that is too old for his character. Plus, his screaming was never convincing. Ayane Sakura as Nao passes due to the incredulity she can include in her speaking to give her that mean yet cute edge. Maaya Uchida as Yusa is the only strong performance, doing the voices for both the younger and the older sister, capturing their personalities nicely through the performances she gives.
I would be lying if I said that the first episode did not impress me. Because it did. Then the rest of the anime happened, and I could not believe how it continued to shoot itself in the foot with each new episode. I did find Nao and Yusa cute and funny, but as individual characters they were so poorly presented that my disappointment nearly cancelled out the laughs. Yuu was a boring main character, Ayumi’s adorableness not being around was a bad move, and Joujirou’s shtick got old quick. None of the characters were engaging enough for me to resonate with, leaving me to simply follow the flow of the show.
I also had no real emotional connection to the anime. I did not cry when Yusa was reading aloud her letter from her older sister, Pooh’s death did not impact me in the slightest, and I did not care for Yuu when he was going rogue or journeying alone. The anime’s events never made me feel anything, thereby reducing the amount of entertainment I got out of it. Still, I found myself wanting to know what was going to happen next. I was not invested in the show, but it piqued my interest when Yuu time travelled or set out on his unrealistic adventure.
Something trivial that ticked me off was the order in which Yuu plundered abilities during his mega journey. The first official one he stole to start it off was Nao’s. It would have been infinitely more poetic to have her be the last one. Yuu fights and travels and steals, surviving as much as he can, until the very end where he finally meets her, with a touching yet heartbreaking reunion. Instead, the last one is some random girl in some random village with Yuu somehow getting hit with arrows despite being the strongest human to have ever lived, and then a helicopter coming down to save him as his arm is outstretched towards Nao’s gift. It is somewhat silly to be mad about this since this is not my anime. However the idea of going full-circle – starting at the beginning and ending at the beginning – is powerful narrative-wise, so seeing such a hugely missed opportunity irks me.
Charlotte deserves almost no praise. Outside of the art and bits of its music, the anime crashes and burns, its story and characters abysmal in their overall execution. Needless to say, this is one ride that nobody should ever have to endure.
Story: Terrible, poor pacing, forgotten plot points, weak writing, irrelevant content, and no extensive thematic presence
Animation: Good, beautiful art, cool-looking abilities, okay character designs, and above average actual animation
Characters: Terrible, Joujirou, Yusa, Shun, Nao, and Yuu are underdeveloped, underused, or both, with their abilities meaning nothing to them or grander themes
Sound: Fine, good OP, okay ED, okay OST, and okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Bad, zero resonance, no emotional connections, and an irking directional decision, yet still interesting enough to follow through to the end
Final Score: 3/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3