Before I get into this post, I want to point out that I updated my terribad list a couple of days ago. It’s a list of 60+ shows of anime of dubious quality, many of which are quite fun to watch. This is the first update I’ve done since migrating to The Cart Driver, and I’ll be sure to let you all know when I update again! (Usually it’s once a month or so.)
Anyway, I was late on the train to the wonderful world of Aquarion EVOL. Many people sold me on how enjoyable the series is as it aired, but because it was so many episodes before I Got It, I decided to wait until it concluded before watching. This was good in that I could burn through EVOL at whatever pace I desired (took me about three weeks to finish, I think), and bad in that I couldn’t participate the week-to-week freak out sessions that I often enjoy with airing series. Oh well.
One of the common refrains among EVOL fans (including this site’s jefe, El Scamp) is how utterly weird it is. I can’t argue with that. The plot is quite goofy and revels in it; one of the first episodes that comes to mind for me is the one where the pilots figure out they can “feel” missiles better if they strip their clothing. Another battle’s tide is turned when the supreme commander of Neo-DEAVA
and series scriptwriter Zen Fudou sends his wards a donut crawling with ants, whereupon they figure out the metaphor he is using (which I have forgotten, to be honest). So, yes, the overall plot is pretty dumb and silly, but I would argue it’s no dumber than a lot of other anime. It just takes itself far less seriously.
(Note: There are SPOILERS in this post and in the comments section. Do not read either if you want to watch EVOL spoiler-free.)
But that’s not what this post is about! Instead, there’s another element to EVOL that appealed to me beyond its hilarity and lack of seriousness. The utter earnestness with which the series handles its plot and characters and their love foibles is touching. When watching EVOL, I could sense that the creators don’t hate a single character in the series, even the ultimate villain, Mikage. Guy’s an unrepentant jerkoff, but in the finale, there’s love abound enough even for him. The fact that it’s dumb and cheesy matters not — sometimes you have to make a super soppy appeal to get through to someone, right?
Kagura comes to mind immediately when considering the earnestness of the series and the love it has for its characters. Much like the show itself, Kagura comes off like an immense weirdo at first: he scampers around like an animal, sniffing everything in sight and capturing Mikono and telling her that she smells and that he’s going to kill her. Not a great first impression. But Kagura grows in sympathy as the show goes on; he says a lot of stupid shit, but somehow, there’s no malice behind these awful things. Even Mikono feels some sort of connection to him despite being the target of awful words, and she can’t figure out why.
Two things make Kagura: his reverse speak and his connection to Amata. The former seems like one of those dumb EVOL things at first glance, but it’s a simple sort of genius in its own way, especially if you note when it’s applied. Kagura actually says what he means most of the time. When he speaks with Amata, Izumo, Mikage or whoever, he says exactly what he means. The exception is when he speaks to Mikono or when he’s speaking about Mikono. That’s when all the nutty reverse talk kicks in. Why? It’s because he’s a teenage boy so head over heels in love with a girl that he has no friggin’ clue how to express himself. It’s no different than when a kid lashes out at someone they like because they want attention. The moment when Mikono realizes Kagura has been speaking in opposites the whole time is kind of adorable. It’s also a moment that wouldn’t have been nearly as sweet if the show didn’t care so much about Kagura.
That ties in to Kagura’s connection with Amata, which is something I realized about an episode or two before the reveal. (I’m very slow with these things, so it wouldn’t surprise me if enterprising fans figured it out much sooner. I also didn’t think of the how of their connection.) Amata has a similar problem to Kagura, except it manifests itself differently; namely, his feet grow wings and lift him whenever he gets excited, which is of course a problem because he is a teenager and therefore also a walking boner. So they’re really two sides of the same coin: Amata can (mostly) express himself clearly but is shit at controlling his instincts (which at least shows itself in a non-hurtful way), whereas Kagura is mostly in tune with his instincts but is shit at expressing them, which does lead to scary situations.
But he at least cares enough to back off when Mikono is like, “Um, nope.” After they fight it out like stupid idiots, I think Kagura and Amata have everything mostly figured out. It’s such a dumb fight — they’re both basically duking it out over who will get to save the poor damsel in distress — but it kind of works because there’s been enough care put into both that they’re sympathetic even in a situation like this. This is pretty big for me, because I normally dislike the Amata type of character, and of course Kagura is a weird douche for like half the series.
Shrade is a character who also interests me when the topic is love. He has arguably the most screwed up life of anyone in the series, and is at least certainly in the top two with Kagura. Much like Kagura, Shrade also has troubles with expression; however, it’s not that he can’t express himself, but that his expression leads to destruction. His family is killed when his powers manifest themselves, and even at Neo-DEAVA, Shrade stays mainly holed up in a tower like in a fairy tale. It’s a fittingly tragic story for someone as theatrical as Shrade. (Side note: I adore Shrade’s theatricality and how EVOL turns it up whenever he’s involved in the plot. I’m pretty sure almost all my favorite bits of symbolism in this show involve Shrade in some way.)
Shrade is fascinating because even though he is so bombastic and theatrical, he always has to hold something in. He figures out how to channel his power so that he doesn’t wreck everyone around him, but it’s tortuous on his own body, so he can’t use it to its full potential. Shrade wants to find that ultimate melody at first because he has a self-destructive streak in him, but then it’s because that melody is who he is. He’s the only one who can use it to get their friends back. But before Shrade embraces that melody, there’s always the sense that he’s holding something back.
Look at Shrade’s interactions with Cayenne: some suggestive interaction, but it never goes far beyond Shrade calling Cayenne “my friend” in a way that embarrasses the guy. And yet . . . if Shoji Kawamori were to come out and say, “Yes, I totally wrote Shrade as being in love with Cayenne,” you wouldn’t be shocked, would you? (She’s totally a comedy character, but there’s a reason the fujoshi is so focused on Cayenne and Shrade, and it isn’t just because they look good together.) There’s always a hint of melancholy with Shrade like he wants to do something — say something — but he can’t because . . . he’s afraid he’ll die too soon? He’s afraid his feelings won’t be returned? I don’t know. It’s one of the few potential romances in EVOL that isn’t adequately explored, and yet, the way it’s explored (if there is indeed something there) fits Shrade.
There is a lot of love in how the show writes Shrade. The way he carries himself — bearing all that shit with genuine wit and grace — is kind of romantic, wouldn’t you say? He’s among the most bombastic characters in EVOL, but he never feels as if he’s acting out for the sake of doing so. That’s how he expresses himself, just with an air of class and mystery. Out of all the characters in the series, Shrade is the one who can most easily grab one’s attention (with the possible exception of Zen), but he shows exactly what he wants to show and nothing more. He leaves you hanging because he has to leave himself hanging. But he shows you just enough to see something beyond, if only for a fleeting second.