Anime Review: Re Creators — The Power of Deconstruction

I have the power!

Pre-Review Background

It’s recently occurred to me that we don’t have many anime about fictional characters coming to the real world, do we? That premise is incredibly rampant in Hollywood films like Enchanted, The Smurfs, Master of the Universe, and Fat Albert, but anime is generally more concerned with sending real people to fictional worlds. And even then, said fictional worlds are never explicitly fictional like in Pleasantville. They’re either the past or some magical fantasy world or a tragedy both in a literally and metaphorical sense. I’m sure there are some non-Satoshi Kon anime that have real people interacting with explicitly fictional characters, but I certainly never interacted with any. Not even in video games, where Japanese storytelling can generally be more creative.

So when I discovered what the premise for Re: Creators was, I couldn’t help but be a little excited, especially when the show made it abundantly clear early on that it wasn’t going to treat its premise like some cheap joke. The crossover of many different genres from mecha to magical girl didn’t appeal to me all that much because anime has been doing that for years now, and I’ve experienced both the good side and the bad side of that. But an anime where fictional characters have to deal with the realization that they’re just playthings made by powerless humans for commercial gain and art? That just opens up a whole world of possibilities for all sorts of interesting storytelling I surprisingly have never thought of before, yet has always been at the tip of my mind, especially when watching a bad anime. Deep down, I’ve always wanted horrible characters like Louise from Zero no Tsukaima, Chitoge from Nisekoi, and that asshole protagonist from Linebarrels of Iron to come to our reality, realize their shit doesn’t fly here, and actually grow as a result in a way that their source material never let them. It may not be a new premise in the world of fiction, but it feels new to apply that sort of logic to anime culture.

Who do we get to realize this vision? Well you’ve got the writer of Black Lagoon, who wants to prove that moving from manga to anime is possible. Not the worst choice to do that in my opinion, so who’s the director? Well you’ve got Ei Aoki, the guy who directed Fate/Zero and Aldnoah Zero

Seriously, of all the guys to realize this premise visually, you hand it to the most high-profile “tell don’t show” director I’ve ever seen in recent years? Not that Ei Aoki’s anime don’t look nice, but dear lord his – and Troyca’s as a whole for that matter – artistic vision is a load of dry dung. I’m not sure if he was inspired by Gen Urobuchi or is good friends with him or what, but the guy seems to have a fetish for world-building and dry dialogue that’s more for its own sake rather than the story’s whilst thinking that animation is some pleasing aesthetic rather than a legitimate art medium.

And apparently a lot of people agree with me, because despite the anime’s popularity and anime critics on blogs and Youtube thinking it was anime of the season, the fan reactions to it was mostly a load of “it’s okay”. It never scored high on most anime ranking sites nor have I ever seen cosplay of it at recent anime conventions – and keep in mind that this is the same fanbase who rank Fate/Zero as one of anime’s most recent classics despite very little difference between the two products in terms of story execution. Maybe the ufotable visuals and adult characters were more distracting than what Re: Creators had to offer, but regardless…well for the five people who read this blog and never kept up with this show, read on to find out.

Plot Summary

After a very cryptic suicide scene that gets explained later, we start off Re: Creators by being introduced to the obvious audience avatar Sota Mizushino, an aspiring artist struggling to make a name for himself in the public’s eye while watching his favorite anime in the process. One day whilst watching the latest episode of the newest popular light novel adaptation Elemental Symphony of Vogelchevalier on his iPad, he ends up getting pulled into the anime and when he comes out, he has the main heroine (whose name is Selesia Upitiria) in his room drawing a sword on him and demanding to know what’s going on. It turns out that there’s a mysterious Military Uniform Princess named Altair (I know this is technically a spoiler, but it’s not an important one and the name is such common knowledge at this point in time anyways) who’s trying to pull fictional beings into the real world for some unknown plan that’ll nevertheless result in Earth’s destruction, and quite a few of the characters she brings to life have a grudge against their author for making their lives miserable, including a fantasy heroine named Alicetaria and a cyberpunk bounty hunter named Blitz Talker.

With the help of a surprisingly popular RPG tutorial NPC named Meteorra, Sota and Selesia soon find themselves discovering the truth behind why fictional characters are appearing in the real world whilst involving the people who created said characters in the first place. A lot of the plot basically consists of the characters trying to rationalize the situation, discovering the rules for how anime powers work in reality, uncovering the mysteries behind who Altair is, and the fictional characters occasionally butting heads due to their difference in ideologies. At the same time, Sota is going through some insecurity issues that end up tying into the main reason why this conflict is occurring in the first place, and the real-life humans go through their own revelations after discovering that their creations are actually alive and talking to them with the occasional weapon in hand. There’s a large number of plot threads and characters that Re: Creators has to juggle through, and that’s not even getting into when the anime fandom at large plays an integral role in the story. To say anymore would be spoiling major plot points, so I’ll just end by saying that the show is basically one giant tribute to anime culture and the creation of art that’s well-meaning, but the execution is sloppy.

Personal Dissection

First, let’s start with the best part (and consequently, one of the more frustrating parts) about the show: the characters. Some are obviously better than others, and I have no idea why the show thought it needed to devote that much screen time to Sota’s guilt issues, but overall I liked the good majority of them. I really liked seeing these different fictional characters coming to the real world and reacting to its existence in unique ways. I liked seeing Meteorra develop a personality the longer she stayed. I liked seeing Mamika own up to how her magical girl logic doesn’t work outside her child-friendly environment. Rui is fun. Selesia is a light novel female protagonist that I actually enjoy. In fact, a good chunk of these characters come from genres I’m generally not interested in (light novel fantasy, mecha, magical girl, etc.), so the fact that this show can make them engaging really says a lot regarding how an unfamiliar environment like the real world can bring out some strong characterizations from these amalgamations of stereotypes.

I just really liked seeing these guys grow the longer they stayed in the real world and came to terms with how their lives are artificial. It was pretty cute to see Selesia interact with modern technology that obvious doesn’t exist in a fantasy world, and while I’m not big on Magane, I did enjoy her when she was basking in the luxuries that reality has to offer. I’m not kidding when I say I want to see more of this concept some day because it really opens up some cool possibilities in regards to characterizing anime tropes, especially in regards to some of the crappier ones. The regular humans aren’t quite as interesting because they mostly just react to what’s going on, but I do like Selesia’s creative team a whole lot due to how mature they are. The guy who was an H-game creator though can go die in a fire. I know he’s supposed to represent the horrible side of otaku culture, but did he have to look so much like Glenn Quagmire?

And it’s because I liked the direction Re: Creators took these fictional characters that I became so disappointed when it turned out the rest of the show wasn’t up to snuff. Like the animation. Dear lord is it bad. It’s not actively unpleasant to watch, but for a show dedicated to tributing anime culture, it sure isn’t tributing the actual visual storytelling. Most of the movement in this show is just basic body language or characters standing still whilst opening their mouths for long stretches of time. If for some reason you missed that Ei Aoki directed this anime, you’re in luck because his awful embellishments to dialogue-heavy scenes are back, and while I know that Meteorra is a video game tutorial character, I don’t understand why the audience themselves needed to be subjected to her overly long banter.

It’s not just her though. Way too many plot points are just told to us and we’re just supposed to take their word for granted. There’s an episode where Rui takes Sota for a joyride in his mecha to get him out of his funk whilst telling Sota about how the real world had changed him. Thing is, Rui has barely had any screen time prior to that point (or after for that matter), let alone screen time where he’s getting more accustomed to our Earth, so having him give a five-minute lecture to experiences that we don’t actually get to see is boring. When Alicetaria and Mamika constantly talk about how bad their worlds are, we only see at most a minute of the former’s world and none of the latter. I understand what source material they’re supposed to tribute, but they’re still individual creations with individual worlds. Couldn’t we have devoted some time to seeing how happy-go-lucky Mamika’s Japan truly is?

The action scenes in this show were horrible. Decently animated, but way too floaty to take seriously, and choreography might as well be a foreign word to these characters. It’s a little better when the human Creations are fighting against each other, but the mecha action is mostly just a bunch of washing machines colliding, and too many of the fights end through one character using a flashy super move rather than something more strategic. Also, every time an action scene occurs, suddenly nobody exists within the area but the main characters, which is incredibly distracting because a lot of these fights take place in huge urban areas that will almost certainly have people passing by and it’s stated multiple times that Re: Creators takes place in the real world. I literally see cars driving on the highway when the characters are talking, but when they engage in super moves that destroy said highway, suddenly cars don’t exist and nobody in the nearby apartment buildings look outside to see what’s up with all the explosions. There’s a justification for it in the last fight, but that still leaves around five other times the fight music plays and suddenly nobody else exists but those with a name.

On top of that, practically all of the fights up until the final bout end anticlimactically with nothing gained other than new knowledge of what’s going on. And it’s arbitrary knowledge with very little effect on the actual status quo to boot. Once or twice is fine, but five times? Yeah, no.

This show is just so bloated with ideas that it forgets to pace itself, often being so pleased with what it came up with that it forgot to come up with a practical application. Halfway through the show, a girl from an eroge-turned-all-ages game shows up and we barely get much from her before throwing the poor girl right into the action with a fandisc power-up. Before the final battle can occur, we need to sit through three episodes of preparation for it without saying anything about the creative industry or the creations that we didn’t know already. I’ve been rewatching Eden of the East lately and the difference between its setup and Re: Creators is like night and day. The former alleviates the time it takes for Takizawa to discover the truth about the Selecao game by jamming in all sorts of political metaphors both visually and verbally regarding Japan’s status as a country within each episodes, and nothing else. The latter tries to get through the slow moments by showcasing what it means to create fiction, but it focuses so much time on the minor issues like how long it actually takes to get a work completed and a lot of what it has to say doesn’t apply to the actual fictional characters – especially when they’re fighting. Who’s the main focus right now Re: Creators? The Creators or the Creations, because you need to decide.

And of course, I need to address the elephant in the room that is Altair. Like Sota, I didn’t hate her or her character arc, but a villain who is completely invincible and never breaks a sweat becomes really boring really fast when she’s required to hold up long action scenes. Even if there’s a justification for it, I still would have liked to see her struggle in ways that aren’t related to her Creator, or through deus ex machinas in general. Maybe have some more bad guys on her side that wouldn’t defect aside from a certain character who I won’t spoil, but let’s just say he’s male and we barely get to know him before his own arc ends.

Also, that epilogue was too long. Seriously, I don’t need twenty-two minutes of the characters having one last hurrah after the final battle before we say goodbye to them for good. Although I will say that there was one twist in it that I found kind of cute.

Conclusion

While it is better than Fate/Zero and Aldnoah ZeroRe: Creators is ultimately still a waste of potential because it got handed to a team who doesn’t seem to understand that anime is supposed to be animated, and is so focused on ideas and world-building that they seemed to forget that the big picture requires momentum and implementation. By the end of the show, too many characters are left underdeveloped, too many ideas are left unexplored, and there were too many dead moments throughout the two-cour runtime that could have been spent on alleviating the former two problems for me to even consider this project good. And it really sucked having to watch this show fail in such major ways because of how much I loved the concept and the characters. It’s like the new Power Rangers movie all over again.

You remember how I didn’t like Hero Academia S1 because it was just using its interesting elements regarding the commercialization of superheroes and character arcs as obvious setup for the much better future seasons? Re: Creators is sort of like that, except by the time we get something resembling post-S1 Academia, it’s too little too late – and it’s not even on the same quality either writing-wise or visual-wise to boot. It just goes to show that if you want to make a satire/deconstruction of the anime industry and what it means to the fanbase, you have to have a lot more direction than this. Hopefully one day, someone will make a good “anime characters enter the real world” show using Re: Creators as a baseline. But until then, all we’ve got is a conceptually interesting show that ended up no more than average at best.

Additional Quips

  • Did people really get mad regarding how Altair was never punished for her actions? She’s a fictional character who was too invincible to take down in a fight. What sort of everlasting punishment can you even give a character like that?
  • For the record, yes I’m aware that Rei Hiroe was responsible for most of the bloated dialogue and overall story direction.

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