No break between seasons this year, so it’s straight into things for me with two titles that, interestingly, are both set in alternative history Japan (albeit with differing degrees of success).
There’s a lot going on with Mars Red that immediately makes it stand out from the rest of the season – which might sound like a strange comment, given that most season premieres haven’t actually aired yet, but the presentation of this title is such that I feel very confident in saying it’ll be one a kind. This anime is extremely atmospheric, in large part because of its wide-screen format and obvious measured care it takes with the visual aspects of its production, although that’s not to say the story itself doesn’t stand out in at least some respects either – chiefly, in its interesting blend of the paranormal (vampires) with an otherwise relatively down-to-earth portrayal of 1923 Japan.
I wasn’t in the least surprised to find that Mars Red is based not on a manga or novel/light novel, but rather on a stage play, because that’s exactly the type of feeling the anime evokes (especially since the first episode centers around a stage actress who seems more or less trapped in the last role she played before tragedy struck). This makes for a pretty unique tone and ambiance, but on the downside, I very much felt like I was being held at arm’s length in terms of my own viewing experience. I was watching things play out as though on a stage in front of me, but was unable to empathize with any of the characters or the events taking place; as a result, I felt curious about what was happening, but found I didn’t actually care much what went down on a more personal level. Whether or not I’m supposed to relate to or even especially like the characters in any way is still something of a mystery to me.
At the moment, I do plan on watching at least one more episode of Mars Red, but while I’m definitely impressed by many of its characteristics, I’m not yet sold on the anime as a truly engaging overall story, and am hoping episode 2 will give me a bit more context to latch onto.
Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood
As previously mentioned, Jouran is another anime set in alternative reality Japan, this one in 1931, in an era where the Meiji period never eventuated because the Tokugawa shogunate was never abolished. The show blends vaguely historical ‘fact’ (I’m using that term as loosely as possible here) with an equally vague supernatural/science-fiction type of feel, and while I don’t think this made for a comfortable or well-explained mix, I’ll certainly give Jouran points for trying, especially since this is an anime-original. I also personally quite like the art style, which uses thick, sweeping outlines, particularly in its action scenes, making things appear more like moving calligraphy than any standard traditional anime presentation.
Where the premiere falls flat for me is its more overarching storytelling and execution. I didn’t feel drawn towards any of the characters (in fact, if anything, I was veering towards outright dislike), I didn’t feel the pacing was particularly well-handled, and some of what took place on screen felt distinctly cheap to me, like it was there mainly for shock value, or at least to give the title a degree of ‘edginess’ that it just didn’t need. Maybe the series is trying a bit too hard to be cool, maybe it’s simply trying to earn some credibility with a specific demographic – possibly a little of both. Either way, it’s not quite working for me, and I have more than enough first looks on my watchlist that I’m not really compelled to try a second episode of this.