REVIEW: CHROME SHELLED REGIOS – PART 1 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: TODD HABERKORN, BRINA PALENCIA, MONICA RIAL, ERIC VALE, GREG AYRES, JERRY JEWELL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Based on a series of light novels and shōnen manga (both a Japanese equivalent of YA), Chrome Shelled Regios takes place in a post-apocalyptic, magic-infused world defended by a group of a dozen warriors known as the Heaven’s Blades.
In a set-up somewhat akin to the toxic jungle of Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind or the Cursed Earth of Judge Dredd, the world has become an uninhabitable radioactive wasteland and humanity now only survives in a number of regios, domed fortress cities that remain constantly mobile to avoid confrontation with contaminoids, destructive insect-like monstrosities. Many people study military arts to further their city’s standing and to develop skills in fighting and wielding kei, a biological energy they can utilise for combat, telepathy and psychokinetics.
Despite such a world-spanning premise, much of the action is limited to the characters of the university regios of Zuellni, and it’s because of this narrow scope that the series fails to truly engage. The focus is on new student Layfon, who arrives in the city with advanced combat skills and the obligatory Mysterious Past, and ordinary life goes on around him as we are drip-fed clues to his history.
The characters are rarely in any immediate danger, while the inter-city contests they participate in have little in the way of consequence for the loser, so instead the episodes more often than not deal with the lives and training of the students, with little of any true significance actually occurring. As with the teenage EVA pilots of Neon Genesis Evangelion, no amount of martial or military skill can overcome the fact that these characters are little more than kids, and with their limited life inexperience comes the associated insecurities and awkwardness when attempting to interact with and relate to one another, especially in Zuellni where students not only make up the bulk of the populace but also run the place. If the cast possessed distinct lives of their own, their interactions might have been more engaging, but when pointed efforts are made to link everyone to Layfon in some way, the story becomes laboured and drawn out. Wearily, in the case of most of the female characters the connection is due to an obsession with and/or attraction to him that more often than not defines the girl in question.
It feels as though what should have been the principal plot – following the Heaven’s Blades as they endlessly battle the ceaseless marauding of gargantuan invertebrates across the world and possibly investigate a newly unearthed method of dealing with them once and for all – has been largely excised, leaving us with the kind of stories that in other anime would merely be filler to flesh out supporting characters and bump up the episode count. This quasi-mythical alpha plot is instead relegated to a series of disassociated vignettes that, rather than being cryptic and mysterious as was intended, end up as effectively pointless asides that do little but offer tantalising glimpses at a narrative arc far more interesting than the one we’re currently following. You could argue that a younger target audience requires less complex plotting, but it’s still no excuse for lazy storytelling. Besides, Full Metal Alchemist was a shōnen manga and that was frickin’ awesome.
Overall, there isn’t really anything especially wrong with the series, more that its only distinctive quality is how utterly average it is. Hopefully the imminent second half will pick up the pace.