Watchmen was a response to the explosion of superhero comics. Charlotte feels like a response to the explosion of superhero films. The Marvel Cinematic Universe helped to keep superheroes in the public’s consciousness, but it was just a dumbing-down of what Sam Raimi did before. Charlotte has a more interesting take.
These teens are superheroes. They may not have capes and a one-eyed boss (although an eye does get plucked out), but they got superpowers that can be used for saving the world. Why should they, though? A superpower is just an extension of any kind of power.
How many powerful people use their power to contribute to humanity? Musicians use their talent to vent their frustration and sell records. Programmers build websites to get traffic. Most people I know become doctors because it’s a respected profession and gets money. The mindset that you should use your power to contribute is rare.
Yuu and Nao are two different sides of the coin. For the first two and a half episode, they’re an interesting exploration of power. Yuu uses his to move on up, taking advantage of people but not actually hurting them. Nao’s desire to protect others leads her to plenty of physical confrontation.
Being a moral hero isn’t easy. Nao may have good intentions, but she leaves a trail of beat up people and isolates herself. Yuu’s achievements rely on a skill he gained by luck, not by hard work. There could be an interesting examination of how we shun people who work hard and praise those who just won the genetic lottery.
Nao also has a reasonable motivation for being moral. Her moral behavior isn’t convenient but results in isolation. Sadly, this is where the character development stops.
Yusa is brought in as much-(un)needed cuteness, as if Nao isn’t pretty herself. Ayumi already does the forced cuteness bad enough, so what does Yusa contribute? Worse, she makes another character turn into a drooling fanboy. Takajou first looks like a middle ground between Nao’s vigilance and Yuu’s selfishness, but after Yusa appears all he does is worship her.
This forced cuteness clashes with the occasional grim tone. Yusa and Ayumi are too-much-sugar cute. They’d be overly-optimistic in Azumanga. Their cuteness is plain happiness, with no unique design or quirk. Next to the cuteness there’s grief, overcoming it, time traveling and what power does to the user.
The treatment of grief does acknowledge the darkness. We see the downward spiral, the isolation and how a person is so overwhelmed he abandons life. Then after 2 episodes he rises up and things are going well. Grief is supposed to change us forever. It doesn’t automatically make us good guys. Nao’s grief turned her into a vigilantee. When Impmon’s whole world was wrecked, he changed but part of him remained. There’s no hint in Yuu that he used to be a selfish brat. He transforms into a moral hero with no relation to what he used to be.
It’s not that the story of Charlotte is convenient by nature. The core premise is an attempt at subverting a common trope. The problem must be in the length. Charlotte has too many ideas and stories which can’t be crammed in 13 episodes. Mirai Nikki couldn’t develop it all in 26.
At least Mirai Nikki played by its own rules. Charlotte often gives up any time it could get interesting. The last episodes is where its most harmful. A senseless enemy appears whose contribution to the story is nil. The only contribution is the killing of another character, but it they don’t do anything meaningful with it. The death doesn’t affect the story in anyway. We don’t see how the characters deal with grief, or how that death is a meaningful conclusion to that character’s story.
They already touched on grief. The only thing that conflict adds to the story is to make Yuu be heroic while killing a device that makes Yuu work a little harder in the climax. Yuu is interesting because he’s the opposite of a moral hero, so turning him into one works against the story. The climax also didn’t need such a dramatic brush with death to start.
At least the final episode redeems the series. Like the detour to Dealing With Grief, it’s too short for its own. Still, its idea is intriguing and the psychological development is well-paced. It’s further development on the original ideas the series started with.
While Charlotte does suffer from rushed pacing, it overcomes it by well-structuring its episode. The last episode is an epic journey that often takes more than 10 episodes in other anime. The creators managed to sum it up in 20 minutes without the journey losing too much impact. There is talented people there, they just took on too much.
Charlotte‘s main problem is that all its detours don’t always rise from the premise. Mirai Nikki explores both an ensemble cast and the Nature of Time and Space, but these are things that are found in the premise. Nothing about Charlotte’s idea of superpowered teenagers has anything to do with exploring the nature of death or time travel.
All these detours also lead to too many characters who aren’t given enough to do. Too many events are external. The puzzle-solving of the first episodes was fun, but after that it’s all big events. The creators can’t imagine a way to approach them that’s not dull heroism, so there’s no emotional payoff.
That’s why the sentimental moments often feel manipulative. This is a criticism that’s been directed at KEY often, but here it feels even more out-of-place. Charlotte is either too plot-driven or too psychological for such convenient wrapping-up. It’s been a long time since I watched Kanon (2006), but it was a pure drama. The sentimentality rose naturally, instead of feeling tacked on.
Some credit must be given to the soundtrack. It seems originality in soundtracks is now common in anime. There is attention paid to the textures and use of rhythm that is rare in Western scores. In this case, it borrows some cues from Bass Music to create the right intensity – one that is not world-altering, but still so.
Charlotte is a clever idea that took unnecessary, if interesting baggage and didn’t have enough episodes to connect everything. It’s more enjoyable than annoying. The episode are somehow paced well, even if the overall pace isn’t. It manages to make a final turn at the end so the journey won’t be futile. Wasted potentials are everywhere, but Charlotte works more than it doesn’t. It’s not brilliant, but it’s good enough to show there are still creative minds in anime.
3 comets out of 5