Ayaka SuwaKentarou ItouNozomi YamamotoAyaka Imamura
Absolute Duo
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2015: A
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2015
Director: Atsushi Nakayama
Original creator: Takumi Hiiragi-Boshi
Actor: Nozomi Yamamoto, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Ayaka Imamura, Ayaka Suwa, Haruka Yamazaki, Manami Tanaka, Natsuki Hanae, Takahiro Sakurai, Tomomichi Nishimura, Yoshihisa Kawahara, Yui Horie, Yukari Tamura, Ai Kayano, Boukenger Nishida, Haruka Tomatsu, Kentarou Itou, Mami Uchida, Nozomi Nishida, Satoshi Hino, Takahiro Miyake, Takuya Eguchi, Yukina Sagawa
Keywords: anime, SF, harem
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Url: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=16330
Website category: Anime 2015
Review date: 20 July 2016
It's a fun series, but it can be pretty eye-rolling and I wonder if the anime might not be trying to back-pedal away from certain aspects of its own source material. If so, it's understandable. I'd want to retreat from it too. It's an ecchi harem show in which the male protagonist is a saint. He never says or does anything that's not noble. At times, you'll think the entire show has been designed just to ego-stroke him, which can sometimes get a bit much.
However I'm not sure the back-pedalling is without its own problems. The anime is significantly less harem-y than the original light novels, as far as I can tell from a little googling. However I think this paradoxically ends up making the tone more uncomfortable.
It's set at Magical Fighting School. (It has a real name, but that will do.) The students are there to be taught how to use their Blaze weapons, which appear magically whenever the user wants. They're also going to be pitted against each other a lot, right from the opening episode when a "welcome boys and girls" speech turns into "fight the person sitting next to you if you want to get into our school". A Blaze works like the T-1000 in Terminator 2, incidentally, except that you can't choose what you're given. Knives, blades, stabbing weapons. They don't have moving parts. (Who'd choose Tooru's weapon?) This rule gets broken when Lilith shows up with a dirty great Blaze gun, mind you.
Does this imply a deathmatch with an ever-growing body count? No, because Blazes can't hurt you! Whew, that's... actually a big disadvantage in a weapon. What's the point of them, then? (Fortunately the show soon breaks this rule too.)
Our hero is Thor/Tor/Tooru (pick your transliteration) and he's shoved into a random pairing in ep.1, called a "Duo". Again, it's done on the basis of whoever you're sitting next to. A Duo will live together, fight together and sleep together. Well, in the same bedroom, anyway. It was all completely random and a Duo's meant to be a combat partnership, not a blind date, but even so this school seems awfully blithe about making new female students share a bedroom with a boy they don't know. Just the two of them. Tooru gets partnered with a girl, as per the expected 50-50 chance, then in ep.2 everyone's astonished to see a mixed-gender Duo and the audience wonders if everyone's stupid.
Duos are meant to be a lifelong relationship, although those random assignments are provisional, for a week. Tooru's Duo-partner is Yulie, a polite but dozy sword-wielding girl who thinks nothing of walking out of the shower in front of him, climbing into his bed, etc. She's not trying to shag him, though. She doesn't seem to be aware of sexuality and the only thing she does in bed is sleep. "You're like a father to me. Can I sleep with you?"
She can also get drunk on a spoonful of ice cream, if it's rum raisin flavour. The audience rolls its eyes again... but in fact she's my favourite character in the show. She's funny. However she's lucky that her roommate was Tooru, i.e. The Man Too Noble For A Libido. Do something suggestive in his presence and he might react like a Victorian maiden who's just seen a mouse.
She's the main girl, obviously. Her Duo oath with Tooru sounds like a marriage vow, which is apparently even lampshaded in the light novel. They're going to be together for the rest of their lives, as they both affirm repeatedly...
...which is what makes the harem aspect problematic. This isn't a marriage, obviously. Most Duos are same-sex. It's about being an efficient fighting team, not romance. However that's not what it looks like. Tooru and Yulie act like a couple. They're joined at the hip, they decide everything together and they regularly share a bed. Introducing other potential love interests is thus liable to be squicky. As far as I can tell, the anime and the light novels take a different approach to this.
In the light novels, Yulie is happy for Tooru to have romantic relationships with other girls. She even encourages them! The anime, in comparison, seems to be trying to tone down the harem angle. No one ever asks Yulie about that and we have no idea how she feels. There's no "wahay, harem!" flag. Similarly there are only two other girls with a significant level of interest in Tooru, not counting the one who rules herself out because she's not even attending the same school. Unfortunately, though, one of those decides to give herself the status of "Tooru's future wife"... and he doesn't correct her. Eventually it's hard not to see his non-reaction as acquiescence. However the show's made no attempt to reconcile this with the more important Tooru-Yulie relationship, which we're being encouraged to view at least pseudo-romantically. Is this metaphorical two-timing, or even a literal harem? Yulie handles the situation amusingly, but then again there's the distressing possibility that she's meant to be the loli (i.e. paedo appeal) character. She's short, naive and the only flat-chested girl in a universe of buxom. However since you can't tell anyone's age from their manga-style appearance, I think we can disregard that. (Officially I think she's meant to be the same age as everyone else, but young-looking.)
As for the ecchi, the show's only a bit brazen. Tooru might wake up to find two naked girls cuddling up to him and a pair of breasts in his face. (He's scandalised, of course. The poor lamb.) Ep.8 has both a beach and a hot spring. The school uniforms are ridiculous, with the girls' blouses clinging so tightly that the only real-world equivalent would be a wet T-shirt contest. It's like shirt-themed body paint. However at least it's just teasing, not porn. It's not the kind of show that adds nipples for the Blu-ray releases.
I'm not even sure the last few episodes make sense. Why does Tooru wait for a dramatic moment to use his green glowing stick? What's so bad about SPOILER having become strong? (The baddies' involvement isn't a reason. Apparently the light novels are better at justifying and explaining some key story points around there.)
In short, there are lots of people who won't be touching this with a bargepole. If you want to bash this show, there's lots to talk about. It's a fighting show where the fighting's harmless except when convenient for the plot. It's a harem show, but it's making faint efforts to pretend otherwise and so is somehow making things worse. It's effectively a twelve-episode blow job for The Impossibly Noble And Perfect Tooru. People have even criticised the fight scenes' animation, although I can't say I noticed.
However I liked it. I needed to steel myself against unhealthy otaku-stroking fantasy, but after that I quite enjoyed the show.
Firstly, the cast are quite likeable. Tooru's a thoroughly decent chap, by definition, while Yulie's endearing and funny. The two of them are quite sweet together and I was cheering for them. Meanwhile their fellow pupils all seem like good eggs. Admittedly the arrogant, high-handed Lilith thinks her money, boobs and superpowers means she can do anything she wants, but she too becomes nicer over time. Even a smug, evil, cutesy bitch who tried to kill you can turn that around and become a semi-dependable ally.
Secondly, the situation is fun. The school is run by bastards for the benefit of bastards. They'll employ killers if it gets the job done, while their enemies will cheerfully send soldiers to machine-gun schoolchildren.
Thirdly, I liked the show's exploration of Duos. They really let a Duo be a Duo, instead of just letting the hero be heroic while the girl stands back and watches. If anything, in fact, it's the other way around. Yulie's the sword-wielder while Tooru's "weapon" is a shield. She's the offensive partner while he takes care of defence. There is one brief "wait here while I finish this" moment, but I really appreciated the fact that Tooru gets stabbed in the finale and it's Yulie who does the scary psycho fighting. He's vowed passionately to protect her... but it's symmetrical. They're equals. She's equally determined to protect him.
There's also quite an interesting secondary couple in Tomoe and Miyabi, which makes the characters thematically relevant and more than just harem fodder. Miyabi has crippling confidence issues and Tomoe's trying to support her as her Duo partner. Again, it's sweet. Then in addition both Tooru-Yulie and Tomoe-Miyabi will have the masculine one (Tomoe's female but not girly) taking a softer, healing role as their more feminine partner goes nuts with ultra-violent superpowers.
Would I recommend this? Obviously not... for most people. It's a moderately ecchi harem show, built out of familiar anime story blocks. Even if you think you're ready for it, you'll still be rolling your eyes from time to time. Tooru's too one-dimensionally perfect too. (They should have revealed that he was gay. I know that's a standard joke about bland anime harem heroes, but that really would explain everything here.) However the show has quite a lot of warmth and charm when it's not deliberately being ridiculous. I especially liked Tooru-Yulie.