It's about humans on Mars re-invading Earth and trying to commit genocide. Season 1 was surprisingly great. Heroes got wildly outclassed and then minced, while the villains were memorable. Either they'd be racist warmongering jerks or they'd be rational but messed-up with startlingly sympathetic, intelligent motivations.
Most people seem to think Season 2 isn't nearly as good. They're right, although I don't always agree with their reasons.
Incidentally, I don't think I'll be able to avoid giving away some introduction-level spoilers. I'll do my best to be reader-friendly, but if I start discussing a character called Bob, for instance, then the implication's fairly unmistakable that Bob's still alive. (There's no one called Bob. That was an example.) I've pussyfooted around a name or two, but their identities will be immediately obvious to anyone who's watched the show. If you think you might watch this series one day, the only completely safe thing to do is to stop reading this review. If you're one of those people, I'll bid you farewell and assure you that Season 2 is still watchable, but significantly less engaging and intriguing than Season 1.
Some of Season 2's problems, according to fans and reviewers:
(a) Urobuchi wimping out on the Season 1 bloodbath... I can live with that.
(b) that electronic eye turning XXX into Superman... that I quite liked, actually. The important thing to remember about XXX is that he's not Mr SuperCool, but an emotionally crippled freak whose inability to interact with others was what caused the creation of Earth's most lethal enemy. Asseylum could handle XXX's social disabilities. Other people, not so much. This show's body count is certainly in the millions and might be in the billions. Much of that death's his fault. Yes, he's Earth's strongest weapon, but good grief.
He's a robot. That's always been his problem... and here he's deliberately turning himself into even more of a robot. What's more, it's eating his brain. (In fairness, though, he actually makes intelligent use of people in one episode here. It's a Machiavellian chess-playing kind of use, but I was still expecting him to be accused of treason by idiots on his own side.)
(c) Lemrina appearing out of nowhere... what? She's one of the show's best characters. She's also fairly pathetic (in all senses) and I'd struggle to call her likeable, but the show's certainly richer for her presence.
Season 2's problems, according to Finn:
(d) A significant Martian bias in the screen time, with the Earthlings getting relatively little attention... but unfortunately YYY is a twat. We know what he really wants. Everything he's doing is going to achieve the opposite. He's managed to persuade himself to sacrifice everything in pursuit of a completely different goal, but that doesn't make him a tragic anti-villain. He should have been, though. Theoretically he is, certainly. He should have been tragedy squared, on legs. I don't think it would have even been hard for Urobuchi to sell us on this rewritten version of him, just by taking us deeper inside his heart and mind. Unfortunately character isn't really Urobuchi's focus as a writer, so we're left with the anti-adventures of an unsatisfying idiot.
Theoretically I like the fact that XXX and YYY are so heavily flawed. It's brave. It feels very Urobuchi. However he's doing it in an aggressively unlikeable way and it's easy to see why lots of viewers couldn't take XXX, while personally I spent this season assuming that YYY would end up slapping his forehead and realising that he was a moron. (Or die. That would have been okay too.) Many people have found it hard to sympathise with either or both characters, although apparently XXX is more popular in the West and YYY is more popular in Japan.
(e) The ending. Frankly, by that point I thought the human race deserved extinction and was a bit disappointed when this didn't happen. So many people had been working so hard to ensure a no-win solution by being so appalling, after all.
I can understand Urobuchi's greater focus on Mars. They're more interesting. The Martians doing terrible things for terrible reasons, whereas the Earthlings are simply trying not to be exterminated. This seems reasonable. Can't blame them for that. In other words, there's less you can do with them as characters and they're a bit less juicy. Admittedly there are idiots on Earth too, with the military high command being a particularly fine collection of donkeys, but the aristocratic Martians with their martial traditions and contempt for Earthlings... hang on, you could get a Doctor Who crossover out of this! However the downside of all this is that everyone on Earth except XXX gets very little screentime, with the show seemingly forgetting all about Rayet, for instance. How can you forget about Rayet? Anyway, by the end of the show, we've seen so much Martian politics that you could almost see them as the show's real heroes, or perhaps come to see the two sides as morally equivalent. Of course this needs you to forgive the small matter of interplanetary invasion and a 19-month campaign of mass slaughter.
Incidentally, I noticed something in the running gag of Darzana Magbaredge's regular dating advice to her executive officer. That's like being criticised on humanitarian grounds by Attila the Hun. Magbaredge's as lovable as a crocodile. She has dead eyes and her face never moves. Maybe I'm wrong and she's secretly a party animal who's drowning in boyfriends, but personally I know which of those two seems more like a human being to me.
It's still an intelligent show. I like Urobochi's ideas on beam vs. missile combat in ep.18, for instance. I have an acidic fondness for the show's savagery towards honourable manly manliness and the bloody pointless carnage it causes. I also have a perverse liking for the delicately audience-alienating ending, which finds unexpected ways of being bittersweet while theoretically giving you what you wanted. Is it happy? Hmmmm, well. It's not a bad show. It's quite interesting. In most ways it feels like what I'd have predicted after Season 1. Personally though I didn't really buy into YYY and as a result felt a little detached from the season as a whole, while other people have found other reasons to grumble.
It's not as good as Season 1, alas, but that first year was outstanding.