At first, I didn't like it. I sensed anti-charm and a smug, shallow protagonist (Aya). However that turned out to be just the starting point, from which things kept getting richer and more complicated.
We start with two main characters, twin siblings Aki and Aya. They're drawn in the usual insect-eyed shoujo manga style with lots of beautiful men for the target audience to drool over, which normally I wouldn't notice but on this occasion was a slight distraction because I wasn't wild about the cast. Aya's the lead, but I didn't particularly warm to her. She talks about her life being boring and then gets all excited about karaoke. I wouldn't have gone so far as to call her empty-headed or a motormouth, but she wasn't entirely without those traits either.
Fortunately though the story wasn't just about her. There's also stuff with angels and her scary family, who have security cameras and gun-toting henchmen.
The best thing in those early episodes were the cliffhangers. They're not the usual "heroine in peril" nonsense, but instead have a knack for ending on game-changing lines of dialogue. The cliffhangers are what Watase Yuu said she worked hardest on in the original manga and I'd say her effort paid off. Furthermore there's plenty of scope for startling plot twists, thanks to the ideas. There are angels reincarnated in the bodies of their descendants and capable of possessing them for the purposes of vengeance, murder or incestuous rape. (Oh, and these angels have superpowers and can throw cars through buildings.) There are bad people who know genetic engineering. There's a man who grew to adulthood in ten days, has no memory of his former life and can make a dagger grow out of his wrist.
Keep that up for any length of time and you're going to have a story with character. Sure enough, the more distance I got from those first few episodes, the more I was enjoying it. Aya got depth kicked into her, I was feeling warmer towards the characters and that ugly fish-faced comic relief character (Mrs Q) started making me laugh.
Fairly soon we were getting powerful episodes, then later still I found I'd been underestimating Watase's plotting. You see, it had looked like shoujo wish-fulfilment. Aya gets hugged, kissed and even more by handsome men, but always in a non-threatening context where her virtue's not in danger. Furthermore two men are in love with her and she's troubled about her feelings for them. Sigh. There are entire anime franchises built around never resolving that kind of dilemma. However it turned out that Watase was going somewhere with this, whereupon I got interested.
Of course it would be wrong to deny that this anime is sexually charged, but this is actually a theme and crucially it's being written for a female audience. That makes a huge difference. The nudity (sometimes with nipples) isn't there for the usual effect, for instance.
Episode 7 is the first one that struck me as genuinely strong, after which things really got going. I think it's about the differences between the sexes. Men will create life, but in a way that calls for helicopters, gunmen and full-blown military operations against urban targets. There's an examination of both male and female sexuality, with the former sometimes being made to look sick. This is surprisingly rich stuff. Watase Yuu is the creator of Fushigi Yuugi, about which I've heard excellent things and so it's been sitting in my queue for ages. After this, I have high expectations. One unexpected side of these themes incidentally is a reverence of fathers, who are noble and will sacrifice themselves for you. Mothers in comparison are scary, especially if they're called Ceres and have a time-share on your body.
The reason this isn't as well-known as Fushigi Yuugi, I think, is that it's a bit of a downer. Its ending is best described as bittersweet, while Ceres's backstory is so brutal and the things that happen are uncompromising enough that I couldn't recommend this to anyone looking for a fluffy giggle. There's powerful stuff here, but it's being made for a specific audience.
Then even the violence gets subverted. It seems to be heading for a blood-soaked ending... but that's the male approach. Watase upturns that in the last few episodes and suddenly we're seeing a female approach to the problem, which for a short while was disconcerting.
This is a story I respect. It's not always comfortable to watch, for instance with women killing themselves after the Mikage family's attentions, but it's capable of straightforward entertainment too. In Episode 10 for instance, Chidori is very, very funny. (This makes for paedophiliac overtones, as well as the aforementioned incestuous ones.) It's brutal. No one is safe from getting a sword through them and the cast includes some vile pieces of arrogant murdering garbage. However at the same time it's clearly taking a female viewpoint and intelligently exploring strong themes. It might seem odd that so many people turn out to have superpowers, but it'll all be explained.