Baldr Force EXE: Don’t botherAugust 30, 2008
So… this short series started off with incredible promise, then completely fell apart.
It’s a cyberpunk Japan, where virtual hacking all takes the form of virtual mecha fights. The mech designs aren’t that great, but the fight scenes are pretty awesome- lots of fast, hyperkinetic fighting, without cheating the animation or doing the “slow motion for saving frams- I mean, dramatic effect”. This part, at least, remains consistent over the 4 episodes.
Episode one, we get introduced to Steppen Wolf- a hacking group that has decided to give up hacking as the whole virtual Wired experience is now full of crooks and anti-terrorist government squads brainkilling each other instead of old school fun hacking for the hell of it. After making this pretty reasonable choice, they decide to do “one more job” for the sake of memory… which of course goes horribly wrong – their leader, Yuuya, gets killed, and the rest are captured by government agents (“FLAK”)
The lead protagonist, Toru Soma, is offered amnesty provided he works for FLAK. He accepts, not to protect his own life, but rather, to try to find out which of FLAK’s agents is responsible for Yuuya’s death- so he can take revenge. We get introduced to a bunch of kickass female characters- Ayane- the maverick badass, Liang – cyber terrorist of the chinese hacker group- Fei Tao, Reika Tachibana- head of VSS, a cyber security corporation, Bachelor, a 13 year old uberhacker, all of whom could basically get their own story.
So at this point, I’m expecting pretty good things from this series… We’ve got an active non-emo protagonist, lots of competent female characters, and awesome mecha fighting.
Then we hit episode two. Toru ends up meeting this mysterious girl (“Ren”)in virtual space, going on a virtual date, she asks, “Can I call you big brother?” (STRIKE ONE: INCEST VIBES. NOT COOL.) Later, FLAK ends up running a mission to stop Fei Tao from a hack job- but Toru has already spent too much time online- the human body doesn’t do too well spending too much time in a 24 hour period- so he’s left out of this mission.
So the mission involves Ayane fighting some uber baddie, Genha, who then proceeds to virtually/mind rape her. (STRIKE TWO, THREE, and well, just keep counting, the most badass/promising character is now declawed and raped, in the second episode. REALLY?). So Toru risks his life, jumps back in, manages to fight off Genha, but then discovers that Ayane is also the one who killed Yuuya. And also his other old Steppenwolf buddy, Akira, now works for Fei Tao.
You end up with a pretty awesome moral choice- he’s supposed to stop Fei Tao as part of his cover, plus Akira is apparently ok with rapists, but on the other hand it’s his buddy from the old days, and well, the murderer he’s after is right here, but then again, she’s just been raped. Toru freaks out, and starts attacking Ayane (they’re both in mecha) and then the rest of FLAK shows up and arrests everyone.
After this, pretty much the series bites it. Turns out Ren actually was Toru’s sister (INCEST VIBE? YEP, I CALLED IT), she also now only exists virtually, her body having died years ago, most of the kickass characters were experimented on as kids, Ren is harboring an ubervirus that’s flatlining people in virtual space, Toru emos and can’t kill his sister and, apparently also not do much else while moping about it (If you didn’t count strike three back up there, the emo hero finishes any hope at this point), and Ren goes the fuck off and starts consuming all virtual space and blowing stuff up in realspace.
The only reason I was watching? Ayane gets revenge, but not before getting more violation (this time, at least, it’s not graphic, but…), and the revenge is so short and unsatisfying that if the animators only spent one fourth the effort and love on the revenge that they clearly spent on the mind rape I could have said, “At least, some minor bit of justice”, but alas, no.
Doing some research online, turns out the entire anime was based on a Japanese shooter/porn game, which at least explains the fucked up focus on the rape scene in episode two, and the brother/sister incest vibe, as well as the general harem anime feel.
GAARGH. What pisses me off the most about this stuff is that if they didn’t give me any empowered female characters to begin with I would have not gotten my hopes up. Of course, maybe that’s the lesson in that- if you’re empowered, you have to be “put back in your place” until the hero can rescue you. Even if he’s weaker, wimpier, and falls apart under stress.