What’s it about? Natsume Akira was a normal teenager in 2014 Japan, but after getting hit by a truck, he reawakens—not in another world but in 2030, as a brain encased in a titanium shell. Society is fighting against super criminals powered by ex-arms, dangerous weapons developed by an unknown source. Rescued by police officer Minami Uezono and her android partner Arma from smugglers, the trio fight their way out of a tanker.
I for one never really got into 3D poser porn. I always thought it looked really weird, but I know it’s someone’s fetish, so I’m not here to kink shame. Ex-Arm, however, unseats Gibiate (also a co-production by Crunchyroll) as best anime of all time.
I mean, just look at it. It’s beautiful.
Contrary to popular belief, Ex-Arm is not entirely done in 3D, like 2020’s front-runner Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045. Instead, it is a clever mix of both traditional cel-shaded 2D animation and 3D models expertly blended together to show “this character matters,” and “this character model only appears once in this show so we didn’t want to model and rig them just for one scene.”
Sometimes they even exist together in jarring compositions, such as inside the Tokyo MPD, where a 3D man stands next to an older 2D man over what looks like a filtered photograph of a hallway from the Tokyo MPD building.
From his classmates at school to his brother at home in the year 2014, Ex-Arm’s animation production studio Visual Flight did not bother with the kiddie gloves, delivering a solid one-two punch of making sure people know Akira is the main protagonist of the show by making him stand out as a totally alien being existing on a different plane of existence—wait, that’s just “Treehouse of Horror VI.” Yes, while his older brother merely stands by and flaps his mouth to exposit that Akira should live life to the fullest, Akira is moving, swaying, and breathing because he 1) can because he’s rigged as a 3D model requiring less work to move around, and 2) if he wasn’t moving, he’d look like a robot because that’s just how 3D models look without idle animation.
Once we fast forward to the future of 2030, we meet Arma, who is a robot; and boy does she move around like one. Her legs pump like a velociraptor as she carries Akira’s cyber brain in a suitcase while running around a tanker, trying to evade the baddies. Her hands and torso remain fairly stable as she moves, reminding me of playing capture the flag in Golden Eye back in middle school. It goes without saying, it was poetry in motion.
Arma’s stilted movement is one thing. She’s a robot, that’s okay. Her non-robotic counterpart, however, also appears to be more machine than human. Her stilted movements and lack of life evokes, perhaps, a hidden backstory that she was an android all along. As does Ex-Arm-08, our villain for the episode. As I watched the OP I saw all the main characters rotating, as if to say “look, we made these 3D models and we’re not letting them go to waste.”
All of them were blankly staring off into space. Maybe everyone is robots.
The show desperately wishes to be everything the Matrix and Ghost in the Shell is to some fans of cyberpunk, kind of like how Cyberpunk 2077 wanted to be everything embodied by the grisly allure of life in a dystopian corporatocratic future. It wants to evoke that high-octane feeling of tech and action, while also playing into kung-fu action that’s part of Director Kimura Yoshikatsu’s own pedigree.
And like Cyberpunk 2077’s ambitions and promises to deliver, Ex-Arm was delayed in 2020, and what’s come out is an unrecognizable mess that I am thoroughly enjoying for all the wrong reasons.
Is the show cyberpunk? It’s got robots, tech-based villains and a future setting, but I think it fits closer to its shonen manga lineage than a Gibsonian critique on capitalism at this point. But who knows, maybe there’s something to be said that our protagonist, literally a brain in a jar, is trying to find out what happened to him while fighting crime. He might even find out the menacing looking white-haired commander he’s now under was a baddie all along.
Don’t think too hard about this show. Nothing really matters, just like how they forgot to program in the collision detection on the baddie’s 3D model.
And here I’ve spent 800 words gushing over just how AMAZING this show is, and I haven’t even expressed why I’m excited to cover this series. I snapped at the opportunity to review this series last season for AniFem for no other reason than how Akira appears to be able to download himself into other machines. This includes Arma, a female-coded android.
“Does this mean Akira gets to be headmates with a girl robot and live like a girl? Oh man, this is my jam!” I foolishly thought, knowing this is a shounen series that’s more about the punchy than the gender feels, but you can’t blame a girl for having an unending thirst for these kinds of things— especially when the anime announcement trailer back in 2019 looked this cool (CW: flashing lights).
Akira certainly does merge with Arma, but I’m not sure just how permanent this setup is for him. I hope he gets to hang out in Arma’s body forever. I hope Akira figures out being a girl is okay.
I’m holding out for gender antics here, no matter how unlikely it will be played with any seriousness. Maybe I should have read ahead on the manga, but you know what, let’s find out together on what will come about this weird little show.
You will watch this show with me, right?
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