Content considerations: Violence; apocalypses; mild nudity and sexual content.
What’s it about? In the flooded ruins of post-apocalyptic London, a group of superpowered young adults called the “FreakAngels” have carved out a community in Whitechapel. Their tenuous peace is broken, however, when a girl named Alice shows up insisting they killed her brothers due to false memories implanted in her head by a rogue esper named Mark. Now the squabbling FreakAngels must work together to defend their home—or face a much more personal apocalypse.
Another season, another Crunchyroll Original (or CROGs, as I’ve decided to call them) to appear like a surprise blip on the release schedule.
Crunchyroll continues to not include English subtitles on their dubbed originals, leaving me with the arduous task of piecing together character and faction names quickly mumbled under instrumentals and sound effects. Personal gripes aside, I’m leading with this because it’s also ableist, inaccessible, and unacceptable. If AniFem can afford a podcast transcriber then I guaran-damn-tee Crunchyroll can afford some closed captions. So get your shit together, CR.
On the content and production side, FreakAngels is… fine. It’s fine. The series is based on a graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield that ran from 2008-2011 and has big Beforetimes energy, presenting a post-apocalyptic steampunk-esque world whose flooded streets and crumbling London architecture hit a bit too close to reality to feel like escapism in The Year Of Our Lord 2022. If you wanna make an apocalypse anime nowadays that doesn’t stress out your audience, you need to buffer it with some proper nonsense. Hippo tanks, for example.
Barring some awkwardly integrated CG vehicles, the production is competent enough—this is no EX-ARM trainwreck, sorry to say—but there’s a flatness to the action and a slight incongruity between character expression and vocal performance that kept holding me at arm’s length. It’s hard to explain the discordance in text, but imagine someone with a neutral expression and an angry, shouting voice, and that should give you a sense of it.
The cast is way too big for a nine-episode series, but it is good to see them reflecting the diversity of London, as our main crew contains multiple characters of color as well as a fairly even balance of men and women with some variation in gender presentation and personality (although they seem to be about 80% disaster-messes, not that that’s a bad thing). I could attempt a deeper reading—a possible stereotype here, a possible bucking of stereotypes there—but as we only spent about five minutes with each character it feels silly to try drawing any grand conclusions yet. Overall, I didn’t notice any major missteps… Well, assuming Jack is still alive and they didn’t kill off their one Black guy in the premiere, anyway. Fingers crossed!
I wish I could talk about themes to some degree, but this episode was so heavy on premise and character introductions that there wasn’t much else to grasp. There’s some general found-family vibes that might have resonated if most of the cast couldn’t stand each other. There’s also a brief argument about “fighting hate with hate” versus “pretending the hate doesn’t exist” that hints at prejudice metaphors, at which point I got super tired. I’m tired of explaining that stories about super-humans who can melt your brain are poor metaphors for prejudice because they feed into the idea that real-world marginalized peoples are inhuman and inherently dangerous. They aren’t. We aren’t. So can we stop? Please? Can we please stop. Kay thanks.
Maybe FreakAngels will avoid the usual pitfalls that come with these X-Men-style stories. Certainly it’s possible. But I won’t be here to see it happen. While there was nothing especially egregious about this premiere and a few things about the characters I enjoyed, the premise and production combined to push me a little further away with each new scene—not to the point where I hated it, but just to the point where I wasn’t invested in what came next.
I don’t wish FreakAngels ill and hope fans of the comic enjoy the adaptation, but I can get diverse casts and cool supernatural fight scenes in other shows that don’t feel quite so alienating as this one. Good luck and godspeed, but I’ll be over here watching the latest season of Legends of Tomorrow instead.
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