Content Warning: fantastical racism (androids as oppressed class), artificial animal death (bird)
What’s it about? Society on Mars is divided; though nominally humans and the artificial Nean coexist, the latter are subject to Asimov’s laws and shunted into servile positions. Rouge is a Nean who looks indistinguishable from a human, and she isn’t the only one—a mysterious group of Nean known as the Immortal Nine are working toward a larger plan of their own.
Is this a good show? Or am I being dazzled by the typically magnificent production of Our Lord and Savior Studio BONES and the joy of seeing adult women being extremely cool in a cyberpunk setting? I’ve been thinking it over for a full day and I’m still not sure. It’s the kind of show that will unquestionably be engaging from start to finish, with its incredible aesthetic and snappy action scenes. I’m just not certain its transhumanist exploration won’t fall on its face.
Good things first: the table setting is excellent. This cyberpunk Mars isn’t much different from other neon-lit cities of the genre, but it’s still a treat to sink into its daily goings on. There’s casual racial diversity built into not just background characters but also the main cast, and Rouge’s chatty mission control Naomi easily stole the show. The cast overall is engaging, if broad for the moment, though I suspect people will find Yoshino Hiroyuki’s turn as the very fittingly aliased “Joker” to be, kindly, divisive. Me, I like listening to a man attempt to vocally fuse Heath Ledger and Cesar Romero.
The climactic action sequence is also good stuff, with its robotic combatants twisting sinuously across the battlefield. It’s got a kinetic vibrancy that I haven’t gotten from the other shows I’ve watched so far this winter, even the extensive offering in Ishura. Even if the show doesn’t look this lavish in every episode, it’s just about a guarantee that it will be interesting to look at from beginning to end.
The spectacle is much less important to me than the two leads, Naomi and Rouge. They’re not quite strangers, but they also know basically nothing about one another, and I dig the dynamic being set up: Naomi is chatty and gregarious without showing a hint of her actual thoughts, while Rouge is stoic but ultimately straightforward. The scenes where they interact are far and away the best parts of the episode, more than enough to keep me coming back. It’s clear their mission to assassinate these Immortal Nine is too simplistic to be true, but the nature of that deeper meaning is what gives me a bit of pause.
I’ve seen quite a few promising spec-fic anime at this point. For every all-time great like Akudama Drive there are half a dozen more that faceplant at the finish line: your Tokyo 24th Ward, Yurei Deco, Wonder Egg Priority or Carole & Tuesdays. That last one is arguably more “drastically biting off more than it can chew” than an outright failure, but it’s still plenty relevant here, as its co-director Hori Motonobu is sitting solo in the director’s chair for Metallic Rouge. We’ve even returned to Mars.
The plight of the exploited artificial human as it’s set up here is familiar territory for sci-fi: is it just for sentient beings to be incapable of violence, even in their own defense, and how is that complicated by the appearance of androids who can harm humans? In turn, what do we make of our protagonist, who is killing her own kind for purposes unknown. Certainly her victim is set up to be quite sympathetic, but is this a conflict about oppression the show is prepared to explore with that muted, careful melancholy throughout? Or is this more of a “press X to emancipate” situation backed up with cool suited-up fights? Carole & Tuesday would nod to the latter, though series co-composer Nemoto Toshizo does have previous sci-fi experience as the writer of Macross Delta (Is that a good thing or bad? Please tell me, Macross fans, I’m so overwhelmed by this franchise).
The best answer I can come up with is to set my bar low for the time being: enjoy those throwback 2000s sci-fi vibes, soak up Naomi and Rouge’s rapport, and brace myself for eventual narrative disappointment. I’d love nothing more than for Metallic Rouge to prove me wrong.