I’ve seen my fair share of ecchi shows. I haven’t seen many ecchi action shows, though. Most of the ones I’ve seen have been set in high school or been otherwise harem- or romcom-centric, like Oniichan dakedo Ai Sae Areba Kankeinai yo ne! and Oniichan no Koto Nanka Zenzen Suki Janain Dakara ne!!(A pattern? What pattern?!). This is kind of surprising when I think about it, because there are a bunch of ecchi action shows out there, like Seikon no Qwaser and Maken-ki. But the only one I’ve seen is Hyakka Ryouran: Samurai Girls, which I wasn’t very fond of. I didn’t even bother watching the second season. The reason I haven’t been interested in these shows is that it seems that they all basically use the same formula: The girls, many of whom are very… well-endowed, either get their powers by taking off their clothes or their clothes fly off when they use their powers, and that’s basically all that the shows have in terms of writing.
Valkyrie Drive: Mermaid, the 12-episode TV anime which aired in Fall 2015, starts by honouring this formula for the first 4 episodes. The story is about a girl, Mamori Tokonome(whose surname can also be read as “shojo”, i.e. virgin, which becomes a running joke), who is initially described as having some unspecified chronic illness. In the very next scene, she is kidnapped by G-men and sent to an unspecified island in an unspecified part of the world. Almost immediately after arriving, she runs into two apparently hostile women. The women start fondling each other and kissing passionately, until at last one of them turns into a large firearm of some sort, wielded by the other woman. Just as this unknown woman is about to fire directly at Mamori’s head, they are interrupted by a girl moving from the sea towards the beach at high speed! The newly arrived girl hits the beach(literally) and immediately positions herself in between the armed woman and Mamori. The mysterious saviour then apologises to Mamori and kisses her, which turns Mamori into a sword. It turns out that Mamori is an Ecsta, a girl who can transform into a weapon if she is sufficiently sexually aroused from the stimulation of a Liberator, a girl who can wield these Arms that the Ecsta can transform into. And for the next 4 episodes, they keep doing that and basically only that.
This is pretty close to the experience I had with Samurai Girls, and it’s exactly what I was expecting, so I was neither surprised nor particularly disappointed by this development, or rather, lack thereof. But there’s a reason that I keep repeating that this only applies to the first 4 episodes. Because in episode 5, strange things begin to happen. I don’t mean in the sense that the show tries to pull a Madoka or otherwise dabble in plot twists and shocking events. No, it’s that a new girl appears, and she is literally giant. This is only later explained as being the power that the Armed Virus, the illness causing girls to turn into either Ecsta or Liberators, has bestowed upon her. It turns out that growing massively in size is her equivalent of transforming into a weapon(which kind of makes sense when you think about King Kong and Godzilla, or just the titans in Attack on Titan). It is here that the writing related to the mechanics of the virus and, by extension, the battles and the fondling, begins to show its cracks. Unlike Samurai Girls, in which the mechanics were kept relatively simple in order to keep the show from going off the rails, Valkyrie Drive, from episode 5 onward, starts adding to the complexity of the mechanics until it all seems very obscure and deus ex machina.
And this is not just a thing that is isolated to episode 5! In the very next episode, Mei Fon, a spunky and petite side character who is probably the funniest character in the entire show and my favourite, finds herself in a dangerous situation. She is an Ecsta, so she can only turn into a weapon, she cannot wield one. However, she loves money, and so she solves her problem by kissing a wad of cash, which apparently turns her on enough to turn into a weapon. In case you don’t understand what that means, let me explain: She used the wad of cash as her Liberator! She is literally being wielded by a wad of cash! And it doesn’t stop there. The following episodes have everything from terrorists to odd life-forms that reminded me of Dragon Ball. By the end of the series, there was very little left of the original storyline. Instead, the show had turned into a bizarrely dark revenge story with more Dragon Ball-esque power level-raising.
And I thought that was a very good thing. The fact that the storytelling pacing broke down meant that the episodes started feeling more self-contained(one episode had a giant girl, the next one was about Mei Fon, etc. etc.), which in turn meant that I could enjoy every episode in its own right instead of having to bet on a big payoff later(which, by the way, Samurai Girls most definitely did not have). The increasing absurdity of the mechanics, on the other hand, meant that Valkyrie Drive started reminding me of shows that I actually like, such as the aforementioned Dragon Ball, as well as Senki Zesshou Symphogear. Symphogear with a lot of tits, sure, but Symphogear nonetheless. The first season of Symphogear more specifically, because it also had a certain incoherence when it came to the plot.
Clockwise from top-left: Mamori Tokonome, Mirei Shikishima, Mei Fon Sakura, Akira Hiiragi
Another thing that Valkyrie Drive tries to make complex is the characters. The cast is fairly large for a show like this and, unlike in harems, the character stories end up varying wildly from character to character. Mamori is mostly a normal girl who likes doing normal things, but Mirei is already much more complex. She has a dark backstory which keeps being expanded upon later in the show, and the nature of her ability ends up being pretty complex by the end. Mei Fon starts off as just a funny comic-relief kind of character, but when her story is expanded upon in episode 6 and it turns out she can literally be wielded by money, it’s hard to look at her like just another side character. Charlotte Scherzen, one of the bad guys, is also pretty simple in some ways, but the people around her are everything but. Kasumi Shigure, a military commander-type character, ends up having a subplot full of moral dilemmas relating to the power structure on the island(oh and she also gets a dark backstory). And Akira Hiiragi, the only man on the island and the “Governor” of the island, ends up being almost as important of a character as Mamori and Mirei. And then there’s Rayne and Lady J, two characters who seemingly do not at all fit into the society on the island. I still don’t understand where they came from or what their point was.
So yeah, the cast of characters is a complete mess as well. But this also ends up working to the show’s advantage. Just like in Symphogear, where the characters all have different fighting styles, the Arms in Valkyrie Drive tend to vary a lot, which prevents the fights from feeling all too repetitive. And when so many of the characters get a lot of development, however confusing, there are many characters to cheer for, which just makes the show that much more fun to watch. Especially in the last few episodes when the remaining rags of the character storylines finally converge into the explosive finale(which, by the way, is almost as good as Symphogear, albeit with more tits). In conjunction to this it should also be mentioned that like the first season of Symphogear, Valkyrie Drive does not have the best quality when it comes to its art, but the character animation is absolutely tight whenever it really counts. Kasumi’s fighting in particular, because she fights with her fists and feet, is really pleasant to look at.
As I’ve tried to explain above, Valkyrie Drive is an ambitious show. One of its less successful ambitions, however, is the themes. When the battles rely on girls getting it on in public places in order to get turned on, it’s impossible not to think of Kenzen Robo Daimidaler, which had a similar system. The comparison kind of ends there, though, because Daimidaler was different kind of show and it didn’t really do anything with its themes either. However, when Mirei kisses Mamori and Mamori gets embarrassed, I was immediately reminded of Kill la Kill, which also had its characters overcoming embarrassment in order to survive and grow more powerful. And both shows also try to tell this kind of story about how “everything is about sex, except sex, which is about power”. Stuff like Mirei being sensual and violent and not having any issues with kissing and fondling complete strangers, and Mamori hating violence, i.e. being pure and waiting for “that right one”, yadda yadda yadda.
Ultimately, though, Valkyrie Drive is not created with enough talent and care to make the themes feel thought-provoking. The function of the themes in the first few episodes of the show(for they kind of end up in the background after that), I think, is to somehow justify all the tit-rubbing and -licking and kissing, which is how all ecchi shows that try to be “serious” do it. Remember how desperately people tried to defend the fanservice in Kill la Kill? I have suspicion that writers and directors and all the other people who make the important decisions in anime also have those kinds of impulses, the impulses that make them come up with weird justifications for the tits and ass. They’re just people, after all… Or maybe I’m just biased. Maybe I think that shows with bouncing tits can’t be thought-provoking or interesting. Maybe I think they don’t deserve to be good. I always feel like any instances of good writing in ecchi shows have to be accidental or unintended.
And this leaves me conflicted, because I want to say that I enjoyed watching the show. Or at least most of it, because I liked everything after the first 4 episodes. Can I say it was good, though? Those of you who know me well know that to me, “good” and “I enjoyed it” are not exact synonyms. When it comes to this show, though, this divide causes quite a dilemma. I want to say that if you ignore the nudity, Valkyrie Drive is a good show, but can the nudity be ignored? Is it not a part of the show like any other? Usually when this dilemma pops up(it happens from time to time) I leave these questions unanswered, but this time I will answer! I think Valkyrie Drive is a good show, tits and all. It’s not fantastic, and it’s not for everyone, but I don’t regret watching it, and I don’t think my enjoyment was a fluke. Would I like it as much if I rewatched it? Probably not, but that’s never been a requirement for me. Valkyrie Drive is okay, kinda boring at first but it gets better(i.e. off the rails), but the tits are good. Actually, the tits are pretty great. They come in all sizes and they don’t look as unnatural as the softballs with marshmallows on top that the girls in OniAi had. Also, there is a motorbike that has tits. And power suits with tits! And- Ok, I think that’s enough. Bottom line: Valkyrie Drive is not abysmal. It’s better than Samurai Girls.
P.S: Merry Christmas, Chris, and screw you for making me do this.