Jacob and I reached a point last month where we couldn’t take Crunchyroll‘s repetitive commercials anymore, so we sprung for a Premium membership. Since then, I’ve been using that as an excuse to fall asleep to the sweet, sweet sounds of anime.
My most recent binge has been Charlotte, which I watched primarily because I was curious what the title had to do with its premise of “teens with superpowers at a superpower school.”
In the series, Yu Otosaka has the ability to take over other people’s consciousnesses. The catch? He can only do it for a few seconds at a time, and his own body loses consciousness while he’s out of it. Even so, it’s useful for things like cheating on tests and rising through the ranks of his school…which catches the attention of Nao Tomori. She’s the student council president of a school for students with similar abilities, and if he doesn’t come with her, there’s a significant chance he might be captured by another organization that has plans for people with superpowers – and they’re not good ones. With a threat like that – and a little sister to take care of – how could Otosaka turn her down?
The unique twist in the series’ premise is that all the teens’ powers will disappear after adolescence, and as powerful as they are, all their powers come with some pretty significant drawbacks. One character can turn invisible, but only to one person at a time; another can move at super fast speeds, but can’t control his stops – all of which, in a way, make the characters’ situations more unfortunate, not because of the inconvenience, but because people with torturous intents are hunting them for abilities that won’t even last.
That said, if you’re into superpowers and uncontrollable crying, Charlotte is a show for you.
As evidenced by the opening titles alone, the production value of the series is quite high. The studios that collaborated on it – Key, P.A. Works, and Aniplex – were also responsible for Angel Beats, which was gorgeous to watch, if a bit boring in spots. The animation and music are on par with that (even if the accent on the English singing is a little heavy), and are so infectious to experience that I’d have probably finished the series even if it was otherwise mediocre. Fortunately, it’s not.
Charlotte is a more character-driven show than one might expect, with the superpowers being a vehicle for a surprisingly emotional story. All the main characters are complex and flawed: Yu loves his little sis but isn’t very grateful for her own expressions of love; Nao is clever and determined to save teens like her, but also comes across as self-centered and self-righteous to the point where some other students beat her up for it. The first several episodes are fairly light, even goofy examinations of these relationships as these characters seek out a superpower-of-the-episode. Then comes Episode 6, where the plot takes an almost Madoka Magica-like turn, rips your heart out, and then sends it careening through the next seven episodes to the end. I was in no hurry to watch the first half of the series, but the last half I finished in a single, voracious sitting.
Strong characterizations aside, Charlotte‘s greatest strength is its sheer unpredictability. Sometimes this results in weird tonal conflicts: It’s hard to believe that the first episodes and intense last episodes are even part of the same series. Some of the humor even in the early part comes across as over the top, and some episodes (8 and 9 in particular) rely on an enormously convenient coincidence. However, the good parts are structured so well that those don’t diminish the entertainment value.
The only exception to this is the very end, which is so stupid that I sincerely wish I’d skipped the last episode. SPOILER ALERT: Without giving too much away, the characters decide that the best way to prevent anti-powers atrocities from happening is to remove superpowers from every teen in the world indiscriminately, which is an enormous waste of a rare and awesome resource – not to mention hugely unethical. Despite his righteous intent, one main character becomes famous in the international powered community as a power-stealing terror – and yet is still depicted as a good guy, complete with uplifting inspirational music and his own happy(ish) ending. I understand what the story was going for; after all, a lot of the kids were genuinely suffering because of their powers, often imprisoned in labs or camps specifically intended to exploit those powers. But when he took healing powers from an un-oppressed girl in a rural village – without her consent, all for the sake of completeness – the story lost its credibility.
TL;DR: You will do yourself a huge favor by ignoring the last episode entirely. The main arc wraps up in the previous episode, anyway, so you’ll literally miss nothing.
Final episode aside, Charlotte‘s still a pretty entertaining show. It’s not the best series I’ve watched this year, but it definitely deserves a watch if you enjoy both emotions and superpowers in your anime. Just skip the end – I mean it – unless you want to exercise your eye-rolling muscles.