Sentai Filmworks's No. 6 brings us last year's noitaminA effort from Studio Bones. It takes the novels written by Atsuko Asano and turned it into an interesting story about two boys, a science fiction future, and everything that comes with that category.
Beyond the gorgeous post-apocalyptic canvas and the sleek urban science centers, No. 6 is more a story about character development spanning years, but also about all the interesting elements that marks late-night TV anime--from cute animals to what brings all the fangirls in the house. But will you like it? Click on and find out.
I really tried to like this show. It's got a lot of interesting ideas embedded in the setting and character interaction. It takes on lofty themes and ideals, like the conflict of human development and our responsibility towards the environment and to each other. It deals with problems regarding the cycle of violence, greed, and there was also some message about human dignity in the most adverse conditions.
Actually that's not even all of it. I feel that as far as themes and concepts go, No. 6 scores a lot of high notes both in depth and variety. It was able to tell a story about the human condition in a rich science fiction setting within its humble runtime. Along with that, a compact narrative about two boys fighting their way into the heart of a massive conspiracy that puts the lives of an entire civilization on the line gives me a good reason to look to each next episode like a thrilling film.
The story of No. 6 has to do with a post-apocalyptic setting where civilization has abandoned large swaths of earth as they became inhospitable for human living as a result of multiple wars. No 6. happens to be also the name of the sixth human settlement in which the survivors attempt to recreate their own variety of utopia. The main characters are Sion, an intelligent but naive boy who grew up in No. 6; Rat, a boy who grew up in the lawless wilds outside of No. 6; and Safu, Sion's childhood friend and unrequited romantic interest of Sion.
At first, Sion and Rat meet during their youths. At twelve years old, the children were headed on different paths; Sion in an accelerated academic program on ecology and Rat, a renegade on the run. Safu, Sion's classmate and friend, tried her best to befriend the child genius, but the run-in with Rat derailed Sion's fast-track career. One episode and four years later, the three reunite: Safu moving to No. 5 to study abroad, while Sion, now a lowly janitor, stumbles on the tip of the proverbial iceberg in a cover-up conspiracy only to meet Rat as his rescuer.
Much of the series is spent as Rat and Sion cohabit and become closer both to each other and to each of their own developing desires for what they want to do in the future. What's perhaps more to my delight was the relationship behind Sion's mother and her connection to the parties outside No. 6's massive walls. A thriving slum town outside of No. 6 provided the perfect, if dingy, environment where Sion learned how life is for the rest of the world, and where the harshness of both environment and rugged hearts test Sion's naive worldview and ideals. Sion's mother, a resourceful woman in her own right, somehow was kept in touch via Rat's cybernetic couriers--a squad of robotic mice.
As much as I try to like it, ultimately No. 6 is a show ridden with BL undertones, and the occasional overtone. As much as I am going to applaud it for a great cross-over attempt to serve up something good beyond that BL-loving demographic, it's going to be a turn-off for some. Sion and Rat's kisses and tender moments aside, though, No. 6 is a straight-up story about how an over-ambitious government is making people disappear just because they are at the wrong place or say the wrong thing. We never really get the story from the bad guy's side, just a lot of separately short stories about both discontent outsiders, prosecuted beggars in the wasteland, and some rebelling No. 6 citizens who has lost loved ones under the repressive regime.
Perhaps there was one true spin towards the end, when eventually the cause of the mysterious plague was revealed. While on paper it was a typical story about humans messing with powerful, unknown natural powers and trying to harness it for selfish gains, that wasn't the way it turned out. It helps to realize that No. 6, as adopted in the anime, was just one part of a larger story, spanning many books. It becomes clear once you listen to the audio commentaries that came with the Blu-ray. In other words, we only see the manifestation of a massive setting, as it is carefully curated to us in the adaptation, giving us only what we needed to know.
I suppose any one of the given things would not have been too bothersome, but the fairly lean plot combined with a pair of boys in some kind of ambiguously romantic relationship did not really add much to the flavor (unless you dig that, just not me). The tipping point comes in as Sion's somewhat bipolar expressions came about, as he flounders between a rage-filled animal and a very timid young man who probably doesn't know what's good for him. It wasn't really fun to watch this guy turn down a girl asking him for samples of his semen--although I suppose that was the point.
If Rat, Dogkeeper, the shady ex-reporter and Sion's mom were the focus of No. 6, I might have taken to it much better. The production value is solid and what we have come to know from Studio Bones. The English dub was decent (if inappropriately scripted at times), enough that I stuck with it all the way through the first disc. The music was good if not very notable, although I am a big fan of the style of music used in the opening. In other words, other than Sion, the there's not a whole lot to dislike.
Having watched the series during its broadcast, I found that catching it all in a marathon presented the plot in a much more cohesive way. At the same time, the straightforwardness of the plot becomes quite apparent. We aren't given the time to really dwell on the character development and enjoy the bits of emotional play between Sion and Rat, but the snappy pace and direction kept things fresh, so that's what I'd recommend.
Sentai's Blu-ray release (as reviewed) does come with the aforementioned audio commentary as a bonus--every episode's got it. Sion and Rat's voice actor are present for each set of the commentary, interviewing and chatting with a different guest across the various episodes. It's a great gift for fans, since they go through a lot of the background information in some of them. On top of that, the clean OP and ED, plus promotional videos are part of the bonus material on the home video release.
I think ultimately No. 6 is a solid show with a tightly put-together, if a little simple, plot. I pretty much understand what Marcus went through, so check out his first impression and the subsequent Annotated Anime posts if you're really intrigued. I'm just not as hopeful as he was, so it wasn't disappointing. Unless you are into BL, the main attraction here is the quality setting and rich environment. It also kind of helps to know what giant killer bees symbolizes for the Japanese (trust me on this one). I liked the series enough on my first go-around to tackle this review while enjoying myself, but at this point I've exhausted what the anime has to offer. I recognize that maybe it's all just a ploy to sell books, but maybe some of you (perhaps that fujoshi demographic?) might get much more of a mileage out of it, thus my reserved recommendation.
6.5 - Okay. Despite the high-minded goals and strong production, floundering characters and disappointingly plot points lead to mediocre results.
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