No Good Gods Without Curses: Valvrave the Liberator Review

 What? ANOTHER mech-filled, space war infused anime review you say? Well hear me out, as this one is as night to Lagrange‘s day as you can get. You see, Valvrave: The Liberator paints its picture with much darker, tragic and violent colors. The death and sadness doled out to the cast, brought upon by the grim palette, is made integral to the series. Thankfully this means that all the bloodshed here is there for something much more meaningful than simple shock value. With those words in mind, prepare to see a lot of red, even from those who’d you assume are safe from “dying”…

Set in a distant future, humanity’s general populace has been split up into three governing bodies; Diorssia, ARUS and the neutral nation JIOR. After an installation built by the latter is invaded by Diorssian forces in search of military weapons, the students of Sakimori High School find themselves caught in the conflict. Fatefully, one of the kids, Haruto Tokishima, stumbles upon a mysterious mech code-named “Valvrave” resulting in him using it to defend the others at a horrible price. Fearing that their school could become a permanent war zone, the students opt to separate themselves from Module 77 and become an independent state.

The five cursed gods of Valvrave. Frm Left To Right: Raizo Yamada (Yuichi Nakamura), Kyūma Inuzuka (Yūki Ono), Saki Rukino (Haruka Tomatsu), Haruto Tokishima (Ryōta Ōsaka) and Akira Renbokoji (Aoi Yūki).

It can be said that great power often comes with an even greater price. That constantly echoed principle serves a two-folded purpose. For one, it mercilessly drives the plot forward without reservations. Secondly, it presents the audience with some pretty captivating questions and strikingly disastrous answers. What does it mean to be human? How high a price would pay to become a god among men? We are never allowed to forget just as Haruto and his fellow “kamitsuki” aren’t either, making the characters easy to care for. Add a secret manipulative organization to all that and you have a very active narrative on your hands.

These young immortals quickly learn that becoming gods literally sucks more then they could have imagined. As the story progresses, more damning and heartwrenching repercussions are brought to light.

Looking at the cast independently, characters work within familiar archetypes but are built with room for originality. For instance, Saki Rukino felt very reminiscent to the sassy pop idols who came before her (notably Sheryl Nome of Macross Frontier and Rise Kujikawa of Persona 4), yet her tremendous resolve is defiantly distinct. As was Akira Renbokoji’s comical inability to overcome some of her social fears after stepping outside of her cardboard shelter — both literal and figurative. Even the two least complex of the “main” five were fun to watch due to their brotherly banter.

Same goes for lead hero Haruto. The weight and severity of his curse gives many of the twist and turns a stronger bite. Furthermore, Haruto’s evolving alliance with wildcard L-elf was captivating in and of itself. The fiercely different ideologies the two held often acted as a fertile breeding ground for drama and character development. The pair didn’t become friends overnight, it was a slow, deliberate, loss-filled journey which was much appreciated. Only downside being there wasn’t enough focus put on exploring other relationships.

One of the many times L-elf and Haruto either came to physical or verbal blows. You could feel the hate but also the increasing strength in their bond as episodes went on.

Those who came for sweet glorious robot action won’t be disappointed either. Valvrave sports some seriously sick CG in terms of the mechs. You’ll probably be caught off guard by just how fluidly and flexibly the models move when in motion. There’s some cool visual effects at play too such as when Haruto activates Unit 001’s massively destructive Harakiri Blade. Each Valvrave has special attributes as well so seeing more than one sweep enemies in unison left me in shivers. It’s a huge shame though that we never get to see all five on the field at the same time due to certain events.

Character designs were handled by Katsura Hoshino, author and artist behind the hit series, D. Gray-Man. With That being said, her talent for drawing original, incredibly stylish characters continues to prove itself undeniable. The outfits and battle gear the good/bad guys wore incorporated a hip mix of the show’s more sci-fi and super sentai elements. Additionally, she managed to capture a lot of everybody’s personality in their respective attire. Tying all that and above together is AAA animation that doesn’t let up, even for a second.

When a Valvrave goes to work it gives way to a awesome “well…damn” moment every time.

While the music was awfully weak compared to visual side of Valvrave‘s presentation, the ost is not without a few diamonds in the rough. Both openings (dual performed by Nana Mizuki and T. M Revolution) are outstanding and tracks like “Kurozome”, “Hohoemi wo Tataete”, and “Ken wo Ataerarete” really hit their emotional marks. Problem is, the majority of the rest sound either uninspired or better suited in a horror/thriller. Back on the bright side, all the seiyuu’s did well bringing their characters to life (don’t they always?). Personal favorites were Ryōhei Kimura as L-elf and Yūki Kaji as the explosively psychotic Q-vier.

Even though the last episode leaves loose ends, everything still felt like it came full circle in a poetic way. There’s no English dub yet but subs for both seasons can be found on Hulu so I heavily recommend using a spare day or two to marathon it. The highs eclipse the lows by such a wide margin that they’re practically nonexistent. Disturbingly deep story plus appealing characters plus superb animation equals a happy camper.