Studio: P.A. Works
Directed By: Yoshiyuki Asai
Written By: Jun Maeda
Initially, I wasn’t going to watch this anime, but my friend requested I should because he wanted to know my thoughts on it. It took me a whole new year to finally sit down and watch the entire thing. Sorry about that, but better late than never.
I heard things about Charlotte. A majority of those things weren’t nice. From my viewership, I agree that the structure and pacing of the show were lacking and some characters were blander than they needed to be. However, I think the appraisal for Charlotte does not come from these components, but the aesthetics and moral values the anime conveys.
But before I begin, though, I would like to warn readers. For those of you who haven’t seen Charlotte and are planning to, don’t read this post because it will contain spoilers.
Magic within the Stars
Charlotte is a comet that passes through every 75 years and sprinkles down stardust onto earth. If this stardust is inhaled by children, these kids will be granted superhuman powers when they reach puberty and will last for their remaining adolescent years. As a result, scientists used them as test subjects for experiments and research. In order to prevent such happenings, a school, Hoshinoumi Academy, was created and it specialized in protecting these Charlotte kids during their adolescent years. Yuu Otosaka, a transfer at Hoshinoumi Academy, and the rest of the student council assist in helping other ability users.
Since this is a P.A. Works’ project (that brought us Angel Beats, which I have yet to watch by the way), I must mention the animation and cinematography. One word: amazing. My favorite scenes were when the characters looked up at the stars and the night sky filled with great wonder and beauty. It is at these times when characters dive into their most deep, dark thoughts and contemplate about their lives and struggles. It is at these moments where we see the most character development, which makes the characters more real and relatable to the viewers.
Another aspect of the magic in Charlotte is the music. One of my blogging friends mentioned how he wished ZHIEND was a real band, and I didn’t get what he meant until I watched the show. They should be a real band because their music expresses a person’s hidden feelings. The opening and ending songs also give a sense of magic and aesthetic pleasantness to a viewer’s ears. For that one particular English song, it brings nostalgic memories to Yuu and also provides a sense of hope because it healed Nao Tomori’s brother’s mental illness state.
The Flaws of Charlotte
If anything, the pacing of the anime was what kind of killed the storyline and character development. I mean the concept and background of the story were engaging and captured the audience’s attention, but the fact that the series is only thirteen episodes long doesn’t give us enough time for further developments in the story telling and characters. If this show was 24 episodes, I think audiences can enjoy Charlotte more. If it still followed the same structure like in the thirteen episodes, I think the audience would be able to appreciate the characters and the major storyline in the second half would be explored thoroughly as oppose to being rushed in the end.
Thirteen episodes weren’t enough especially for the first five episodes when no main problem develops and we only get to see the antics of the student council members. There were plenty of comedy and laughs, but audience members weren’t sure where this was heading and after three episodes, it could easily be dropped. Hence, if you haven’t watched the show and are planning to, consider watching it entirely because the second half is where things picked up.
As for the characters, I was tricked. I thought that some of the characters introduced in the beginning such as Jōjirō Takajō and Yusa Nishimori will have a more important role in the storyline, but they just end up being Yuu’s friends and support system. In the second half, we are introduced to new characters that are crucial to the main plotline, Yuu and Ayumi Otosaka’s older brother, Shunsuke Otosaka, and Kumagami. These characters that were involved in the second half of the anime weren’t fully explored but could have had interesting backstories. For me personally, I would have wanted a filler or something that further shows the relationship of the Otosaka’s family and also the “bromance” between Shunsuke and Kumagami. If there was more interaction, I could have easily felt the sorrow that Shunsuke has for losing his best friend, but it wasn’t the case in comparison to Yuu and Ayumi’s brother-sister relationship. When Ayumi died, Yuu lost everything and I felt sympathy for him but when Shunsuke lost his best friend, Kumagami, I couldn’t easily connect to him.
I understand that this anime had a budget and had to work with what it got. Also, I am aware that I may be trying to make Charlotte into something that is bigger than it already is or should be. Yet the potential that this storyline has could have easily been a 24 episode feature and with that, it could have gotten audiences to enjoy it more as oppose to being so critical.
Family Bonds & The Importance of Meals
Family bonds aren’t shown through parent-child relationships, but with sibling relationships. It is interesting to see how strong this bond really is because a majority of these characters lost someone dear to them. For Yusa Nishimori, her older sister, Misa, passed away but still resides and comes out ever so often as an alternative personality to Yusa, whose ability allows the dead to take over her body. As for Nao Tomori, her older brother is long gone despite still living. He became mentally insane. Losing a sibling is like losing a piece of yourself; in which we can see from this anime as each character seems to be lonesome and loses a sense of self due to the loss of a brother or sister.
It is also interesting to note that the superhuman abilities could be passed down to siblings which further shows the strong bonds among family members because both of them must suffer from the same illness.
I would also like to point out that within every episode, there is always scenes regarding people eating together. One reason to have this is to show Yuu and Ayumi’s sibling relationship so that when Ayumi dies, it really hits home. These scenes also allow friendships to grow around Yuu. In the first couple of episodes, we see Yuu and Ayumi always eating dinner together. Ayumi would always cook food with the special pizza sauce, which Yuu grown to despise because it makes every food too sweet. Yet he doesn’t tell his sister this but holds it internally while eating everything on his plate. When his sister passed away, the omurice with the special pizza sauce is what rejuvenates him. Nao’s simple meal with the same taste as Ayumi’s gives Yuu the strength to pull himself from despair and agony. The omurice is the item that triggers all the good memories Yuu has with his sister. Furthermore, Yuu learns that the reason Ayumi makes this dish all the time is because it is his favorite food that their mother made, which further shows Ayumi love for her brother. Meal times with people that you love creates memories and further builds strong relationships with one another. Food is something that is intimate to share because when making a meal for someone, it tastes of happiness not from the ingredients but from the person who made it. One could feel the love and comfort it brings.
In Our Darkest Hours
The character development for Yuu Otosaka is one of the best I’ve seen. In the beginning, Yuu Otosaka is just a selfish teenage boy that cheats his way out of life. He uses his power to get test answers from the smartest kids in school, allowing him to get into a top-rank school and also prevented him from studying. Yet it is when his little sister, Ayumi, dies that he becomes depressed and truly alone. Yuu literally hits rock bottom and for a time, he didn’t attend school and ended up beating up random thugs for fun.
Charlotte surpasses what other typical anime shows use to convey dark emotions by implying the possibility of drug addiction. Now, one could assume that such anime like Gangsta would have this. However in Charlotte, one would think otherwise. I had to replay that scene twice to see what he was doing because I didn’t think an anime like Charlotte would actually depict drug usage. Yet when you see a rolled up joint with something in it, you can already assume what it is. Honestly, I was surprised that something like this would get animated and I am honestly happy it did. Drug addiction due to a tragedy is somewhat common. He is mourning the death of Ayumi in a negative matter, and it indicates that he truly lost his purpose for living. Yuu wants to escape the reality he is in and doesn’t want to acknowledge the fact that his sister is gone. Hence, drug use provides this escapism, and it depicts Yuu further falling into despair and hopelessness.
His bad habits and his loss of self could be seen as borderline insanity because we see in his eyes not a human, but a monster. The choice of using drugs is the icing to this loss of humanity within Yuu. Furthermore, we also see this loss of humanity when he travels around the world to take away the powers of other teenagers. As he gets overwhelmed and stressed with more and more powers within him, it takes a toll on his physical body and mindset. Yet whenever he is at those low points in his life, it is Nao that brings him back to himself. Okay, I guess you could say it is the power of love, but I think there is more to it than that. It is the person that supports you through thick and thin that keeps you grounded. For Yuu, it is Nao (who later becomes his lover) that gives him this support.
Visionary: The Blind Sees All
Throughout Charlotte, there seems to be a recurring theme of vision. When Yuu steals a person’s abilities, he just needs to see the person’s eyes. When trying to observe the abilities of other teenagers, Nao uses a camcorder to catch them in the act. When Yuu encounters the blind lead singer of ZHIEND, Sara Shane, he learns about her struggles as a singer and how she hit rock bottom which eventually led to her blindness. While Shunsuke Otosaka uses his time travel power to save kids from being abducted and used for experiments but at the cost of his eyesight.
We associate vision with the truth. Through vision and the use of their eyes, they were able to obtain knowledge about the comet, Charlotte, the abilities that it granted, as well as being able to help others in the process. As one can see, the use of vision is a source of truth for these characters, but the loss of vision is the sacrifice needed to obtain enlightenment. For Sara Shane and Shunsuke Otosaka, they lost their vision but provided aid to Yuu Otosaka.
Charlotte: An Allegorical Representation of Mankind Today
So many people that watched this anime had mix emotions about the ending. I also have my opinions on this and as I dwell on it more I think my interpretation may be a lot different from what everyone else is thinking.
In the end, Yuu travels around the world using his looting powers to steal away the abilities of kids so that they will be able to live normal adolescent lives and also so that they aren’t targeted by terrorists and other evil organizations. If you think about, couldn’t you label Yuu Otosaka a messiah of some sort? I mean, if these abilities are treated as a disease or illness, couldn’t you say these powers are sins? Therefore, one could argue that Yuu is a savior that is taking the sins away from the world. It seems far-fetch to consider, but it is possible. By the end of his journey, Yuu is weak and frail; in which he uses a walking stick to support him because all the abilities are weighing him down. It is like he is burdened with carrying all this sin.
In Charlotte, superpowers are considered a disease because some think that these children are a threat to mankind. As a result, they are imprisoned as lab rats to be studied on and persecuted for their abilities. Yet, there is one scene where Yuu is traveling and he sees children being trained into soldiers for their powers. In my opinion, this scene seems relevant to the media we see today in other countries. People fear terrorism and nuclear warfare amongst other things that it seems important to have such a scene in Charlotte because it focuses on the possibility of powerful people that could pose a threat to humanity. No one likes the idea of someone having so much power and control over them.
Therefore, being different from the norm is considered a sin. If we could apply this to society today, I can think of certain groups that would be considered a threat or unconventional in the social norm. These groups include Muslims and the LGBT & Queer communities. (I honestly think it is stupid to pass judgment on a person based on their lifestyle, interests, and physical appearances as oppose to looking into their character. For me, I look at a person’s choices and actions. You may call me “cold-hearted” but that is how I scope out my friendships and other relationships.) The anime, Charlotte, clearly conveys the harsh reality we live in. We live in a world that seems to judge individuals based on their outward appearances and their lifestyle; as a result, we make assumptions about them as a whole group that can possibly be proven false. Charlotte demonstrates such ideas by showing how a younger generation is being purged for having special powers. Then again, I wonder why pick youngsters to have this disease? The answer to that question is to brainwash the youth into thinking a certain way about people. Another possibility that counter-argues the previous reason is that the youth should realize the harm that some adults and social groups have in imposing on someone else’s way of life, and it is up to the younger generations to change this way of thinking and to consider that being different from others is acceptable.
Charlotte is an anime that seems to evoke mix feelings within people. Yet for me, I enjoyed this series for the moral values that it exhibits within the story, along with the beautiful animation and music.
Anyone else watched Charlotte? If so, what are your thoughts?