For the second season in a row we have a series which appears at first glance to be a contender to be the next Strike Witches. However, unlike last season's Girls und Panzer (now revealed to be a sports anime), Vividred Operation comes to us from both the director and character designer of Strike Witches and is a much clearer successor. But can a new team of girls ever live up to the nigh-invincible 501st?
In the near future, 95% of the world's power is provided by a single colossal reactor. The series only gives us a small amount of background on how this has affected the socio-political climate but that’s not really what we’re here for. What we want to know is that strange, gigantic beings called the Alone appear and begin to attack the reactor. With conventional military technology (as always) useless, it’s down to a team of young girls armed with technology so amazing it’s almost magical to save the day!
Our lead heroine is Akane (who like any good leader wears the red outfit), the classic energetic yet not overly bright girl. She’s also the grand-daughter of the inventor of the reactor which sits at the heart of the story, who has built her a nifty flying bike and transferred his consciousness into a stuffed ferret toy..... look, it’s a magical girl show, okay!? These things happen no matter how pervy it gets when he starts being carried around in his granddaughter’s cleavage.... Anyhow, returning to the character roster we have Akane's best friend in the weak-bodied Aoi, the kendo girl and probably one or two others judging by the opening animation. There’s also your pre-requisite mysterious girl who is apparently working with to help the Alone, (though she will all but certainly be revealed to have a tragic past and will team-up with our heroines by the story's end.
So far, so standard then. The twist in Vividred Operation is that once transformed (in sequences that owe quite a bit to Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha), the girls can then unlock powerful finishing moves by “docking” with each other. Whilst not overly original (see Shugo Chara or Figure 17) it’s a great visual tool allowing for more character designs, more cool transformation sequences and it also means the series doesn’t fall into the Sailor Moon trap where once the bad guys turn up it becomes a case of sitting around until it’s time for the lead to kick off her overly-long and oft-repeated attack animation.
The series is visually stunning – the animation is consistently great throughout and the character designs are nicely varied. As you would expect from this kind of show, the transformation sequences in particular have had a ton of effort put into them and are fun to watch (particularly since it looks like they won’t be too over-used). The other big thing to note here is that the series could be used as a clear example of how CG integration into an anime seriesshould be done - the visuals really are some of the best I’ve seen in a televised anime for a long while.
So... super-visuals; nice concept; good characters - oh and good themes songs too, with all this Vividred must be an unquestionable ten-out-of-ten worthy successor to Strike Witches right? Well... not quite.
For starters, although we’re only three episodes in at this point the pacing feels really off. The third episode tells a plot that’s not too dissimilar in the amount of content, action and exposition as the two-parter that preceded it but everything’s compressed and crammed down to get it into a twenty minute slot. It’s a bit odd and a pattern that I really hope they don’t repeat, as there shouldn’t be any need to rush things quite this much.
The other issue is that Vividred can’t seem to decide what kind of an audience it’s going for and has instead diluted the experience by trying to go for all of them at once. The show sits in a bit of an odd place where it’ll be too tame for the majority of the audience who loved Strike Witches, yet at the same time it’s still too racy and male-friendly to appeal to the young girls who are traditionally the audience for magical girl shows. The transformation sequences for example only strip the girls down to their underwear and the docking only requires a peck on the forehead, yet the later docking transformation sequences are full of fan service. The dialogue is full of highly suggestive move names and the camera is constantly panning around as it would to get the best angle for a panty shot, yet the girls are all wearing shorts so there are no such shots to be had. It feels kind of like the creative team wanted to do something other than Strike Witches (though they should really go back and get season three started.... please?) but were told they needed to aim at a wider audience to get the cash and couldn’t quite agree on a direction to take.
Overall though I’m really enjoying Vividred Operation and I’m certainly looking forward to the new episode each week with much more enthusiasm than anything else currently streaming this season. It looks great, the creative team have a very strong track record and I’m willing to overlook a few minor issues in order to see what happens next!
You can currently watch Vivdred Operation in streaming form via Crunchyroll.