E's Otherwise vol. 1
Jason Carter rates it:
If there's one thing I am getting tired of repeating to myself as I review more and more anime, it's the remark, "This could have been so much more." That's not because there is anything intrinsically wrong with such a statement. Botched work and wasted potential are perhaps more objective measures than many others; something that fails in terms of it's own characterization or plot is a lot more obviously at fault than a well told story that makes a point one happens to find appalling. But there is a creeping dissatisfaction that builds with seeing one show after another settle for a kind of tepid mediocrity when it could have reached, with a little more effort, for true storytelling excellence, and E's Otherwise may have brought that point home to me more forcefully than anything else in the last 12 months.
E's presents us with a nominal hero in the form of Kai Kudo, a 15 year old Japanese boy. Kai is a transfer student of sorts, but unlike many others he happens to be taking classes at the anime equivalent of Professor Xavier's infamous mutant prep school. Kai is blessed/cursed/saddled with a range of paranormal psychic powers, all of which will automatically mark him as a social outcast and danger to the world at large if they are discovered by the general public, who harbor an allegedly irrational fear and bigotry towards people who can read their minds and manipulate objects with their thoughts alone. Fortunately for Kai, he lives in a near future world where scientific advances have made the education of psychics like himself in the use of their powers a matter of pedagogy rather than mysticism. A giant conglomerate called Ashurum (one of several that have apparently assumed control of the world after a widespread breakdown of regular government) has set up an organization called AESES in order to shelter and educate these unwanted children, so they can defend themselves and extend a helping hand to others of their sort who run loose and need to be brought into the fold for their own good. This, plus free state of the art medical care for his ailing younger sister Hikaru, moves Kai to join AESES and begin his training with a predictable gang of youngsters.
Kai's new compatriots are a dull lot. There is Shen-lu the perky blonde, and her brother Shen-long, the series resident pretty boy. Shen-long hates Kai on the spot, for a mélange of reasons, none of which end up being very credible once they are revealed, and seems to take a sadistic delight in provoking and sometimes attacking Kai outright. Shen-lu, for her part, finds Kai cute at once (he's the hero, I guess that explains it) and commences flirting. There are also some other kids without personalities named Chris, Ruri, and Tsubaki, who pretty much serve as props. Watching over all of this is the oily Eiji, a mysterious and well dressed Ashurum bigshot who never quite manages to reach the level of suave evil mastermind that he seems to be reaching for. As time passes (more about that in a minute) Kai develops his skills with various weapons and vehicles, hones his paranormal abilities, and manages to blush a lot around Shen-lu, before the big day comes and he is dispatched on his first mission to arrest a rouge psychic the police can't handle. Predictably, Kai has a thing or two to learn about what Ashurum is really all about.
E's has some problems, the most significant of which are its characters and pacing. None of these people come off as having any real depth to them, save for Kai, and he's perhaps the most annoyingly self-righteous teenage boy I've ever seen in fiction. I find it impossible to like him, and since everyone else in the show seems to exist only insofar as they interact with him, I can't bring myself to care for any of them. The manner in which the plot proceeds only makes things worse. As you can probably guess, Kai is being set up here for a form of birth-trauma; he has to be shorn of his Ashurum-incubated notions about his place in the world and the meaning of his actions (not to mention where his loyalties ought to lie) but the show neither begins at this obvious transition point nor lingers in his earlier days as a recruit in training with AESES. Either of these would have worked for a 13 episode story arc, and both could have been done in the space of a full length show like this – but we get a poor attempt at both as preludes to Kai's run-in with the people he is really supposed to be friends with once he is off his leash. Now do you see what I mean about wasted potential? To make matters worse, the final setting for Kai's actions is something like a teeny-bopper version of Get Backers, complete with easy solutions to the situations that are supposed to provide us with action and thrills.
E's is based on a currently unlicensed manga by someone named Satoru Yaiga. The original story is still running, and from what I've managed to glean from it's small English-speaking fan base, the books are renowned for very striking artwork. Sadly, this doesn't seem to have carried over much into the animation. Sometimes – most of the time – it's OK. Once in a while it is pretty sub-par, and now and then it is strikingly good. Unfortunately, this only has the effect of making the characters seem like different people now and then (especially Yuki, one of Kai's new pals introduced in the later episodes on the disc). There isn't anything special here to watch, and there isn't much to listen to either. The English dub is perfectly serviceable, though I think Kai sounds too old, but I like the original Japanese for its amusement value (Shen-long is voiced by a woman).
With its flat characters, lifeless attempts at drama and conflict, and pedestrian presentation of the paranormal, E's Otherwise just comes off as a time waster. I'm past the age where I can just watch this sort of thing and enjoy it. It's not offensively bad, but it should certainly be rented first to see if this is up your alley.
Added: Saturday, June 04, 2005
Related Link: ADV Films