I feel like I am in strange territory with this one. Here is a Netflix anime from Studio Bones and it is so strange in so many ways. It is legitimately the most non-Bones Bones anime I’ve ever watched since Towa no Quan. The usual Studio Bones aspects centered around their unique character designs and awesome action scenes are there, but everything they’ve done that’s been a success recently is more a Shonen action series in nature. Aico is different, because it’s an anime centered around the question of what makes some one human. I’m glad that Bones is trying something different and original here, but it could have been condensed much more then what we were given. Hmmm, I should dig more into this show before I give a final opinion.
AICO takes place in 2037 in Japan, two years after an incident called “The burst” transformed an area called Kurobe Gorge into a quarantine area. A quarantine area running rampant with an artificial organism called “Matter”. Couldn’t they have come up with a more original name? The matter is just a blob of organic matter that can form whatever types of shapes it wants and expand however big it feels like. Anyway, apparently the matter is slowly growing and threatening the lives of people in Japan, I think. Basic sort of “a science experiment goes wrong and bad things happen” narrative here.
The plot starts when our wheel chair bound female protagonist, Aiko, meets a male student, named Yuya Kanzaki, that transferred to her school on the last day before her summer break. Kind of strange, don’t you think? At the end of episode one, Yuya kidnaps Aiko, who apparently can suddenly walk around after seeing some incidents that revolved around her recovery from accidents quickly. After being taken into the quarantine zone, it’s revealed about Aiko’s family are at Primary Point where the Burst started. The two gather up a crew called Divers, who are hired mercenaries, and head out toward it.
Just by the plot alone, this anime should have been either a movie or a video game. Why? Because a lot of scenes from this anime are centered around going to a similar area from the last one to drop down a gate which disables the matter around their general area. Then they do the same thing again. And again. There are even side characters that are completely out of the action just there to tell you how our crew is progressing. AICO has some themes going on that are interesting, but they all happen either in the first part of the anime or the last part of the anime. Trim it down or live in its repetitive nature. That’s how this show could have been improved.
Let’s talk about Aiko, our main character. Who would have thought, right? In this show, Aiko is the obvious audience surrogate character. She is there to react to a lot of situations that are beyond the bounds of normal situations. She also has a hidden side of her that shows up more and more as the story goes along. First, she is just there to experience the plot itself and meet all the side characters. She does that extremely well. As the plot gets more horrible and the stakes get dire, Aiko stands up and comes to her own. Her strength of will and belief for her mission really shows here and I’m glad. Aiko is a great character thrown into a mediocre anime.
For an anime like this you would think that there would be two main characters, right? To me, there is only one main character, Aiko. I will make an argument that Kanzaki is only a plot device then a character. He is the one that is literally driving the plot forward. He is a mystery character until an exposition scene happens which explains who he is. This is all handled very clunkily, but I’m glad that the matter responds in a manner that is completely controlled by the plot. The matter has a lack of movement in that moment which allows the exposition scene to happen. I should probably talk about the side characters. I am glad that every mercenary member is given personality then just being a presence. I won’t say that they are the best characters ever, but they are slightly better then card board cut outs because the audience gets a feeling for who some of them are. Everybody else is more of a cardboard cutout.
Since this is Studio Bones, of course I am going to say that the animation is great. Whenever there is an action scene or just characters moving around, you couldn’t have these characters move more fluid (unless it’s a movie). Even the tanks and other bits of technology move with a fluidity that a lot of other anime don’t. It’s really strange, but wonderful. The facial expressions were great as well. Maybe the facial acting isn’t on the level of a production studio like Kyoto Animation, but what can you do?
I have a lot of problems with Aiko’s art direction. The characters are pretty standard Studio Bones designs that I’ve seen a million times before in different series without anything making them more then basic. Then there is the fact that each of the characters wear either a basic school uniform or space suits in different colors. No other variations then that besides the clothes people wear after medical operations. Nothing fancy here. Even the locations are boring. We see the same locations in slight variations through out the entire anime series. I wonder how much effort was put into this anime.
I don’t know what else to say about AIKO other then it’s about an average or below average anime series. It has some interesting ideas and interesting characters, but it drags on too long to be fully realized for me. I know that everything I have written up to this point makes me sound like I disliked this series, but that isn’t true at all. When AICO is good, it’s good. It’s just that not enough episodes of this anime are dedicated to moving anything forward in a way that matters. Neither are there enough standalone episodes that can be called good by themselves. I suppose the stakes aren’t fully explained either, besides localized zones that the characters are in. Or maybe the matter will hit the rest of humanity eventually? Maybe? If the show didn’t give me enough time to think about that, then this anime would be more exciting and meaningful.
In the end, I can’t give this show a full recommendation. Watch if you are a studio bones fan and want to see what else they can come up with besides action shonen. Watch if you are a science fiction fan interested in any of the concepts I provided. For everyone else, you don’t have to watch this.