Argento Soma sets in the futuristic world where every now and then, a humanoid alien descends from the sky and creates terror among human. Mysteriously, all the aliens seem to heading to one point in the United States called ‘The Pilgrimage Point’. The anime follows Lt. Ryu Soma who has just joined the anti-alien force (FUNERAL) and a 12 year old girl, Hattie, who has special bond with the alien ‘Frank’. The show involves many battles against the aliens that with eventually leads to the shocking truth behind their invasion.
The battle between the aliens and the mecha (the SARG) from the anti-alien force called ‘FUNERAL’ is quite conventional and arguably derivative. Unless it is the first mecha anime you have seen, it is not really exciting anymore. The aliens possess different quality each time they appear like the ability to accumulate heat or ability to rapidly regenerate itself. And the heroes riding mecha always get beaten at first but they eventually figures out the way to defeat the aliens. This pattern of SARG vs. Aliens battles is repeated several times during the first half of the show. When combining this point to the slow-paced and fragmented plot introduction of the earlier episodes, Argento Soma undeniably has a less than promising start.
However, as the anime progresses, numerous brilliant qualities slowly surface and the show somehow gets back on tract with much smoother and less episodic story telling. One of the most distinguish feature of the show is the truth about the origin of the aliens which turns out to be something very personal, very human and very touching (of course, I cannot reveal it lest I spoil everything). Argento Soma also provides mild social and political commentary which mostly focuses on the government and military with their selfishness and destructive nature. Another noteworthy thing about this show is its well calculated ending. The climatic sequence of the show does not feel rush and it even turn the final episode into an epilogue which is really impressive.
Ryu Soma is the most prominent and most interesting character because he is not the typical hero we usually see in mecha anime. He is the hero with hidden agenda and the only reason he joins the FUNERAL is hatred and vengeance toward the alien ‘Frank’ who, as Ryu believes, is responsible for his lover’s death. He is sometimes a little delusional and mistaking Hattie for his diseased girl friend Maki. As he becomes one of FUNERAL member, he gets to know new friends and he unintentionally helps them fight against alien attacks. Since Frank is also considered another powerful weapon for defeating aliens, there are several times that Ryu Soma has to work alongside with his ultimate enemy. Later in the series, Frank gradually develops the ability to speak which is a sign showing that he is not just a war machine but a living soul. As the result of all these changes and new discoveries, Ryu’s character consistently develops and his mind, already disturbed, is even more confused and full of turmoil. The only flaw I notice about Ryu’s character is how the anime concludes it. In the final part of the show, the anime spends most of its time on wrapping up the story about the origin of the aliens and seems to forget that Ryu Soma is also there. So all I saw was Ryu crying and sobbing and making confession to his comrades and everything was solved. I was expecting more decisive, more tragic ending for him.
Hattie is also another main character of the show. She is a survivor from alien attack that kills her whole family and as a result, she suffers from post traumatic mental disorder. She possesses the ability to communicate with Frank which makes her an essential part of the FUNERAL force. I am somewhat disappointed by her character because despite so much potential for character development, during the course of the show, Hattie is nothing but whinny, ignorant girl who cries ‘Mr. elf! Mr. elf!’ every time Frank gets into trouble.
The animation quality is very good with detailed and smooth movements of both characters and machines. The original soundtrack sounds generally sad and lonely which fits well with the anime’s tone. Ultimately, Argento Soma is a brilliant anime. Although it has several flaws, it has many creative ideas and interesting features that makes it stands out in this world full of mecha vs. aliens animes.
Title: Argento Soma
Genre: sci-fi, mecha, action, drama, military
Released date: 6 October 2000 – 22 March 2001
Director: Kazuyoshi Katayama
Animated by: Studio Sunrise