Argento Soma: anime review- across the stars, a journey home

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Review: One of the reasons I love anime so much is that they always give me surprises. When a person gets trapped in a building which is falling apart, he gets severely injured and it’s only natural that his face is scarred. What’s unnatural is that in Argento Soma, Lt. Ryu Soma suffers from such injury. But instead of destroying half his face, the injury leaves him with a scar that makes him looks much better than before. No wonder he refuses plastic surgery!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
Rating: B+

Facts
Title: Argento Soma
Genre: sci-fi, mecha, action, drama, military
Released date: 6 October 2000 – 22 March 2001
Episode: 26
Director: Kazuyoshi Katayama
Animated by: Studio Sunrise

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9 responses to “Argento Soma: anime review- across the stars, a journey home

  1. That girl looks like a sister of Quatre from Gundam Wing :P

    I have not seen this anime, but might check it out because Kikuko is in it, and because you say, “Argento Soma is a brilliant anime,” which is quite a strong statement :)

    • You flattered me!
      It has a lot to do with my personal taste, so there’s really no guarantee that it will work for everyone. But what I can assure you is that this anime has a lot to offer and definitely worth a try.

  2. Whoa whoa whoa, wait a sec, has anyone ever commented that there’s a striking resemblance between this and Evangelion? I mean,

    -aliens descend periodically to terrorize mankind = Angels
    -they converge at one point = Terminal Dogma
    -anti-alien force = Nerv
    -special bond with alien = Kaoru
    -the SARG = Evas
    -‘The aliens possess different quality each time they appear’
    -‘The heroes riding mecha always get beaten at first but they eventually figures out the way to defeat the aliens’ (aside from that spider Angel :p)
    -‘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’

    All that really just… struck me in the face as being very Evangelion :/ Of course, a series could be very derivative and still do its stuff right, I’m not discounting that this is as good as you say it is, but I couldn’t help but notice some similarities.
    An accident that leaves you sexier is kind of really awesome…

    • Though I didn’t feel that way when watching the show, what you point out is actually true. Nevertheless, it’s just the structural parts and the setting; the presence of aliens, SARG, FUNERAL, the pilgrimage point and stuffs… not the characters. After giving a thought into this, the characters is main thing that separate this anime from Evangelion. Argento Soma is a tale of vengeance and a story of a man trying to get home. It’s very personal and has nothing to do with large scale agenda like in Evangelion.

      Thanks for your very thought-provoking comment!

    • I hate to burst your bubble, but a lot of the similarities you mentioned are present in many sci fi animes (namely mecha) and science fiction in general.

      “aliens descend periodically to terrorize mankind = Angels”
      They *have* to be influenced by the Angels? Evangelion didn’t quite come up with this concept themselves.
      For a start, it’s one of the main points of Kaiju series and animes. Also, if you’re going to have a series where alien beings attack, there aren’t many alternatives.
      Others would be constant siege, random frequency, or so infrequent the show wouldn’t be much of a mecha series (if we didn’t actually see the mechs fight).

      “they converge at one point = Terminal Dogma”
      Again, I don’t see why this *has* to be derived directly form Evangelion. It’s certainly a pretty vague similarity.
      The invaders are coming to earth for a specific reason and for a specific thing and it happens to be in one place. It’s not like there’s Adam down there or anything.

      “anti-alien force = Nerv”
      Are you saying that every specialist anti-alien/non-human combat force is essentially copied from Nerv?

      “special bond with alien = Kaoru”
      Unlike Hattie and her interaction with the aliens (really, just one in particular), Kaoru does not have a bond with the Angels. He is one. He is also a short-lived antagonist and more of a plot device because of the duration of his role. Hattie is a developed protagonist with a completely different role.

      “the SARG = Evas”
      The SARGs are Eva rip-0ffs as they combat the aliens? You may as well have said that Aesti’s from Nadesico are also Eva rip-offs, or the A.S. Suits from Blue Gender, etc.

      “’The aliens possess different quality each time they appear’
      As opposed to them being exactly the same each time?

      “’The heroes riding mecha always get beaten at first but they eventually figures out the way to defeat the aliens’ (aside from that spider Angel :p)”

      I actually have to admit that for anti-alien specialized forces tech, the SARGs were pretty inefficient when dealing with the invaders which did indeed feel a little EVA-ish once or twice. They should have at least beaten a few waves of them effectively near the start of the series.

      “’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’”

      I actually don’t remember how this can be said about the Angels in Evangelion.
      The last thing I’d like to say is that despite my tone, I’m not looking for a fight. I’m actually also an Evangelion fan but it really irks me when some fans of it call rip-off at just about any other mecha show (but there are some where I’d whole-heartedly agree: Rahxephon, Fafnir in the Azure, etc.)
      I can see that this show gets some influence from NGE, but it’s nowhere near being a rip-off.

  3. I kind of skimmed the review (just in case there are spoilers). But I’m interested enough to add it to my “To Watch” list. But that list is so long I’m not making any promises I’ll get to see it any time soon.

    • Well, I know exactly how you feel. Considering your situation, this anime may not be a must watch. According to my rating standard, only anime rated A or A+ are ‘must watch’. B+ is just highly recommended ^_^

  4. Ryu Soma, take a look at his face.
    What does the grey haired older side of his face resemble?
    FUNERAL Commander Lana Ines.

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