Studio TROYCA were previously known for the really rather wonderful Season 1 of Aldnoah.Zero. And also Season 2, I suppose. One of the most notable elements of Aldnoah was its turning upside down of an established premise to see a mecha drama from the eyes of an underprepared, weak faction that stood no chance against all-powerful invaders. Uniting excellent writing, stupendous music and a heartfelt narrative about the horrors of war, the studio made a name for themselves pretty damn quickly.
And then they went and did it again. Re:CREATORS is my favourite anime of all time.
This article will contain spoilers for the show.
Art and the Artist
There’s no two ways about it; Re:CREATORS is gorgeous. It might be one of the best-looking shows I’ve ever had the privilege of watching – even shows like Fate don’t achieve the marriage of beautifully popping visuals and smooth motion we have here. TROYCA have hit it home with this one.
To say nothing of the music – Hiroyuki Sawano, fresh off Attack on Titan and Kill la Kill, gives his all with a pounding soundtrack that is among the most memorable and well-crafted in recent memory.
The title sequence is all you need to understand this:
Our show begins with Sota, a young lad who loves watching anime, reading manga…consuming fiction in general, we might say. He’s enjoying the latest episode of his favourite show, with its heroine Selesia fighting bad guys in a big mech. Sounds like my sort of show! Then, without warning, a bizarre new character appears in the show. She’s dressed from head to toe in an elaborate military uniform. Dozens of sabers fly around her at breakneck speed. A smirk cracks across her face.
She produces a World War 2-era LMG in one hand, grabs another saber, and plays the gun like a violin. Sparks fly as reality seems to spasm and distort, and – before Sota can process what’s even happening – Selesia and this strange new character find themselves battling in the real world.
Ah. Now this sounds like my sort of show!
It quickly transpires that Altair, this Military Uniform Princess, is invading fictional worlds and pulling characters from them. A helpful NPC from a video game. A magical girl from a children’s cartoon. A grizzled, hard-boiled detective with a score to settle. All are free to roam the world, and look for those who brought life to their worlds, the literal authors of their happiness and their pain.
If these Creations can meet with their Creators, and convince them to make better worlds for them, perhaps their fortunes can change. Perhaps their lives can be better now. But how is this even happening? Are the Military Uniform Princess’s motivations as noble as she makes them seem? And just who is she, anyway?
The show’s first few episodes sent me into an absolutely rapturous frenzy of enjoyment. Seriously, ask my buddies – I was jumping up and down on the sofa and roaring with delight when the next good thing happened. This show wears its metatextuality on its sleeve, asking – and doing its best to answer – almost every question that arises from this premise. This is literary analysis in motion, people – and it’s awesome!
Tell me, what happens when a character who has spent every moment of their life acting under rigorous, authored instruction without knowing it is suddenly free of that? What would you say to someone who had literally planned every moment of your life? The death of all your loved ones, the suffering you feel within your heart – all of it, written…and not for any higher purpose. To tell a story!
And what would happen if a magical girl’s glitter powers were to be used in the real world? That question too. The answer’s explosions.
Even something as simple as how the tone of a show doesn’t translate to the real world properly – has massive ramifications on how things in this show work. The magical girl character, Mamika, sees things only in terms of black and white morality. There are good guys, and there are bad guys. That’s how her show worked – her life worked – so why isn’t it the same here? Is resorting to cartoonish violence at the first sign of disagreement really the right thing to do in a grown-up situation?
Chapter and Verse
That’s a lot of questions, I know, I know. But Re: CREATORS doesn’t stop asking them even as more and more Creations start spilling into the world. During a heated battle, Selesia’s Creator tweets an image of her in a powered-up form – the public adoration actually imprints that onto Selesia and she is able to drive off her attackers for a short time. Like Orks believing that red things go faster, it becomes apparent that audience investment in a story plays a key role in the nature of the characters. All art is, as they say, political!
Mamika overhears Altair talking about Sota and someone called Setsuna. She goes to appeal to Altair, believing that all this can be worked out. Altair burns with fury and suffering, but surely her soul can be saved, too? Or the soul of Setsu-
With this – the emotional climax of the first act of the story – Re: CREATORS solidifies itself as a powerhouse of a story that isn’t afraid to pull punches.
It turns out that Setsuna is Altair’s creator, and Altair herself is effectively Setsuna’s own original character, based off other media she has consumed. When she was bashed left and right online for plagarism, Sota did nothing to help her for fear of getting involved – though in reality he was happy that she was being attacked since he was jealous of her talent and success.
Setsuna, overwhelmed by not only the assault but also her friend’s abandonment, threw herself in front of a train. Sota deleted all mention of her from his computer and phone, and did his best to forget about her. Our hero.
However, Altair was a character without a story, and so became a Creation unburdened by the shackles of writing. Anyone could write a story about her, and it would be just as canon as anything else written about her. And so, like any original character, she became massively, infinitely powerful. Determined to avenge her Creator, her goal is simple – collapse all of reality as we know it through the destruction of the boundaries between it and fiction.
Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast
To reiterate, all of the above is absolutely incredible. The story has genuine emotional power, filled with references, ideas and unique twists that kept me riveted to each new episode. Sota’s reveal as a person with deep-rooted issues goes a way – but not a long way – towards humanising him as anything other than a generic anime protagonist.
Problems start to arise when the metatextuality of the show starts to interfere with its actual operation as a piece of media. Like a stubborn dad refusing to admit they need to turn around, it loses itself in its own labyrinth, and tries to play it off as intentional.
Mamika’s death – as I’ve said, a seriously pivotal moment – is so shocking that not even the show knows quite what to do with it, as she was one of the few Creations outwardly questioning and learning from her new situation – as well as a much-needed bit of comic relief. For the final section of the show, we are introduced to a new magical girl-style character, Hikayu, who tries to be all of what Mamika was while also being objectified by her lecherous Creator.
It…isn’t as good.
However, with all the cards on the table it then becomes necessary for the heroes to actually find a way out of this situation. To defeat Altair and put a stop to her plan.
Unfortunately, the show has absolutely no idea how to resolve this, and the ending of the show feels like the tying of disparate threads into something approaching a neat bow.
A plan is hatched to assemble a cabal of writers whose aim is to literally write their way out of the problem. The aim: create a ‘side story’ in which all the Creations can fight and stop Altair, broadcast on live TV as an ‘anime event’, the aim being to get people watching and – much like Selesia’s power-up – empower the story to actually work through their investment. There’s even a handwave that they’re putting ‘an anime filter’ over the ‘live action’ footage, which I suggest you don’t think about too much.
What follows is a lot of episodes in which Altair effortlessly dispatches almost any attempt to stop her, since – as the villain – she is actually the one garnering the support and is manifesting total bullshit abilities out of thin air. Even a last-ditch effort by Sota to create an impossibly powerful original character of his own doesn’t work, since Altair has grown so far beyond anyone else at this point.
Finally, a dirty trick is employed – the final Creation is Setsuna herself, resurrected in an emotional scene for the ultimate goal of giving Altair what she wants. Whether this is a Creation that just looks and acts like the real Setsuna or is actually the real one is asked about but never truly answered, and Altair takes her into a parallel dimension where the two of them can live at peace.
For a show that hyped itself – and me – up on such a unity of metatextual unity and playing with tropes, it was unfortunate to see Re:CREATORS stumble and get caught up in itself at the end.
But I still love it – as I say, it is my favourite anime of all time. Even with those problems, the heights it achieves for both narrative and mature presentation are absolutely incredible.
You owe it to yourself to watch it.