In a futuristic city, a barrier of multi-coloured light know as the ‘aurora shell’ hangs constantly overhead. Twelve years ago in this city, a terrible disaster known as the ‘blast fall’ left hundreds of citizens maimed and disfigured. But life goes on. The most gravely injured of the blast fall survivors are surgically repaired with a high-tech prosthetic technology called ’resemble’, which enables them to lead normal lives alongside their all-natural neighbours.
One of this city’s survivors is Roy Revant,a man who has seen hard times. Roy’s wife died before the blast fall, and his daughter went missing immediately in its wake. Working now as a bounty hunter, tracking down resemble-equipped criminals, Roy meanders through his life, a shell of the man he used to be. Until he encounters Solty, that is, a mysterious green-haired girl with no memories of her previous life.
Becoming attached to Roy, and watched by the operatives of the RUC, an authoritarian organisation presiding over the city, Solty is about to become the lynchpin in some momentous, only-in-anime type events. Buckle your seatbelts…
Part of a joint venture between Gonzo and AIC, and brought us by TV Asahi, Solty Rei certainly appears to have some impressive clout behind it in the production stakes. Slot the first disc in your player, and it’s immediately obvious that the show is competently put together aesthetically, at least. I’ve never been a huge fan of the AIC animation style, but the marriage with Gonzo has delivered a good-looking show. It’s colourful, lively, and bouncy to behold – terms that are overused to describe anime visuals, perhaps, but in this case, they fit. There are some nifty design chops on show too – including a handful of oh-so Knight Sabers-y powered suits. And check it out: Kenichi Sonoda’s partly responsible!
The Funimation dub is a strong and classy effort, with some interesting casting choices. Standout performances come from Luci Christian, who reprises her trademark ‘spunky brat sidekick’ routine with gusto, and Jason Liebrecht, who puts in a great turn as Ashley Links, the ambitious director of operations whose aims cause so much trouble as the story progresses. The ever-ubiquitous Chris Patton shows up in side-character role as Yuto, a young techno-geek with a somewhat unhealthy interest in Solty, a role which makes good use of his comic skills. But the standout performance for me comes from Markus Lloyd as Joseph, an old man Solty encounters on her travels, who proves very important as the story develops. Lloyd’s a great voice actor, and he plays his role with great conviction. Performances are very good across the board, which elevates the quality of the storytelling quite a bit.
This is a good thing, because, while Solty Rei is a long way from being the worst written anime I’ve encountered, it’s also no masterpiece.
Shuzilow.HA’s writing on the show is, unfortunately, more than a little ham-fisted. The character writing feels misjudged in places, the leads occasionally acting in ways that are unsympathetic or bonehead stupid. Roy, for example, is obviously a broken man after losing his wife and daughter in the blast fall. But he spends a good deal of the first half of the show moping, growling, and being incredibly unpleasant to Solty, which made me wonder if I was supposed to warm to him or not. It’s a major credit to Christopher Sabat, who voices Roy, that this didn’t feel like an even bigger problem. Likewise there’s Rose, a thief with noble intentions, who becomes a vitally important character later on, but undergoes an alarming change of attitude as the series develops. Watch the show and you’ll see what I mean – it’s pretty hard to take.
In fact, there are points where it all gets downright ridiculous. Witness, for example, the scene where Solty battles a heavily armed opponent in mid air, in front of a gigantic floating weapons platform about to level the city, and begins to ramble about… cooking for her friends? It’s one of a handful of incidences where something is pretty obviously lost in translation, and the absurdity these moments contribute to the show is quite jarring.
But perhaps the most striking thing about Solty Rei is how utterly formulaic it feels. It could be re-titled ‘Your Generic Anime Show’ without too much fear of exaggeration. Post apocalyptic setting? Check. Tormented male lead? Check. Robots? Check. Young women with superhuman abilities? Check. There’s nothing here that you won’t find in a dozen other shows – apart from, perhaps, some of the most ineptly handled plot twists and developments I’ve seen in some time.
Yes indeed, Solty Rei’s hallmark seems to be the way that significant, important events come almost out of nowhere. There are set-ups in place for some of them, but the show is slow to reveal answers to the mysteries that it puts in place, and quick about adding brand new plot wrinkles without nearly enough exposition or sense of gravity. Given the escalating sense of improbability surrounding these twists, and the erratic character arcs, some considerable suspension of disbelief is required.
So this is all making Solty Rei out to be a bit of a stinker, right?
Well, actually… no!
The crazy thing about this series is, for all the parts of it that don’t work or sit together awkwardly, it’s actually quite watchable. For the most part, it’s pretty undemanding, and the colourful, easy-on-the-eye qualities of the show make it quite easy to take in. In spite of the frequently jarring story developments, the overwhelming sense that it’s all been done before, and – it has to be said – an incredibly manipulative and contrived finale, there’s something about the show that draws you in.
Maybe it’s the ensemble cast, who are just interesting enough to keep things afloat. Maybe it’s the fact that those random plot twists keep things from getting too predictable, or the fact that, as creaky as the show is in places, it’s played with a certain sense of conviction.
Whatever the reason, as by-the-numbers and deeply flawed as the series is, it’s worth a punt. Settle in front of the TV with a bowl of snacks and something fun to drink, and you’re probably in the ideal territory to enjoy what’s on offer. Accept that it’s bunk, and it becomes instantly more enjoyable and easier to go along with. Just don’t expect it to leave a deep impression.
It’s one of those shows that feels like I should like it a lot less than I do, but… heck. File it under ‘guilty pleasure’. A solid seven.