Review: “No. 6″ [Anime]

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by Marlan M., staff editor, Inside AX – Anime Expo

I went into this series not knowing what to expect and it blew me away. It has a lot going for it – strong characters, a great, complex  story, and allusions to our own world’s checkered past. It may get a little weird going towards the end of its eleven episode run, but even at its worst, it’s still pretty darn good.

No. 6, which the series is named after, is the sixth of six city-states created after a nearly world-ending war. Think of it like the Districts in the Hunger Games, except on a global scale, and they’re all treated as separate nations without a single Capitol controlling the whole shebang.

In the beginning of the series, No. 6 looks pretty normal, if not utopic. It’s as if the all the “nice parts of town” in the world were placed in one spot and – most important – everyone seems happy. In the schools, kids seem to learn at an advanced rate — 12 year old Shion and Safu talk about brain patterns, hormonal reactions, and the economy. It’s through Shion’s naive eyes that we see No. 6, and as his eyes are opened to the city-state’s truths, so are the viewers’.

Shion’s eyes would have remained blind to No. 6′s many atrocities if not for Nezumi (“Rat”), a (presumably) 12 year old escaped convict that Shion, in all his naivete and kindness, decides to help out. Thanks to Shion, Nezumi makes a clean escape. Unfortunately, the authorities figure out it was Shion who helped Nezumi out, and have him and his mom transferred to a slightly less savory part of town and kick him out of his special school.

Four years later, Shion works for the government, managing parks. One day, he discovers a strange dead body in one of the parks, and learns its not the first mysterious dead body to pop up. Shion questions why such a strange case of death didn’t make the news, and is carted away by the police for his insubordination (but they say it’s because he’s a “murder suspect”). Much like the London of 1984, No. 6 has ears and eyes everywhere. Nezumi rescues Shion from this corrupt police-state, and the two slowly begin to unravel the mystery behind the mysterious deaths, as well as the strange, sad history of No. 6, and the truth of what goes on behind the closed doors of the Correctional Institute.

What No. 6 does well it does really well. The characters are very well defined, and change and grow through all 11 episodes. And even if it may not be on purpose, there’s a lot that point to the story in some ways being an allegory of today’s economic situation — there’s a lot of talk about the elite vs everyone else.

It also has a lot to say about the “real” world and the “manufactured” world. No. 6 is a place that’s completely manufactured and fake, but most of the populace doesn’t realize it. When Shion leaves the walls of No. 6, he finds out what the “real” world is like and everything that’s been hidden from him by the upper class in No. 6. A lot of the time, the dialogue’s very on-the-nose, but it’s still really interesting to watch the interactions between naive and fortunate Shion and the outcasted Nezumi.

And speaking of Shion and Nezumi, their relation borders very much on the shounen-ai, so if even the slightest amount of that stuff makes you cringe, you may want to stay away. That being said, however, I went into this series knowing almost nothing about it, but apparently there’s some debate as to whether this anime should be classified as shounen-ai or not. Personally, I don’t think it matters. Sure, they’re two guys and they definitely have a lot of chemistry, but the fact that they’re both guys neither adds to nor detracts from the story.

Actually, I take that back. It adds to it. This story being what it is, I was happy to see it pushing a boundary that may make people feel uncomfortable. Besides, Nezumi and Shion’s relationship blossomed more naturally than I can say for most anime series that I’ve watched, and I found myself rooting for them for most of the show.

As much as I love this series, there’s one thing that I just couldn’t get behind. The world is introduced as being scientific and grounded. About two thirds of the way through the series, fantasy elements are introduced and they feel out of place. For a while, they even detract from the story and feel like an easy way out of a hole the writers have written themselves into. Once the story gets to the end, well, it’s hard to say if the fantasy elements really pay off or not. In some ways, you can see what they were going for, but in others, it still feels lazy.

Finally, I can’t write a review of this series without talking about the fantastic opening sequence. There’s a lot of cool openings out there, but not all of them encompass the theme, tone, or characters of the series as well as the opening of No. 6 does. As Sion walks across the screen, flashing memories of his childhood become a mosaic that becomes him. Same thing happens with Nezumi, showing that – up to that point – their memories make them who they are.  When the two meet face-to-face, the mosaic is blown away. Being together changes them, and all that’s come before is no longer the sum of their parts. There’s a few more cool things in the opening that tell you about the story, but talking about those would be giving too much away.

No. 6 is science fiction the way it’s meant to be – boundary pushing, relative to the human condition, and completely spellbinding. You can pick up the series on Blu-Ray and on DVD from Sentai Filmworks, or watch it streaming on Crunchyroll and Hulu.

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