Yuu thinks his elitist, sociopathic view of life will help him get all the grades – and the girl – thanks to his ability to possess people for five seconds at a time, but it isn’t long before he’s called out for cheating his way to the top by a pair of similarly super-powered students. Now he has to bid farewell to the world he’s mistreated and accept his new life as one of the many other gifted students at Hoshinoumi Academy.
The part of Yuu I immediately connected to was his separation from the world around him. Here’s a guy approaching life as if it was a visual novel, distantly in control in order to get the Best Girl and have everything else go smoothly, playing with people for his pleasure, willing to put anything in danger to get what he wants out of the experience.It helps a tonne that Key knows that’s its doing with all its comedy, preventing this character dynamic from being depressing and instead making it a joy to follow. But regardless of the light-hearted tone to his megalomaniacal persona, he operates a direct contrast to most male Key protagonists, and gets suitably rejected by the typical slice-of-life drama he’s abused for so long.
Yumi served well as a symbol of the life he couldn’t take with him – as he ran away from Takajou, she couldn’t run with him, and nor could she accept his lack of compromise at the end. Through the absoluteness of throwing Yuu into a new world, it was great to see a side character get a sense of complete purpose in the story. Yumi’s unsmiling expression as she dumped him was the perfect nail in his coffin to his ambitions of leading the life that he’d previously been in full control over. That scene (it’s circularity of setting perfectly chosen), and the forced retake of the exam, were two moments where I was right in his shoes, feeling the dread and tension and loss of status and identity. Even though I hardly agreed with his worldview, i was completely on board with his aspirations until his boat was thoroughly rocked. For Charlotte to so immediately immerse me its protagonist’s struggle, I’m really impressed.
Likewise, ending with a dream so close to his family and the mystery surrounding it, in contrast to starting so alone in a street full of grey, meaningless people, really gets my hopes up for seeing him face challenges that get right into his heart. It’ll be a joy to see his narcissistic personality get broken down from outside and from within, as it’s already a guard he lowers for his adorable sister, Ayumi.
It wouldn’t have been right to see only one side of Yuu, so Ayumi was there to bring out the complexities of his character while being exciting and endearing in her own right. Her obsession with the stars is something later episodes will certainly explore, but for now her sweetness is one of the show’s greatest assets, showing many aspects of how Yuu responds to his pre-pubescent youth in the rice omelettes she, I can assume, will inevitably make for him as long as she has arms. The cute factor was miles above the margin for an episode which was in the same space exciting, thought-provoking and effective as a great introduction for the show’s main characters and wider themes. The pubescent powers, which all have their own limiting kinks, that already suggest themselves as manifestations of these characters’ inner troubles. Is Takajou excelling in life but never getting where he wants to go? Is Tomori invisible to the one person she ‘targets’? And what does Yuu’s dad have to do with him turning everyone into his slaves? And how will Ayumi being excluded from having powers affect and inform all of this?
Tomori didn’t stand out too much for me in this introduction, but that makes sense – her ability is invisibility, after all. She’s striking when she suddenly appears on-screen, literally striking when you get on her bad side, but otherwise she’s the kind of calm, committed, ridiculously attentive-to-detail character I’m looking forward to see as a main obstacle to Yuu leading a comfortable life, and also as one of the first-class carriages of the inevitable feels train. Takajou was also introduced impressively, his style and quirks reminiscent of Angel Beats!’s! shirtless side character.
As for the production of the show, Key’s mainstay is always going to be character design, and there’s nothing to fault here. Yet what stood out most for me was the cinematography, upping the action and drama with perfect shots. Having us look down on Yuu’s schoolmates with him fully communicated his idea of status, while having us look up at Yumi as he was dumped made me feel in my gut how much he’d lost. But of all the cinematic tricks, that moment of Takajou teleporting into Yuu, sending him sky-high before he brought him down to earth, figuratively and literally, was just breathtaking to be a part of.
It feels great that we haven’t caught a glimpse of the new school yet – Maeda knows how to give us a week of agonizing like Yuu is over his immediate future. I so desperately want to know where he’s going that I’ll have shrugged off the mundanely gorgeous aesthetic of his old school by next week, as he must himself. Adding to that, having him move into a new home worked with my overall feeling that I too was moving into something bigger and grander. I shared Ayumi’s excitement at wanting to help the movers because I wanted everything settled faster. It meant that the slower pace with which the episode ended was the same kind of fantastic conflict between audience desire and pacing that I’ve always loved Maeda for, making us feel the complexity of feeling that Yuu must have felt himself as this fantastic opening episode came to an end.
All in the background of this was Yusarin, the pop sensation, who will undoubtedly – I’d put money on it if I could – be one of the misusers of pubescent gifts that Tomori was talking about, given that her cheesy pop-star fame is already mildly revolting to witness. In an episode where every character revealed more than one dimension, having Ayumi reflect how one-dimensional Yusa appeared to be can only be a death flag for her career if she is indeed taking advantage of her powers for fame and fortune. It would be unfair if Yuu was the only person pulled off their pubescently-powered pedestal.
Aside from making me use the word ‘pubescent’ too much, Charlotte’s first episode has assured me that I’ll have something to look forward to every Saturday. Key not only look like they’re appealing to long fans of their craft, but also seem to be opening up to wider audiences, seamlessly blending the establishment of their plot and premise with pivotal moments of action and drama that feel like they belong at the end of an arc rather than the beginning of one of the most anticipated series this summer.
However long Yuu’s normal, narcissistic life had gone on for, Charlotte marks its end. He has no subtle introduction to the new status quo viewers will be dying to explore, and if this beginning has gone out on a bang, the series certainly won’t end without leaving a lot of emotional destruction in its wake.
I know you, Maeda. I know you well enough.