I was right when I said this show had effectively finished its major plotlines before this episode. This week we had a whole new baddie, a whole new struggle, and whole new load of ways to approach this series’ strengths and weaknesses.
One of the most important factors contributing to this episode’s success has to be the series’ attempts at lulling us into a false sense of security. I’ve written before on how Maeda sometimes reduces immediate satisfaction for a more long-term effect, and many elements of this series now seem a little more justified in how they support this final conflict. Nao’s small-scale operations left us with little worries over how other countries might get involved; Shun’s moderated approach to everything made the moment it broke in front of Kumagami much more impactful; the relatively low level of violence in the series, and the sense of the scientists being bested by Time Leap and Yuu now possessing that ability, made it seem like little danger could affect our cast. That last one made the biggest contribution. I’ll hold my hands up and say that I never would have expected them to run a sword through his eye, mainly because I never expected to see a character so violently inclined and experienced at using a sword in the first place.
It’s easy to criticise the show for ‘poorly’ introducing a bunch of new protagonists, but at least it added more to the sense of our power-users having become too comfortable with just immediate threats. Still, I can’t agree more with how Zephyr on RandomC points out flaws in their ‘plan’ that they’d apparently been brewing for a long time. The bigger issue in the episode though, for me, was the use of Furuki’s family as a threat against our heroes. Maybe it made sense, being in Yuu’s shoes, since Yuu hardly knew anything about them either, and a family is a family no matter how much you know the guy who cares about them. But it felt like pure material to drive the plot without emotional weight. Such a long-running issue in the syndicate would have seemed more significant had we not gotten to know the syndicate in only the last few episodes.
Other thoughts I had this week were around a growing theme of institutionalization. After Yuu abused the normal institution of school, he was sent to an institution for protecting ability-users, before discovering that he’d actually been in the evil scientists’ research institution in a previous timeline. Now he’s stuck in a whole new research institution, albeit one that marries the protection of the school with the scientific pursuits of the place the syndicate got people away from. But Yuu clearly didn’t belong there – though Shun was always thinking of Kumagami, Yuu’s mind was on Nao. Ayumi settled in almost immediately, but Yuu, in being taken to the new baddies by Furuki, wasn’t fighting for the syndicate. It was a joy to see a protagonist with the weight of everyone on his shoulders – perhaps symbolised by him holding all their powers – say ‘I don’t want to be the hero!’ and only settle on fighting in the end if it was for one individual.
As for the revelation of the meaning of ‘Charlotte’, it feels pretty insignificant. It gives an impetus to why our new conflict – stopping powers from ever happening again – should matter, but it otherwise affects nothing else of our experience watching this show other than a few memories of Ayumi talking about comets in earlier episodes. The allusion to witch-hunting was fun, but gave the task this syndicate has set itself on a light-hearted edge that echoed the lack of severity of last week’s conflicts. I’d have felt more concerned about the foreigners’ motives had I been given the impression that ours heroes’ own were something to invest my support in. As it stands, the whole bigger picture of the powers remains to feel as distant from me as it must be from Yuu; perhaps I’ve been connecting to him a little more through it, but it’s limited the scope of discussion and excitement for this series’ underlying issues.
It’s worth mentioning how many people were missing this week and all the things we didn’t see or that didn’t happen. Yusarin and Takajou’s comedy was rightly absent, while one can wonder if Sala Shane will make another appearance. Yuu hasn’t yet realised that he hasn’t saved Nao’s brother again, and neither did he bother to take Mr Walks-Through-Walls’ ability – or if he did, he neglected to use it – in order to reach Nao in the basement towards which he was directed. We also saw Nao in her underwear, which suggests a disgusting possibility of rape. Seeing her unclothed state alongside how we see Kumagami’s after he’s had his teeth and nails removed, it’s not that far a stretch. If such a terrible thing really did happen, we can safely say that Charlotte will have handled it a lot better than Sword Art Online.
But despite all this episode’s successes and how the series’ earlier sense of ease helped, I can’t shake the feeling that Maeda’s style is this show hasn’t been accomplished much. Maeda’s suddenly-way-more-intense-than-before endings have a penchant for calling back to the past and uncovering new meanings and significances, as in Clannad and Angel Beats!, making the whole series feel more weighty with meaning as a whole. Charlotte’s call-backs are only to rough character traits and developments – Yuu recalling his days as a cheater and how it felt getting to know Nao, for instance – without contributing anything new to what we watched before. Short-term satisfaction hasn’t contributed to long-term fulfilment; instead, the slow pace, repetitive characters and lack of developmental drama have only been in order to give us a different kind of short-term pleasure later on. Yuu and Shun had their moments this week, but it’s the kind of emotional impact I felt in PlaMemo. Simple character relationships manipulated for simple reactions to tragic events. Powerful in the moment, but has anything left a lasting impression?
Charlotte was said to be the successor to Angel Beats!, building on its flaws. Yet, it seems to suffer even more from issues that Maeda’s prior work used for greater depth and success. Most episodes have been enjoyable to watch, but Maeda’s work is meant to impact people far beyond the credits. I’m simply not finding much to appreciate beyond the surface of this show, and that’s strange coming from a guy who often criticises other people for not looking beneath what they see on screen. What I see underneath this show are only components that inform me more of its mediocrity; aspects of design that take away more than they add.
I wonder if people will notice that the cast in Charlotte is now even bigger than AB!’s, and with even less development. How this show will end in a way that feels significant to every one of its strands of character and theme, I have no idea. I hardly even know who many of its characters are.