When I learned that Hiro Mashima’s next project after Fairy Tail was going to be a science fiction series, I was intrigued to see where this was going. When I learned it was going in more of a science-fantasy direction, I wasn’t exactly surprised, considering his track record. However, when I finally watched the first season of the anime adaptation of this project, Edens Zero, on Netflix, I was absolutely surprised by just how dark the show is. There will be some spoilers for the show below the cut, mainly for early episodes.
The show follows Shiki Granbell, a young man who was the only human on a theme park planet otherwise inhabited by robots. He ends up leaving the planet with a “B-Tuber” (off-brand YouTuber) named Rebecca (along with her robot cat companion Happy) after ultimately being driven off the planet by the inhabitants, ostensibly because they were anti-human, but actually because they were about to all breakdown and they wanted to get him with other humans, rather than him being left alone on an entire world with no hope of rescue.
Together they end up going on a variety of adventures, picking up several more companions along the way – inventor Weisz Steiner (along with the android E.M. Pino), and samurai Homura Kougetsu – leading up to (at the end of the first half of the series) Shiki getting his inheritance from his adoptive father (the “Demon Lord”) – the ship Edens Zero, with the second half of the series being based around getting the rest of the ship’s crew together.
First off, and there’s no tap-dancing around this, this show is considerably darker than Fairy Tail. We have horrific levels of cruelty shown to fully sentient robots and androids. There’s a story arc where a bunch of attractive B-Tubers (including Rebecca) are kidnapped and forcibly stripped naked, with the intent of having them turned to stone statues in what is very clearly shown to be a painful process, and characters in an arc in the second half of the series (one male and one female) are threatened with strongly implied sexual violence. While this occasionally came up in Fairy Tail, it never felt as prevalent as it does here. Other storylines have very callous murder of bystanders and oppressed populations by the antagonists, including threatening to brutalize and kill children or deceiving characters into becoming accessories to genocide.
It almost feels like Hiro looked at how Dio Brando became something of a meme after the anime adaptation of the Phantom Blood arc of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and determined that he’d have to do something to one-up Araki’s method of having villains kill or threaten animals to make them unsympathetic because apparently, it wasn’t working anymore.
The other thing that needs to be brought up – if it didn’t become clear by my bringing up Happy earlier, is that Hiro has decided to do his own version of Osamu Tezuka’s Star System. By way of explanation – throughout Tezuka’s works, he would tweak designs of existing characters and re-use them in other works, like a director recasting an actor he works well with and giving them different makeup and a costume. It’s a similar way here – not only with Happy, but Rebecca having a marked similarity to Lucy, Shiki having similarities to Natsu, and one of the later crew members of the Edens Zero having a design similar to Wendy Marvell, just to name a few. I don’t have a problem with (as someone who enjoys Tezuka’s work), but some people might find this very distracting.
All of this, combined with some of the customary Mashima fanservice, can lead to a real sense of tonal whiplash. In one episode the crew are saving B-Tubers from being stripped naked and horrifically (really, it is not played for sexy) turned to stone. 3-4 episodes later they’re trying to find the perfect bunny-girl outfit for Homura using the ship’s costume-making system. Plus there’s a massive bath onboard the Edens Zero for the women of the crew only (at least as far as these few episodes are concerned), just to make sure you get your fair share of nude scenes there.
On top of all of this is the level of characterization. Shiki absolutely has Natsu’s level of no-boundaries hot-blooded earnest stupidity. Homura has a habit of having no internal voice, leading to lots of moments where she literally says out loud the thing she either shouldn’t say out loud, or she’d be really embarrassed to say out loud. Weisz is an obnoxious horndog.
That said, the action for the show is very well done, with some incredibly inventive fight scenes. In particular, the concept of the Ether Gear – this series form of magical powers – and how those are implemented allows for some really inventive combinations. Shiki’s involves gravity manipulation, which is used for really clever effects across all of the fights in this series. The other characters are a bit more of a mixed bag – we don’t really get dedicated fights for each of the crew members where they can really show their stuff until the final arc of the series, but when we get it works incredibly well and is a solid showcase with some pretty decent animation.
I do have a very real sense that the next season of the series may be where this hits the ground running, assuming the production doesn’t have difficultly finding its footing after the unfortunate death of this series’ director prior to the airing of the last episode of the season. Currently Edens Zero is available to stream on Netflix. The manga is also coming out in English and is available on RightStuf and on Amazon, with the chapters being simulpubed on Azuki. Buying anything through the RightStuf and Amazon links helps to support the site.
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