The most surprising series of Spring 2014 ends pretty much as expected, but that’s not a problem for me.
Gaworare has been an odd series right from the start, and in the final analysis quite a different sort of show than I expected. It a sense it’s as if I bought a ticket for Paris and got off the plane and found myself in London, but ended up liking London a lot (which as it happens, I do). When it comes to my anime I like being surprised, though the evidence suggests I’m in the minority on that – shows that belie their initial impressions tend to end up poorly rated and commercially unsuccessful, a group to which Gaworare is poised to add its name.
There was many phases that Gaworare passed through over the course of 13 episodes – starting out looking like a straight-up harem comedy, then largely taking on the air of a show satirizing harem comedy and LN tropes, and finally ending up as one that played it straight. Straight in the sense of approaching its subject matter with sincerity and not parody, and in the sense of not having much humor altogether. The last three episodes were deadly serious and plot-focused, and for me that isn’t the strength of Gaworare though the steady hand of director Watanabe Ayumu on the tiller certainly made things a lot more coherent and entertaining than they might have been.
The net effect of all that is that the show leaves a somewhat schizophrenic impression – to be honest I’m still not 100% sure what I just watched. I have a pretty good idea of what actually happened in terms of the plot, I’m but not sure what the overall point was. When a series is plays it straight for as long as Gaworare did in the final stages, it’s hard to say that satire was its main purpose (though with the LN still ongoing, I couldn’t say if that’s true of the source material too). I suppose it was simply a comedy with satirical elements rather than a pointed commentary on the omnipresent LN harem genre – and it’s certainly not usual for anime comedies to get more serious in their final episodes.
I’ll say this much – I certainly didn’t expect a premise that ended up owing more to The Matrix than any other source, but that’s what we got. The final ep progressed pretty much as you would have figured going in – Souta’s ever-burgeoning harem follows him into the digital world to help him do battle with Tenshi Takusei, a battle they ultimately win. If there was a twist, maybe it was that Number Zero turned out to be Kagura, the founding Queen of Bladefield – but given that it was widely believed that she was another facet of Nanami anyway, that’s not too far afield (aBladefield?).
If there’s a message to be taken from the end, I think it’s that humanity is worth believing in and goodness will ultimately be rewarded – it’s hard to walk away from the parable-like story of Souta’s accident in the cruise ship in other other direction. I was pretty convinced the man he saved was going to leave him to die, and indeed Souta’s darkest moment came not when he faced death, but when his faith was shaken by his belief that this is what happen. But the man came back, with Souta’s entourage in tow – repaying Souta for the bravery and kindness he’d showed towards him. Souta has been as unfailingly patient and compassionate and just plain good as any anime MC this season, so it’s certainly nice to see him get his happy ending.
As expected the romance side of the story was a very minor part of the conclusion, but if you’re marking the scorebook I think you’d have to say Akane for all intents and purposes became the "official" love interest. Once Nanami’s true relationship to Souta was revealed that was a non-starter – Gaworare just isn’t that sort of show, and she always had more of a "best gal pal" vibe anyway. And there were a running string of hints from both Akane and Souta that they felt that special feeling, leading right up to Souta’s reaction in the finale when Akane says "I love you" to him. They have good chemistry, so I’m good with this – it definitely seems like the most natural direction for the story to go. As to why the Akane of the postscript, who in theory has no idea who Souta is, said "You saved me – again", well… I think this is a science-fiction series that’s still a fantasy at heart, and the only rules it instinctively wants to follow are those of the heart.
Did Gaworare exceed my expectations? Without a doubt, though I do have a very high regard for Watanabe-sensei. There was an initial euphoria at just how appealingly crazy the show was, followed by just a fleeting excitement caused by the hope that it might just shock and prove to be a truly exceptional show. It didn’t do that, but it remained highly enjoyable for most of its run. I’m a bit sad that it didn’t find a way to incorporate humor into the final three episodes, because I still feel that satire and straight-up screwball comedy are the greatest strengths of this series – and I can’t help but think that in the hands of a lesser director the ending might have been a bit of a rushed, arbitrary disaster. But it was a good conclusion – just not, as was so often the case with Gaworare, what I was expecting.
What will stick with me about Gaworare is how expertly it kept its disparate elements in balance. The satire worked because it was at its best razor-sharp and quite ruthless (and let’s be honest, the subject being satirized is deserving of that), but the characters were such likeable examples of their trope that it never felt mean-spirited. And the stark dichotomy of tone between the comedy and the extremely dark moments was really impactful (that contrast, along with comedy, was largely absent in the final arc). Whereas with Gokukoku no Brynhildr the dark and light were always intertwined, with this show they were quite distinct from each other. Gaworare is not, as Midousuji said of Onoda-kun, a "mass-produced model" – it’s a strange show that doesn’t neatly fit into any box, and packed a lot of big laughs and genuinely surprising twists into its thirteen episodes. That’s something that I wish I had the chance to say about more anime than I do, and that makes Gaworare a series well worth appreciating.