「出撃！雑魚小隊！」 (Shutsugeki! Zako Shoutai!)
“Move Out! Small Fry Platoon!”
Two missions already? Slow down, 35th Test Platoon! We hardly know you.
My first impression of this episode, in the opening minute, was, “Now that’s how you do a good-ass mysterious how’d-they-get-here prologue!” Now, maybe it’s because I previewed this show, and was already familiar with the characters, but it had just enough character, little enough technobabble (none), and enough blood to instantly make me wonder how this lovable group of misfits I had read about was going to get here. Unfortunately, that was likely the best part of the episode, because while the rest wasn’t bad, some structural problems are already starting to show.
The Sword Is Mightier Than The Gun—Not
There’s a few things you need to get used to (and suspend your disbelief for) to get any enjoyment out of Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai. First of all is something I like: The sword is not mightier than the gun. Which I like! One of the things that always annoyed me about the GGO arc of Sword Art Online was that we were expected to accept that a sword-wielding Kirito could beat a bunch of gun users. (Though granted, once they had Kirito go full-Jedi, and since the MMO framework let him get shot once in a while, the combat actually worked decently well in the end.) Here they don’t pretend swords are better, as Kusanagi Takeru (Hosoya Yoshimasa) immediately gets derided for his choice of weapon. The only problem is, he’s using one anyway, and they can’t let him just be shot and die in the first episode, as would be reasonable for anyone bringing a sword to a gunfight.
Granted, I understand why the author did this. Guns break all the coolest parts about combat (from a narrative standpoint), whereas melee martial arts retain all the best parts. Take pistol ace Ootori Ouka’s (Ueda Reina) introductory battle. There’s no reason she should have risked getting shot to get into melee range with those goons, especially when she has those stun bullets that probably shouldn’t work quite as well as they do (humans aren’t as easy to cleanly and consistently knock out as fiction would have us believe). And how she took down the heavily armored Dragoon with a pistol beggars the mind. Pinpoint shots at moving weak points while dodging automatic fire? No way. Not unless she has magic herself, which doesn’t sound likely. But that’s part of the price you have to pay to even attempt to enjoy Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai. Improbable gunplay is the name of the game.
Likewise, there’s Takeru’s swordplay. They didn’t go into why he can cut down bullets, but it’s one of those standard SFF reasons that veterans of the genre will immediately realize is total bullshit. So once again, you have to accept these things to even have a shot at enjoying this series. I wouldn’t blame you if you can’t—I know several elements would have set past|Stilts off, even if present|Stilts can roll with it.
Pacing So Fast I Need Dr. Scholl’s
Up to this point, I haven’t said whether I liked the episode. Alas, I can’t give it the swimming endorsement I was hoping I’d be able to give. The culprit is an old friend of ours: Pacing. Having read some of the source, I expected this episode to end after Ootori Ouka’s introductory battle. That would have been a good stopping point. Nope! We got a secondary plot line + another entire mission shoehorned into the first episode. It was dizzyingly fast, and it came at the expense of all the things we love about stories in general: Personality, comedy, tension, fun.
Which is a damn shame! They showed some of Takeru’s, Ouka’s, Saionji Usagi’s (Ookubo Rumi), and Suginami Ikaruga’s (Shiraishi Ryoko) personalities, and they’re great! Quirky, broken, fun, borderline incompetent (except for Ouka). The ingredients in Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai are good. But they glossed over them, cooked them too fast, so we got only a fraction of their flavor, instead of the full succulent depths of their spice. To stretch that metaphor near to the breaking point.
I remember a few commenters on the season preview hoping this would be two-cour, so when it was announced to be one-cour (12 episodes), I was worried this might happen. In this, I hate being right. By the end of the episode, Ouka was just abruptly shouting back story as she and Takeru got into another fight in the middle of a mission. There were signs of greatness here—even the obligatory trip-and-boob-grope was saved from being utter cliché by Takeru falling asleep on her chest. (It was still pretty cliché, but at least they took it a step further.) They’re even willing to show serious carnage, even while the students are shooting improbable stun bullets. But the pace was too fast, man. Just too fast. Slow down! Finishing too quickly is usually disappointing.
Looking Ahead – Please Be Good, Please Be Good, Please Be Good
When I first started previewing this show, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. So now that I’ve seen this episode, which wasn’t as good as I was hoping it would be (and no, I didn’t hype myself into oblivion), I find myself chanting a familiar refrain: Please be good, please be good, please be good! I feel like there’s some good stuff here, but I have an equally strong feeling that the corporate suits having only greenlighted twelve episodes will prevent us from seeing it in its full majesty. As such, it has slid in my shows-Stilts-might-consider-blogging rankings.
On that note, I’d like to do something that’s likely ill-advised. I have a question for y’all: What other show, if any, would you like to see me blog? Now, understand that this is a “One Man, One Vote” kind of democracy, in which I alone am the Man, and I have the Vote. But I’d be interested to hear what you think I should blog. I’ll look forward to comments about that, as well as this episode, in the comments below. Until then, be amazing.
tl;dr: @StiltsOutLoud – The flashforward prologue was nice, but the pacing was so rapid the source’s strength couldn’t shine through #35shoutai 01
- Oh Miki Shinichiro, I love it when you’re in a position of authority and being ridiculous.
- “I’m more into flat chests.” You have to give it to him, he tried. At least he’s aware that he’s trapped in a harem romcom.
My first novel, Wage Slave Rebellion, is available now. (More info—now in paperback!) Sign up for my email list for a FREE sequel novella. Over at stephenwgee.com, the last four posts: The best content is in email, My morning routine, True Ends, and Rejection, the secret place, & fundamentals
ED: 「Calling my Twilight」 by Itou Kanako