Absolute Duo (2015)
Episodes 01 – 12
The Best Offense is a Good Defense!
Even though Absolute Duo received negative reviews upon its initial release — from reliable sites such as Anime News Network — I was still slightly interested in checking it out, mainly due to its great-looking art and design work by (studio) 8-Bit. Based on the light novel series of the same name, written by Takumi Hiiragi-Boshi and illustrated by Yū Asaba, Absolute Duo has a pretty generic setup, one that most anime aficionados are probably way too familiar with.
Our protagonist is Tor Kokonoe, a teenage boy who enrolls into Koryo Academy to become stronger, his mission to avenge the death of his younger sister, Otoha. But Koryo Academy isn’t your typical school, no siree, the said one of many institutions around the world that specializes in training gifted students, those with the power to yield personalized weapons known as Blaze, artillery that manifests from one’s soul. Tor, however, winds up being an irregular, meaning that his Blaze isn’t a melee weapon, but a shield instead. As the students break off into pairs, in order to reach their full potential (otherwise known as reaching Absolute Duo), Tor is partnered with a mysterious silver-haired gal named Julie Sigtuna, who also happens to be the princess of a Scandinavian village called Gimlé, this duo the only mixed gender couple.
Being assigned to one another, Tor freaks out when he realizes that he and Julie must do everything together (think of it as a weird version marriage) — train, attend class and even share the same dorm — our hero trying to dodge advances from his female peers, such as the shy Miyabi Hotaka, the blonde, talented exchange student Lilith Bristol and your typical bombshell Tomoe Tachibana. Now, as various trials and tribulations arise, Tor and Julie must work together if they wish to recover from the tragic scars of their pasts.
Far from the worst anime around, Absolute Duo suffers from its sheer sameness, the show, for the most part, going through the motions, with writer Takamitsu Kōno (basically) recycling events as if copying them straight off a generic harem template — well, that’s until the last couple of episodes anyway. And, whilst the whole Blaze concept is admittedly cool, it’s never fully fleshed out; the lack of memorable activation sequences a little frustrating, too. Sadly, even the fights are missing bite and flavor, the action somewhat underwhelming. Sure, there are a couple interesting ideas (here and there) and some middling back-story stuff but nothing in Absolute Duo really stands out until it’s too late in the game.
Keeping that in mind, character designs are all quite solid, the female players — who find themselves indivertibly interested in our male lead — stereotypical but still pretty to look at. The standouts are the yellow-headband wearing Tomoe and the egotistical Lilith, who’s labeled an ‘exception’ due to being gifted with a different kind of Blaze. We also have the lively Imari Nagakura (the first person whom Tor meets at the Academy Entrance ceremony), this cutie expelled after losing her initial battle against our hero, only to return at a summer training camp on an island where students who failed the combat exam were transferred. Elsewhere, our female lead, Julie (who yields the Twin Blades), looks far too young to be exploited for the sake of ecchi fanservice, the light novels (which the show is based on) nowhere near as raunchy as this anime adaptation. Luckily, Julie does share a solid rapport with her partner Tor, whom she sometimes refers to as Thor (Marvel fangirl perhaps?), the couple’s friendship growing and developing in a natural and believable kinda way.
The show’s most interesting girl, however, is the timid Miyabi, the buxom babe growing throughout the narrative, Miyabi starting off as a reserved classmate who eventually develops feelings for Tor. Unlike a lot of other harem shows, where the shy character remains in the shadows, never revealing their hidden feelings, Miyabi’s arc is quite different, the meek teen eventually confessing her undying love for Tor, only to be rejected. This compels her to try and become stronger (so that Tor would notice her), Miyabi ultimately aiding the villains, K and the elderly scientist Equipment Smith. My favorite character, though, is a hulk of a man named Tatsu who only speaks by flexing his biceps, uttering groans and grunts instead of actual words, this amusing caricature not given nearly enough screen time.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Tor’s homeroom teacher Rito Tsukimi, who just so happens to be one of the most muddled characters of this, or any other anime show. Clad in a maid outfit and bunny ears, professor Bun-Bun (as her students sometimes call her) has two conflicting personalities, her perverted nature being her only consistency. For instance, she’s a childish, playful teacher one minute, then a twisted, sadistic freak the next, her belligerent demeanor making her a villain in episode 3, before she returns to her normal ‘confusing’ self in the very next adventure. Ay, caramba, talk about a mess!
Directed by Atsushi Nakayama, Absolute Duo sports an excellent opening sequence, the track ‘Absolute Soul’ by Konomi Suzuki accompanying the vibrant visuals. We also have three, yes three, spiffy closings, these flashy bookends elevating the show’s overall production value. In closing, it’s safe to say that Absolute Duo delivers a story we’ve seen countless times before, its just a shame that its small moments of inspiration get lost amongst its more familiar, underwhelming elements. If you want to see an action harem that sets the bar high, I’d say stick to something like High School DxD (2012) or Date a Live (2013), that way you can have your cake and eat it too!
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Absolute Duo is released through Madman Entertainment Australia