It’s time for another Sci-Fi show. There are quite a lot of these anime running around and this one really goes into the technical elements. Get ready for a lot of discussions on the burst, alien life forms, and cloning which can be pretty intense but at times it also means that the pacing can be a bit slow. This is a good title but another one where it takes the show a very long time to really get good. I don’t think it fully found its footing until near the end and the ending wasn’t ideal so while there is some replay value here, it won’t be near the top of the list.
So a while back there was an incident known as The Burst! A lot of people died in it and now some organisms known as Matter rule the area. They’re effectively mindless and touching it will result in your death unless you destroy the contaminated limb quickly. Now you need professionals just to get near it if you want to study the area or something like that. Our main character is a girl named Aiko and her family was seemingly murdered by matter but one day a guy named Yuya appears and says that this isn’t the case. They are still alive and Aiko needs to save them.
This guy is a bit shady though as he’s on the run from a mysterious military group and wants her to follow him without question. Aiko does want to save her family though so even though it means leaving her friends and old life behind, she follows him. Yuya and some other shady guys have enlisted a group of professionals who will guide them through the affected areas of the burst. At its center is presumably where Aiko’s mother and younger brother are. Once they save them then the day is saved….or is it? What does Yuya want out of this? Aiko figures she has no choice but to trust him….but this could be a mistake.
Now I would call that the basic plot but a lot of other things start to occur as the series goes on. I’ll go more into it in a minute but we have to answer the tough questions like if a clone is truly alive and what it means to sacrifice one. Do you sacrifice a town to save a kid who might be trapped within the Burst? Then you’ve got the government groups all fighting each other and a whole lot of chaos as outside governments want to weigh in on the conversation. I think the show could have tackled all of this in more interesting ways because there is a lot of cool stuff to discuss here but for the most part it is satisfied being more of a low key show that talks about it but mainly just from the main characters’ view. Extending this with another 10-12 episodes and bringing in more outside forces could have worked.
As far as the animation goes…it’s decent. I wouldn’t say it looks very good or anything like that but it’s not bad. It’s more that there aren’t a lot of good fight scenes because typically they’re just fighting the matter which is effectively mindless and can’t fight back beyond lunging at everyone so the fights aren’t super exciting. There are some episodes where you have the characters blasting the matter for the whole episode and yet you’re not excited because it isn’t a real opponent. Fortunately at the very end of the show we do get a real villain but it is very near to the end by that point.
As for the soundtrack, it’s not on the memorable side. The tunes within the episodes just don’t stand out and I wasn’t a big fan of the opening. It’s got to be one of the least exciting ones that I’ve heard in a while. The show is just not impressive on a technical sense so that means the actual story needs to hook you which it does not. This is starting to sound rather negative so I should say that what keeps this from being a bad show is that it does execute on some of the potential. While it does tend to drag out some elements and not take others to their full use, at least it is trying to tackle a bunch of Sci-Fi themes. Throw in an explosive climax (Even if the ending is underwhelming) and you’re really all set to at least get things interesting for the end. To it’s not the most engaging show out there and loses in most head to heads, however if you are looking for a decent Sci-Fi title to bring up then I would eventually mention this one. It’s still good enough where I could recommend it.
Now as for the characters, first up we have Aiko as the lead. I do think she’s a bit too trusting with the whole Yuya situation. She wants to save her family and that’s great but you still have to keep your guard up at all times or else you’re just going to walk into a trap. As the show goes on the mission appears to be riskier and riskier all the time. By the end Aiko learns a lot and makes a lot of good decisions. I do think she handled things maturely and did try to help out as best she could. Her being a bit naïve is her only bad trait, beyond that I liked her well enough as the main heroine.
She would actually contribute by firing the cannons and would disobey any order that told her to stand down. So Aiko did have some toughness to her and that was really important because if she was a passive main heroine then it would have been that much easier for the villains to take her down. As it played out this way, she was at least able to make decisions of her own and stayed in control of her destiny. Aiko definitely surpassed expectations here.
Unfortunately I could not say the same about Yuya. This guy starts off reasonably well as he’s very mysterious but you figure he’s got a good plan at the ready. You have to decide if you trust him the way that Aiko does or if this is all some kind of big mistake. Ultimately I did not agree with his plan at all and that is what ended up hurting him here. He is willing to make a whole lot of sacrifices and while the other characters get him to be more reasonable by the end, it doesn’t change what he was willing to do. You can’t trust him and he grew worse as the series went on.
One area where the show struggles is with the supporting cast though. Outside of Aiko and Yuya, the divers don’t really stand out. There are quite a few of them and you have the gruff leader, the hyper newcomer, etc but there isn’t much to them beyond that. One of these guys is Kazuki and he ends up liking Aiko from the start. It’s not a good idea to fall for the person you are escorting since this is supposed to be a mission where you stay neutral and everything. He definitely fails on that end.
I do give him credit for always having Aiko’s back though. He’s probably the only character in the series who doesn’t waver or get tempted to abandon her at any point. Yeah that’s because he likes her but isn’t that still a pretty good complement to his dedication regardless? When she falls into the cafe and asks for help he immediately tries to get her out of there while everyone else was still hesitating. That counts for something.
Unfortunately it’s not like he’s super strong or anything so ultimately he can’t stand in the way of the government but he tries his best. You figure that he’s doomed from the start too so you feel bad for him there. Maho and Daisuke are the two leaders of the diver operation so they have a lot of experience but they don’t tend to contribute a whole lot. As you watch the show you’ll see that they technically talk with the crew and make decisions but ultimately don’t change things up.
At least someone like Kaede may make her share of mistakes as she dives into the fights but she’s memorable because she gets a whole character arc about maybe being too impulsive. Her partner Haruka always takes the blame when this happens but it causes Kaede to really think about how she has been handling this situation. At the end of the day she doesn’t want to create more trouble and so she gets a bit more cautious as the show goes on. Haruka doesn’t really get an arc like this in comparison but at least this makes it easier on her as well.
Yoshihiko has his hands full with Kazuki but does as well as can be expected. He’s the more calm member of the duo so he usually has to end up being more of a boring character there but his advice isn’t wrong and in terms of pure skill he is probably better than Kazuki. Together these divers are good enough to blast away at the blobs and we’re told that they are the best in the business so even with their character flaws they make it work. Fighting in teams of 2 helps out with that I suppose.
Outside of the whole main plot with the heroes trying to save Aiko’s family we’ve also got a whole government conspiracy plotline going on as well. This isn’t quite as interesting as it could have been but I always appreciate seeing their take on things. The main character here is Akiko and her ongoing banter/feud with Susumu. They used to work together but now he’s on the rebel side with Yuyu while she works for the government. This leads to a lot of disagreements and subtle threats between the two. It’s always very subtle of course but you can’t help but think that Akiko actually would take Susumu down if she could.
I think what would help this plot a bit would be to have the characters actually talk things out a bit more. Typically how the conversation goes is she would ask him for details and after he gives the intel she hangs up on him. She’s very openly using him the whole time until the end where she decides to help but because of that there is no ideological battle or anything like that. I think that’s a missed opportunity because there is a whole lot you could do with that otherwise. She was a decent character though while Susumu is mainly forgettable.
The real standout character here is Kyosuke as the main villain. Basically he wants to save his daughter who is in a coma after the burst. He thinks that the answer to saving her lies within Aiko and that goes against Yuyu’s plan here so they are naturally at odds. It’s always a good idea to have the villain get a decent motive though and having him want to save his sister was an effective way to do that. He seems like a reasonable guy for the most part but as the show goes on he starts to go more and more off the deep end.
We even see how he used to function normally with how he had some friends and other doctors who had his back. Eventually they just weren’t able to do this anymore but it was nice to see because it makes sense that he would have some allied by this point. The premise makes it unlikely for everyone to have a happy ending but you are hoping that she will be able to pull through at least. Then thanks to Kyosuke we do have some more action by the end.
The climax still isn’t super exciting but at least it’s a bit different. Instead of all the blobs being mindless, now you have some being controlled by him and some by the daughter. Then you have Aiko controlling others as well so it all gets really crazy. The show’s ending is not very satisfying though which was another missed opportunity. So what I’m saying here is that the concept of the show was better than the execution. Giving us more monsters and such would have been great or give us more government meetings about what to do with the burst. This was a huge event that the show barely even bothers talking about except to nuke it all. I want to know more about the origins and how the other countries are taking this. It’s touched on but just barely.
Okay now I’m going to quickly talk about some of the more in depth parts of the show so skip the next 3 paragraphs if you haven’t seen it yet. Head out now because we’re starting fast:
So the big twist here is that Yuyu is trying to save the real Aiko who was captured by the monsters a while back and is used sort of like a core. He intends to sacrifice the cloned Aiko to bring the real one back to life. This touches on the classic theme of if a clone is truly alive or not. (The right answer is that the clone is alive so destroying it would be awful) As we’ve been with the clone Aiko the whole show we feel like she is alive and you would hope that he could see that but he doesn’t. Even up to the end he intends to destroy her until Kazuki knocks some sense into him. Of course by that point Aiko convinces herself to die for the original. It’s an interesting dynamic where both the clone and original would rather sacrifice themselves to save the original.
Clone Aiko looks a little bad at first though because she is fine with someone being sacrificed for a while but when the twist is that she will be the one sacrificed then she isn’t happy about the plan. I know she eventually comes around but it wasn’t the best look since it seemed to imply that she would be fine with someone else dying. It’s a good twist about the two Aikos though and the show has a good amount of foreshadowing for it. It’s easily one of the most interesting parts of the show and you know it must have been tough to be stuck within the Burst for so long without any way out. Likewise for the daughter who was in a coma but still conscious within the void all this time.
The show could be a little dark when you think about all of this but it’s not going for that angle. Now why did I not like the ending? Well, they save both Aikos which is great and what I was hoping for but they decide the family isn’t ready to know this and so one of them can never see the family again after the final goodbye. Cmon that doesn’t make sense to me, we’ve just survived a big sci-fi apocalypse. They can handle seeing two Aikos and the ending just feels unfair/forced. I didn’t buy that excuse and it just made the show forego what should have been a really happy ending.
If I could change one thing to improve the show rather dramatically it’s that I would cut out one episode of the heroes running through the mindless monsters and add it to the beginning. Have Aiko decide not to trust Yuyu at first and gradually she realizes that she wants to take a risk and goes off with him. That would help the pacing because part of what hurt the show is that the pacing died around the middle. You had multiple episodes of blasting away at the mindless ooze and it’s just not exciting. There’s action but how dangerous can these creatures really be? (Surprisingly they do pretty good at times)
After all in some ways the slice of life parts were better than the apocalyptic adventure which should never happen. I liked Aiko’s best friend even if she never appeared after the opening episode. The scenes of the characters talking and planning were better than when they were running through the endless labyrinth of monster zones. There’s even a blue gel creature that randomly shows up and at least you could wonder what it’s deal was. Meanwhile fighting the sludge monsters didn’t do anything for me.
Overall, A.I.C.O. Incarnation is a good show. While I had a laundry list of issues and weak points for the show, it shows just how strong the ideas and premise was. I saw a lot of potential that was left on the table and that’s what really made the show underwhelming for me. It didn’t look great on a technical level but could have still thrived without it. Unfortunately the writing and plot direction could not compensate enough for this. If you want to watch a Sci-Fi show though then this is a good one to check out because it’s short and it does touch on all those themes I mentioned. At least you can ponder them even if the show has no time for this.