I can’t believe it’s not Code Geass!
So, I guess I can’t get away from those shows with a slice-of-life component! But, spoiler alert, I wound up liking this one a lot better than Plastic Memories. I’ll get into why a bit later, but for now, here’s what you should know: Charlotte is basically X-Men: the Anime, but without the spandex. The show is a 13-episode anime that aired in Summer 2015. It’s about a bunch of teenagers with superpowers, as our protagonist stumbles into a world he never dreamed existed when he develops his own power. Alongside that, there’s a lot of standard slice-of-life drama as he develops relationships with fellow teenagers and generally learns to be a better person.
As usual, I plan to make this a spoiler-free review, with just a few references involving the premise of the show.
The show follows Otosaka Yuu, a high school student who realizes that he has the ability to take control of a human within sight range for five seconds. And…he decides to abuse this ability for personal gain within the first five minutes of the show, because he has very few morals. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for him, his actions draw the attention of others who are more aware of people with special abilities…and then everything changes.
Hitting the Right Tone
If you read my Plastic Memories review, you might recall one of the problems I had with it: using a sci-fi setting but then doing almost nothing with the sci-fi premise, wasting huge amounts of potential in exchange for having a run-of-the-mill romance story. Here, Charlotte does an admirable job of bringing its two halves together, instead of letting itself get caught up in personal drama or in the powers element.
In addition, the show does a marvelous job of keeping the pace going in a way that doesn’t bog down nor float away. While it makes time for some very serious and strong character interactions, it will often drop back for an unexpected moment of levity that brings your spirits up. That said, it doesn’t try to pull this during the most important, darkest moments of the show, where it goes full throttle, and suddenly you’re glad for the respites of comedy and light-heartedness in between. The characters engage with fantastic chemistry, even while personal stakes are high.
There’s also plenty of clever superpower usage as well: all the powers come with clearly-defined complications or limitations, so the characters need to find ways to work together and use their powers in various situations. While some of the worldbuilding is a little uncreative (or maybe it’s just the writers unknowingly following the same trails already blazed by Chris Claremont & Co), it all generally holds together, keeping the non-drama aspect of the series intact.
Punched Right In the Emotions
The biggest reason to watch Charlotte, though, is watching the emotional arcs of the characters develop, to see them go through good times, difficult times, and great tragedies. It’s a very Marvel-esque idea: superpower stories are about the characters, not the powers, and although the characters’ abilities are important, they themselves are far more important. Every character gets a nice bit of development, even a one-off character who appears late in the series to help our protagonist get some much-needed inspiration and grounding.
And that’s what the show uses to set up and pay off intense emotional consequences. You get attached to these characters in one way or another, and the show builds those attachments carefully and strongly, so that you really care when bad things happen to them. I don’t find this too surprising, because the writer (Maeda Jun) is very experienced with these kinds of stories (e.g., CLANNAD, Air, Angel Beats!). It might seem gratuitous to some, but I think it’s got a point: Charlotte is a story about learning responsibility, and using your personal gifts (or superpowers) appropriately, but also about taking responsibility for your actions. There’s no better way to understand those lessons than by understanding the characters as they learn them.
Other Various Things
Not everything is amazing with Charlotte. It still feels a bit rushed after the halfway point, and when there’s an infodump that finally reveals some major worldbuilding plot points, it feels out-of-place and doesn’t really advance the story at all beyond answering questions that we may not have even wanted to know the answers to. Also, it’s not entirely tightly-plotted; as I sat back and pondered some of the plot points, there were a couple that I had questions on–mostly “wait, but if [thing we found out towards the end of the series], then why didn’t [thing that happened at the start of the series]?” I can think of possible handwaves for them, but it’s still a bit sloppy.
That said, the production of the show is A+: the music is fantastic, the animation is gorgeous, and the voice actors have a lot of fun expressing their characters. (Did I mention that the animation is gorgeous? This is particularly important in a show with superpowers, and they don’t skimp on the special effects!) Pacing-wise, it’s very good, although the last episodes have some more un-engaging moments as they cover metaplot details. That said, the conclusion is strong, and it’s overall a pretty good story.
Content Advisory: blood (one of the characters is prone to getting in bad accidents, as a recurring gag, and there’s some intense scenes of physical violence later in the series), violence, and the first episode features a few icky uses of the protagonist’s power played for laughs
You can watch Charlotte for free on Crunchyroll.