I’ve watched a lot of Gundam in my time. As a franchise, it is built around using the same story formula again and again with subtle twists. Valvrave is what happens when you stop being subtle and intersperse Gundam clichés with horrible consequences.
[Note: This is a review of the second season of Valvrave. Go here for our review of the first season.]
Perhaps the best aspect of Valvrave is how it manages to lure you into feeling safe and secure over and over again—right before yanking the carpet out from under you. It does this by constantly hitting all the beats you’d expect in a Gundam-style story—reinforcing the pattern seen in countless mecha shows before. Having to fight the enemy during re-entry, being one ship trapped behind enemy lines on Earth, or returning to space in the middle of a big firefight—there is nothing new about these plot points. However, in between, the story goes completely off the rails.
You see, in Valvrave, no one—absolutely no one—is safe. Over the course of Valvrave’s second season, both major and minor characters drop like flies—and usually in ways you’d never see coming. Characters that would be safe in most shows—i.e., romantic interests—can be killed off even before they are properly introduced.
But it isn’t just character deaths that demolish the formula we’ve come to expect, it’s the plot twists and their incredibly dark consequences—which go up to and include genocidal purges.
One thing Valvrave does incredibly well is villains. There are the Nazi-like empire villains, the bodysnatching villains, the villains who pretend to be good guys, and the villains who the heroes know are bad but have to ally with for mutual survival.
But best of all, none of these antagonists are one-note. All of them are complex. None are doing evil for the sake of evil. Rather, all of them have their own specific goals and reasons for them. Moreover, these goals often cause the different villains to come into conflict (and sometimes alliance) with one another, making for a dynamic, realistic series of events.
From near the start of the first season, Valvrave shows brief glimpses of the far future—promising us we are seeing the birth of an empire that will last centuries. While an excellent tease, I was concerned in my review of the first half that there would be no satisfactory payoff. However, I clearly worried for nothing.
Valvrave 2nd Season answers all the remaining questions that the first season left unanswered—i.e., how do the Valvraves work, what is the mysterious group working from the shadows, and yes, how the empire was born. It also wraps up both the main story as well as each character’s development arc and—through the flash-forwards—shows how the events of the show affect the characters far into the future. I can honestly think of no plot threads that were simply left hanging.
After the death-filled finale of the first season, perhaps it’s understandable why the second season of Valvrave starts off so slowly; to break the status quo, you have to establish one in the first place. Unfortunately, this also means the first several episodes play the Gundam formula perfectly straight—with no shocks or surprises to speak of.
While this time is indeed well used for character development of the supporting cast, it almost feels like you are watching a completely different show, one that can be somewhat boring. However, that said, when the first big shock does arrive, it comes suddenly and without warning—once again reminding you what makes Valvrave so enjoyable to watch.
As you might expect from a series like Valvrave, the last few episodes are where the shit really hits the fan, so to speak. People die left and right and any semblance of normality is thrown completely out the window. It makes all the shocking brutality seen up until that point feel like nothing so much as an overture.
But instead of enhancing the events of the climax, the behavior of the characters hinder it by devolving into nearly nonsensical melodrama. Their reactions are so far over-the-top—so full of emotional angst—that it almost seems comical. And, as with most melodrama, much of it could be avoided by a short, frank, thirty-second conversation that the characters have both the time and opportunity to engage in. However, instead of doing this, they suffer in silence for no other reason than to make the ending all the more tragic. It’s all just a cheap pull on the viewers’ heartstrings.
When it comes down to it, I really enjoyed Valvrave the Liberator 2nd Season. It is not often that I, as a viewer, find my expectations played around with in such a well-done manner. And while the melodrama was at times so thick it made it difficult to watch, the series ended on a high note that perfectly wrapped up the story in true Valvrave fashion.
If you are a fan of Gundam (and/or the numerous mecha anime like it) and are longing to have the formula you know so well changed up in ways you won’t expect, definitely give Valvrave a watch. And even if you have never seen a Gundam show before, Valvrave brings enough real world consequences into its fantastical setting that it is a fun watch regardless.
Valvrave The Liberator 2nd Season aired on TBS. It can be watched for free and with English subtitles in the US at Crunchyroll and Hulu.
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