There will be spoilers in this review. No, I will not be summarizing the entire episode. I will answer to any questions given to me in the comments on what happens, but this is a review on the content. Therefore, some things will have to be spoiled. Please beware as you continue.
1,000 fans were accepted out of 10,000 in Japan to attend the Cross Ange premiere screening event in Tokyo. For once, my luck worked for me, and I was able to attend as the only foreigner and one of the only females. Attending the event were Nana Mizuki, Yukari Tamura, Kaori Ishihara, Yui Ogura, and Yui Horie. Eri Kitamura was scheduled to attend, but was unable to due to illness. As a surprise, we were not just shown the first episode, but also the first half of episode two.
This is a series that many people are looking forward to, and are also having reservations about. I hope my review will inform you. I don't know if it will give you hope.
The first episode begins in a very hopeful manner- Ange, with short hair and on a mecha, begins to a sing a song as she flies through the sky. This song was composed and arranged by Akiko Shikata, called a genius by many for her works in Ar Tonelico and Tales of Symphonia the Animation. Combined with the vocals of Enka-trained singer Mizuki, this became a strong opening note to the series. You can also hear Shikata's vocals throughout the episode's background music, creating a sense of fantasy wonder in some scenes, and it also creates a sense of "bukimi" (creepy) horror in others.
As I said before, the episode begins strong- We fly along with Ange through the sky fighting dragons. She appears to be a strong, bold protagonist. Besides the annoying fanservice shots that keep on forcing themselves in your face, there is cool action. As some people have mentioned, it feels like a mix between Symphogear and Ar Tonelico. I love both properties. I have a Gungnir pendant that I often wear into Shibuya or Shinjuku or other places when I go out on the town, and I actually named my dog Aurica. I love both of these properties, I love Shikata, and I think they are empowering to women (mostly). The women have powers that men cannot use, and are graceful and strong. This feels like a large separation from those properties. It degrades the female characters again and again.
Thus, we get to the biggest problem with this series: The fanservice. Yes, we knew it would be there. However, it is so pushed in your face that it is hard to focus without laughing. The stereotypical otaku, people used to this kind of thing, mind you, were LAUGHING in the seats next to me. It was just that out of place. Even in a tender scene between Ange and her mother, we are taken out of it when we see that Ange's nightgown (she's out on the balcony, just as a note) is see-through, and her panties are in clear sight. One of the most shocking uses of fanservice is of course, the anal rape scene.
You heard me right. I did not make a typo.
When Ange is taken away from her family, she is stripped by Jill, and told that she has entered living hell. From there, she is strapped to a table by Mana, and as she resists the grasp of her captors, she shakes her pink panty butt in a focus shot only on her rear end. Really? This is supposed to be a very fearful scene, but instead, we are supposed to be aroused? Apparently so. But no one was (everyone around me was laughing and face-palming). From there, Ange is anal-raped off screen with metal torture tools. For what reason? Branding? We don't know. They never give an explanation. The next time we see Ange, she is naked on the floor, blood coming from her anus and tears streaming down her face. There is no explanation for this torture. The most shocking thing is that there is no reaction from Ange in the next episode. In the second episode, Ange has completely pushed off this event, being in the same classroom talking humorously with her captors. After this mentally breaking experience, Ange just returns to who she was? This isn't the point where Ange changes forever? She's still prideful and plucky. There is something extremely wrong with this.
Rape is not arousal. Rape should not be used as a fanservice tool. Although the action can be used to horrify and create character development in some stories, this is not where it should have been used. There was no "payoff." It was just for shock and arousal. (Edit: It has come to my attention that there is some kind of spine assignement or something that has to be done for the pilots? The problem still stands. It was set up as a rape scene. To strengthen this, they never explained the process within the show. They never said a word about having to put something in the spine. Nothing was said. How are you supposed to look at it any other way? In any case, this situation that emulates rape/sexual assault is still a negative on the show.)
In episode two, we are introduced to Zola (played by veteran Michiko Neya; seen from the back in this screenshot on the left), who appears to have sexual relations with just about every single crew member on the island. She constantly gropes women (though it would be just as bad if she was groping men). We even see a preview of a sex scene between Zola and Hilda. It appears this is all for fanservice. It does nothing to move the story along. It's just there for the arousal (or laughs, in many cases).
Good/netural elements include the incestual/pedophilic (both my own words?) hints from Ange's brother to their little sister Sylvia. He strokes her lip, saying that they must keep the bloodline clean. While most American fans would immediately scream "BURN THE WITCH," I don't. It's fiction, and it is used as a layer of the character to give him sick depth. Heck, I'm not even against consensual sibling incest in anime. See Myself;Yourself and Densetsu no Yuusha no Densetsu- these anime deal with these issues in a dramatic and heart-wrenching way. Do I think the brother should be allowed to assault Sylvia? No. Absolutely not. There's a limit of how far you can go in an anime. He might be plotting it right now, and that makes him a sick roach, even more than when... Well, I won't go that far into spoilers, but he screws over his entire family. The reason I list this as a good/neutral element is because it is not used as fanservice. It is used as a technique to make us hate the character even more. We want to protect Sylvia from his cruel, twisted ways.
Another good element in the series so far is the focus on race. It actually reminds me of the game Tales of Rebirth. Ange, still a princess, has never seen a Norma, a being that cannot use Mana. When she sees a Norma baby being torn away from its mother in the street, she tries to console the mother, telling her to give up the baby, as it is not human. To add insult to injury, she encourages the mother to give birth to a "better" child next time. This leads the mother to madness, hating Angelese with murderous intent. However, when Ange is found as a Norma, her hover-motorbike-polo-lacross (this is a thing. I am not joking) teammates suddenly change from revering to hateful, calling her a monster and a thing. Even by episode two when she herself has already been revealed as a Norma, Ange is still prideful, and calls her new Norma teammates "things." Through Ange's opinions, we are able to be immersed in the universe we are thrown into.
Finally, the relationship between Ange and her mother (played by the legendary Megumi Hayashibara) was done very well. When Ange speaks about "eradicating the Normas" from society like Hitler, her mother is in pain, knowing that her own beloved daughter is one herself. Even when Ange is found out and is shot at by the guards who once protected her, her mother takes the bullet for her, smiling to her daughter as she dies. The role of the mother is to be a foil to the current Angelese, who only knows prejudice. One day, Angelese will see things from her mother's eyes: Normas are humans as well. A mother does not stop loving her child because she is "abnormal."
Although this series has such great potential, it gives itself a crutch by trying to throw fanservice like pies at faces during a circus clown show. Even the voice actresses couldn't talk about anything but butts when asked about the "beauty" of the show.
As a special note: What did the voice actresses want to do if they got the chance to use Mana? Horie said she wanted to fly in the sky, to which Tamura scoffed. Ogura said she wanted to use Mana to do bug-catching. Ishihara wanted the power to return home within an instant without using taxis or trains, as she hated being out at night. Tamura, trying to beat Horie, said she wanted to ride in the sky on a cotton candy cloud, to which Horie said, "I have never heard you ever say you want that." Mizuki, forced to be last to answer, wished that she could turn back time and not be the last to answer.
The first episode of Cross Ange will premiere on Tokyo MX and other channels on October 6.