Loyal readers may remember that, about a year ago, I wrote an article about my top 5 pick for weirdest anime concepts ever. Number two on the list was Aoi Sekai no Chuushin de, a medieval fantasy anime based around, of all things, the classic console wars between Nintendo and Sega during the ‘90s. All the characters were loose parodies or personifications of the various franchises both companies were known for, made into magical heroes locked in a deadly faction struggle.
Well, with the Xbox One and PS4 out and a brand new console war about to begin, I thought I’d do something to mark the occasion, and what better way to celebrate than by watching this animated parody of how it all began?
Oh, I can think of a few ideas… watching paint dry would be one…
In the fantasy world of Consume, the tides of war have gone heavily in favor of the Empire of Ninteldo, under the tyrannical control of the Emperor Marcus (who has a mustache, wears red, and rides around on a dinosaur mount called Yozu). The only country still holding out is the Segua Kingdom. In the series opening, a young blue-haired man called Gear (aka Sonic) loses his young brother Til (aka Tails) and goes to the Segua castle (along with his adopted sister Nel aka Nei from Phantasy Star II) to volunteer for the army and get revenge. General Ramses (the personification of the Columns games) soon finds he has powers beyond the regular soldier and assigns him on a dangerous secret mission. Joining him are the tsundere archer Opal (aka Opa-Opa from Fantasy Zone) and Tejirof (aka Tetris,) the most disgustingly perverted mercenary alive.
If this all sounds like a good setup for an interesting, epic story, don’t get your hopes up too much; the series is only three episodes long and only covers up until the first mission the party goes on. This is less of a full anime series and more of a promo for the manga, which apparently does go into more detail. There are plenty of hints of a larger world out there with characters we have yet to meet, all based off of popular game franchises of the 90s, but we only see glimpses of them, as if they were being crammed into a TV pilot in a desperate attempt to suggest a more sprawling universe.
One of the few interesting things about this anime, of course, is the console and video game injokes and references. There are more than a few visual gags for the eagle-eyed (Tejirof, for example, has a sword hilt and earring of a Tetris piece, Zelig has a Triforce necklace, etc), there’s a bit of clever narrative construction (e.g. how their powers parallel the genre of game they come from) and some of the references earned a few amused groans (such as the rise and disasterous fall of the ATARIka Empire, caused by the military equivalent of too much shovelware). Unfortunately, and I can’t believe I’m saying this… sometimes, the game injokes are just too subtle. With such a ridiculous premise, you’d think the creators would just run with it as far as they could and play it up to the nines, and in some moments, they do (the evil Mario emperor shows up RIDING A DINOSAUR, for crying out loud!) In other cases, however, the references are either so obscure or so buried under layers of misdirection that they lose any sense of impact. I mean, how was I supposed to guess that “Tofai” is supposed to be Akuma from Street Fighter when she just looks like a generic martial artist with red skin and hair? It doesn’t help that, well… Sega just doesn’t have as many obviously famous franchises as Nintendo has, but since Sega are painted as “the heroes,” you end up with a whole ton of major characters whose references fall flat. Aside from Sonic, their only really well-known connection is Tejirof… and Tetris was a Nintendo franchise at the time! The result is a bit of a muddled mess where you’re either distracted from the story because you’re trying to work out the references or you’re not even able to pick them up in the first place… which means you’re stuck with the actual PLOT.
And thus the crux of the problem: once you get past the admittedly amusing and original conceit of the classic console war framework, Aoi Sekai no Chuushin de has almost nothing to offer aside from some really tasteless and blatant fanservice, and even that is either creepy as hell or just laughable. It has been a while since I’ve watched an anime and thought, “Good GOD, this is bad!” And sadly, while it actually manages to hit a So Bad It’s Good level during most of the first episode and earned enough WTFs to keep me interested, it can’t even keep that up and instead settles into a dishwater-dull state of paint-by-numbers plot.
What makes it so bad? Well, firstly, the artwork is really bad, not in terms of style but of quality; characters look completely different from shot to shot, the hair and faces are done very sketchily, and there’s just something off (by anime standards) about the look and feel of the characters… you might notice it yourself in the ending song. Another problem is the pretty terrible pacing. Subplots are brought up and resolved in literally two scenes; a particularly outrageous example is the interaction between Opal and Gear which sums up as, “General Ramses assigns them to work together, Opal calls Gear out for a duel because she hates him for no reason, he beats her and immediately her tsundere side melts and they’re besties.” To clarify, this all takes place over the span of about five minutes of screentime. A lot of the dialogue boils down to exposition; lots of telling, not showing here! And so much of this is stereotypical fill in the blanks stuff. The characters are underdeveloped and unoriginal, with their only distinguishing features being what brand of blandness they bring to the table (with the dubious exception of Tejirof). Gear is a young man who wants to be stronger! Opal is a snarky, spunky woman with a hidden soft side! Nel is… actually, Nel doesn’t seem to actually have a personality at all, so go figure. Only Tejirof stands out by his sheer levels of perversion, and that’s not something to be proud of.
Which brings us to the last ding against this anime: the really, REALLY blatant sexual fanservice with a side order of rapey subtext. To be clear, I don’t mind a bit of fanservice here and there – titillation has its place in our media – but this went from mild, harmless fun to DANGER WILL ROBINSON DANGER DANGER. Here is an incomplete list of events that just made my jaw drop in the three episodes (TRIGGER WARNING):
- Upon realizing that Gear is “the one,” Ramses mentally expresses her shock by her clothing suddenly disintegrating and leaving her nude
- Gear hits Opal in their duel and her clothing… uh… explodes. Because, you know, clothing apparently does that.
- Later, she comments that by the rules of their duel, he can do whatever he wants to her… cue fantasy sequence of him ripping off her clothes brutally while she whimpers and blushes
- Tejirof’s introduction is him walking into the room, grabbing Ramses’ boob and announcing that he’d like to, uh, stick it in; she reacts by sighing and telling him to sit down
- Opal learns how to control her “Shooting” ability – basically gathering magic power in her fingers and shooting an energy beam – and the whole scene plays out like an uncomfortable sex scene as she moans, sobs, and says, “Oh god, I can’t take it!”
- This gets ratcheted up to 11 later when Opal has to gather even more energy to finish off a bad guy; she even freaking sticks her hand between her legs and writhes around squealing.
- No sooner does she dispatch that guy than another bad guy shows up, rips off her clothing, and threatens to rape her before Gear comes in to save her.
Some of these things were initially just so over the top that I was too busy laughing from “WTF?!” to feel uncomfortable, but this definitely made me feel unclean after a while. And to make all this worse, you have Tejirof, who is pretty much a non-stop fountain of sexual innuendoes, explicit comments, and obscene hand gestures. I suppose you could make an argument about his constant references to sticking long things in holes being a reference to Tetris, but holy crap, did that get awkward fast. I may never look at the line piece in Tetris the same way again.
Can I just stick with PC?
The sad thing is, if this series had been approached a different way – with a bit more restraint on some areas, a bit LESS restraint in others, and more attention to good characters and art – this could have been a really unique and interesting series. I could have gotten behind, say, an anime where all the various mascots or personifications of franchises mingled and did snarky battles with each other while dropping liberal amounts of injokes and references. Of course, such an anime would need to be good as well, or at least interestingly bad, and unfortunately, Aoi Sekai no Chuushin de fails to be either. Give it a miss.
Where were you in the classic ‘90s console wars?