Argento Soma (2000) Review

Synopsis

Argento Soma is the story of a bright young engineering student as he struggles to understand his intellectual but withdrawn girlfriend, Maki. He is coerced into helping Maki and a brilliant scientist into reviving an alien being, which they refer to as Frank, that was discovered. During the procedure, the creature goes out of control and destroys the laboratory, killing Maki and disfiguring his own face. He is consumed by revenge and changes his name to Ryu Soma, vowing to do all in his power to destroy the monster that killed his love.

Review

Near the beginning of the story, Ryu is accosted by a mysterious, Shakespeare-quoting figure, who helps him to enact his vendetta. Through the connections of this benefactor, he is able to join an anti-alien task force known as Funeral that has taken possession of Frank, known to them as the XG, and is using the XG to fight the other alien attackers.

The plot begins to become much more psychological at this point, with Ryu battling against his own inability to destroy the alien. He tries several times to bring about the XG’s demise, but in every scene, he is thwarted by some symbolic event. These difficulties arise partly from the introduction of Hattie, a young girl who is left all alone and, for some reason, forms a strong bond with Frank, whom she calls Mr. Elf. As fate would have it, she happens to bear a striking resemblance to Ryu’s dead girlfriend. In his distressed state, he often mistakes Hattie for Maki and has flashbacks triggered by her words or actions.

The character relationships, both internal and external, are the most skillfully crafted part of this story. The character’s personalities are rather detailed and the story features a good deal of background. This gives some insight into the motives of the characters and offers some insight into the more significant interactions among them.

Ryu is much more of an antihero than most protagonists. After Maki’s death, he becomes a cold, almost emotionless automaton, bent on avenging her. The viewer is sympathetic to his plight, to some degree, but he comes very close to being the villain in this story. He is portrayed as a ruthless, cruel individual at times, and only because we know his true history can we rationalize his behavior (to some extent). The animators do a good job of expressing his dual nature and internal conflicts by subtly alternating views of his scarred and unscarred profiles. His story is more complex than that, however, as his encounters with Hattie reveal more vestiges of his humanity.

In fact, Hattie and Ryu’s stories are more similar and intertwined than they realize at first. Both have lost everyone they loved, as far as we know, and while Hattie has found comfort in Mr. Elf, Ryu believes his only solace lies in destroying him.

Despite the intriguing characters, however, the story suffers from lackluster action, music, and visuals. It also falters at several points, slowing the plot down to a crawl for no apparent reason. One episode that consisted almost entirely of a military meeting, which seemed totally unnecessary.

The action in Argento Soma is disappointing, especially since some of the initial sequences seemed rather promising. The problem is that the battles are repetitive and slow-paced. The aliens come, and the members of Funeral plan their next move as the alien plods slowly towards the same point.

The animation also fails to deliver the proper sense of action, with most of the characters and mecha units seeming stiff and slow. The aliens they encounter also look nearly identical, which adds to the tedium. The setting for most of the story is either a military base or desert environment, both of which are rendered very bleak, almost nauseating fashion. Several of the character designs have some merit, such as Ryu, Hattie, and Frank, but the rest feel very generic. The series definitely suffers from an overall lack of visual variety.

The soundtrack is sometimes effective but is overall too depressing. It makes heavy use of violins played in a rather harsh manner, which is often grating. It would have helped if there were at least one element in this series that was not either boring or depressing, but, unfortunately, the music is both.

Conclusion

I really wanted to like this anime because the story was definitely something different and substantial. There is quite a bit of irony and symbolism at work in the story, and it skillfully incorporates elements of Shakespeare, Frankenstein, and other classics. Unfortunately, a host of missteps cause this series to fall far short of its potential. It is still worth watching, but many will find it difficult to do so without exercising some patience.

  • Audio: Adequate. The music can be grating at times
  • Video: Good at times, but mostly average.
  • Plot: Skillful character development and nice symbolism
  • Style: Sickeningly bland interiors and mecha designs
  • Characters: Only maybe 2 interesting characters. Not endearing
  • Violence: Mild
  • Language: Mild
  • Nudity: None
  • Genre: Scifi
  • Episodes: 25
  • Rating: 3.0 of 5

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