Charlotte is a show that really feels like it is the hardest to form an opinion on. After rewatching the show, 6 years after it aired, my thoughts on the show haven’t quite changed — somewhere along the lines of a 6/10 if I am to give it a numerical score. However, this show is unlike any other 6’s that I have given; shows that are mostly consistently boring. Rather, Charlotte is a show that has the most inconsistent mix of greatness and awfulness.
To first break down Charlotte, we have to start with what makes Charlotte great in a lot of different places. And most of it comes down to its ideas. Throughout the show, Charlotte explores a lot of different plot points that are interesting by itself. So I want to start really going through all the parts that are really interesting content wise before I go on my complaining frenzy.
Let’s look at the first episode of Charlotte for example. In just the first few minutes, the show introduces us with a quirky idea of an incomplete superpower — a body possessing abilities that lasts merely a few seconds. We get introduced to our main character, Yuu, as we see how Yuu makes full use of his seemingly useless power to become extremely popular and accepted into a top high school by cheating. The sheer lengths that he goes on to cheat, for example scouting out cram schools to find people that get good scores to possess during the real test, is absolutely hilarious even just in concept. And throughout the episode, the show really pushes these types of hilarity that stems from the unique concept through great execution.
Yuu’s face for example is one of the hilarious comedy points of the first episode. When watching the first episode, I immediately knew I was going to have quite a lot of fun with this show because of how stupid yet hilarious that smirk looked. Especially because it was after he pulled off something so stupidly genius to cheat. By coupling this with really fun audio effects, especially the mix of dramatic music and silent pauses, they completely amplify each one of Yuu’s facial expressions and thought processes.
Of course, you also got a lot of different jokes that came from Yuu’s scummy, self-confident, smirk-filled personality that we saw in the first few minutes. This especially shined when he was running away from Tomori and Takajou while holding onto Shirayanagi’s hands immediately yelling “dammit!” as Shirayanagi fell onto the ground. The shocked face on Shirayanagi mixed with the completely angry tone of Yuu’s voice makes this scene so hilarious.
Anyways, through this first episode, the show perfectly builds up the great comedic atmosphere that seems like it would be prevalent throughout the show, introduces us to how scummy the main character is, and most importantly gives us a fun and exciting introduction to how the different super powers will be used throughout the show.
Then, Charlotte took an almost completely new turn with the show immediately in the next episode.
You see, after all this almost insane craziness that we saw from Yuu in the first episode, I really expected him to continue being extremely scummy. Especially now that Tomori and others knew what the guy is really like. I was definitely sold on the idea of Yuu slowly becoming nicer and using his insaneness to capture those with powers throughout the show.
However, contrary to what I was expecting, Yuu really becomes a nice guy almost immediately. He kind of helps out with everything, does what he is asked, and hangs out pretty well with these guys. Rather than the show focusing on the characters of the club, Yuu and Tomori, it felt more like they were focusing on the abilities of the characters that they were going to chase down and capture.
But I was alright with this. I mean, they do explain to him that he would get paid properly which would help Ayumi and all. More importantly, I was pretty excited about the different omnibus events that we would go through. I’m sure most people were sold by the idea of these unique imperfect super powers by how Yuu used it in the first episode. As someone who was, I was definitely excited.
Though unlike what I expected, I did feel most of these single episodes chasing the students didn’t live up to the excitement and interest I had. There were a lot of problems with the execution, especially the boring visual presentation that involved interesting flat shots and non-animated slideshows to get ideas through. Similarly, the powers that the show presented weren’t very interesting, and the events like the baseball game felt so out of place and stupid. Regardless, I was still relatively excited because this felt like it would have a couple of episodes that’d be as interesting as the first episode.
Then, Charlotte took another completely new turn.
This point of the story where it was able to fling was back up from almost dropping the show. And this is when Yuu’s sister dies as her powers are awakened. This was such a nice foreshadowed twist that led up to an event that caused a huge change in Yuu’s character. And this one made complete sense. This was great because it looked like they weren’t just going to go over something so serious like the main character’s sister’s death so simply. The dark mood was really easy to get more invested into and watching Yuu slowly turn more and more insane was one of the most intense sequences that I’ve seen in a while.
That episode where Yuu leave the school to live a completely ruined life had so much that I loved about it. As mentioned, it was intense, easy to zone into, and easy to relate to. But at the same time it was pretty damn hilarious. I can’t forget how much I laughed when Yuu was stabbing his Dango sticks at the gang that attacked him with his signature insane face that he had in the first episode. Actually, I don’t know if I’m supposed to laugh at that part but episode one spoiled me to think that Yuu going insane is funny.
We then find out Tomori was stalking Yuu the whole time and see Tomori calm Yuu down with the Omurice that Ayumi always made him. One of the highlights of the show and one of the touching moments. I was pretty excited to see how the show will take it from here and how much Yuu will change after this incident.
Then, Charlotte takes another completely new turn… again.
The show finds a way to bring Ayumi back. And this was through Yuu’s brother, who has time travelling powers. I don’t know how many people would have felt this but these few episodes where we are looking at Yuu’s brother’s past is probably my favorite arc yet if I separate it from the whole show. I genuinely think that this was a really good twist that connected well with Ayumi’s death. The fact that we started this world in a time travelled setting that was the result of numerous reattempts is pretty cool to think about. Though I did feel like this arc spent too many episodes (especially compared to the rushed episodes that’s to come) and got slightly side tracked from Tomori and Yuu, it was still a cool concept.
Charlotte then takes a few episodes to explore the community that Yuu’s brother built. It does quite a bit with hostages and trying to save different ability users but I don’t have too much to say. It’s cool that Yuu had this secret ability that no one including him did not know about and how he uses it to take the time travelling ability to save Ayumi and fights those who are trying to attack their friends. It’s fine but most of the fight scenes weren’t very interesting with choreography especially because it’s just abilities that feature character standing vs guns. The reactions and events felt more cliche and frustrated than anything.
But after this, Charlotte took another new turn. And this time it’s absolutely insane.
With one and a half episodes left, the author suddenly decides to take Yuu on a journey around the whole world to get rid of anyone who has abilities to save them from the risk of being used and tortured. You know, as interesting as this is, if I told someone about the plot of this arc, they would expect it to be some 20 episode arc of a shounen show. Because this is definitely not something you try to cram into 20 minutes and it definitely shows throughout.
You probably already know what I’m about to say. But this show had pacing issues throughout.
Before I got into this almost summary-like explanation of each arc, I said that Charlotte explores a lot of different interesting ideas. This is because I really think each arc, each section really has enough for me to praise where I’m writing, even if it is briefly, about each section. But of course, as I probably made it obvious, the biggest problem with this show is how horrible the show was, execution-wise, trying to juggle five or six different stories that really should have been expanded through different seasons. Simply put, the show wasn’t very well planned out.
I talked before about how Youjo Senki’s ideas really propel the show, especially to someone who is interested in that type of militaristic stories. But even that show, filled with awful CG and artstyle, still manages to set up the purpose, characters, motivations, and atmosphere, and follows through with it. We get great background and build up before and throughout the arcs that are developed through different smaller events and dialogue over different episodes that come together in the big moments. E.g how Tanya’s brief proposal about creating a specialized battalion with the army general gets put to plan and how in following episodes we see Tanya completely train that battalion and lead them in following missions. In other words, it’s a simple writing principle; the show flows well and nothing feels like it’s completely sudden.
Charlotte on the other hand is the pinnacle of suddenness. Every time I mention how the show takes a new turn (with the exception of Yuu’s little sister dying) it really comes out of absolutely nowhere. Whether it be the plot — Yuu suddenly traveling the world out of nowhere in the course of just one episode — or characters — Yuu suddenly becoming this nice guy when he was presented as the biggest scum on earth on the previous episode — each time the show moves on, it just becomes a completely new show that doesn’t have the elements that I was enjoying in the previous arc.
Now, with the idea of things coming in suddenly, I don’t mean twists. In fact, twists are great. I talked just above about how the idea of Charlotte’s world actually being a time leaped past where special ability users have been saved was wonderful. This idea works completely fine because it makes sense — it’s consistent. These things work great as long as they line up with what we have been seeing.
However, the way that Charlotte moves it’s plot points comes in too sudden in a way that doesn’t have any type of build up throughout the show. The last episode especially feels absolutely pointless because we see him wandering around just collecting powers without that much action or effort put into it. Because there’s no build up or any type of development throughout the episode, it’s inexcusably boring to watch. In fact, they could have probably expanded on the previous arc to make the terrorist/opponent feel as thoroughly planned and evil as possible if they just skipped this whole last episode by cutting from the time of his departure immediately to the end of his journey. It’s not like he learns anything or does anything significantly fun to watch. We could’ve seen him maybe be in one fight then immediately see him on the bed having forgotten everything and it would’ve been so much more impactful.
I might sound like I’m complaining too much but I’m just incredibly frustrated because it feels like this show can be so so good. The show could’ve been so much better if they expanded on the character built on the first episode by more directly making Tomori help Yuu slowly become less scummy through their super power scavenge. The arcs after Yuu’s sister’s death would have been even better if Yuu seemed visibly different compared to before or if they built up his sadness more that he doesn’t show to his friends which would have exemplified the emotions that we feel when we realize that Ayumi can be saved. It would have been so cool if this was a two season show with a multi episode OVA or movie in the middle about Yuu’s brother’s past.
Another problem, that I think really came from my hypothesis of this show really not being thought out properly, is that it sometimes feels like the writers forgot some of the plot points or forced their way to progress the story. Let’s take for example the first episode. When Tomori and Takajou jump at Yuu, it makes no sense why Yuu didn’t try to possess them. Of course, we know now that it’s because the author was hiding his powers. Though it makes sense on the first watch, it doesn’t work on the second watch. Though I think this is pretty clever since it’s easy to forget small things that happen at the start especially if it seems like it makes sense back then.
I’m kind of hesitant to refer to these as plot holes because they still take time to try to explain them. It just never really makes sense. In the last episode, for example, our main character gains the ability to heal injuries during his travels to loot all power. However, while you would assume that he would heal his eyes to time travel back to save Kumagami, he states that it is unhuman-like or something, and ends up not doing this. Even if he doesn’t time travel it doesn’t really make sense why he doesn’t restore his eye. I’m sure hard-core charlotte fans will have some explanation for this but hey I’m not smart enough to figure these out on my own. Maybe there’s an explanation for why Yuu didn’t possess them too.
Other than that, there are some plot points that are never really mentioned, for example with the ZHIEND vocalist. We get weird hints about her especially in that episode where Yuu hangs out with her but we never really get any explanation for who she is other than just a vocalist. They seemed to set her up to be super important for the story. At one point I thought that she was able to use time travel abilities which Yuu would use to get Ayumi back. But of course that happened with another character. In the end we didn’t even learn whether or not she was a former ability user or something.
Other times, there were episodes that really felt out of place. The baseball episode, for example, didn’t have any problems in terms of the story other than it felt boring, but the way that it was constructed to have this whole match and everything (in the first place can a player set matches like this? What authority) felt so irreverent to the story. Was there really a need for them to have this whole baseball match with so many references to baseball terms? It’s not like the presentation was any exciting like some sort of sports anime. In fact it was mostly slide shows and uninteresting animation of balls flying and falling into gloves with a medium full shot from straight, eye-level angle. I enjoyed it since I like baseball but I can’t see anyone else remotely enjoying this episode. I’m guessing the writers just wanted a creative application of telekinesis since it seemed like a skill that would be cool for Yuu to have.
I mean, I do feel kind of bad. Maeda Jun, the writer of this show, clearly wanted to do a lot more than the 12 episodes that he was given. But reading his interview where it seems like he really lost all of his confidence kind of makes me feel bad about the criticism I’m pouring into this episode. I mean, the guy was talking about how everyone, including Tomori’s voice actor Sakura Ayane, was criticising him about the world traveling arc and how the baseball game shouldn’t be there. To top it off he said he hopes his next project will be an anime while stating that he is doubtful he would even get another job after this.
I am criticizing, and almost ranting, about how horrible the show was with its ideas, but even with this awful writing and execution, to me, just thinking about these ideas that they give to the audience was actually exciting. In fact, I think Charlotte is the perfect example of how a show can be good, or more so interesting, merely with its plot. It leaves a strange aftertaste lingering which makes you think more about the show. Unfortunately, as I think more about what this show could have been, I also think more about how awful the writing was.
After all this, to finally get to my main point and objective with this post, everyone should listen to Charlotte radio. It’s absolutely hilarious and it makes you love Tomori and her voice actor even more.
Don’t be so sad Mr. Maeda Jun, it’s okay since the anime is merely the supporting material for the radio.