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[R1 DVD art]
AKA: 輪廻のラグランジェ (Rinne no Lagrange: Flower Declaration of Your Heart), Lag-Rin
Genre: Mecha action / slice-of-life comedy-drama
Length: Television series, 12 episodes, 24 minutes each
Distributor: Currently licensed by Viz Entertainment
Content Rating: 13+ (brief nudity, fan service, violence, adult themes)
Related Series: Lagrange - The Flower of Rin-ne S2, Lagrange - The Flower of Rin-ne: Kamogawa Days (upcoming)
Also Recommended: Battle Athletes Victory, Bodacious Space Pirates, Macross Frontier
Notes: Based on the ongoing manga of the same name written by Shotaro Suga and illustrated by Kimitake Yoshioka, published in Young Gangan.
Rating: Three StarsThree StarsThree Stars

Lagrange - The Flower of Rin-ne season 1

Synopsis

Madoka Kyono is an energetic girl who is the lone member of her high school's "Jersey Club", which aims to do odd jobs to assist anyone in need. One day she meets the mysterious Lan and is drawn into a pressure situation where she must pilot a futuristic mecha known as a Vox in order to protect everyone and everything she knows. She also befriends a third girl named Muginami, whose seemingly innocent personality hides yet another agenda. The fate of the universe hangs in the balance as the complicated relationship between these three young women begins to blossom into something more than any of them could imagine.


Review

From its dazzling opening sequence, Lagrange - The Flower of Rin-ne gives the impression of a slick production with pretty girls and cool mecha. Take a guess which of these gets more airtime.

Ding ding ding, the girls!

In this case, that's a mixed blessing, because while there is certainly a fair amount of action, the mecha and sci-fi aspects of this show are largely secondary compared to watching a quotidian drama of three schoolgirls who quickly form a strong bond despite being from three different planets (to say nothing about cultural and motivational differences). This means >Lagrange is alternately fascinating and frustrating, largely because of the characters themselves, but mostly because of Madoka Kyouno, a character I felt at first rather ambivalent about.

I really want to like Madoka (Kaori Ishihara - Kanna Tanigawa in Waiting for that Summer), because she's a positive-minded, sweet-hearted go-getter, but she's so impulsive that she often seems to forget to think about the consequences what she's doing. It's like someone took Neon Genesis Evangelion and replaced Shinji Ikari with Haruhi Suzumiya, which leads to a more cheerful and energetic series, but not necessarily a smarter one. You also get the feeling that she moves so fast from Jersey Club task to Jersey Club task that she hasn't really taken the time to form any deep, meaningful relationships with anyone, and therefore she comes off as dismayingly naive and shallow -- fortunately, that's an opportunity for character development, and bit by bit, we get some, even if a lot of it involves stringing the other two girls along for the ride.

Speaking of the other two girls: Fin E Ld Si Laffinty (Asami Seto - Chihaya Ayase in Chihayafuru) (thank god she goes by Lan, because that name is horribly awkward in any language!) is the designated Rei Ayanami expy here, but instead of being merely stoic, she is klutzy, stubborn, emotionally fragile, and usually quite passive, though she has flashes of moxie and cuteness that make her fun to watch. The often utterly shameless, curvy Muginami (Ai Kayano - Meiko "Menma" Honma in AnoHana) is Lan's opposite in many ways: she plays off the angle of being "cute and sweet and innocent" but constantly has some ulterior motive, and while she often acts like a lazy, dumb blonde, you have to wonder if she's actually the most observant and intelligent of the three characters; she certainly has the most to hide psychologically, and her backstory is not easy to watch when we get to it.

And essentially 90% of this anime is about the bonding between Madoka, Lan, and Muginami.

Before you ask: director Tatsuo Sato was interviewed in 2012 and said he would be minimizing any romance in his two series for the year, Bodacious Space Pirates and Lagrange - The Flower of Rin-ne. This interview has since proven to be blatant lies. Where there is nothing overt (unlike the canon relationship seen between two auxiliary characters in Pirates), there are constant romantic overtones between the girls in all directions, and while it's mostly tastefully handled, it does get very distracting when the tension comes up during, say, a plot-relevant battle sequence. There is also a fair amount of fan service, which comes to a head with what is best known as "the eel scene" (a scene so incredibly stupid I almost actually dropped the series right there and then).

Though the context of the show is essentially an interstellar war with opposing factions treating the generally oblivious Earth as a neutral zone, that plot only covers maybe a third of this season, so people expecting this to be a space epic on the lines of Gundam or even Bodacious Space Pirates will be rather disappointed. This storytelling choice, however, leads to some very interesting day-to-day scenes with the "designated antagonists" who we see attacking Kamogawa in the opening episodes; they are shown to be very human characters in their own right, and extremely likable. Yuichi Nakamura in particular (Tomoya in Clannad and Alto in Macross Frontier) gets to seriously ham it up as the outlandish Villagiulio, a seemingly laidback "punch clock villain" who is somehow a perfect fit for a surfing mecca like Kamogawa. My favorite side character by far is Madoka's older sister figure, her cousin Yoko Nakaizumi, a rough-talking, ambitious, almost reckless archaeologist (imagine if you will a Japanese schoolgirl who has grown up to be Indiana Jones) played by none other than Mamiko Noto (who usually plays wimpy, straight-laced "proper Japanese girls" like Haruka Nogizaka but plays gloriously against type here). The only major misstep is a token loli character, Asteria (Hisako Kanemoto - the title character of Squid Girl) who is apaprently there to alternately deliver ominous messages and grab Madoka's breasts.

There is so much emphasis on the slice-of-life aspect of this show that any action scenes almost come off as perfunctory. It's not that they're bad : in fact, they're slickly animated and well choreographed. But there's never any real doubt that Madoka, Lan, and Muginami will win the day - there's even less suspense here than in Bodacious Space Pirates except for the end of the first season (and knowing there's a second season already out sort of ruins the tension in that case). The scenery and setting are excellent, which comes as no surprise as Kamogawa is actually very much a real town in Chiba Prefecture known for its beaches and waves. (The idiosyncratic episode name scheme ( in Kamogawa) must certainly be a shameless plug for the town's tourism committee.) We also get to see what may or may not be the most beautifully surreal "apocalypse" ever, triggered by the power of (romantic three-girl) friendship: this series is worth watching for that alone. You all should also know by now I'll give just about anything a chance if Megumi Nakajima is involved, even if that involvement is limited to the opening and closing themes.

All that being said, while this first season Lagrange has some excellent, beautiful scenes and some very likable characters, it is hampered somewhat by some remarkably out-of-place fan service and a few confusing storytelling choices. Hopefully the second season will streamline some of the faults of this show, but while I didn't love Lagrange like I really hoped I would, I didn't feel it was the disaster it very well could have been.

Lagrange just misses out on excellence, but Madoka's irrepressible optimism gives me hope for the season to come. Yuri fans should probably tack on that extra star, because the three girls together are actually pretty darn adorable.Carlos Ross

Recommended Audience: There is some fan service (mostly girls in swimsuits - this is a surfing town after all - the only outright bad moment being the aforementioned "eel scene") and the requisite amount of mecha violence, though not too much blood - only one scene comes to mind and it's plot-relevant. A couple scenes of brief nudity, though nothing detailed (this is a television series). A couple of character deaths are mentioned. The heaviest content advisory is that there are very heavy romantic overtones between the three female leads, and if that sort of thing bothers you then I would advise avoiding this franchise altogether, but by and large it's handled tastefully and doesn't feel overtly gratuitous. Teens and above should be fine with this.



Version(s) Viewed: Digital source from Viz Media, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Lagrange - The Flower of Rin-ne season 1 © 2012 Lagrange Project
 
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