In the mid-21st century, mysterious alien invaders appeared without warning throwing the world into chaos. Though a brutal and short war against the first wave of invaders stopped their initial progress, aliens continue to appear and threaten the Earth. Every alien seems to have the same goal: converging on the mysterious so-called "Pilgrimage Point" in the Western part of North America.
In a strange twist of events, the anti-alien UN task force codenamed FUNERAL finds itself with a new weapon: a reanimated alien patchwork that can seemingly be controlled by a young girl. However, a new FUNERAL pilot, Soma Ryu, is secretly dedicated to destroying this "Extra One" as he blames it for the death of his beloved girlfriend. For Soma Ryu is actually Kaneshiro Takuto, one of the scientists who helped bring the Extra One or "Frank" to life.
It would be easy, after watching the first few episodes of Argento Soma, to dismiss this show. Oddly angular and slightly strange character designs, sudden tone and style shifts, and the abrupt introduction of many characters and plot lines make the introductory volume of this show a bit underwhelming. It doesn't help that certain elements of the show make it easy for a Westerner to mock such as persistent spelling errors (weapons in this show aren't "locked on": they are "rocked on") or some obvious ignorance of North American geography causing the occasional continuity error (Pilgrimage Point seems to slightly move a few times on the map from what I saw).
Despite all those flaws though, I found something intriguing in Argento Soma and decided to give it a chance. After all, the opening episodes, while not stunningly good, were not wretchedly bad either. They were dangling just enough interesting plot threads to convince me that there would be something interesting if I kept with it. In the final analysis, I$BCN(B glad I did. Argento Soma has turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
Although the initial entry of various plot lines was, as I indicated above, a bit muddled, the flow of events becomes smoother as the show progresses. Though the first half of the show often seems to center around blowing away an alien of the day, they don't neglect development of other threads particularly subtly probing some of the mystery of the aliens, Pilgrimage Point, and also of "Soma Ryu" plus his benefactor the mysterious Shakespeare quoting, Mr. X, a man who may be real or may be simply an imaginary figment of a broken and revenge filled mind. I must give them special credit for maintaining the ambiguity around Mr. X up until the closing episodes of the series. There is plenty of evidence for both cases presented.
This show has an unusual attention to detail (well excluding English spelling I suppose) in regards to a lot of their setting. They weren't content to simply have the FUNERAL team but instead demonstrate a realistic and multi-tier defensive structure for repelling the aliens. Several aspects of the reality of a global defensive war were explored including often neglected elements such as the political and governmental maneuvering that influence such an effort.
The real strength of this show, though, is more its psychological focus than the overall plot. Both Ryu and the young girl, Harriet (nicknamed Hattie), have suffered emotionally scarring losses because of the aliens. While Ryu has attempted to do with this through focused vengeance and hate, the young girl has withdrawn into a fantasy of her own creation where a giant alien robot amalgamation is a "fairy" from the "land of the fairies." The interplay between Ryu and Harriet was well done as both are obviously quite damaged but at the same time the key to regaining the complete sanity that both have loss as a result of their trauma. Ryu, in particular, struggles between the new callous persona he has adopted for his vengeance and his previous personality. Though we only see one episode of him as "Takuto" initially, the show does a good job of showing us what he used to be like and the nature of his relationship with the dead Maki through a series of well paced and positioned flashbacks throughout the show. For a character that died in the first episode, Maki actually gets brought to life fairly well.
The rest of the FUNERAL team for the most part, while not getting nearly as much character work as Hattie or Ryu, still get fairly well developed over the course of the series. However, one of the characters, the pilot Sue, didn't really seem to get much development in the main series. Besides the fact that she is cute and spunky, we didn't get much insight into her character until the special "extra" twenty-sixth episode, which focused a lot on her background. It would have been nice if she would have had an episode like that earlier in the series as the insight into her background made her seem a much more interesting character than the somewhat spunky ditz that she initially appears to be.
Though while not perhaps as philosophically engaging as some titles, as the plot fully comes into fruition, Argento Soma does rise above simply being a show about alien invaders and makes some interesting statements about what motivates people and society itself. In fact, in not overreaching thematically, I think Argento Soma managed to avoid the common problem of promising much more than it could deliver. Some of the themes it deals with, I suppose on reflection, on somewhat pedestrian in and of themselves, but this title still did a good job of exploring them in an engaging manner.
The nature of the aliens and their motivations I found both interesting and unusual. I had some vague suspicions about that it was related to certain plot elements but they still managed to surprise me and still have it logically flow from the plot and background elements previously introduced. Argento Soma also had the nice touch of having its main plot line conclude in episode 24 which allowed episode 25 to serve as an epilogue. This was a nice touch given that many anime titles tend toward unsatisfying endings without any sort of decent epilogue even when it might be appropriate. As noted above, the twenty-sixth episode actually fits in with earlier plot events rather than taking place later. I almost would recommend watching the twenty-sixth episode shortly after the introduction of Ryu to the FUNERAL team (which is in the third or fourth episode if I remember correctly).
The action scenes aren't as stunning as some other titles but the SARGs (the transformable mecha used by FUNERAL) do get in some good moves here and there. The lumbering nature of most of the aliens and EX-1/Frank when he battles them is a bit less interesting though the varying nature of the aliens$B!&(Bcapabilities help to keep the encounters interesting. Though this series does have these definite action elements, they function primarily as connective devices to help flesh out the plot elements and the psychological exploration of the main leads rather than as the heart of the show itself.
Though it has a weak and muddled (and somewhat unpromising) beginning, Argento Soma ends up a solid, dramatic science fiction title with a lot of interesting psychological work. If you are looking for a series with wall-to-wall action Argento Soma might be a bit slow for your tastes at points and you might want to subtract a star. Additionally, if you simply do not like mecha, you might want to subtract a star as there are plenty of SARG-versus-alien battles throughout this show. — Jeremy A Beard
Recommended Audience: Several people die in this show but it is rarely graphic (though we get a bit of increasing blood and the like as the show progresses) though the show does depict at points lots of innocents (including children) who have died as the result of the war. Ryu's partial psychosis makes for a few uncomfortable scenes here and there.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Argento Soma © 2000 Sunrise / Victor Entertainment
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