The series takes place at a school known as Seishou Academy. Unlike an average school, all the students are actually anthropomorphized guns, training to one day become a useful weapon, and are divided up into submachine gun (elementary school), assault rifle (middle school) and battle rifle (high school) classes. All students in Seishou trains to shoot their target (literally) using live ammunition. The series mainly focuses on an FN FNC assault rifle named Funco and her friends.
Upotte!! is one of those shows that is clearly aimed at a very specific demographic: moe fanboys who love guns. Well, I've made no secret about not being a moe fanboy, but I am a gun nut - my wife and I have Top Shot and Sons of Guns recorded on DVR every week.
Still, I like guns. I like cute girls. Will that be enough for me to enjoy this series?
Umm, sort of, but not really. Chalk it up to great idea, terrible execution.
You see, Upotte!! spends a lot of time focusing on junior high schoolgirl slice-of-life hijinks. With the twist that the schoolgirls are anthropomorphized guns, something the series Never. Once. Explains. What's even more bizarre is that this is some alternative universe Japan where these moe gun-girls are free to run around and fire themselves off in public without the police (or more likely the Self Defense Force) getting involved. The problem here is the context: by setting this in some weird facsimile of the real world, it challenges the willing disbelief necessary for a comedy like, say, Hetalia, and without even a flimsy explanation to pass it off as, say, magic (Strike Witches). Oh, and since types and classes of guns are set, there's no way that, say, Funco could ever graduate to high school, because it's not like assault rifles can be converted into battle rifles. Not to mention that these girls are very insistent about saying "We're not girls, we're guns!" and then proceed to pull the mechanical version of themselves out of what appears to be Hammerspace.
This is the kind of setup you're expected to just swallow, and honestly, it's all pretty painfully stupid.
That being said, I actually found myself liking a fair number of the characters - Funco (Iori Nomizu) is a Belgian FN FNC rifle turned into a sort of earnestly adorkable girl with serious child-bearing hips for a 14-year-old. Her best friend Ichiroku (Misuzu Togashi) is an American M16A4 turned into an energetic, somewhat foul-mouthed girl with an Osaka accent. One of their teachers, Thompson-sensei (Sayaka Ohara) is, naturally, modeled after the Tommy gun ... and you can tell because of the size of her, umm, magazine (not to mention her ridiculously over-the-top "anime American" accent). I can see why there *are* a fair number of fans for this series, because the voice cast does about a good a job as possible at making these guns into viable characters, and I admit to getting a serious kick out of the actual statistics and traits of each gun being portrayed.
The first problem, then, is the rampant, out-of-control fan service. This series makes a big deal about correlating various parts of firearms machinery with the female anatomy, and these girls are often heard talking about "their triggers going off". This is one of the least graceful euphemisms for genitalia I've ever encountered in a non-hentai title, and leads to a lot of unfortunate implications about what's really going on when you see them actually shooting at each other. Another egregious scene near the beginning has Funco's skeleton stock being visualized as "T-back" thong panties. The fan service gets incredibly bad near the middle, where one of the (temporary) antagonists, Sako (a Finnish SAKO Rk 95 Tp which is essentially a reverse-engineered AK-47 on serious steroids ... and an offensive maniac lesbian archetype straight out of the 90s) is seen visibly getting off on shooting the other girls, which is about the point this show jumps every cartilaginous fish in the book. Remember, these are middle schoolers, and if the idea of seeing them in their undergarments (or less) bothers you then I suggest running as far in the opposite direction as possible.
The second problem is the inclusion of supposed "serious" plots involving, first, Sako and her catgirl friend Galil (a Galil AR) trying to "take over the school" in a game of capture the flag (kind of a Counterstrike meets Sukeban Deka scenario) ... and then a full-on brawl between the girls and their rivals, led by the psychotic pink-haired AK-74 (of course the Russians are the "real bad guys", since Sako shows up to help the good guys out). Somewhere in there, the lone human character in this whole series (an unnamed man so incredibly clueless you openly wonder how he survives normal Japanese daily life, much less life around loaded weapons) gets shot, but the wounds instantly heal, in what must be the dumbest possible proof of the adage that "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."
And I guess being in Japan means that even anthropomorphized guns have the Pavlovian urge to attend school festivals, go to hot springs resorts and the beach (because water and sand are so great for firearms), and take examinations even when "graduation" to a different level is rendered physically impossible (leading to yet another set of unfortunate implications about elementary schoolers like, say, Uzi) ... Moe fanatics are going to eat this premise up, but honestly, it doesn't hold up to even the slightest bit of scrutiny, and gets more and more ludicrous as more serious threads are woven into the narrative. The most egregious bit is that for the large part, real-world gun safety practices are almost entirely ignored in place of drama, and the guns themselves often sustain fire for far longer than is actually possible (clearly the animators missed that particular episode of MythBusters). Not to mention that the girls, despite being guns, are arguably worse shots than THEM Anime's reviewing team, clearly believing in the adage of "spray and pray". And you can't tell me these girls haven't heard of burst fire, especially if you mention it in a previous episode!
On the plus side, the cute character designs are a bit of an improvement over the too-angular look of the manga (even if no one has any noses), the music is somewhat pleasant, and the animation (by Studio Xebec) is generally passable. Yeah, not a lot of plusses, but at least this isn't a total disaster.
If you're a huge fan of all things moe, then don't let me stop you - you'll probably enjoy this much more than I do. If you're a gun nut, be warned that despite the firearms jargon thrown around, you may find this a potentially jarring experience. If you're neither of those people, then there is absolutely no reason for you to be here: go watch Kids on the Slope or Bodacious Space Pirates instead.
Despite some winsome characters and lots of gun-geekery, the basic premise is so startlingly stupid and the unpleasantly over-the-top fanservice so pervasive that any attempts at seriousness backfire immensely. Perhaps perfect for ephebophilic gun otaku, but probably a skip for anyone else. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: Incredibly inappropriate for younger children due to pervasive fan-service and a couple of scenes of graphic sexual content (primarily masturbation), all of which involve guns anthropomorphized as elementary, middle, and high schoolers. Explicit nudity is censored out of the crunchyroll stream, but I wouldn't be surprised if it shows up later in a DVD cut. Compared to that, the violence is almost laughably tame - lots of gunshots, and a couple of boom-headshots even, but with only one wound that draws actual blood through the course of the series. For older teens and above only, and only with parental discretion - this is extremely close to adults only territory.
Version(s) Viewed: crunchyroll.com stream, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (10/10)
Upotte!! © 2012 Kitsune Tennouji / Kadokawa Shoten / Upotte Partners
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