Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > Sacred Seven Episodes 1 and 2 – Off to a Rocky Start

Sacred Seven Episodes 1 and 2 – Off to a Rocky Start

In the interest of full disclosure, I should start of this review saying that I was predisposed to dislike Sacred Seven. Shounen action series have an uphill battle with me, particularly if it involves a) a technobabble heavy b) try to save the world from monsters plot c) through use of superpowers and/or mecha d) utilized/piloted exclusively by high school students who otherwise must live normal lives as high school students. Frankly, it’s a genre that is second only to harem series in the potential for genuine drama to be derailed by wish fulfillment and the power fantasies of the writers.

But, I had to give Sacred Seven a look, for the simple reason that it was being produced by Sunrise, one of the few studios willing to produce original works on a consistent basis. From the seminal Cowboy Bepop to the venerable Gundam franchise (which Sunrise is always willing to reinvent) to unique genre offerings like Mai-HiME, Sunrise takes risks with new things rather than animate whatever manga or light novel series is selling at any given moment. That by itself deserves some praise.

Most recently, the studio surprised me with Tiger & Bunny, another series I went into with low expectations that managed to wow me all the same. I thus went into Sacred Seven hoping for a similar surprise. I am sorry to say that it was not forthcoming.

The first bad sign? The talking supernatural mascot character intended as comic relief, who is remarkably unfunny

Sacred Seven lays on its technobabble thick, particularly in the second episode, so I’m not going to try reproduce that. The short version is that a meteorite hit the earth 17 years ago, dispersing gem-like substances called darkstones that grant supernatural abilities to humans and inanimate objects alike. The vast majority of these so empowered go berserk and kill people.

Enter Alma Tandouji. Your classic loner high school student that everyone views as a violent delinquent, he has the power to transform into a rock beast thanks to contact his mother had with a darkstone while pregnant with him. Activating his powers sends him into a destructive rage, so he hasn’t used them since an incident several years earlier where he destroyed a bridge.

Alma's original transformation makes him a more powerful version of the monsters he's asked to destroy. I wish the show had the good sense to keep him that way

When darkstone related creatures begin threatening his home all of a sudden, he is approached by wealthy heiress Ruri Aiba, who has devoted all her family’s wealth to combating the darkstone threat after the death of her parents and the transformation of her sister. Ruri has identified Alma as a powerful potential ally, possessing all the Sacred Seven powers, and she has the ability to keep his rages under control, transforming him from a monster into a superhero, complete with appropriate costume.

There’s some evidence that the rage problem might resurface later, but for the moment Sacred Seven neuters itself of its most dramatic plot hook from the first episode. Just about everyone but Ruri views Alma as a dangerous animal—and before Ruri transforms him, he is. With the stress of losing control and rampaging eliminated, he starts to loosen up, thus eliminating the tension and potential tragedy that could have come from using his abilities.

Ruri's trust in Alma is so ingrained that she thinks nothing of jumping out an airplane without a parachute, confident that he will save her

Ruri seems to exist just to rip through potential plot conflicts like tinfoil. Her limitless wealth lets her buy all the equipment, personnel, and intel needed to wage a personal war against the ill effects of darkstone. She also takes several other steps to ingratiate herself in Alma’s life: buying out the school he attends and flooding it with cash, joining his club, and otherwise aggressively wooing him into joining her organization. She also might be interested in wooing him personally: Alma saved her life when they were children (an incident he seems to have forgotten) and her implicit trust in him stems from that encounter.

The unifying factor in all this is wish fulfillment—for the ultra upper-class lifestyle, of course, but also for the freedom to run an paramilitary organization as a personal extension of oneself. There’s no governments or board of directors dictating standards or limits on Ruri’s actions, questioning why buying out a high school and stocking its cafeteria with caviar is a justifiable business expense or patiently explaining that having your entire private security force run around in short skirted maid outfits (save for the lone male, who acts as a butler/bodyguard) is not a way to instill discipline. There’s no adult oversight, or indeed any adults at all, which is of course the point.

I'm including this shot just to prove I'm not making the maid thing up

As much as I despise what Ruri stands for and enables, I have to give credit to her defying the usual stereotype personality of the diminutive blond rich girl with an oversized mane of hair. Far from being lonely or withdrawn because of the isolation caused by wealth and the absence of parental figures, she is instead driven, passionate, and even somewhat noble. She’s the most compelling character in the cast, which I suppose is not a particularly high bar given the competition, but still worth mentioning.

Alma himself is your standard loner with a bad reputation and a good heart, which lets him be the bad boy and the hero all at once. Ruri’s “butler” Makoto Kagami is your ultra-smart smug jerkface who doesn’t have much plot purpose save to sneer. Wakana Itou is the requisite “normal” high school girl and alternate romantic interest. None of them do anything wrong, exactly, but they aren’t all that memorable either.

I do want to give the opening sequence credit for capturing the basis of the entire show and the personality of the characters with just a few scattered images. Of course, that also demonstrates how one dimensional Makoto and the other side characters are

The fights themselves also lack a certain dramatic tension. Ruri has complete faith in Alma’s abilities and thus far that seems completely justified. In the second episode Alma faces a behemoth creature formed by the merger of darkstone with a high powered explosive, and defeats it in a matter of minutes, only using two of his seven powers and with Ruri in tow. Here’s a little tip: you won’t create memorable battles by making your protagonist unbeatable.

Perhaps when sentient darkstone users like Alma get into the fight (we’ve seen one already running around causing trouble behind the scenes), things will get more interesting. For now, Sacred Seven is a remarkably bland offering from a genre that requires something outstanding for me to sit up and take notice. Barring a strongly positive review of later episodes from a source I trust, I won’t be returning to the series.

The main bad guy seems dedicated to causing destruction and murder, but we still don't have the slightest idea as to why

If you are fond of this type of show, you can try out the series here.

  1. -
    July 23, 2011 at 3:52 am

    Thanks for doing these reviews; I haven’t seen such insight anywhere else I’ve looked. I don’t usually comment, but I wanted to express my appreciation.

    Will you be having a look at Dantalian no Shoka this season? I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt so far. (Unlike Blood-C, my reaction to which was much like your reaction to Sacred Seven.)

    • threeheadedmonkeys
      July 23, 2011 at 10:45 am

      I’m planning to write an initial review of Dantalian after watching the second episode. Like you, I’m intrigued but not sold on it quite yet, so I’d like a broader base than the first episode to write an opinion.

      Blood-C will also be getting a review sometime next week–my opinion, again, seems to be much like yours. It seems the best shows of the season (Usagi Drop and Penguindrum) will be covered by my coblogger.

  1. October 11, 2011 at 11:53 pm

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