Critique

Release the Spyce Part 1 – An Object Lesson in Tonal Whiplash

This is the first post in a new series I’ll be writing for Fridays, talking about various anime, specifically the writing behind them. First up, I’m going to talk a little about a show called Release the Spyce, which aired from October 2018 and was… nothing all that special.

The show is pretty standard anime fare; cute girls in cute situations, with some serious stuff thrown in; a world that’s fairly generic; characters who fall squarely into established tropes and stereotypes; and a story that’s about as by the numbers as a paint by numbers picture book.

It does, admittedly, also have one girl in particular that I rank very highly, but mostly that’s just because she happens to fall into an archetype I’m naturally fond of, and I love her design.

So if this show is so generic, why am I about to dedicate probably four posts to writing about it? Simple, because Release the Spyce is a goddamn exemplar of a little thing we in the writing business call tonal whiplash. It also has some yuri undertones, which is always nice.

Today, I’ll start by introducing the show itself, then talk about the first episode. Things start out fairly promising overall, with cute characters who are pleasing to the eye and a fun action scene to kick things off.

The girls, who are presently dressed as ninjas and covering their faces to maintain an air of mystery, are on a mission of some sort. It’s your standard teenage girls kicking ass—robotic ass in this instance, but still—and showing off their skills for the first-time viewer’s benefit. We get a bit of sneaking about, breaking and entering into a secret facility, a hint as to each girl’s personality… okay. No problems so far.

Actually… one problem, which has to do with the medium. During this opening segment, we see them using a few gadgets in order to bypass various security systems. Typical Bond stuff here, a retinal scanner, security cameras, that kind of thing.

Except the girls stop literally right outside the door they want to get through, sit there for a few seconds hacking the cameras to make themselves vanish on the monitors in the security station, then scan a picture of a man in order to get a copy of his eye, then use some form of miniature 3D printer to stamp out a contact lens so they can get past the retinal scanner.

Visual stories like anime or movies sometimes need to use story-telling shortcuts in order to let the viewer know what’s going on in a situation where a monologue or similar wouldn’t be possible.

In the real world, sitting in full view of a camera while you hack it is plain stupid, because you don’t know if anyone’s watching at that moment. You’d do this a little way back up the hall, out of sight, or simply take out the security room itself rather than targeting the cameras. And printing that contact lens from a photo they brought along… oh, deary me. They should’ve had that ready to go before even leaving their base.

Yes, it’s kind of dumb if you actually think about it for a few seconds, but there’s a good reason for it. Showing the girls in full view of the camera, only to have them fade out as they hack the system and make the monitors show an empty corridor is a simple and efficient way to clue the audience in on what’s happening.

Likewise, since we don’t know these characters yet, or know where they operate out of, we can’t reasonably show them preparing the contact lens beforehand, so instead we show them printing it on the spot when it’s needed.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a cranky asshole who loves nit-picking and pointing out flaws in shows I watch, games I play, or books I read, but in order to be a master nit-picker like me, you also need to acknowledge the cases where nit-picking isn’t really fair. This is one of those occasions.

Anyway, this opening segment does a few things for the viewer; it introduces the main cast, the type of show it’s going to be—ninja girls kicking butt with the use of gadgets and one other important item I’ll get to later—and the personality types and fighting styles of the individual girls themselves.

We have the stern and stoic leader, who rarely shows emotion and is the most competent fighter. We have the charismatic girl who cracks jokes and fights in close quarters alongside a partner. Said partner is a first year girl (the rest are second years) who’s still pretty new to the group and is your archetypal tsundere, who happens to live with the charismatic girl. And finally there’s the quiet, shy, socially awkward girl… who covers the others with a sniper rifle from a high vantage point and has super strength.

If you’ve watched even a small amount of anime, you’ll know every single one of these girls pretty much just from the brief descriptions I’ve given here. As I said, it’s generic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but normally I prefer it when generic anime characters at least have some new flaw or trait that the other 5237 characters of that type don’t have.

With the big opening action scene out of the way and the girls in possession of whatever MacGuffin they were after, we switch gears for a while. A bubbly and energetic girl is heading to school, but—prepare to be surprised!—she’s not transferring.

She’s just gone up into second year, and all her classmates have ended up in different classes to her, so it might as well be that she transferred into a new school… yeah, I see what you’re doing, anime, you’re not going to sneak a blatant subversion like that past me.

Her goal is to make some new friends. You can see where this is headed already, can’t you? Did I mention that it’s generic?

I’m going to cut this post here, I think. We’re through the opening scene and I have a basic foundation upon which to build my case, so I’ll start delving into characters and story more firmly next time, covering 3-4 episodes per post, of this 12 episode show.

All in all, that probably didn’t sound so bad, did it? Nice opening action, some light-hearted silliness, a hint of girl love, what’s not to like? Yeah… next week we’ll start looking at where this basically solid beginning to the show starts falling apart.

Yuna Celeste

About Author

Yuna Celeste writes sci-fi, fantasy, and urban fantasy with a lesbian flavour. Yuna's first book, The Love We Lost, an urban fantasy/magical girl story, is now available on Amazon.

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