Cross Ange Key Art - 20141011Before the season began, Cross Ange Rondo of Angel and Dragon was one of those titles that just demanded attention. It’s a mecha show by Sunrise, who are arguably masters of the genre. Time and time again, they’ve proven that they’re able to craft shows that merge a compelling narrative with amazing characters and badass robot action. They’ve given viewers a universe of wonder with Gundam, and invited viewers on freewheeling adventures with Cowboy Bebop. So, to say expectations were high going into Cross Ange is a bit of an understatement.

These expectations were pushed into overdrive as the series opened, with a haunting melody being sung over an image of a smiling girl, that melts away to a view inside a cockpit. The singing, now very real and clear as the craft’s pilot sings, undaunted.

Gigantic, monstrous dragons pour out of an unexplained rift, and the battle begins. It’s a fast, bloody, exciting experience, as several mecha streak through the skies, taking down he small fry in a bullet ballet. Suddenly, the songstress breaks apart, darting straight toward the biggest dragon of them all. The only words uttered are “My name is Ange. I will survive.” as she delivers a killing blow to the massive beast.

Kill and survive.

the series breaks, to a much happier time. Ange, rather First Princess Angelise of the Empire of Misurugi, lives a sheltered life. She attends the finest schools, and knows nothing less than luxury. She’s popular with her peers, though utterly deaf to the struggles of the world around her. Amazingly, someone so blind to the world is in line to take the throne of the kingdom.

In this world, most are gifted with Mana, a magical power that allows its bearer to engage in the necessities of modern life, such as the use of appliances or computers. Those who can’t use Mana are known as “Norma” and, due to laws in place, must be quarantined to an unknown place, away from prying eyes. Norma are seen as anti-social objects, unable to cope with the realities of the kingdom.

Cross Ange 013 - 20141011The day before her coronation, Angelise meets her first Norma: a baby, being ripped from the arms of its mother. Angelise, being a bit… “sheltered” to the needs of the masses, opts to tell the grieving mother to just have more children and forget about this child, being torn from her very grasp.

She doesn’t quite… get subtlety, apparently.

That night, Angelise contemplates aloud about her experiences. Amid her thoughts, she gleefully proclaiming that the world would become an even more amazing place, if only they could exterminate the Norma.

That’s right. Our darling princess is endorsing ethnic cleansing. Unfortunately for her, Angelise still needs a Hugo Boss uniform to really sell her message.

As the sun rises and the royal family takes the stage, expectations are high. Angelise takes to the stage, proud as can be, to light the world up with her mana. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen. The stage’s podium, which was to convert her mana to a radiant light, fails to illuminate. She is unable to use Mana and, like the baby she gleefully considered exterminating just hours earlier, Angelise is a Norma.

Despite all efforts to escape, Angelise cannot escape the law. Her mother, a kind woman who sought only to give the best, is killed in the pursuit. Angelise herself isn’t so lucky. She’s dragged to an outpost where, in a cold grey room, she’s stripped of everything. Her status, her family, even her name is but a meaningless trifle here.

Angelise is dead. In her wake is Ange, a military grunt, whose only purpose is to exterminate. Born to this new world by torture and rape, Ange is but one more dead set of eyes in this realm of sorrow.

A Mana-destroying mutant…

Cross Ange 011 - 20141011The first episode of Cross Ange serves, mainly, to build the world and the heroine. It’s a world of haves and have-nots, where the less fortunate are hidden from the world. The Norma are treated as a permanent underclass, ridiculed and exiled by the Mana users, and forced to serve as little more than cannon fodder for in a battle against the kingdom’s real threats.

Ange, as one can gather, is the show’s tragic heroine. In her former life, Angelise was a charming and affable young lady. She was a friend to all she encountered, and a gifted leader in her studies. As Ange, she has little left to cling to, but her mecha and a lullaby from happier times. Cursed to the existence she loathed, Ange can only kill and survive, in a world that turned its back on her.

Make no mistake: this is no Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works. Much of the world-building is done on a grander scale, in which things are told to the viewer more often than not. Character motivations, like Julio’s lust for the throne, are made obvious at the outset, and certain elements are delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

It’s this inconsistency that really hurts the show’s impact overall. When things are at their finest, this first episode of Cross Ange is a gripping, engaging experience. The eerie opening and closing scenes were amazing, delivering so much, with so little. At the episode’s worst, moments that should be touching, or even horrifying are almost cartoonishly over-the-top. For example, the moment in which the truth is revealed, when Ange finds that she is one of the monsters she so despised, is punctuated by a convenient appearance of crying classmates voicing their feelings of betrayal.

Cross Ange 007 - 20141011The show’s visual style, while generally appealing, certainly won’t win any awards. The character designs are clean and attractive, and do a fantastic job of standing out from one another. Ange, in particular, is fantastic, with gorgeous red eyes and a sense of style that just works for the character. The backgrounds are well-detailed, and make use of bold colors and sharp lines to set the overall tone of a scene.

The CGI work, which is most prominent in the opening battle, works well. The mecha integrate well into the show, and there are few instances where the disconnect between 2D and 3D can really be felt.

I love this world.

Cross Ange Rondo of Angel and Dragon is a series with potential. There are definite rough edges at this early stage, but the show offers a lot to really build and grow upon in future episodes. If the series can correct the nagging issues that surfaced in this first installment, then Cross Ange Rondo of Angel and Dragon could become a must-see once the season is out. If not, then one can only hope that it remains a strong, if flawed experience.