Never before has an anime series swung so wildly between moments of genuine greatness and outright awfulness. Valvrave the Liberator exists somewhere in between ‘so bad its good’ and ‘offensively bad’ for the majority of its run. It is almost as if Sunrise gave the production team complete creative freedom and what resulted is a unabashed mess of an anime series. Yet somehow, someway, Valvrave makes for an addictive viewing experience. Valvrave is like watching a train wreck; you know you are watching something horrible yet somewhere deep inside a part of you just won’t let you look away.
The series has one of the most complicated plots in anime history following students on a floating space school as they battle against an invading Dorssian army (see: Nazi) who are trying to gain control of the legendary ‘Valvrave’ mecha. Unfortunately for the Dorssians, hapless hero Haruto decides on a whim to pilot the ‘Valvrave’, but in order to do that he must sacrifice his humanity and become a ‘Valvrave Vampire’. Things only get more and more ridiculous from here.
Each episode of this first season of Valvrave tends to follow the same formula albeit in varying ways. Each episode focusese on the growing group of Valvrave pilots fighting off attacks from the Dorssians. While the series remains very formulaic throughout this season the writers relentlessly throw out every possible plot twist in the book with multiple twists happening per episode, usually without any foreshadowing or care for whether it logically makes sense with the plot of the series. This is both Valvrave’s greatest advantage and greatest weakness. The show fails to develop on the plot it lays out because it is constantly throwing it out the window in favour of some new idea, at the same time it keeps Valvrave fresh and gives it an unpredictability that most anime just don’t have.
Now while this writing style can be interesting at times, the show is far too concerned with creating ‘shock’ moments over and over that it forgets to make these moments have consequences or some kind of catharsis behind them. Whether it be a characters death or some other kind of shocking turn of events, the series never delivers on a pay off for these events. The worst case of which is the absolutely offensive portrayal of rape in the series.
The scene in question features the protagonist Haruto lose control to his ‘vampire’ side and horrifyingly rape the girl in love with him, Saki. Now a moment such as this can be done right for real emotional impact, if it was actually written well and actually had consequences for this action. Instead the series glazes over the issue, going so far as the even having Saki ‘happy’ that it happened. To make matters worse the entire scenario made little sense and comes off as just a halfhearted attempt of including a shock moment such as rape in the series. Why would Haruto’s vampire bloodlust manifest itself in uncontrollable sexual desire? Because the writers wanted it to. It is an irredeemable inexcusable moment that leaves a black spot on the entire series.
Despite a scattershot attempt at story-telling Valvrave does feature some rather impressive visual elements with great aesthetic design. There is however some sloppy CGI that undercuts the animated sequences that exist outside of the CGI battles. While the animation is hit or miss at times, the soundtrack is undoubtedly something special. The OP and ED themes are both memorable tracks and the incidental music does a great job capturing an atmosphere that the story simply fails to do.
This release from Hanabee Entertainment is unfortunately fairly bare bones. The collective season one release does not feature an English dub, instead only featuring the original Japanese dub with English subtitles. On top of that there is the usual clean opening and ending themes alongside trailers as special features. It is relatively simple release but it gets the job done.
Valvrave the Liberator is a train wreck, plain and simple. The series insists only throwing in every plot twist imaginable and the kitchen sink to boot, all to varying degrees of success. Ultimately the show’s inability to provide catharsis for its big moments is its undoing. On top of that, the series’ flagrant use of the subject of rape for cheap shock is awful to say the least but its the aftermath of the situation that makes the series absolutely irredeemable. You don’t just glaze over that subject and you definitely don’t say it’s okay. Valvrave is impossible to recommend because of it.
This is arguably one of the most controversial anime in recent memory and for good reason. Valvrave the Liberator fails in so many regards but it succeeds in one – it is unlike anything we have ever seen before. But does that make this train wreck worth watching? That is for you to decide, but I think my grade speaks for itself.
You can pick up a copy of Valvrave the Liberator Season 1 from Hanabee here.