Science. Humanity’s ever going pursuit towards understanding and utilising the forces and element that comprise the planet Earth. Unfortunately, whilst this endeavour may conjure up visions of a progressive, utopian ideal, theory and practice are also the domain of mistake and miscalculation. If one is luckily, these missteps merely cause a minor setback, a reason to re-calibrate and try again. If not, they can spell disaster for the masses and leave destruction in their wake.
In a world mirror to that of our own, a choice was made, innocuous in its inception and hopeful in its implementation. Though met with criticism from wary parties, a power plant of nuclear origin was constructed in Tokyo regardless, owing to the benefits of energy production. Unfortunately, after activation, the plant suffered a critical malfunction, loosing its radioactive materials upon the surrounding area, irradiating Tokyo and rendering 90% of the metropolis uninhabitable.
20 years later, and a number of scientific leaps forward, the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force makes its boldest attempt in investigating the polluted area through the deployment of the Dispatch 3rd Special Force Coppelion. With the specific purpose of venturing into the former capital, the Coppelion themselves are genetically engineered beings who possess an immunity to radiation, along with a selection of unique, additional abilities. Owing to the relatively brief time frame since the incident, along with the fact that this is an anime, the Coppelion are no more than high school students in mentality, albeit ones under a great burden. Despite the varying personalities that round out this three girl crew, the series places a great emphasis on the subjective trauma each undergoes due to their assigned task; rescuing the survivors that reside within the confines of Tokyo.
As they have lived under the watchful eye of science since their inception, the Coppelion are uncertain of both the outside world and their place within it. Whilst some strive to find purpose in their work, other lean on the simple acts of humanity, such as eating, to prove their existence is tantamount to life. Some on the other hand wall themselves off entirely from humanity, leaning solely on their technically inhuman nature as a crutch. Though some of these coping mechanisms are telegraphed more than others, the variation that exists between each individual’s survival method adds a nice depth to the series. One of Naruse’s particular existential crises also struck what I consider one of the series’ highpoints, utilising reasoning that honestly can’t be faulted to clearly showcase the mindset of the “strongest” of the three girls.
As a whole, the premise is also handled rather interestingly, with a surprising amount of variation in the rescuees the Coppelion happen upon. Each provide their own substantially emotional story, though not necessarily for the reasons you’d expect. That being said, it can be a bit of a stretch to believe each individual’s reason for staying within the confines of Tokyo, especially given their open statements regarding their travels within the city. It’s a little hard to believe that they never once tried to leave within the last 20 years. Following this line of thought, it is also very coincidental that the various forces within the irradiated zone only recently decided to act upon their motives, be they pure or otherwise. Of course it wouldn’t be the most exciting series if the action took place outside of it, but considering that, as far as we know, Tokyo has been a dead zone for 20 years, it certainly strikes a sense of contrivance.
One of the most visually noticeable traits of Coppelion is its colour palette, which is just a touch off. Within the confines of the deserted city, a slight colour overlay is present near consistently. Whilst not a distracting presence, it creates an almost subconsciously eerie vibe that serves to complete the character of the contaminated former capital. The Coppelion themselves also receive a slight variation in colour that contrasts the truly human characters of the series. Again, whilst not a glaring difference, their pale pallor denotes their true nature immediately. Owing to the series mostly scenic pacing, the animation ramp up that occurs during action sequences is pretty noticeable. Said animation is also supplemented by the use of a more free flowing view than is used in the series, akin to a moving camera. This bolsters a sense of movement and adds a nice speed to the proceedings.
Though the visuals do indeed set the scene for the abandoned city, the audio is what completes the picture. More specifically, it is the choice lack of audio that does this, creating a hollow feeling amidst the empty streets. This particular choice also has the added benefit of making the audio truly stand out when it does kick in for the action sequences. In regards to characters, the English dub is definitely well presented. Each performance is met with the emotion required to truly sell each introspective thought and the revelations of humanity that follow. Even the villainous characters strike a chord when they inevitably breakdown in one way or another. It’s definitely a saving factor of the series.
Despite all of its positive elements, Coppelion is not as powerful a series as it has the potential to be. Though varied in their motivations, beliefs and actions, certain characters just seem to lack that little something that makes them truly stand out. Sure there are moments that stand out and display a remarkable sense of introspection, but they often buried amidst the arrival of a new character or revelation. The story also seems to be rather sudden and convenient at times, with the Coppelion’s abilities varying wildly without any real explanation other than “genetic engineering” and technology occasionally presents a very sudden advancement, contrasting the fair realism of most military tech within the series. This all being said, Coppelion is far from a bad series. Presenting a rather condensed story within the confines of a national catastrophe, we are given a cross section of the problems that both caused and arose because of the tragedy. Summarily, although I see a fair portion of missed potential within Coppelion, I can’t bring myself to dislike it to any major extent. For every under-utilised character, there’s one that truly shines. For every coincidental development, a true progression of self. It’s just all so…complex.
Visit a damaged world and learn what it means to be human courtesy of Madman