Sometimes you run across an idea that sounds so crazy you figure that it can’t be as bad as it sounds. And sometimes it turns out not only is it every bit as bad as it sounds, the execution is so utterly cracked you cannot believe what you just watched. Upotte is one of those shows.
See, it’s a gun-girl anime. Not gun-girl like Gunslinger Girl, girls-with guns or something—that, I could accept. No, it’s about girls who are guns. Literally. No, that doesn’t make sense. At all. In theory, in concept, or in execution.
Any anime fan is familiar with moe-anthropomorphism, the inexplicable desire to create a cute, female, anthropomorphic version of more or less anything (which totally needs a catchier name, a la Rule 63, which it’s sort of the inanimate-object corollary of… Rule 64 seems to be taken, so maybe Rule 63b?). You’ve got whole genres of anime about cat-girls and wolf girls, plenty of robot-girls, and if you dig a little deeper computer-girls (does anybody still remember Buttobi CPU?), plus the recently-popularized plane-girls.
Now, plane-girls are pretty darned crazy as an idea for anime—the webcomic Krakow actually used one as the craziest [thing]-girl idea possible for a crazed fever-dream girlfriend, but Strike Witches did some logistical twisting to make normal girls (actually, catgirls, which was pretty impressive for doubling up) into plane-girls in a way that sort-of-kind-of made sense.
My previous winner in the craziest thing-girl show, thus, went to Rescue Me Mave-chan, which used random metaphor to turn Yukikaze planes into cute flying girls. Which made no sense, and was stupid, but the logistics at least sort of worked via the alternate-dimension-where-feelings-are-given-form excuse that’s been standard since at least when I was watching Saturday Morning Cartoons in the ’80s, and probably a lot earlier than that. The runner up is Hetalia Axis Powers, but that whole show was a full-on metaphor (a sort of offensive one, but still), so its setting didn’t really need to make any sense.
Enter Upotte. Where assault rifles are, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, actually teenaged anime girls who go to school together where they learn to become better assault rifles in what is apparently an otherwise more or less normal world. Because that makes sense in whatever semi-lucid mental state the writer must have been in thanks to a combination of a high fever, too much dextromethorphan, and a severe lack of sleep. Because you know what? That’s the only way I can come up with that somebody actually sat down and wrote this show.
No, wait, I’ve got one other theory: It was a dare. Somebody came up with the most utterly crazy, unproducable idea for an anime series ever, then dared somebody else to actually write it, and he did. And then somehow they got the budget and production crew to actually animate the whole thing pretty well.
Is there actually a market for this? I have to assume so, but that’s deeply depressing to me. I’m all for narrow-focus, non-mass-market things, but this is taking that about three and a half steps too far.
What’s so frightening is that the show seems to be taking itself some semblance of seriously, and doesn’t seem to be making any nod to how utterly cracked it is, or what has to be wrong with its apparent target audience. Because honestly, if you’re got enough of a gun fetish to want to watch this show, you need help. Serious help.
I should step back from my rant for a moment here to note that I actually started writing this prior to the tragedy in Colorado, and intentionally bumped the publish date back by a week out of respect and to avoid a bit of “too soon” on the subject matter. Honestly, though, as sick as it is, Upotte has nothing to do with maniac mass murderers.
It also doesn’t have anything to do with people who aren’t maniacs or mass murders but take the nothing-inherently-wrong-with-it hobby of gun collecting to an unhealthy extreme and end up with a basement full of military-grade assault weapons—it’s targeted at a completely different kind of gun fetishist.
Which is an interesting cultural thing in and of itself, because in the US where I’m from, “gun nut”, when used as a stereotyped epithet, brings to mind images of midwestern white guys in cammo with lifetime NRA memberships and jacked-up pickup trucks, while I’m guessing that in Japan the stereotypical “gun otaku”—and certainly the ones Upotte is targeted at—are probably a lot more like Sagara’s socially inept classmate in Full Metal Panic. Even bolt-action hunting rifles in Japan are heavily regulated and difficult to come by, so gun hobbyists are by necessity more of a theoretical creature—the sort who owns elaborate airsoft replicas and reads magazines. And, in extreme cases, probably doesn’t get out much and apparently watches this crap.
To be clear, I’m not trying to tar all gun aficionados with the same brush here—I’m saying that when you stereotype extreme gun hobbyists in the US versus Japan you get a very different image. And, more importantly, that this show is, so far as I can tell, targeted at people who go way overboard with the hobby into obsessive-otaku-with-no-life territory.
Anyway, enough social commentary. The first episode starts a little off and just keeps getting worse every time somebody talks. It just doesn’t make sense. In a way that kind of hurts, and is in no way the good sort of crazy. Seriously, what had to be wrong with somebody to make this show?
If you get past… well, pretty much everything, it is a Xebec production, so it’s actually rather well done. The art is cute and the animation is well above average, but then so was Kanokon. I guess the folks at Xebec deserve credit for going absolutely all-in on whatever you give them to work with, be it quality concept or absolute, steaming garbage laced with insanity.
Let me make clear that that’s sort of a negative—there are so many better ideas than this (even some that just had to be more marketable) that either never got made or didn’t get a fraction of the budget or production quality that it’s a flat-out insult when literal gun-fetish-lunacy does. (Yes, I said literal—apparently a central plot point is about the FNC girl having the hots for a human teacher. Ugh.)
It’s also rather impressive how into its source material it is—the actual guns the girls are shooting (which even in context really doesn’t make any sort of sense because… they already are guns, right?) are all kinds of detailed, as are all the factoids and such that you’d expect from anime targeted at some really narrow fanboy subgroup, but then I can’t imagine that you could manage to sell something with this narrow of a target market without getting properly into the details of the subject matter. And I suppose it’s also possible that it actually just sounds well-versed to somebody who isn’t a fanatic about the famed assault rifles of the world.
Basically, thanks (I assume) to Xebec being what they are, the show is about as good as anybody could possibly do this concept.
Given how painful the first episode is, I really don’t want to see any more, but it’s one of those cases (see: Popotan) where morbid curiosity is tempting me to find out just how they can manage to fill 10 episodes with something that couldn’t even stay remotely coherent for fifteen minutes. That’s a lotta suffering, though. If I ever write a full review, you’ll know, because if I manage to sit through it all there’s no way I’m not getting something out of it.
Incidentally, I forgot the worst part: The whole thing was available nearly simulcast on Hulu. Almost twenty five years and we still haven’t seen a single legit release of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Code-E hasn’t been licensed. Half of US Manga Corp’s abandoned catalog is still out of print—used VHS copies of The Tale of Genji are selling for $100 on Amazon. Only Yesterday still isn’t on video in the US. But this garbage somehow gets licensed, translated, and released to the net within weeks.
There is no justice in the world of anime production and even less in licensing.