BlazBlue: Alter Memory Review: Time Rewinds and Jumbled Perspectives

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Another series I kept up with during the fall 2013 season is BlazBlue: Alter Memory.  While there were a great many I enjoyed keeping up with, I honestly can’t say the same for this.  There are a great many words I could use to describe my experience with the BlazBlue anime, most of which simply aren’t positive.  To begin with, video game adaptations have a tendency to be frowned upon by the anime community, and finding out that this would only have 12 episodes certainly did not help.  From what I’ve heard, the anime covers two 20 hour (if not more than that) games in that amount of time, and this definitely shows in the rushed pacing and very confusing storytelling.  People seem to complain a great deal about adaptations, though I find it difficult to think of an adaptation more disappointing than this one, and this comes from someone who has never played the BlazBlue games.

BlazBlue: Alter Memory focuses on the stories of many characters, though the protagonist is Ragna the Bloodedge.  Ragna is a criminal with a huge bounty on his head as an enemy of Novus Orbis Librarium, a military task force of sorts headed by a bizarre individual named Hazama.  Hazama has many devious plans at the ready and, as it happens, also has a connection to Ragna’s dark past.  Jin Kisaragi, Ragna’s brother that has a strange obsession with him, and Noel Vermillion, who is connected to Ragna’s sister (something that, like a great many other things, is hardly touched on in the anime), are both members of Novus Orbis Librarium and play significant roles in the story.  As for their goals, well, Ragna’s focused on getting revenge on Hazama, Jin remains obsessed with Ragna, Noel is sent to retrieve Jin, and Hazama’s off creating all sorts of chaos, with a bunch of random happenings and characters in between.  It’s all pretty complicated and very little is explained given there are only 12 episodes for a bunch of stuff to happen, and even when things end there’s a lot that simply doesn’t make sense.  Oh, and there are also frequent time rewinds throughout whenever something disastrous happens as the Takamagahara System (another entity that’s sort of just there, without any explanation) watches over the timelines and acts to make sure that the world stays on its course without any deaths or events steering too far away.  An interesting concept, though not nearly enough to make up for the many holes and complications of the story.

So where to begin?  The story is confusing at best and a convoluted, incomprehensible mess at worst.  There isn’t a clear purpose for everything that’s going on and much of what takes place is impossible to follow.  A great many BlazBlue terms are awkwardly thrown out without any context for what they mean, and multiple characters appear as mere cameos for those who are fans of the games yet are of almost no importance to the overall story.  Explanation is almost nonexistent in this adaptation and a great many character connections are implied yet never elaborated on, which is a shame because many of the things my friend told me about some of these characters (Nu, Lambda, and Hakumen in particular) sounded very intriguing, and sadly the characterization for these three is very much limited in the anime.  The time rewind idea does make for some interesting events and it’s fairly entertaining to see the contrasts between certain progressions and how certain events lead to other results (as in general I enjoy time travel stories and the like), but even then it is heavily limited by the lack of story detail or explanation.  Even at the end of the anime, it doesn’t feel like a great deal of progress has been made.  Sure, one instance of massive destruction has been evaded or something like that, but very little seems to have changed from the beginning to the end, and I doubt any future installments of the anime covering later games could make up for the incoherent writing in the anime.  If ever BlazBlue were to receive another anime, I sincerely hope they start from scratch and take it from the very beginning with more focus on development and coherence.

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One would wish that the characters could make up for the story issues, but alas, I would say they do not.  In my opinion, the characters are even worse.  The anime makes no effort to have these characters stand out in personality or development, as the cast is largely lifeless and even the ones that aren’t there simply for brief cameo’s sake bring little to the table.  Ragna doesn’t express much personality besides being the lone wolf that wants revenge, and while it’s clear there are deeper motivations for his actions and likely some very interesting roots for character interaction, none of those are utilized in the adaptation.  Jin has a thing for fighting his brother, and apparently he has a past with some of the other characters, but nothing is explained and Jin’s character only benefits the slightest bit from his circumstances, and the sad thing is that he’s one of the better cases in this anime.  And then there’s Noel, who aside from being the random nice girl in a situation far beyond her, has an uncanny connection to a great many characters, also none of which are explored in great (or any) detail by the series, making some reveals about her impossible to understand and other things that should have been revealed left untouched to begin with.  It’s a sad thing because this is the treatment of the characters with actual screentime and relevance to the plot, most others don’t have anything resembling development and are there for very short periods of time, likely just to be included for the sake of putting in all of those characters, even if they have no real purpose.  Many of the characters aren’t around for more than one episode, and are far from multidimensional or gripping characters either way.  While BlazBlue’s cast seems colorful, filled with variety, and ripe with potential for characterization, growth, and inclusion into the story, the anime adaptation is but a pitiful imitation of that as none of the characters truly feel memorable and development is largely nonexistent.

Adaptations are often dangerous territory, all the more so with video games.  Yet I really do think this adaptation is among the weakest of any I’ve seen so far.  Typically I try not to be too harsh on adaptations since they’re expressed in a different manner than their source materials and usually can’t include every detail, but have their own ways of expressing the story in their own mediums.  All the same, however, I do believe an adaptation should keep to a cohesive, logical (at the very least, logical in its own context) story with development and characters that show some form of depth.  Sadly, the more I dwell on this adaptation, the harder it is for me to identify good points for it.  I’ve seen many people complain about other adaptations, such as, say, Danganronpa.  While I had my gripes with the Danganronpa anime, it was still able to tell its story even if the characterization was harmed and the pacing rushed.  Even if it was far from the ideal adaptation, the plot remained gripping, easy to follow, and able to stand on its own without necessity of source material knowledge.  BlazBlue: Alter Memory, however, is the exact opposite, as it gives little compelling reason to be attached to the story or characters, often makes very little sense, and absolutely cannot function without knowledge from the source material, which is truly a shame because a properly executed anime could be a fantastic way to get people into the games, yet the lacking performance of the anime may instead discourage watchers from experiencing the games out of fear that their enjoyment would be minimal with those as well.

So what did I get out of this anime?  Well, I can definitely say I have an appreciation for other adaptations now given the disappointment from this.  To be fair though, I did enjoy it to an extent, and while it was weak in many areas, I’d be lying if I said it was a complete bore for me to watch.  For that reason, BlazBlue: Alter Memory ends up with a 5/10, even though it would probably be lower than that if not for my enjoyment, low though it may have been.  Normally I don’t like discouraging people from watching a series, but really, I can’t think of a compelling reason to convince someone to watch this one.  I guess if you want to see how an adaptation COULD end up when done improperly, this might just be a worthwhile example, but other than that, there are definitely many other options that provide a more competent and enjoyable story.  For starters, there are the games, which are not only arcade fighters (or something along those lines) that actively require your interaction, but also sources of an actually competent story with more coherence, buildup, and development than the adaptation.  I for one definitely want to play those, since from what my friends have told me, BlazBlue: Alter Memory can’t even hold a candle to its source material.

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  1. Oh dear. Another poor video game inspired anime. I think I would be confused watching this too as I have only briefly played Blaz Blue.

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