published in Empire No.81, Sydney
Argentosoma is one of many anime series heavily indebted to the innovation unleashed by Neon Genesis Evangelion over a decade ago. Its key algorithm of a severely traumatized hi-tech fighter pilot pitted against an inexplicable alien invasion is versioned here with interesting ramifications. Bio-med student Takuto assists Professor Noguchi in reviving the remains of the first alien, but the reanimation of the hulking shape (called ‘Frank’) is disastrous: the alien escapes leaving Takuto the sole survivor. Months later and now eerily disfigured, Takuto is renamed Ryu Soma (interpretable as ‘sleeping dragon’) and joins the elite air force team Funeral who now uncomfortably have sided with ‘Frank’ to fight the unending trickle of aliens dropping to earth.
Frankly I’ve yet to come across an Evangelion ‘rip-off’ which has not been thoroughly engaging. Evangelion is so stacked with tantalizing concepts and dizzying visuals that it can be remodelled in ways that always seem fresh. In contrast, Hollywood ‘formulaic’ films only suck when the original model is closed-off and seamlessly rationalised. Many find anime’s story arcs obtuse, but it’s that complexity that allows for numerous spin-offs and reinterpretations. Argentosoma is veined with replications of Evangelion, but it also is beautifully crafted and dramatically compelling.
The characters of Argentasoma are drawn in stylish elongated poses, sometimes with strangely feminine allure. The backgrounds and settings are gorgeously detailed, with some incredible diorama of apocalyptic destruction lovingly hand-painted. In fact Argentosoma’s pre-digital veneer – choosing the painterly over the pixelated – grants the series distinction. The mecha-design of the various aliens is always imaginative and the cross-linked character profiles and their shared traumatic backgrounds provides a slowly leaking fuel for the numerous developments in the storyline. As the series gains speed, so does the meta-complexity of the alien’s purpose and the mysterious connection Ryu has in combating them, leading to a riveting resolution.