Aria: The Scarlet Ammo (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 300 minutes approx
Kinji Tōyama is a student at Tokyo Butei High, a school that teaches armed combat to youngsters in an ever increasing lawless society. As a lower ranked student due to missing a crucial exam Kinji is easy prey for the Butei Killer, a mystery assailant targeting Butei students. While racing to school on his bike, Kinji is taunted by a remote control segueway telling him a bomb on his bike is primed to detonate if his speed drops or he tries to dismount the bike. Fortunately, a young girl literally falls out of the sky and saves Kinji in the nick of time. The mysterious saviour is Aria, a feisty and highly skilled top ranked Butei assassin. She enlists Kiji’s help to help seek evidence that will free her mother who has been jailed on suspicion of being the Butei Killer.
And we’re off to a racing start for what promises to be a taut, intriguing, action packed thriller in which justice is sought in a dangerous world where the bullets fly with regularity and danger is around every corner. Unfortunately not all promises are kept and Aria: The Scarlet Ammo manages to abandon any prospect of a fresh and exciting show pretty much half way through the first episode. While guns battles and armed combat is a frequent occurrence, we find that instead of a nail biting thriller we have another by-the-numbers harem comedy!
I don’t know what has infected the water in Japan recently, but the increasing propensity to spray a potentially good concept up the wall is becoming quite alarming. The architect in this instance is Chūgaku Akamatsu, whose ongoing series of light novels debuted in 2008 with Yoshino Koyoka’s manga adaptation following a year later, which also continues to this day. Bringing Aria to life in animated is JC Staff who gave us such shows as Shakugan no Shana, the vast similarities between both, especially the character designs, is palpable and just one of the many unspectacular facets of this show.
Having teased us with a pre-credits Speed inspired peril we divert down a well trodden path in anime as Kinji, who lives alone in a boys only dorm, is woken by classmate Shirayuki Hotogi, a shy and devout shrine maiden who brings Kinji food as a token of her obvious affection for him. Already the clichés are piling up in Hotogi’s characterisation alone as she stammers and blushes, taking a simple compliment as a marriage proposal! Once Aria’s daring introduction is made and the bike bomb episode is concluded, it’s back to the old formula as the loud loli – Aria is 16 yet looks about 10 – turns up at Kinji’s school as a transfer student then descends upon the poor saps house declaring Kniji becomes her slave.
From hereon in, it’s the usual parade of misunderstandings and accidents in which Aria blows her stack at Kinji espying her underwear when displayed in full view of him; Hotogi declaring war on Aria for usurping her place as Kinji’s supposed true love and perky schoolmate Riko Mine, the obligatory ditzy blonde who throws herself at Kinji with gleeful abandon – although she hides a dark secret that is pivotal to Aria’s quest to vindicate her mother. Making up the harem although remaining on the periphery is top ranked sniper Reki, who doesn’t seem that enamoured by Kinji but gets involved in their missions. She tames a dangerous wolf which she adopts and names Haimaki. Only Kinji breaks the mould by being a talented boy who wants to stay “normal” rather than a normal kid thrown into the spotlight but he holds a secret power called Hysteria Mode, which – quelle surprise – is activated whenever her gets aroused. Oh dear…
In what could be a desperate attempt to somehow legitimise this bawdy cast, some possess a high profile ancestry that instead results in sniggers of derision. Aria’s full name is Aria H. Kanzaki, the “H” standing for “Holmes”. Yes, this irritating Japanese loli is apparently a fourth generation descendent of Baker Street’s legendary sleuth. Meanhwile, Riko reveals her lineage to trace back to the infamous French thief Arsene Lupin (a popular figure in Japanese culture too), also being the fourth generation and Aria is her sworn enemy. And to round things off, the bad guy at the centre of all the shenanigans is called Vlad the Bad. Need I say more?
The first couple of episodes and the last two deal exclusively with the Butei Killer story line – everything else in between may introduce a new plot development but it often serves only as an excuse for more tawdry fan service, cosplay and other overly familiar weak comedy antics. The only staple absent is the near compulsory beach outing but they make up for that with an OVA set in an onsen, for anyone not getting their boob quota with this show. Otherwise you can tick off any familiar convention of the genre as they appear and your list will be virtually complete by the end of the first episode!
It’s a shame as the initial premise sounds quite fertile and had this been the sole focus, we could have been rewarded with a decent show. Whether it was laziness or a paucity of sustainable ideas to last twelve episodes, this is a missed opportunity and the decision to divert down the road marked “lowest common denominator” hasn’t paid off. On a positive note the actions scenes are quite fun and never dull, while the opening bike scene is well executed if a tad hokey.
A masterclass in wasted potential, Aria: The Scarlet Ammo is as derivative as an anime can get outside of its original central concept and suffers greatly as a result. Unless your life is seriously missing what amounts to another screaming loli lead harem comedy, I’m afraid there’s not a lot to recommend here.
English Language 5.1
Japanese Language 2.0
Episode 4 commentary
Episode 6 commentary
English Language Trailer
Textless Opening – “Scarlet Ballet”
Textless Closing – “Camellia no hitomi”
Rating – ** ½
Man In Black