Title (English): Charlotte
Title (Japanese): Charlotte （シャーロット）
Animation Studio: P.A Works
Genres: Drama, School, Super power
The last time the visual novel makers, Key, and animation studio, P.A Works, last worked together was on the hugely popular Angel Beats! Angel Beats! is an anime that has been watched by pretty much everyone at one point or another in their anime careers, at it had a mass appeal and it covered a lot of genres that people could get into. That being said, I find it on the weaker end in comparison to other Key anime when it comes to character development and story, which are strong points of Key works. Angel Beats! had too many characters, and not enough time to work with. Charlotte was also announced with 13 episodes, the same length as Angel Beats!, but with a much smaller cast. I went into this hoping that the smaller cast would mean they could compact a meaningful story in alongside great character development. Let’s see how it all went down.
Story and Characters:
In this world, there exist a select few adolescents with supernatural powers. How they get these powers is a mystery, but those who have it try and make the best of it… not always for the greater good. Yuu Otosaka is one of those who misuses his power. He has the power to take control of anyone, but only for five seconds. After cheating his way to get into a top school, he is eventually discovered by a couple of other ability wielders: Nao Tomori and Joujirou Takajou. The two of them convince him to join them at their own school for ability wielders, and join the student council along with them to use his power for good. He doesn’t have much of a choice anyway, as they mention ability wielders are at risk of getting captured for scientific purposes.
Key’s stories tend to follow the formula of first consisting of regular, happy-go-lucky slice of life episodes to get you familiar with the characters. Then they deliver a huge twist at about the midway point of each characters’ arc that changes the tone of the anime, then drama ensues from that point until the end. Charlotte follows the same formula, except without the usual character arcs. Instead, Charlotte delivers its big twist and the exact halfway point of the anime, and that is indeed when things change. Up until that point, the episodic nature of Charlotte was beginning to get a little stale. It was fine the first two episodes, but then you start craving for something else. The outcomes for some of these episodes end up being kind of pointless in the long run, except for some minor character development. The second half is where the real meat of the story is, and it was doing a good job of telling us a great story. Unfortunately, they ran into the same problem they had with Angel Beats!; time. As I mentioned in my First Impressions of Charlotte, I find the longer Key anime go, the better they are. For example, my order for Key anime goes like this: Clannad (44 episodes), Kanon  (24 episodes), Little Busters! (39 episodes), Angel Beats! (13 episodes), and last, Air (13 episodes). The reason why I like the longer ones, is because the scenario writers at Key are really good, but they need time to properly flesh out their characters and the general story. Charlotte tried to stuff its story into the last half of the anime, and the result is a jammed up mess. The ending is the most disappointing part, as they tried to fit what could have been an entire anime’s worth of plot into a single episode. Seriously; a second season of Charlotte could have been made with everything that happened in that last episode, and it probably would have been really good. Instead, they rush through it, leaving nothing behind but disappointment.
Charlotte‘s characters may be the least developed out of all the anime Key has done. Key usually develops both main and supporting cast in one way or another, which I find quite incredible that even supporting characters can have their own stories attached to them. However, not even every member of the main cast was developed here. Did Joujirou have a backstory? If he did, I don’t remember hearing about it. Given that character development is what Key usually does best, I was shocked to see the lack of it here. Key has taught me that characters are paramount, even above story. If I don’t care about the characters, I won’t care how much the story jerks them around. That is exactly what happened here. Due to the lack of character development, when the story suddenly threw dark twists in, I didn’t really care about what happened to the characters. To me, that is unacceptable in a work by them. Even in Air, a Key anime I ended up hating because of its pacing and story issues, I still cared about the characters a lot. The only characters to really have a lot of development was the main character, Yuu Otosaka, and it was nice seeing him develop as a character. Also, Nao Tomori continues the pattern of good Key female leads. Even though she didn’t develop that much over the course of the anime, she was a strong female lead that didn’t take anything lying down. She never showed any weakness, and I appreciate that.
I can kind of appreciate Jun Maeda, the creator of Charlotte and a main scenario writer at Key, taking a different approach by focusing more on story than characters. However, it’s clear to me that his work is really at its best when he focuses on character development rather than an overarching story. The story of Charlotte, while actually coherent for a Key anime, still ends up being a mess by the end and the characters take a side role to the plot.
Visuals and Animation:
If you’ve watched Key’s other anime, especially after Clannad, you’ll see their new standard look has translated over to Charlotte. The artist Na-Ga returns to do the character designs for Key and P.A Works. Key’s art has always been good looking to me (I know there are people who hate it), so I have no complaints about the art here. The animation was pretty well done for the most part. There were a couple of out-of-place looking 3D scenes early on, but they never went back to using 3D after that. Most of the animation attention came in whenever their powers were activated, making for some cool looking displays. Despite this, I have seen better animation out of P.A Works, and I can only imagine how amazing Charlotte could have looked if they managed to get it to look like Nagi no Asukara or Glasslip.
Sound and Music:
If there’s one really good thing I can say about Charlotte, it’s the music. Jun Maeda is also a composer and lyricist, and I have always been a fan of his compositions. Charlotte delivers some truly great music, from the opening and ending, to the background music and insert songs. Part of the reason why I love Key anime so much, is the music. It sets the atmosphere so well, and it enhances the mood of the scenes they’re in. There’s lots of great pieces, but the opening, “Bravely You”, by Lia, the ending, “灼け落ちない翼” (Yake Ochinai Tsubasa) by Aoi Tada, and the insert song “Fallin‘”, by ZHIEND (marina), are big standouts in the music department. These are beautiful and powerful songs, as expected from Jun Maeda. That is one thing I have never been disappointed about in his work.
Back when I did my First Impressions of Charlotte, I questioned P.A works’ decision to bring in Ayane Sakura to voice Nao Tomori as Ayane Sakura typically voices cheery, bright characters that fit her unique accent. I think my anxiety was put to rest as she stepped up to the role, and she showed off her stuff near the end. Miyuki Sawashiro, who played ZHIEND’s guitarist and lead singer, Sara Shane, did well for only appearing in two episodes. Kouki Uchiyama, who voiced Yuu Otosaka, performed well for his role. Other than that, decent performances by everyone else.
Having watched every single Key anime adaptation up to this point, this is definitely one of the weaker anime on their resume. A lot of what made Key anime so successful in the past was thrown out the window in Charlotte, in favour of trying something new. It’s hard to fault Jun Maeda and Key for trying something new, since everyone says experimenting is a good thing. However, in every experiment, there are always going to be failures. Charlotte is going to carry that distinction of being a failure in this Key fan’s eyes. It wasn’t all bad though. If anything, Jun Maeda proves he’s still got the musical talent to continue making great songs, yet another strong and likeable female protagonist, and some good animation. It’s too bad the story and characters suffered so much. When I didn’t even have a good cry once in a Key anime, there’s a problem.
+ Outstanding music
+ Good art and animation
+ Good voice acting
– Jagged story pacing
– Inconsistent character development
– Rushed ending
– Not feelsy enough for a Key anime
What did you guys think of Charlotte? Love it, hate it, like it, don’t like it? Let’s hear your thoughts on one of this season’s biggest anime!