What They Say:
History is coming to an end. When humans came down from the sky they brought with them the Testament, the guide to the path they must follow if they wish to return to the skies again.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Set in a very far off future in a world where humanity had made vast strides forward and even reached another plane of existence whose inhabitants included many different types of life that are not unsimilar to some of the ones found in legends and pop culture today and for a time they managed to live in relative peace. Unfortunately an incident occurred which caused the other plane of existence to crash into the one they humans inhabited creating great destruction and making vast parts of both lands uninhabitable forcing the inhabitants together and creating a great war. In the over 200 years since the beings have reached a form of co-existence after a fashion and an attempt is being made to recreate human history and once again allow for the earthbound individuals to step beyond the bounds of their current confinement.
In this world various powers have established themselves into factions in the small amount of habitable land and they largely each follow their own interpretations of the book that know as Testament, which is regarded as a holy book that contains they key both to history and the future, though like most religious books there have come to be various interpretations along the way. The more powerful factions have used their might to divide up the little remaining inhabitable land on the original Earth and forcing one faction in particular known as the Far East into a state where they are essentially subservient to the other states.
In this Far East territory there is a giant floating ship by the name of Musashi that functions as an independent city and which’s primarily known feature is found in its housing of the Ariadust Academy. The Academy is different from others in that it allows in both human as well as non human descendent beings to attend and their members function as the political powers for the city both internal and external, a situation which has been forced on them by the other powers of the world which is intended to keep Musashi as a weakened state as it prevents those over 18 years old from holding any power.
The current head of the Academy (and thus the city/ship/state) is Tori Aoi, a young man who presents perhaps the worst traits anyone would want in a leader in that he is generally lazy, often lecherous and he tends to goof off constantly while relying on others to a very high degree to help him accomplish tasks. That such a young man would be in charge is probably close to being an impossibility, but luckily (?) for him, “Impossible” is literally his nickname. Despite his many flaws Tori has one very defining trait in that he is always upbeat, a situation that has existed for over a decade since his childhood friend (and also daughter of the ruler of Mikawa) Horizon Ariadust was killed in an accident, which when combined with his tragic past helps to serve as a magnet that draws people into him, even when his actions would seem to work just to drive them away.
The events of the series begin on an otherwise inauspicious day on which Tori announces to his classmates that he is finally going be celebrating his last day with his beloved erotic games as he is going to ask someone out, which gets the attention of his classmates though the revelation that he is going to ask out his childhood friend Horizon Ariadust dampens their mood as her story is known throughout Musashi as well as other parts of the world. When people express this to him, Tori explains that he believes the automaton (mechanical creations that often have human souls) known a P-01 that has recently come aboard the ship is actually Horizon which is met with some level of disbelief, though his friends decide to support him in his endeavor.
The world unfortunately will get in the way as the Musashi is visiting the Far East capital city Mikawa whose ruler Montonobu Matsudaira is about to throw the entire world into peril. Matsudaira is a genius who was responsible for creating 8 incredibly powerful weapons based around the Seven Deadly Sins and who has decided that it is time for the people of the world to experience the ultimate thrill in having their backs against the wall- and he has decided there is no bigger wall than a pending apocalypse.
Instead of throwing what many thought would be a large firework show he sets the end of the world in motion and announces to everyone that the only way to stop it is to gather together all the weapons based on the Seven Deadly Sins together to stop the threat- though he surprises all the world’s leaders by announcing that there are actually 9 such weapons and that the final one is located in the automaton known as P-01 as he also reveals one more rather shocking revelation about the weapons origin and their ties to the mysterious P-01. With the world at stake the leader of the most powerful faction in the land seizes P-01 and has her scheduled to commit suicide to help gain the final weapon and try to stop the apocalypse, an act which sets Tori in motion as he works to gather the support of his fellow students/city leaders and he looks to judge if the cost of following his heart is going to be worth the price paid of going to war with the world. As he looks to make his decision he will find that he will have most of their support no matter what but it is going to take a lot of skill and more than a little cunning if he is going to win everyone over and achieve his goal of finally being able to ask out P-01…but what might she have to say about the matter? With the world on the line will love be sacrificed or is one young man going to have to rise up to his tile of “Impossible” and accomplish just that or is the title going to prove to be an epitaph when the final tally is measured?
The first thing that must be said about Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere (shortened to Horizon going forward) is that it is a show that frankly asks (and at times seemingly demands) a lot of its viewers. Based off a series of light novels the world is constructed in a rather intricate way with a whole lot of facets which aren’t always easily explained in the course of the series. While this may not be a major issue in some other series like Gundam where exactly how the suits work isn’t that important, in Horizon much of the world events rely on the structural setup for their existence, beyond just the set of the various characters and their particular origins of species. In the world set up here political, financial, philosophical and religious theory all play a role not just in how the mechanics of the affairs of state are carried out but also in how many of the characters use the powers they have as there is often remuneration that must be paid to the deity they get them from which is a situation that blurs across these multiple lines at times.
This leads to a situation where the episodes use a large amount of, for lack of a better term, “info dump” to convey the various mechanics and reasoning behind events. This can lead to situation where the viewer is suddenly being assaulted by a created history and series of reasoning for actions that can be frustrating at times (to many it seems to judge by the reactions I have seen in a number of places online). Unfortunately this is no small thing either as it sets up a rather large barrier to overcome as it at times this information presentation plays almost like an assault on the viewer as if challenging them to try to keep up with the various intricacies of the world. It doesn’t help matters that at times this set up is incredibly clever which requires a certain level of having been able to assimilate the world’s principles to follow while at other times particular points (especially when it comes to some debates), it seems that the material has gotten far ahead of itself and fallen into a trap of believing it can pass off some reasoning as incredibly deep that comes across as anything but.
Additionally whether because of the time needed to set up the world and its rules or simply constraints of another fashion the series runs into a major problem with its cast and the attempt to develop them. While a few members get singled out as their history is important to the role they will play at least in this current arc, the vast majority of the cast has to rely on a (often very) small number of moments where they get the spotlight or on the occasional reaction they throw out to a particular event to define them for the viewer in the series. This is kind of obnoxious in many cases as it seems for some of the characters they are defined largely just by design which may be combined some quick application of some of the character archetypes that have become anime staples over the last few years to fill them out in lieu of spending precious screen time to accomplish the task. Having not read the original novels due to their non availability in English I can’t say if this is a source or adaptation issue, just that it is an issue which reflects a larger problem with the adaption as a whole as it feels like the material here probably needed to be double its length (in one of the arcs if not the entirety of this 13 episode run) to really allow space for ideas and characters to be presented and flushed out and to give the maximum chance of connecting with the average viewer.
So that leaves the question to be answered as, if this barrier is in place is it worth it to try to climb the wall and is there a worthwhile goal on the other side? Personally I found the answer to be yes, but I readily admit that I was filling in some pieces of some of the characters myself based on the archetypes that appear to be in play which was helped by a certain fondness for some of the gags that the series uses and an appreciation for some of the ideas on the combination of science/technology/religion were fascinating and at times. And at other times I just sighed and gave up trying to fit all the pieces into place of how the world was set up (and at one point I was sighing at what felt like a particularly pretentious display that was used to move events along) and went with a “riding the storm out” approach in the hope that the material would redeem itself once it got past a particular patch that may have been causing me to contemplate just abandoning the series. To this end, one of the main issues I still have even after making it through these first 13 episodes is that the main character is one I still don’t have the best of handle on as at times he is clearly the lecherous, lazy goof off that he is introduced as and at other times he has some absolutely brilliant moments. These contradictory points leave me a bit uncertain as to whether this is a display of some hidden brilliance or a failure of writing that uses the lowered expectation it has created about the protagonist to make some really smart turns look even more impressive, and in fact they aren’t limited to just the main character but also run throughout a good portion of the rest of the material as well.
For me I believe the answer is that these moments of pay off when combined with a decent if not quite stunning animation level that brings more entertainment than annoyance to the final tally, though it takes most of the current run of the series to make it into the positive side of the ledger as the initial episodes function as a bit of an albatross around the series’ neck. While this is likely issues born from the change in medium as some ideas are just much more easily presented in a written form, it is one that the adaptation is forced to deal with if it wants to gain viewers outside just the audience the novels have created and it frankly doesn’t accomplish its goal particularly well at the outset. That the series does eventually overcome this stumbling block though is also a tribute to the material and the world filled with wonders and surprises that have been created but those who fail to connect with some of the world views or (admittedly thin in presentation at times) characters may find the headaches simply not worth the payoff as there are plenty of other series around that one can watch that have similarities of the basic conflicts and character types that play out in these episodes without having to deal with the issue of having to swallow the creation of this large and complex world in which this story exists.
Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere is a story that eschews the idea of simply allowing the audience to coast along as its intricate world designs practically demands that the audience do some heavy lifting to fully grasp events, particularly in the early stages. Whether or not this proves to have an ultimately positive payoff is going to be determined in the next half of the series, though frankly it is difficult to believe that all the ideas presented and set up can be taken care of in just 13 episodes without some serious compression. The set up is one that is more than a little enjoyable if one can get past the initial work of coming to terms with this brand new world and all its various designs as it goes beyond what many sci-fi universes introduce with its detailed and intricate parts. Additionally its intermixing of a number of the various philosophies behind some of the most cherished and heated issues that lie at the center of individuals belief presents a unique world with some fascinating aspects and the potential for a wondrous ride, though at times the series reach appears exceeds its grasp and it doesn’t quite manage to be as polished and deep as it presents, particularly when it comes to the development of a number of its more secondary characters. There is some fun to be found here though it is likely to be a series that is requires effort than a number of people are willing to put in for the payoff found in this initial collection of episodes which probably limits the number of fans it will gather.
Simulcast By: The Anime Network, Crunchyroll
Toshiba 15.4” Notebook