Charlotte: An Allegory of Life

Despite horrible character development, Charlotte is a beautiful allegory of young life.

Charlotte has finally come to a close and I’ve decided that it’s one of the best of this season, despite what the Internet hive mind says. Maeda did excellent work on Charlotte, and while the overall story was pretty great, it did lack some of the impact Angel Beats! had, especially in the character development department. Let’s get on with the review.

I usually did reviews using a scoring system based on several aspects of an anime, like plot, etc. But I’ve decided to switch over from a semi-quantitative review to a fully qualitative one because I don’t feel comfortable rating everything with numbers. And of course, there will be spoilers.

Summary

Charlotte tells us the story of Otosaka Yu, a high school student. Yes, it’s Maeda, it’s Key, and it’s a fucking equivalent of a young adult novel in America, so you can expect all the cheesy romance and overused tropes. Yu has this uncanny ability to “possess” anyone within his field of vision for 5 seconds, but at the same time, he’ll be unconscious. He uses it to cheat his way through high school and steal the heart of his crush. But, his plans of fulfilling the ultimate visual novel experience fall apart as he meets Nao and Takajo, who are both members of the Hoshinoumi Academy student council. Yu then transfers to Hoshinoumi and is invited as a member of the student council, where he spends his days finding similar ability-wielders and convincing them to stop using their powers.

Starts Boring, Climaxes Perfectly, Finishes Impressively

I divide the main plot of Charlotte into 3 major parts: (1) pre-episode 6, (2) episode 6, (3) and post-episode 6. This is because Episode 6 is the most pivotal episode in the series, and effectively acts as an important point of reference.

Episodes prior to episode 6 introduces us to the characters and sets the background and the Charlotte universe. We have a world inhabited by “diseased” teenagers with special abilities, the mysterious scientists (that receive very little air time) who hunt down these teenagers to dissect them in a lab somewhere, and the Syndicate, another mysterious organization that tries to shelter ability-wielders. Furthermore, we learn that ability-wielders lose their abilities as they reach adulthood, which is vaguely defined as “turning 17”. Yu and Nao, along with other members of the Hoshinoumi Student Council, receive orders from the Syndicate to seek out ability-wielders and try to coax them into hiding or against using their abilities lest they be hunted down by the scientists.

So, we mostly get to watch a repetitive routine during this period. They find an ability-wielder, Takajo gets fucked up, and everything ends well. That’s why it’s very boring and slow. But, the good thing is that the story puts us right into the action and not bore us to death by including tedious background introduction episodes.

Now, we get to episode 6, the most important episode. In this episode, the story suddenly takes a dark turn as Yu suffers over Ayumi’s death. He becomes antisocial and depressed, living off nothing but sweet dangos and pizza and living in an internet cafe, while occasionally beating up people for money. It’s really depressing. But, just in the nick of time, Nao shows up and saves him from potential drug abuse, sending a message to the entire audience that you should never do meth.

Now, after Episode 6, we finally get the much-needed conspiracy theories and time-travel bullshit that make up the entire premise of Charlotte. It turns out that the world Yu lives in now is a result of countless time-jumps conducted by his older brother, Shun. Shun founded the Syndicate to protect Yu and many other ability-wielders from being targeted by scientists. Also, it is revealed that Yu’s ability goes beyond merely possessing people; he can actually “loot” the abilities of others. Yu then loots Shun’s time-jump ability, as he is unable to do so due to his blindness. Using time-jump, Yu leaps back in time to save Ayumi. The two are reunited once more and retreat to the Syndicate Then, they come under attack by a terrorist organization, leading to the death of Kumagami. Shun experiences a mental breakdown, while Yu and Nao are severely injured. During his time in the hospital, Yu comes up with a plan to loot the abilities of every ability-wielder on Earth and after he heals, he departs to execute his plan.

I’ll stop there to not spoil the ending.

So as you can see, Charlotte follows a rather textbook plot advancement. It starts slow and casual, allowing the viewer to at least understand half the premise of Charlotte. Besides, it allows Maeda to do his usual thing and insert his usual running gags, like the obligatory baseball episode and that one character who constantly gets fucked up just for comic relief. So, pretty much very casual. Then, at the end of episode 5, things start to climax as Yu loses Ayumi and goes down a dark vortex. Though Nao saves Yu from his dark descent, the following events became more serious as Yu learns the truth behind everything, until finally ending off with a strong happy note.

An Allegory of Life and More

If you care to look deeper though, Charlotte‘s story is allegorical to a coming-of-age story of your average young teen. At first, life was all about being constantly happy. Through the eyes of Yu, we see that he was a person that wanted to be at the top of the social ladder and get good grades. He was also a narcissistic irresponsible fuck who abused his powers for his own gain and thought of nobody but himself. Just like your typical teenager.

Then, as a dramatic incident happens, Yu’s life changes course for the worse. Episode 6 represents the downward spiral in life that many teenagers face. Drugs, fighting, internet addiction, eating unhealthy… all of this shows the “other side” of a once happy life that follows a tragic event. In this case, Yu just lost Ayumi, a sister he held dear. But, he is saved by Nao at the last minute, showing that going alone is okay, but having friends around makes things a lot better.

After that, we approach the post-episode 6 arc. In this arc, Yu suddenly becomes more responsible after knowing a lot more about abilities and being able to save Ayumi from death. He takes on more responsibility, knowing that he can loot abilities. If he were to abuse his looting ability, Charlotte would have ended badly. First he takes down a terrorist organization, and then learns about the comet Charlotte and the reason behind all of this madness. Him knowing about Charlotte and the death of another loved one is the revelation he needed to finally embark on the most impossible task: cleansing the world of ability-wielders. This part symbolizes the ascent to adulthood, as irresponsible young teens finally man up and start to take on a perilous journey into the forest of being an adult.

Aside from story, the abilities are also an allegory. More specifically, an allegory to the special passions or talents a teenager has during his adolescence. Let me start with the nature of the powers. Notice that the powers grant both a positive and a negative effect, and have a limiting factor. Example: Shun’s time-jump allows him to travel back through time, but at the cost of his eyesight. Also, without light, he will not be able to time-jump. It represents the conflict between ideals and reality. The positive effect is an idealized manifestation of the wielder’s dreams or hidden aspirations, while the negative effect and limiting factor represents the realistic hurdles that appear to inhibit the realization of such ideals in real life. Additionally, the powers also represent the uniqueness of the wielder. In our society, teens are told they are “special” and can do anything. But, their uniqueness is often inhibited by the real world. Thus, the powers represent that.

Next, the fact that abilities disappear the moment the wielder turns 17. This represents a coming-of-age realization that the wielder is not actually very “special” at all, and learns to adapt with the rest of society. It can interpreted as good or bad, though. The good side: the teen learns that they can have legitimate aspirations and dreams and use adulthood as another stepping stone to reach those dreams. The bad side: it shows that in a conformist society (note that this is a Japanese anime), as soon as a teen reaches adulthood, they are expected to abandon all things unique to them and become another faceless member of society to earn their keep.

Next, the evil scientists that scout out extraordinary ability wielders. They are what you could consider “therapists”. I like to see from a bleak side: I see the scientists as mentors or teacher figures in school that try to force adult ideals on teens. As a result, teens break down and burn out before even reaching adulthood. Example: Nao’s brother was subjected to immense torture which breaks him in the end. He can no longer play music, he’s an empty husk, and has no intention of going on. The stress that parents or society puts on these teens is immense (represented by torture) and some just can’t take it.

There are many symbols, themes, and allegories to go around in Charlotte and for those who care to look and think deeper, these are what makes Charlotte such a fascinating anime.

Subpar Character Development

And we reach the negative part of this review. I personally found that Charlotte lacked a lot in character development. The most prominent example is the lackluster romance spark between Yu and Nao. It was like Maeda’s previous Angel Beats!, though at least Otonashi and Kanade had a very special red thread between them, but aside from that, they have no reason to be with one another.

One could argue that Yu and Nao were meant to be due to the events of episode 6. While that episode is indeed a remarkable romance flag, it does nothing after that. It was just that one moment and nothing more. Post-episode 6, we see very little chemistry developing between the two (as if there were some in pre-episode 6, which there was not), and in the events leading to the ending, Yu suddenly confesses his love to Nao, which seemed very rushed and unnecessary. As if it were added only to canonize the Yu-Nao ship and provide a cheap and wobbly foundation for the “muh feels” ending that followed. It basically failed compared to the Otonashi-Kanade ending, which makes me cry like a bitch every single time.

Good Music to Cap it Off

And we now reach the end of the review. And what better way to end than listening to Yake Ochinai Tsubasa, the ending song. I loved both the OP and ED of Charlotte. Mostly because of Aoi Tada and Lia. It stays true to Maeda’s usual recipe of an upbeat opening with cryptic imagery, followed by a soothing ending that’s not too depressing.

In conclusion, Charlotte is a pretty solid anime, especially for fans of Maeda. If you look past the subpar character development and potential plot holes caused by time-jumping, Charlotte is an amazing anime full of allegories that makes it earn its place as one of the top slice-of-life anime.


Originally published at ahotaku39.wordpress.com on September 30, 2015.

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