Tomonori Inoue is a rising star amongst Japanese manga artists. His first serialized comic, Coppelion, made it onto Oricon’s best-selling charts only a year after debuting in Young Magazine in 2008. After a televised adaptation was announced in 2010, it quickly came to a halt due to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. It was then revived by Studio GoHands, known for their 2012 K series, before being licensed by Viz Media for North American audiences. Despite its rocky development, all thirteen episodes are finally available in a superbly produced Blu-ray set. Coppelion is a gorgeously animated short series that, despite its narrative inconsistencies, is a fantastic extension of Tomonori’s comic book work.
Coppelion takes place in the year 2016 after a nuclear meltdown contaminates Tokyo, and forces both its citizens and the government out of the city. Some might say Tomonori’s manga, which released three years before Fukushima Daiichi’s disaster, was somewhat prophetic. However, Coppelion carries a goofy undertone despite its genuine political statements. The story wants to be taken seriously, but its underdressed heroic trio falls victim to cliche anime stereotypes. And yet, Coppelion is a blast to watch. As long as the plot is approached with an open mind, Coppelion relishes in its incredible action sequences and what may be the most beautiful backdrops in a serialized anime to date.
"Coppelion is a gorgeously animated short series that, despite its narrative inconsistencies, is a fantastic extension of Tomonori’s comic book work."
Coppelion are genetically modified humans bred to withstand Tokyo’s polluted air. Each Coppelion member is assigned a long term mission during their training, along with a unique ability. Members are divided into groups of three, and sent to the ravaged city of Tokyo to complete their individual goals. Ibara, Aoi and Taeko are part of a rescue team dispatched to search for survivors. It’s been twenty years since the incident, and not everyone managed to escape the city. Some remained trapped, others stayed to avoid imprisonment because of their criminal background.
The remaining humans are barely scraping by, and can only survive by wearing advanced hazmat suits left behind by the corporation responsible for the nuclear meltdown. Food is delivered across town by a group of survivors stationed at a well maintained, and fully stocked, science building. With a mysterious rogue military organization threatening to spread the poisonous chemicals beyond Tokyo, Ibara, Aoi and Taeko join forces with the survivors in order to stop further contamination.
"Coppelion’s art direction is incomparable. Tomonori’s manga was already beautiful, and seeing the familiar scenery in motion adds new life to the artwork."
Half the show revolves around the rescue team meeting characters with curious pasts, some who were even partially responsible for the nuclear meltdown. Since the entire show takes place in an abandoned city, Ibara, Aoi and Taeko almost single handedly carry the first few episodes until other, more permanent, side characters are introduced. The girls have great chemistry, and the plot is engaging when it focuses on political and social issues.
Unfortunately, Coppelion suffers from juvenile anime tropes. Nearly all female characters are underdressed, there are dozens of uncomfortable panty shots and the odd comedic timing is, well, poorly timed. To be fair, Aoi is the only character who drags the series down. Her infantile behavior and constant bickering are intolerable. Even the most epic battles are tainted by her whining in the background. Fortunately, Ibara and Taeko are nothing like Aoi. Watching their characters mature and react to life-altering decisions is exciting, even with Aoi’s constant fussing. Despite Coppelion’s erratic storytelling, there are enough plot developments to keep the narrative engaging. The survivors are arguably the most interesting and complex characters on the show. Their struggle with maintaining a civil life amongst chaos is inspiring. Even when everything is taken from them, their camaraderie and positive attitude prevails.
"Tomonori Inoue may be a newcomer, but his artistic ability is already beyond most popular anime shows."
Coppelion’s art direction is incomparable. Tomonori’s manga was already beautiful, and seeing the familiar scenery in motion adds new life to the artwork. The background paintings are stupendously detailed. Every single scene boasts meticulously rendered backgrounds. Despite taking place in a post apocalyptic city, the environments radiate with color and a sense of life. The characters are beautifully portrayed as well. Their style closely resembles the original manga artwork, and the animators have even added the thick black outlines seen in a lot of traditional comics. The Blu-ray quality is exquisite, with crystal clear image quality and some nifty extras (clean opening and ending, original trailers, bonus art gallery and additional DVDs of the entire series). Sadly, the English and Japanese audio are only available in 2.0, so those hoping for an immersive surround sound experience are out of luck.
Coppelion isn’t perfect, but considering the lack of decent anime over the last few years, it’s definitely worth checking out. The cast is great (excluding Aoi), the action is energetic and the artwork is breathtaking. The Blu-ray + dvd combo pack retails at $52.89, which is a sound deal considering the high production values and excellent image quality. Tomonori Inoue may be a newcomer, but his artistic ability is already beyond most popular anime shows.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Published by: VIZ Media | Review Format: Blu-Ray