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Anime Review & Ramble: The Unlimited: Hyoubu Kyousuke

The Unlimited: Hyoubu Kyousuke (2013), produced by Manglobe as a 12-part anime sequel to Zettai Karen Children, follows the adventures of the original anime’s antagonist, Hyoubu Kyousuke, as he fights–violently–for the rights of “espers” (people with superpowers) in a world dominated by norms.  The Unlimited has all the elements of a truly great anime but misses a lot of chances to deploy them to the best effect.  Overall, it is well above average without being spectacular.  I have not seen Zettai Karen Children and so can confidently say that you don’t need to in order to enjoy The Unlimited.

Unlimited Hyoubu Kyousuke

Kyousuke and his team grab a photo op.

The story is fairly simple, though the plot has some convoluted twists.  Hyoubu Kyousuke is a very powerful esper (he can fly around, use telekinesis, shoot energy waves, etc.).  He was born in the 1930s, but thanks to his powers has an extended lifespan and still looks like a teen, albeit white-haired.  A child hero within a special esper unit in World War II, he became disillusioned with “normals” after experiencing cruel persecution and devoted his adult life to forming a criminal esper organization, P.A.N.D.R.A., to resist and possibly exterminate norms.  Opposing him is nigh everyone, including B.A.B.E.L., a norm-esper organization founded by one of Kyousuke’s esper companions from World War II, Fujiko.  Unbeknownst to Kyousuke, he is also being opposed by a young esper he has recently recruited, Andy Hinomiya, a Japanese-American who is, in fact, a US undercover agent.  But things are more complicated than even Andy knows, and he may find cause to switch his loyalties.  The three titular “children” from Zettai Karen Children, now middle schoolers, also make brief appearances as B.A.B.E.L. agents but are not central characters.

Hyoubu Kyousuke

Typical Kyousuke smirk

The Unlimited is explicitly and unabashedly the story of Kyousuke, and good thing too, because he is a fantastic character.  If the world of The Unlimited is like that of The X-Men (and really it’s virtually identical), then Kyousuke is a weird but effective splice of Magneto and Xavier.  Like Magneto, he is bent on bloody war with normal humans in the name of the safety and just treatment of his fellow espers.  But like Xavier, he has a penchant for finding and lovingly raising rejected esper children.  Indeed, most of his closest compatriots read as his psychological children, having been with him since their childhoods.  This dual function of Kyousuke–mass murderer and loving father figure–is the core of what makes his character fascinating.

What The Unlimited lacks is a strong character for Kyousuke to bounce off.  He’s out on his own being awesome and psychologically damaged with no one to really challenge or complicate him.  There are four candidates for this role: Andy, Fujiko, Kaoru, and Yugiri, but none quite fits the bill.

Andy, our Everyman, is not very compelling.  His character has some interesting concepts: his multicultural background, his atypical esper power of limiting others’ powers, and his mixed allegiances, but he’s no match for Kyousuke, not physically, mentally, philosophically, or in life experience.

Andy Hinomiya

Typical Andy: a bit nonplussed

Fujiko is a match in every way: she’s a very powerful esper, leader of the chief organization opposing Kyousuke, a flamboyant personality, almost the same age as he is, and has a personal background with him.  But the writers don’t give her much screen time with him (or much screen time at all).  The two have a couple of talks in which they express that they’re not close anymore, and that’s it.  If you think this waste of a powerful character is related to her being female, my money says you’re right.

Kaoru is the protagonist of Zettai Karen Children and a girl Kyousuke is obsessed with because he believes she will grow up to be a great esper savior.  He clearly regards her as his equal–in power if not maturity, but she is a minor character in this particular anime and not well developed.

The strongest candidate for counterpoint character to Kyousuke is Yugiri, a little girl (about four or so) who is a very powerful esper.  Kyousuke rescued her from a life as an esper lab rat and/or ostracized orphan, and she is clearly attached to him as a parent figure.  Despite her youth, Yugiri is one of the most realistic characters in the series.  Convincingly damaged by her dysfunctional early years, she is very quiet, tentative, often confused by social situations, frightened, and insecure.  Kyousuke’s childhood echoes hers in a few respects, and even as an “old man,” he seems to have something of the same caution and social reserve.  The understated but palpable affection between the two is sweet and believable.

Kyousuke_Yugiri

Kyousuke and Yugiri: Aw! Kawaii desu ne.

But as a small child, Yugiri cannot quite carry the weight of central interlocutor for Kyousuke, and thus, I’m left waiting for some character chemistry that never emerges and an emotional depth that never gets exposed.

Overview
Story
The plot operates at three levels: the overall conflict of espers vs. humans, which is straightforward; the main sequence of plot events, which is a bit complicated but mainly makes sense; and the specifics of plot logic in various battles and tactical decisions, which is sometimes muddy or implausible.  Overall, if you can gloss over some of the details, the story is clear and fairly easy to follow.

Characters
Kyousuke is never very far from being one of the great characters of anime.  Unfortunately, no one else approaches this stature, which means that Kyousuke himself is not challenged enough to be explored as deeply as he should have been.  The secondary characters, in general, are good but relatively underdeveloped.

Art & Presentation
Not bad.  The series is on a par with its contemporaries, but visually nothing stands out as particularly original or artistically gorgeous.  The cheap CGI blasts of energy look like cheap CGI.  I do, however, like the implication that our 80-plus-year-old espers, despite looking like teens, have white hair just because they went gray with age.  It’s a nod to age and experience we rarely see in anime.

The voice acting is good, but I found it not very memorable.  I suspect that has less to do with the actors than the story: it just doesn’t give them many scenes with the emotional range to show their acting chops.  The opening and ending sequences use several different songs, some better than others.

Content Warnings
You know, I kind of want to give a content warning for trivialization of the bombing of Hiroshima.  It gets used as almost a throwaway line.  Overall, the series has a lot of non-graphic violence and some mild sex jokes and fan service, no real sexual content.  If anything, its violence is disturbing in being comic-booky and not taken very seriously.  It does have some dark themes, including psychological abuse of children.

All in All
The Unlimited: Hyoubu Kyousuke is a solid, entertaining series that, at its best, is intriguing and moving but jettisons some of its potential in favor of rather average action scenes and underdeveloped secondary characters.  Go in with moderate expectations, and it should be good fun.  I would tune in if it came back for another season.

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