Gugsy: Hey Morie, we’re late. Morie: Hey Gugsy. Wait, we’re late? Gugsy: Yeah, we’re late. We’re late for a very important
date second cour. Morie: Oh no?! No time for Hello! Goodbye! We’re Late! Together: We’re Late! We’re Late!
Magical Girls. Ghosts who can shapeshift. Androids. Kaiju. Youkai. Aliens. Immortals, Mutants, and Time Travelers. These are just a few of the many kinds of so-called superhumans living amongst the rest of the normal folk inside Concrete Revolutio: Choujin Gensou. It’s in alternate-universe Japan set primarily in the 1960s where we find the governmental Superhuman Bureau, whose job is to manage, administrate, and protect their constituents. As we follow Jiro Hitoyoshi, an agent of the Bureau, we find clues of the superhumans of the past, the factions pulling at different superhumans in the present, and the mysterious future that has come about to the Bureau. Concrete Revolutio is a show that many people overlooked or dropped very early in the Fall 2015 season, but for the people who stuck it out, they found one of the hidden gems of that season. Getting to the bottom of this conundrum today is a pair of self-styled wannabe superheroes, Ghost Gugsy, who followed the show weekly throughout it’s run, and Magical Girl MementoMorie, who came to Concrete after its first cour was complete. So did Concrete Revolutio soar majestically into its second cour in the Spring, or did it fail to save its viewers?
Normally, AniTAY reviews start with the Good, then the Mixed, and finally the Bad. However, in true Concrete Revolutio fashion, we have to do this out of order, starting with one of the bigger issues of the show, with fans divided and debating over…
The Baccano/Haruhi style storytelling on steroids
Gugsy: I feel like this was one of the largest issues that put people off from Concrete in the very beginning. There was no warning in the summary blip on most websites previewing it. There was no source material for people to prepare. And the first episode (which we’ll get to later) didn’t really do a good job of preparing people for the non-linear plot, and how often we would be jumping around in time. And yet in hindsight, it almost was necessary this way?
Morie: Maybe it’s my perspective as a binge watcher, but I got used to rolling with the time jumps pretty quickly. I agree that the first episode was, unfortunately, one of the weakest, so the problem it caused is that it didn’t sell the compelling story and just confused people. In later (and most) episodes, the individual stories are strong enough that the non-linearity is at worst a background quality and at most a positive compliment to the story. There were a few episodes especially, like 3, 6, and 9, where seeing the characters at different points in the timeline greatly contributed to how powerful their stories were.
Gugsy: It definitely takes a little while to get used to the time jumping, but if you’re willing to put the effort in to piecing the the different strings together, you’ll have a good time. However, if you put on an anime to turn off your brain and unwind then this will not be what you’re looking for. I had a lot of discussions with people as it was airing on whether the time jumping was a positive attribute or a messy distraction made by the writing. While I side with the former thought, it was a concern for some people, and it can get confusing at times if you aren’t playing close enough attention.
Alternate History for the History Buffs
Gugsy: Concrete does something unusual with it’s history that I don’t think many shows set in other historical settings use often enough. It takes a lot of important events that actually happened in the 1940s-1970s of Japan, and just slightly twists it to make it fit with the superhero story being told, in a similar way from how Watchmen, its spiritual ancestor, did. But by also strictly sticking to its Shinka calendar (itself a barely disguised copy of the actual Showa calendar) it manages to weave these happenings into the plot itself, instead of leaving them as background fodder.
Morie: Yeah, it may seem silly to call universe that’s stuffed to overflowing with fantasy “realistic,” but Concrete’s is that. The existence of superhumans is the only suspension of disbelief required of us. Beyond that, everything is played out in a way that’s either directly inspired by real events or in line with real societal, political, and cultural issues of 1960s Japan. Everything from how media regulations changed in a post-war world to Beatlemania makes it into Concrete’s Shinka Era - which is not incidentally the name almost given to the Showa Era.
Gugsy: It’s also amazing how accurate its references are to their real-life counterparts. Which is another positive aspect of the jumping around in time. Our in-universe Beatles performed on the exact same day that the real Beatles first played in Japan. And without spoiling too much more, there are so many other events that not only actually happened, but happen on the same date in-universe, while still being plot relevant. The amount of attention to detail here is extraordinary. People well versed in their Japanese History will have a field day with all the references in Concrete.
M: Another cool element besides the factual events is how well Concrete nailed pop culture in the 60s and 70s. The fashion, music, and types of superheroes that most capture the public’s attention have that feel that fits those decades, from the Super Sentai inspiration to Earth-chan’s Astro Boy-esque look.
Morality and Shades of Grey
M: A good way to sum up the morality of Concrete Revolutio is a paraphrased line from the OP: “Justice is not on my side, I only have myself.” As a government-sanctioned operation, the Superhuman Bureau is on the side of the law, but every character has a unique conception of what good, right, and just really mean. Jiro’s growth as a character focuses largely on the tension that arises from his unwavering commitment to the idea of a “Superhuman of justice.”
G: It’s almost cliche at this point to say that characters dwell in morally grey areas, but it has to be stated here. Almost every character is trying to do what they think is the right thing to do, but Concrete does an excellent job of showing the different ways and perspectives that change how we perceive what that “right” thing should be. What’s more right to you, Justice, Freedom or Peace? All of these are equally valid reasons, but which one a character chooses as his or her most important reason changes what their goals in the show are.
M: I like that you brought up the Justice, Freedom, Peace issue. It creates so much tension in Concrete despite these things being all abstract good qualities we want in society. I don’t think most people realize how at-odds with each other these desires can be. Jiro’s quest for justice, for example, often compromises the peace of his friends and the show’s entire world. It’s not that any character is obviously in the right or wrong. They just are moving towards a goal that may not align with the goals of others.
G: We’ve touched on this a bit in the previous section, but a special mention has to be given to the individual characters and their complex desires and personalities. I’ll start with Kikko, whose pure love for Jiro throughout the series made her one of the most endearing and my personal favorite character. She’s constantly trying to be of help to Jiro and when Jiro gets frustrated, it is Kikko who tries to bring him back and console him. And yet, we find that even the most “pure” character in the show is not totally immune to her own goals and wants.
M: I love Kikko, and the first cour set up the depth of her personality as one of the biggest mysteries to solve, but I have to give shout outs to the harder to like among the Concrete cast. Emi, Jiro’s maybe-girlfriend and rival for Kikko’s unrequited affections, is a difficult person (well, spirit woman) but ultimately one of the most human. Concrete may be dealing in the realm of larger than life superhumans, but it never falls out of sync with the emotions that make us human, including spite and jealousy.
G: If we’re giving shout-outs, I’ve got to give some to Daishi Akita, the elderly leader of the Superhuman Bureau, as well as Magotake Hitoyoshi, the doctor and Jiro’s father. Both of these guys help guide the Bureau in their missions, but both have their own secret agendas. However, they’re doing what they think is the right thing to do for their own reasons, and hopefully the second cour will cover the fallout of these reveals. And we haven’t even touched on some of the other people who work against the Bureau. I know two characters that both Morie and I connected with were Earth-chan and the robot detective, Shiba Raito.
M: Haha, I think the most fascinating thing about Earth-chan is how far away from personally relatable to me she is - a being who is programmed to respond and derive pleasure from helping human distress and has an unwavering sense of right and wrong. She condemns the (to her) selfishness and dishonesty of a young superhuman, Judas, but when reaping benefits from helping others is in her coding, it raises the question of whether her motives are just as selfish. Is there such thing as pure altruism, and when the result is beneficial to the group, does it matter if the original motives were self-serving or not? Concrete excels at bringing up these issues.
You can also contrast Earth-chan with the other “child” character, the ghost Fuurouta. While the former is held up as an unshakeable symbol of right and justice no matter her wiring or motives, Fuurouta unwittingly causes grief and destruction despite having good intentions. A recurring theme in the show is that how “good” you are is largely up to public opinion. Earth-chan is a beloved figure. When you have that kind of support behind you, maybe your motives matter a lot less. I liked Detective Shiba because as far as robot characters go, he was quite the opposite of Earth-chan. Instead of being programmed to be a purely good entity, he’s implanted with a human personality and we have this interesting character who is both an android and a morally complex person. I often found him one of the most tragic superhumans, but also one of the most touching to me personally because of the tension inherent to his character. I guess you could say these superhumans are really...super...human...heh...heh >.>
The first episode
G: We mentioned it before, but the first episode is really jarring and I think a major factor in why many people dropped the show early on. There’s a reason episode reviewers were giving it such ratings like “?” and the complex number “i”. It’s one of the single strangest, craziest, way-out-there episodes of anime I’ve seen. The plot, even for Concrete standards, is taken to 11, and the time jumps are really poorly explained to the viewer, so many people were just completely lost. We said earlier that this gets toned down a lot more starting with the very next episode, and the time stamps get more prominent, helping viewers understand when certain scenes are supposed to be happening.
Also of note, is the fan service in the picture above. It’s completely unnecessary, and totally distracting. Thankfully, it lasts a split second and this kind of shot is never done again. In fact, it might be the only real “fan-service” Concrete ever tries. For the remainder of the show, Ullr (the little doll so conveniently placed) rides along on Kikko’s shoulder. Which just makes the whole thing stranger, as if the creators knew how awkward and out of place that shot was, and then wrote it out of existence afterwards. All in all, it’s a crazy episode that expects viewers to sprint along with them, when they hadn’t even taught us how to crawl yet.
Concrete Revolutio is a weird title that might have been overlooked and disregarded because people expected superhero action and fights (Particularly in a season dominated by One Punch Man) when that wasn’t what Concrete was aiming for. There is a lot of politics, morality and character-driven events that people may not have been expecting, combined with alternate 1960s Japanese history and liberal use of flashbacks, flashforwards and time jumps in general. So the viewers who came for the action were disappointed, and the viewers who might have loved this show completely overlooked it. With the second season coming in a week or two, those of us on board with the show are eagerly anticipating more. It’s not a show for everyone, but if this sort of thing hits your niche or piques your interest, both Morie and Gugsy are confident that you’ll enjoy it.
Many thanks to the almighty Tim for his amazing Gif skills. And thank you to the Rock, for helping me with the review card. You’re reading Ani-TAY, the anime-focused portion of Kotaku’s community-run blog, Talk Amongst Yourselves. Ani-TAY is a non-professional blog whose writers love everything anime related. Click here to check us out.