The worst fear of any society with robots has come true, the machines have rebelled against their masters. Karen loses her little sister Touka during the initial attack and vows to save humanity from the robots. Shortly after Touka was killed, Karen mysteriously has a mark shaped like the number 11 burned into her right eye. This mark grants her enhanced abilities and evolving powers that she herself doesn't fully grasp. To help fight back against the robots, Karen joins a group named Eleven, where each member also bears the mark somewhere on their body and have special abilities unique to themselves. Is Karen Senki on the cutting edge of anime, or should it go back to the drawing board?
The action scenes in Karen Senki are the show's bread and butter. They take up the majority of each episode's 10 minute long run time, and they never ceased to entertain me. When one of the main characters decided to throw down against machines, something badass happened. It was almost as if I was watching a series of cutscenes from a Platinum Games game.
Karen Senki also gets some bonus points for the quality of its animation. I know CGI animation in anime is a divisive topic, and that is just on shows that use CGI in addition to traditional animation, with some people flat out refusing to see a show if it is fully CGI. That being said, Karen Senki continues a belief in me that Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova, one of my favorite series from last year, started. And that is CGI animation, when done well, can create some amazing looking action scenes that the average traditionally animated action series can't fully replicate. If there is any particular genre I want to see more CGI animation in, it is action.
Another note about Karen Senki's animation that makes it so impressive to me. It is animated by Next Media Animation, a studio best known for its hilariously cheap looking "news" animations that air in Taiwan. Honestly, I would really like to see some more anime done by Next Media Animation now.
Despite being a world where the machines have taken over, it isn't a complete and total hellhole like say in the Terminator universe. The humans are allowed to go about their business, living their lives in a relatively "normal" manner. Hell it isn't weird for humans and machines to be talking to each other, or even forming friendships. However, there is also this layer of tension over everything. The machines know they have the upper hand, and thus things tend to go their way, lest any human who stands up to them gets gunned down. For all intents and purposes, the war is still going on, as there is still plenty of smoldering ruins throughout the world of Karen Senki, but it tends to be on the fringes of population centers. As for why the machines haven't wiped out humans wholesale already...
The reason humanity still exists is because the machines' leader, SEEK, wants robots to learn how to love, and keeps humans alive, so they can observe them and learn how to properly love. SEEK was once a normal robot that sorted trash at a waste management facility. He one day became friends with Karen and Touka when he wandered off from his workplace. Some time after that he was being repaired when a dangerous and experimental part was placed inside him, starting his evolution into a sentient being. Learning to love, in his views, would be the last thing required for robots to be truly evolved.
There is just no two ways about it, the story, or what little there is, in Karen Senki is bland at best, bad at worst. It ultimately just serves as an excuse to move from action scene to action scene. The characters don't have much time to develop, the plot makes little sense, and the ending would be an insult to call an ending. The show itself ends, sure, but the story does not. We don't even know the fate of Karen herself. Of course, this can be entirely owed to the show only having 10 minutes per episode. Sure comedy series can flourish in that length of time, because they usually only have a couple of characters, and can develop the characters through the jokes. Action shows, let alone action shows with as many main characters as Karen Senki does and with as complex of a world as Karen Senki has, will struggle in this regard when given this shortened length. This is honestly a criticism I share with RWBY, which is probably the most direct parallel to Karen Senki out there in recent memory. I don't care much for the writing in either show, but I am still a fan of them both because of their awesome action scenes. It also doesn't help matters that the story is told out of chronological order, so it makes what little there is slightly harder to follow.
Again, this probably has to do with the short length as well, but they show and introduce so many things in this series without explaining a damn one of them. For example, the character Eleanor has the ability to create clones of herself. How? Hell if I know, they never say. I just assume it is because of her Eleven mark. Karen actually houses Touka's spirit in her body and every now and then, Karen will release her spirit to go wreck the crap out of enemies. How does this all work? Again, I don't exactly know. This show essentially runs purely on the Rule of Cool, and doesn't bother explaining any of it.
Despite the issues with Karen Senki's writing, I still enjoyed it overall. It is a great way to kill 10 minutes every now and then, or 2 hours if you are just looking for something to kick back and relax with. Admittedly it is heavily style over substance, but with the kind of style it has going for it, I'm ok with that. Not every anime is going to be an award winning character study or something like that. Sometimes you need to see a dumb over the top action show as a change of pace, and in that regards Karen Senki is more than a worthwhile watch.
Karen Senki is an original anime series, it can be watched on the Crunchyroll streaming service.