Review: "Aria the Scarlet Ammo" is a .22 Caliber Series in a .45 Caliber World
I don’t follow anime terribly closely, but is there some sub-genre dedicated to stories about gaggles of girls that range from dingbats to the thoroughly disagreeable, all of whom are determined to fling themselves vehemently at a lead boy character with little to no personality? I thought the patronizing idiocy of Freezing was a one-off, but now that I’ve watched Aria the Scarlet Ammo, I think it must be some kind of trend, though not one I find I like very much. Aria the Scarlet Ammo isn’t anywhere near as repugnant as Freezing, but it also isn’t any more compelling. It hovers around the “barely adequate” level, never dipping too far above or below that, and while that means it doesn’t do much terribly wrong, it also means it doesn’t do much terribly right.
Aria the Scarlet Ammo is set at Butei High School, an institution dedicated to teaching reading, writing, arithmetic, and paramilitary police work. The lead character of the series is Kinji Toyama, a milquetoast who at the start of the series is thinking of quitting Butei High. An assassination attempt (by remote-controlled Segways with Uzis mounted on them) leads him to meet Aria, a diminutive Butei operator packing two handguns, two swords, and a really bad attitude. After foiling the assassination, Aria continues to barge her way into Kinji’s life, moving in with him and insisting that he become her “slave,” which is her charming way of asking him to be her partner. The assassination turns out to be only the first sign of a much larger conspiracy against the students of Butei High, which will eventually draw in hidden sleeper agents embedded in the school, Kinji’s dead brother (who it’s strongly hinted may not be so dead after all), and Aria’s quest to overturn her mother’s conviction and imprisonment as the infamous “Butei killer.”
“Patronizing” is really the only way to describe a plot where a colorless, bloodless, and totally flat character like Kinji suddenly has multiple women battling each other to get close to him. He has almost no personality to speak of, making him a perfect projection for the more insecure audience members fantasizing about landing in similar scenarios without any effort on their part, but for just about anyone else the female fascination is simply mystifying. Kinji’s only interesting trait is “Hysteria Mode” — a state of heightened physical and mental ability triggered by sexual arousal, with the side-effect that he turns into a cocky, arrogant jackass. The expected hijinks ensue as Kinji has to deal with his growing attraction to Aria, which is as inexplicable as her attraction to him, since she is never much more than a pushy, screeching harridan. Aria’s competition for Kinji’s attention comes from a few other Butei High students, but mostly from Shirayuki Hotogi, a simpering subservient caricature who lives only to service Kinji’s every physical whim (though he chivalrously opts not to take advantage of this). Honestly, the fact that Kinji takes Shirayuki for granted so casually makes him kind of an unlikeable jackass even when he’s not in Hysteria Mode, even if her interest in him borders on the psychotic. About the only good thing I can say about Kinji is that his voice actors (Junji Majima in Japanese and Todd Haberkorn in English) do an excellent job in changing their vocal mannerisms to make it clear when Kinji is in Hysteria Mode.
I wish I could get as worked up about anything else in Aria the Scarlet Ammo, but the truth is that the series is so uninspired that it’s hard to get the blood going about anything that happens in it. Nothing in Aria the Scarlet Ammo has much staying power, since the action scenes are rather pedestrian, the characters strain to be even one-dimensional, and the storylines are pretty flat. There’s a lot of activity on screen, but not really a lot happens. There are some plot twists involving characters’ famous forebears in a Wold Newton-esque mishmash of literature, though Aria seems to have inherited none of her ancestor’s traits other than a marked lack of interest in social graces. It’s all part of the show’s tendency to mistake history for characterization. Knowing Aria’s ancestral lineage and her quest to exonerate her mother doesn’t explain her behavior and it doesn’t make her any less annoying, shrill, or unlikeable. The anti-Butei conspiracy is pretty perfunctory, and the hints dropped about the senior leadership of the anti-Butei organization don’t manage to make it any more intriguing. Aria and Kinji’s investigation boils down to fights through a succession of increasingly dangerous bad guys, culminating in a big battle between Kinji and Aria (and a few friends) against a seemingly unstoppable foe with a hinted literary pedigree of his own. The series just has no staying power: nothing really makes enough of an impression to stick in the mind.
The deluxe boxed set of Aria the Scarlet Ammo fits in with the latest deluxe editions from FUNimation, packaging 2 DVDs and 2 Blu-rays in separate cases, all kept together in a sturdy cardboard box. Video and audio on both formats is fine, with the Blu-rays getting the expected boost in quality from high-definition. There are a few audio commentary tracks from the American voice actors (which also explains why there’s often dead air during these things), and the baffling 13th OVA episode that sends the Butei High students to a mysterious hot spring run by a ninja (and if only the OVA were as interesting as its plot synopsis). A set of trailers and textless songs round out the extras, and the full suite of extras appears on both DVD and Blu-ray.
Aria the Scarlet Ammo ends up being a little like a dying fish, flapping occasionally and ineffectually to show some small signs of life. I suppose if you’re exceptionally undemanding of your entertainment, you might enjoy this series, but really I’d rather that both the producers and consumers of shows like this aimed a little higher.