In the 21st century the planet is rocked by World War III. Amongst the damage the country of Japan is heavily bombed. Decades later society has generally rebuilt but the largest blast crater remains in the centre of Tokyo, dubbed the Black Spot. From this no-man’s land emerges those strangely mutated by the effects of the blast, able to wield special powers. Feared and looked down upon by those in the urban sprawl, they become known as Needless.
The shadowy corporation Simeon erects a massive tower within the Black Spot. Under the command of the powerful Needless Adam Arclight it begins hunting various Needless while also using its power to wipe out any who oppose it. As the last great stand of the resistance falls apart, young Cruz Schild is saved by the intervention of the enigmatic priest Adam Blade. Taken in by Blade and his friends, Cruz is quickly made a skivvy for the eccentric band. When Arclight plays his hand, they are all forced to intervene…may God have mercy.
I’d heard very little about Needless going in other than it was apparently a fanservice action show. That of course set my expectations fairly low going in but what you actually get isn’t so easy to predict.
Needless belongs to a trend which seems to be on the rise, that a generation that grew up with shonen titles and all the clichés that come with it are coming of age and talking about it. While I wouldn’t label it an outright parody there’s an undercurrent of satire to the show that generally runs and occasionally produces a geyser. The obvious sign of this is that the main action hero, Blade, isn’t really heroic. He’s self indulgent, lazy and even when supported by a band of friends is the first one to look down on them. He’s not a Kinnikuman-style cowardly hero but he’s clearly not the messiah figure the typical shonen lead seems to have become. I’d say the negative qualities would make him unlikable but the show had the good sense to cast legendary veteran Takehito Koyasu in the role. A man who is no stranger to playing cool and wild men, Koyasu instills Blade with an unpredictable hot-bloodedness that makes the character a lot of fun to watch.
The other elements of parody vary but are generally effective. At one point Blade faces a tough opponent and is cheered on by his friends. His response is to attack the old cliché that getting angry or a friend dying for you suddenly ensures victory. The show’s sense of humour varies between moments like these and moments of silly weighed against high drama. This can be very difficult to do and if not managed well can wreck the foundation of the dramatic moments (a trend I’d say Fullmetal Alchemist is guilty of). The moments of silly work much better here however as they take you by surprise in a good way and remind you that the show isn’t taking itself seriously. Oddly, however, this also just made me get even more invested in the drama.
As the first character we meet, Cruz serves as our avatar to learn about the setting and play straight man to the other more eccentric characters. He’s not a bad character but he’s there for the sake of exposition, which is served at a regular pace. If the show needs to explain why something is happening it’ll usually come from the mouth of Cruz or Disc, a cyborg Needless whose power is literally analysing and explaining everything. Cruz does eventually get more involved with strategy, and given his placement in a show where near everybody else has a super power, it’s not too hard to guess where his issues of self worth and clear ability go.
Cruz’s other defining trait is his constant pining for his deceased elder sister, who pegs it in the first episode trying to save him. A lot of situations are summed up in narration where he sounds like he’s writing a letter or praying to her and while mildly understandable it’s a trend that kind of makes me feel icky. Loving your family is perfectly fine but too many anime characters seem obsessed with their elder siblings. It doesn’t help that one episode reveals his personal paradise is a world where he can spend private picnics with her, nor that for someone playing caretaker to a younger brother her outfit shows an unhealthy amount of chest.
Blade’s friend Eve becomes something of a surrogate in this regard, though she’s the polar opposite of the kind of sister Cruz has grown up with. Similar to Blade she’s often loud and stupid, with a running gag of her failing to remember names and applying mondegreens in their place. Initially I wasn’t a fan but later episodes better establish her as an amusing and eccentric individual.
The pacing of the show is best defined as questionable and that mainly boils down to a particular choice it makes. The first disc of volume one introduces most of the cast and has some one-off battles to ease us in. By the end however Arclight has announced his intentions which draws the heroes to him in the second disc. This leads into a fight within the Simeon tower which starts on the second half of volume one and carries over until about the same way into volume two. Half the show’s entire run is given over to a single fight. Things change and new characters appear across all of this but the show still dedicates half its life to a battle that is supposed to be a challenge for the heroes to overcome before they reach Arclight himself. The show pays for this later with some rushed and pointless events on the final disc. Some of these are the result of having to create a closed end to a point that in the manga launched big changes in the story but others clearly just suffer for lack of time. There’s a hijack attempt quite late in the show which is just as quickly made moot and characters react inconsistently to it in similar time.
Helping to break up the drawn out fight are four flashback episodes throughout which explain things like the history of Cruz and his sister or why a new pair of characters care to get involved. The absolute highlight though is a two part story that looks at the childhood of Blade and Eve and their connection to Gido, the elderly scientist. These two episodes shoot for something more realistic and add an element of tragedy to the characters that isn’t too predictable. Gido in particular really comes into his own and you start to see him as a human, rather than perhaps just an old man.
One of the other questionable elements is fanservice. I’ve spoken before about manga adaptations that pointlessly amp this up and sadly Needless is one of them. The patron saints of this are the three members of the ‘Beautiful Girl Squadron’, a corp of young female Needless who are trained to use their powers for Simeon. The particular recurring team get hit pretty broadly with the fanservice stick, most prominently in the first ending animation which is a montage of them in various pointless teasing lesbian situations to a song about how ‘girls style’ is the strongest. Given that this appears a good few episodes before the characters themselves in the actual story it’s a cautious indicator of their role. An actual episode sees them tracking Eve through a house with an AWOL security system and facing weight balance traps that require them to strip. The comedy factor of this episode is also fairly awkward as immediately following this their interactions with her become decidedly sinister.
Extras consist of Japanese DVD commercials, clean versions of the second OP and ED, and a 12 part fanservice driven mini series. Based on a running gag from the manga, Cruz goes under cover at an all girls school attended by the various female characters. Although the main show has some questionable fanservice moments, the real dreck seems to have slid into this mess which ventures into soft core porn. Japan, I really don’t think women are this into checking each other out. There’s a very rare laugh or two but mostly this really is for the worst part of the audience.
It might sound like I’m being fairly down on the show but I actually quite enjoyed it. There’s a few factors I think could have been done better or simply removed but in all was a fun ride. Straight parody can sometimes burn out too quickly, so the style of bringing that element to the fore only when there’s a good joke helps the shelf life of the series. I’m not one for ‘switch your brain off’ entertainment but this is a show where you have to accept it for what it is and go along for the entertaining ride that follows. It probably won’t become a classic but it’s worth a good watch for sure. Think of it as a hot blooded Japanese take on X-Men.