Our selected anime today is Karen Senki, streaming at Crunchyroll.
Here’s the summary as Crunchyroll tells it: Karen leads the human resistance group, “11”. Having lost her little sister Touka in the war against these evolving machines, Karen’s strong motivation to save humanity is personal and raging for victory. Slowly growing distant and detached to numb her grief, Karen wants to inflict the same pain onto the machines as they have done to her. Can machines feel pain like humans?
My first expectations when reading the summary was something along the lines of desperate humans fighting something akin to Skynet from the Terminator series. That sounds interesting to me, so I gave the first episode a look. Thinking that the first episode was just a disjointed audience hook, I watched the second episode. After all, the episodes are only 10-11 minutes long. So, what is Karen Senki?
We open the first episode with Karen and her little sister, Touka, in a field of purple flowers. A floating robot hovers by, helpfully providing the name of the flower. He introduces himself as SEEK, the property of city hall. He provides nursing, mowing, and street cleaning services. An odd combo, but whatever. He asks Karen and Touka to be his friends and they agree.
Cut to a battle in dusty, post-apocalyptic city ruins, where an eye-patch wearing Karen narrates about the machines taking down human society in five years and the death of her sister. To establish that she is a badass, we see her fight a robot army with a revolver and flight boots, zipping around like she’s Iron Man. Cut to a human filled shopping alley and a sudden, random attack against Karen by a trigger-happy robot. Why is it there? How did it get there? If the humans are fighting against the machines, isn’t this intrusion a big deal? It doesn’t seem to be. Karen dispatches it and the machine bleeds from its wounds. So, what is it?
Cut to Jack visiting a sexbot. He gives her a device to enhance her emotion functions and starts his fun time. Cut to Karen cooking pasta in a fine hotel suite. Cue sudden random attack by robots. She avoids all of their bullets and she dispatches her attackers again. How did they find her? Why did they attack? How is she avoiding a spray of gunfire? We get no explanation. Cut to Karen calling Jack, interrupting his fun time with the sexbot. She demands that he come over immediately. At the hotel suite, Jack drags away the fallen robots for salvage. As he walks out of the suite, he tells someone on the phone that Karen is no good.
After such a disjointed first episode, I try the second. Maybe all of the action scenes and hints of a possible story were just audience bait to hook them into watching the rest.
The second episode begins with a dapper robot overlord watching a video of Karen on her bike. He wants her cornered, because she has surpassed the boundaries of the human race. Action scene time as Karen rides a motorcycle that reminds me of the Batpod from the Nolan Batman movies. She’s in a running firefights with more robots spraying bullets at her. They miss her while she takes them down with her twin revolvers. We get time slowing down like she’s in the Matrix, so she can avoid bullets and falling obstacles. The bike gets damaged by a stray shot and she flies away on her boots.
Cut to a shopping district, where she’s being followed by a robot mosquito. We get another sudden fight and Karen returns to getting parts to repair her bike. The surveillance mosquito is a pervert and we get T&A shots of Karen in her underwear. So, how does Karen deal with her watcher? By blasting it with her gun and blowing a massive hole in the wall. Sledgehammer to a fly, indeed. Then we get a shower scene slow-panning up Karen’s body, while she narrates about the machines beginning their attack on humanity. She’s interrupted by a robot assassin that’s quickly dispatched. Again, we’re shown the robot bleeding.
Cut to some man with the character for “eleven” sitting in front of a stack of CRT screens. The dapper robot overlord appears on them and the man scolds him about violating the agreement against robots gunning down humans in their reserves. Apparently, this whole mess is about evolution and thinning out the humans for the sake of the environment. The machines are evolving towards being human and bad ones at that. Back in the shopping alley, Karen meets with a really hairy butcher and he shows her the way to the resistance group, Eleven. They want her to join. There, we find Xiaogang, the man who was talking to the dapper robot overlord earlier, and he greets her.
Karen Senki is all computer animated, in the same vein as Arpeggio of Blue Steel and RWBY. The models are clean and smooth, though the basic movements like walk cycles are still a bit stiff. Its short episode length puts it in the same category as RWBY.
The field of purple flowers at the beginning of the first episode reminded me of a similar field in Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion. I’m sure that this scene in Karen Senki is meant to have some sort of meaning and significance, but it lacks impact.
Notice how many times the phrase “cut to” is used in the synopsis above? This makes the show feel jarring and disjointed. There’s a lot of narration about events while showing unrelated scenes, meaning that Karen Senki tells the audience about the story, instead of showing the audience the story. This is a boring and tedious failure in storytelling.
I’m left with a lot of baffling questions about the world setting. Where and how are the humans raising beef in their reserves? Why are they in reserves? Why are they staying in reserves? Why do they have power if the machines are thinning them out? How has Karen learned to be a superhero? Where did she get her toys? Instead of wasting precious seconds on pointless action scenes and slow-pans, Karen Senki could have been fleshing out the world in a significant way. It doesn’t take many action scenes to establish that Karen is a badass resisting the machines and that they are hunting her down.
I really dreaded writing this review, because it meant watching this drek again. I kept looking at it and thinking that RWBY should be given the software and budget this show has. At least RWBY can tell a story in a coherent fashion. This is just action scene after pointless action scene. I’m an action fan and I also like cake, but I know that eating nothing but cake for every meal is going to make me sick. Karen Senki is like that. Nothing but action cake and no meaty goodness of story or veggies of character development. I don’t see this improving much either, meaning sitting through pointless action and fanservice scenes to get a few morsels of story in each installment.
I’ve seen some comparisons of Karen Senki to RWBY, due to format and action girl characters. However, RWBY does a much better job at storytelling in the same amount of time, setting up the world and introducing the characters in a coherent and more engaging way. If you had to pick between the two, pick RWBY.
If you have other things to do with your time, skip Karen Senki. I will.