I am a humble, tolerant man but…
A review copy was provided by FUNimation Entertainment
Adapted from the light novels by Reiji Kaitou. How does this steampunk-influenced harem-filled action series stack up… In more ways than one? The Inverseman takes it apart.
When seeing the words “light novel adaptation” and some of the staff from Queen’s Blade on board, red flags already flew up in my head, but the premise looked interesting and the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” rang true. Our story takes place in the early 20th century UK where Raishin Akabane has traveled all the way from Japan with his automaton doll Yaya to enroll in the Walpurgis Royal Academy of Machinart and participate in the tournament among other magicians known as the Walpurgis Festival. His true reason though is to find his older brother and take his revenge for him killing the rest of their family.
The plot to Unbreakable Machine Doll moves very quickly. There’s seldom a wasted moment, and with currently 14 volumes of light novel, this season only gets through the first three books. I actually appreciate that the show doesn’t dawdle too much on the shenanigans of Raishin and his harem; it keeps a legitimate feeling of suspense. Sometimes however, the show moves way too quickly and an emotional moment between Raishin and one of the girls is interrupted by someone jumping through a window to punch him out, and you stand there wondering if that actually just happened.
There is another unfortunate side effect to having only 12 episodes and tons of novel content; everything feels rushed. I want to engage with the story and the very fascinating world, which is likely well-fleshed out in the novels, but critical points of exposition are missing. Why does Raishin suddenly power up at times by yelling? Raishin just jumped out of the middle of a fight, is he not disqualified? What is up with the final battle of the series and did anything change? What’s a machine doll and why do we never really find out? What about taking revenge Tenzin? It feels like the directors knew they could only get 12 episodes and tried to fit what they could in that time. This kind of show needs at least 26 episodes to get somewhere, but the question is does it deserve it?
While most anime these days tend to capture the audience with endearing characters but slack off in the plot, Unbreakable Machine Doll does the opposite. While there are some good points, I find the cast to be rather lackluster. In the first episode alone, Yaya is already throwing herself at Raishin for reasons we don’t really seem to find out, nudity included. By the time episode two rolls around, Raishin’s tsundere standoffish classmate, Charlotte, is already thinking past being friends with him. As other girls are introduced, they also fall for Raishin almost too quickly, before he even solves their problems, no less. Welcome to harem anime I suppose.
Then there’s Raishin himself. He’s your typical hero who never backs down to help someone in need no matter what. He’s also functionally immortal where every third scene seems to be him in a cast, in spite of a critical plot point which should have him dead, adding onto cliches. His smarter moments in battles, snarky moments, and ironically enough his interplay with Yaya keep him remotely interesting. The most infuriating part is the mess that is the last arc, where the show steamrolls into it, leaves a mess of plotholes, and has a nearly inane motivations for Charlotte’s actions. Maybe there was a good explanation that made sense because I feel like these holes could have been filled, but I’m unlikely to find out anytime soon unless I learn Japanese and read the novels, and maybe there the problems persist.
The animation is rather standout, taking on a very unique approach with a big blending of CGI for the automatons, giving them a distinctness from the magicians. Sometimes it’s a little jarring, but the art direction is endearing enough to set it slightly apart from other harems. As for the character design, it’s solid. I can see many a cosplayer eyeing a Yaya cosplay. In acting, actually do prefer the dub to the original for this anime. Since all the cast have very specific origins, be Liverpool, Manchester, Ireland, and so on, there’s a wide variety of accurate accents among the European characters, and it creates a good contrast with Raishin and Yaya being in the minority. In addition to the usual commentaries, FUNimation also dubbed the OVAs which flesh out a few characters and add extra fanservice.
Ultimately, Unbreakable Machine Doll is far from a finished project. It looks gorgeous and its fight scenes are rather decent, but the plot, while it has potential, is a rush job and the characters are little more than your typical harem cast with a few battle shonen tropes thrown in. If you’re not a harem guy, this probably isn’t changing your mind, but that depends on your tolerance level for this kind of thing, and for me it’s a minus. Unbreakable Machine Girl is a run-of-the-mill harem, but at least it was better than I expected. Maybe the story will get its closure with a second season, but it’s already been a little under two years. Who knows? As of season 1 though I give the series a grade of 3.5. Join me next time when I recreate the entire website in pixel art.
– Snappy pacing with little to no padding
– Curious world with fairly good character designs
– Unique animation techniques and direction
– Plot is still messy and rushed
– Many unresolved plot threats and thus needs a second season for any closure
– Harem fanservice is a mixed bag, submerging you in the cliches from the first episode
– Weak characters with confusing motivations or are generally mundane
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