First Look: Metallic Rouge

First Glance: Metal Rouge


Anime original by Bones
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

In a world where humans coexist with Neans, lifelike androids that need daily injections with “Nectar” to survive, the mysterious Rouge Redstar teams up with government operative Naomi Erdmann to take out a rebellious sect of Neans known as the “Immortal Nine”.

Aqua’s verdict: What do you mean, you’ve never seen Blade Runner?

Cyberpunk aesthetics are legion in anime, but with its creative world design and a distinctive moody haze hanging over everything, Metallic Rouge carves out an identity for itself not dissimilar to how Blade Runner 2077 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution managed to escape the shadows of their illustrious predecessors. Whether this new Bones original similarly manages to sing a brand new tune with the same narrative and thematic notes, however, remains to be seen. Musings on artificial humanity are nothing new in popular media, and with slam dunk properties like Pluto, Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song and Nier: Automata still fresh in our memories, Metallic Rouge will have to come up with more provocative angles on its subject matter to truly pull off what Denis Villeneuve or the team at Eidos Montreal managed to do.


There are certainly some interesting ideas at play here, like the suggestion that Mars’ privileged humans are hoarding the “Nectar” the Neans need to survive to use as a recreative drug, or the implication that our spacey heroine may be firmly on the wrong side of history, extrajudicially eliminating rebellious androids on the government’s behalf like a Rick Deckard who traded in his gun for a Kamen Rider belt and a bag full of anime girl quirks. It’s enough to grant viewers the patience to sit through a pilot that is otherwise a deluge of frustratingly meaningless jargon. I don’t doubt we’ll get to find out who or what an “Alter” is, but it’s hard to even remember the foreshadowing when it inevitably pays off if it’s presented as stripped of context as it often is in Metallic Rouge.

Another flaw that certainly doesn’t work in this pilot’s favour is the fact that the end product so far isn’t much better than the sum of its parts. While the world is one of muted colours, clad in a permanent gloom, and the side characters morosely navel-gaze about discrimination, identity, betrayal and other heady subjects, Rouge and her handler Naomi are buoyant ingenues who could have walked straight out of a more light-hearted show like Lycoris Recoil. Add in fight scenes so high-octane they risk setting the smog that otherwise hangs over the show’s setting like a mourning veil ablaze and a smarmy, casually psychotic and over-designed main antagonist in the form of (sigh) “Joker”, and you end up with a show that feels a tad compromised.


Metallic Rouge has style, that’s for sure, but for now, it still feels constrained by the conventions of its medium. Apparently, you just gotta have your cutsey girls and your smirking sociopaths, no matter what. How else will your audience know they’re watching an anime after all? That’s a bummer. Shows like Heavenly Delusion, Frieren or indeed, the aforementioned Vivy, have shown how these conventions can be harmoniously and creatively woven into bold and distinctive new approaches towards genre fiction without feeling like lab-grown chimeras.

I hate pointing out all these points of contention, though, because in the end, I do believe Metallic Rouge has potential. You might have noticed there’s a lot of “so far” and “for now” in this first look, and there’s a good reason for that. I could easily see this show biting down its growing pains and settling into something well worth experiencing. If anything, it has the atmosphere and Bones’ signature balls-to-the-wall action animation as solid fundamentals, and there are some pretty interesting bricks hidden in the pile it’s hoping to build its house with. Here’s hoping the architects in charge know what they’re doing.


Gee’s verdict: Electric

So far the best thing about Metallic Rouge is its OP Rouge by Yu-Ka, which sounds like it was basically transplanted out of 1987 into 2024. And well, that kind of describes Metallic Rouge as a whole. It feels like a throwback to the 80s anime OVAs of yore, for good and ill. Spearheaded by mecha legend Yutaka Izubuchi, it’s a premier that prioritizes style and mood over coherent storytelling or depth. We’re thrown directly into the deep end, with characters speaking about concepts and proper nouns that I’m sure makes plenty of sense to them in-universe but is a bit overwhelming for the uninformed viewer. We barely understand Rouge and Naomi before we’re treated to an intensely well choreographed action sequence between two high powered androids. From a purely visual standpoint, Metallic Rouge is a deeply impressive production. 

It is however, also a very derivative premise. The question is as always; what is Bones actually planning on doing with it? Pluto aired last year, the manga was published in 2003. My expectations aren’t that high but this is very well worn territory and any story that decides to use a fictional underclass to try and say something about society is stepping into a rhetorical minefield.

But maybe it doesn’t matter. Bubblegum Crisis had basically nothing cerebral to say about its own artificial people, they existed so hot cybernetic biker women could blow them up. You didn’t watch 80s anime OVAs for the biting anti-establishment rhetoric, but for the interesting concepts they played with in beautifully crafted worlds. So maybe it’s fine if Metallic Rouge‘s plot and characters don’t actually matter if it’s stylish enough. The question of course, is if it’s actually capable of looking this good for a full season.

Artemis’ verdict: If Blade Runner, Cloud Atlas (the Sonmi Story) and Bubblegum Crisis Had a Baby

Style over substance? Quite possible, but what style! Intentionally retro character designs are paired with animation that’s as smooth as butter, overlaid by a truly gorgeous soundtrack paired with excellent voice work. I wouldn’t say the actual premise of this is confusing so much as frenetic, but I was so busy soaking up the atmosphere that I can’t say that especially bothered me (yet). What Metallic Rouge may lack in coherent pacing and in-depth character work, it more than makes up for in sheer class. Do not sleep on this one.

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