Four Years of Shallow Dives in Anime: Cross Ange: Rondo of Angel and Dragons

Every year I decide to choose a series to celebrate the blog’s anniversary. Often times this is a series that has dogged my footsteps for a long while. A series that settles in my brain and lingers there, begging for me to talk about it. I often use this time to finally dive into that show and give my thoughts, feelings and frankly, just expel it from my system.

The first year, I re-watched Shinmai Maou no Testament and made peace with the series that made me start blogging.

The second year, I looked at Chivalry of a Failed Knight, something that had haunted my mind for almost two years.

The third year, I finally watched all of Neon Genesis Evangelion and gave my thoughts far removed from the mountain of hype that fanbase had thrown on it.

This year, I come to a series that came across my desk and kept a place in my brain ever since. A show that came out during my wilderness years away from anime, yet one I am surprised I hadn’t watched until then. It’s got boobs, it’s got butts, it’s got robots, it’s got lesbians! There is no point in waiting any longer.

Welcome to Shallow Dives in Anime. This is Cross Ange: Rondo of Angel and Dragon.

I came across this show a little less than a year ago, having read a few articles about how this anime was a (ugh) ‘problematic fav’ of several would be feminist bloggers. Curious, I decided to take a look at a few clips and was shocked at what I was seeing. How could a show where the girls run around in bikini’s be something loved by an ideology that often dismisses such a thing? How could Cross Ange square that circle? But I’ll get to that part in a bit, but I am getting ahead of myself. Where do I start with a show like Cross Ange?

Well I suppose I should go into the more mecha aspects of the show first.  Like many of its fellows that came out during this generation, Cross Ange has all the trappings of what makes a mecha show, a mecha show. It’s got the full blood-pumping pilot, the stand-alone episodes that focus on the side characters. A mid-season twist that re-aligns the entire cast, and a finale that feels both overly stuffed and needlessly rushed. Anyone who watched Gundam SEED (whose producer created this show), Gurren Lagann, Code Geass, or any of the late 2000s and early 2010s menu of mecha shows knows what they are in for, and Cross Ange delivers all of that.

It also does it while stuffing as much fanservice and ecchi in as possible.

Oh there is a lot of ‘handling’ in this show.

I’ve said this before, but the secret to any ecchi anime’s success, is that they put enough effort into developing everything OTHER than the fanservice. The plot, the world, the mechanics of combat, the character relationships. All of those have time spent on them and are flushed out as any story would. Because the truth is, if you have a show that goes full on ecchi, but the story and characters are lackluster, then you would be better off just watching a hentai, or fast forwarding to those sexy scenes. There is a reason why people heap praise onto High School DxD while Shinmai Maou no Testament is often forgotten. DxD gets you invested in everything it has to offer, not just the boobs on the screen.

Ange is balanced ever on the knife edge of being just a ‘bitch’, but the series does its homework to make it work.

Cross Ange has learned that lesson and pulls it off with spectacular success. While the show’s willingness to embrace its ecchi and fanservice is a point of sheer admiration, it also doesn’t forget that it is telling a story as well. As we follow Ange through her transformation from sheltered princess in a fake world, to a gritty, determined, and often arrogant pilot of the Strike Freedom Villkiss. There is an excellent balance of seeing her character journey as well as shots of her tits and ass. The cheesecake drips off the screen, but never done in a way that detracts from the story it is trying to tell, and the characters remain completely committed to the story and world they are in.

Cross Ange is never ashamed of what it is, what it is trying to be, and eagerly accepts that you can be sexy and story-driven.

Those characters are a part of what makes Cross Ange work after you’ve become used to the copious amounts of TnA. While few of them step outside the classic archetypes, there is enough heart, time and development spent on them that feels worthwhile. Ange herself (who I will do a full character dive on) forever walks on the knife’s edge of ‘well balanced or total bitch,’ but is saved by a script and story that is brave enough to give her moments of weakness, compassion and regret. As the cast off ‘trash’ of their world’s supposed paradise, each of the ladies of Cross Ange has weight to carry and scars on their backs. Hilda’s journey from grieving bully, genuine victim and devoted lover is a great one, giving a redemption to a girl who felt rather one-note at times. Chris’s desire to be loved, Jill’s need for revenge, and Salia’s wish to be validated help flesh out the supporting cast, and make the decisions made in later episodes feel logical. I was thrilled that Kira Yamato Tusk, the main male lead of the series, wasn’t a wimpy ass lickspittle, but a skilled and dedicated warrior who yes, loves Ange, but doesn’t spend the entire series following her around. He drifts in and out of the story, showing up where needed and having a degree of competence you might not expect from this show. 

Characters like Hilda and Chris have good stories that help flesh out their arcs, even if they don’t go beyond the archetypes.

Yet it is series antagonist Embryo who steals the show. While suffering a bit from his later entry into the plot, the leader of the world of mana is as slimy and scummy as they come. A master manipulator who reaches for the desires and vulnerabilities of the girls and twists them to his own benefit. He is everything people often say is wrong with ‘men,’ but done in such a way that you can believe how much of an asshole he is. The calm expressions, the moments of darkness and the just dastardly way he torments Ange and the others is just plain evil. It is here where I can see why people often claim Cross Ange has ‘feminist’ overtones, and I can see it, with the battle against Embryo being one for the women he has manipulated to seize their own destiny and make their own choices, a common theme for Ange’s character throughout. While not one of anime’s greatest villains, Embryo absolutely makes Cross Ange better for his inclusion and is just a real. fucking. asshole.

Embryo is one of those baddies you love to hate. He’s just such an asshole.

Of course there are some scruples. Like I said before, the climax feels a bit rushed and overly stuffed, trying to do too much and go too big in the small window they have. Ange’s not wanting to join the revolution feels strangely out of character initially. There are concepts and ideas that are introduced but never expanded on (Ange and Salako’s apparently being rivals throughout the centuries). The robot designs, while sleek and expertly animated, feel too samey, and the series lack of showing nipples hurts the fanservice at times. All of these are valid criticisms, but they also pale into how much this show does right and how bravely it embraces being what it is. I cannot stress enough how amazing it was to see this show go “I want to tell my mecha story, AND be sexy as hell.”

I feel like I’ve see this before….

Cross Ange: Rondo of Angel and Dragon is a good series that is an extended cut short of being a truly great one. A bold, brash and brave anime that embraces all the wonders of ecchi and fanservice, but never forgets its duty on telling its story. A story that feels both fresh, bloody, action packed, and at times empowering. But also never one that preaches or drones on about any specific theme. If you are a mecha fan, ecchi fan, or both, then this is a show you absolutely have to take a look at because more often that not, it is the best of both worlds.

Tusk of course is a rampant crotchsexual.

Also Tusk surviving multiple gun-shots wounds and an explosion only to show up literally next episode to bone Ange and then trigger Embryo later by bragging about it? Fucking hilarious.

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