Once upon a time, I believed that J.C. Staff was a quality animation studio. After all, they gave us Toradora (my favorite show to date) and some great series like Nodame Cantabile. It's starting to look as if those were simply the glory days, though.
With the exception of Bakuman, it seems like they've suddenly become unable to adapt anything, neither manga (deciding to go off on a horrible tangent with Yumekui Merry) nor light novel. Here, it's the latter, with Hidan no Aria (緋弾のアリア). Note that I have not read the light novels, so I am pretty much in the dark with regards to how the plot proceeds there.
First of all, the plot just makes me want to give myself a facepalm. I'm willing to go with the Holmes premise, maybe even the Lupin. But after seeing the descendant of Joan d'Arc and then Count Dracula, it got old. Couldn't they have come up with arcs without using famous people? Plus, sometimes things get more ridiculous than, say, Stephen Colbert hazzing Super PAC. Riko betraying Aria and Kinji for about all of three minutes in the final episode was an example of poor planning. By the end of the episode they're all good again (sort of). And why are they even rivals in the first place? It's like, more than 100 years past their rivalry anyway. Why can't they be friends?
The characters are rather curious themselves as well. Riko and Jeanne see the light and change their ways after being defeated by Kinji and crew, which makes me think that the government must have some insane rehabilitation program. Not to mention all of the supercriminals seem to be sent to the Butei Academy after they're arrested and "charged". For all I know, the academy is just the face for an underground prison where they force Riko and Jeanne and others of their kind to fight each other to the death. While Riko takes a little bit longer to reform herself, in the end she pretty much leaves the pair on a friendly note. Except if I remember correctly, she was trying to kill them only twenty minutes early. Not to mention, for some reason, my ears bleed whenever Count Dracula laughs. He's not even a vampire anymore, he's a bloody werewolf or something. Great.
Kinji is supposed to have some sort of super power (Hysteria Mode), where he gets buffed when he's sexually excited, except it's not explained at all where this sort of disorder comes from. Or why they don't just turn it on every single time they have to go into combat, instead of whenever they're in a pinch (oh no, bad guy is coming!). I mean, who wouldn't want a gun-wielding smooth-talking womanizer? More questions: who is Reki? She had about four appearances, and little is known except she tames wild wolves. Worse yet, some girl named Kana was mentioned (and seen) at the very end, and while it sounds like she's important, we never find out who she is. Why does Riko have hair-tentacles while Aria has no special ability of her own (aside from being a tsundere, I suppose)? Why are the main characters so idiotic? What exactly is the IU? There are more unexplained questions at the end of this season than Higurashi's first season.
Rest assured, there are some positive things about the show. First, the seiyuus were great, even if Kugumiya Rie always plays the tsundere, main characters of JC Staff shows. Yes, I happen to like Rie. The partnership of Majima Junji and Rie worked out pretty well again, like it did in Toradora. No complaints there. Second, the opening and ending sequences were pretty solid. You can never really go wrong with May'n.
The animation for JC Staff's shows has really gotten average, which is a pity since they used to be pretty darn good at drawing. There isn't really much detail in anything, and the action scenes are pretty tame. It usually starts with lots of gunfire and ends with lots of gunfire. She's supposed to be the descendant of a Sherlock Holmes. Surely she can find a better way that "shoot, shoot, shoot, reload, shoot, shoot, shoot". Maybe all that head trauma is finally getting to her.
More problems: pacing! While it is nice to see endangered animals and some fanservice, I didn't really care to see an entire chase scene for a wolf that isn't really important at all, aside from Kinji borrowing a move that Reki uses. I also didn't really need to see Aria train to be a maid (but appreciated), nor the five million times Kinji stares at funny places. Some of the episodes in the Durandal arc were pretty yawn-worthy too, like the opening one. Shirayuki pretty much disappeared too. She got her arc, looked cool, made friends with Aria, and then went off somewhere completely. Perhaps to train her yandere skills? Where SHAFT has that crazy head twist, it seems that JC Staff has domestic abuse. To be fair, there's not much else to expect with a tsundere except a classic beating up.
Maybe a reason why I'm being so tough on it is that I had such high expectations going into it, and it's failed to come even close to them. Maybe I missed something critical (I prefer to think not). Even with JC's recent track record, there wasn't any reason why they couldn't produce a decent show. While the plot isn't entirely their fault, they could have improved the pacing and depiction of the characters. Maybe next time, JC Staff, maybe next time. For now, Hidan no Aria goes into the basement. Cliche in my book.
Hidan no Aria's OVA will be released later this year on December 21st.