What They Say:
The stars were mankind’s destination, but when humans returned from the sky, it was to an Earth where only the islands of Japan remained inhabitable. In this strange new world, the nations of the old Earth have carved Japan into new dominions, and humanity must follow the Testament, a guide to reenacting the events of the past, in order to reach for the stars once more.
But as the nations vie for power, the old rule of might makes right comes into play. And even though each country has its own ultimate weapon, an Armor of Deadly Sins, there may be a far greater threat to mankind waiting in wings. Because the Testament ends abruptly, and its final year has arrived. Is the end of humanity at hand or can Tori Aoi and his fellow students from the floating city ship Musashi somehow affect the course of destiny in Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere?
A show like Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere pretty much demanded a soundtrack as grand as its word-conquering narrative ambitions, and composter Tatsuya Kato’s work generally succeeds on that front. With the vast majority of the show’s event being martial and political conflicts of epic scale, Kato’s use of blockbuster movie-style horns and strings fit the subject matter well without sounding too generic. Some of the more downbeat scenes feature more acoustic, piano-centered sounds, but on the whole none of the music really stands out as being particularly inspired. Instead, it’s serviceable and effective—although it can sometimes be overwhelmed by sound effects and yelling during battle scenes. In addition, due to the length of some of the battle sequences, there are occasionally periods of time with no background music; this isn’t a sin on its own, but the timing of these absences has a tendency to undercut the tension and moment of their corresponding scenes.
Sentai Filmworks’ release features both the original Japanese cast and an English dub. The former is excellent from top to bottom, featuring (rightfully) popular big-name voice actors like Jun Fukuyama, Minori Chihara, Daisuki Ono and Miyuki Sawashiro in leading roles, and a seemingly endless stock of other big names (Yui Horie, Aoi Yuki) or big names to be (Nao Touyama, Emi Nitta) in smaller roles. The quality and depth of talent is obvious, making the Japanese track a joy to listen to. Unfortunately, the English dub isn’t able to keep up. While Josh Grelle brings a fairly strong performance as Tori Aoi, the rest of the performances lack the energy, range, and character-defining ability critical in a show with a cast as large as Horizon‘s.
Produced in 2011 and 2012 by Sunrise, Horizon boasts a polished, clean visual aesthetic under the supervision of art director Kazuo Nagai. While it’s not particularly distinctive on its own, it does pave the way for the huge number of unique character designs (four different character designers worked on the show) to take visual center stage. The designs are somewhat hit or miss, largely depending on how high your tolerances are for gigantic animated breasts, incredibly form-fitting body suits, and huge, mostly expressionless eyes on the female side (the male characters have a much wider range of creative designs). The visual direction (under director Manabu Ono) isn’t anything special in most cases, although many of the one-on-one fights flow pretty nicely despite usually being pretty short. Sentai’s BD release captures all of Horizon‘s visual virtues and faults nicely, as everything looks crisp and vibrant, even during beam spam cuts or shots with a lot of small 3D elements.
Sentai Filmworks’ release of the complete collection of Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere is simple, but practical. The show’s 26 episodes are spread across three discs, each of which features artwork of one or more of the show’s female characters. The cover visual is more dramatic than pretty, but it’s distinctive (although only one of my personal favorite characters from the series shows up). The only other notable element about Horizon‘s packaging is that the addition of an extra holder for two of the discs makes case feel far less flimsy and insubstantial than Sentai’s 1-2 disc shows.
The menus for Horizon are actually some of my favorite menu designs from Sentai. While they really aren’t anything truly special, with the episode titles left-aligned opposite character art and the language/special features options below, the spacing and overall look fits really well with the character of the series.
The Complete Collection release contains all four of the Far East Enlightening Lecture shorts, a large handful of Japanese promos, commercials, and teasers, and clean opening and closing animations from both seasons. Of all these offerings, the shorts stand out most, as the 5-minute Q&A sessions along with quick sketches featuring the characters help fill out some of Horizon‘s world and provide a some fun interactions between the show’s characters.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere opens with its foot on the gas pedal and never really lets up. Adapted from a series of voluminous light novels by Minoru Kawakami, the anime adaptation mostly eschews the source’s extensive worldbuilding for the sake of a maintaining its story’s momentum—which is considerable. There is a lot going on throughout Horizon, with nations, political leaders, military commanders, elite soldiers, and common footmen all frequently (and often simultaneously) acting to advance the interests of their respective sides. This multi-leveled take on plot is what I’d consider Horizon‘s defining characteristic – as it perpetuates the show’s greatest strength and greatest weakness.
While the depth and sheer complexity of Horizon‘s setting is stunning when considered, the main plot is actually quite simple. Tori Aoi falls in love with Android PO1-s, who is the spitting image of (and quickly revealed to be some sort of weird reincarnation of) his childhood friend Horizon Ariadust, and declares war on the rest of their world in order to retrieve Horizon’s weaponized emotions. The details of all this are admittedly quite challenging to grasp, but in terms of basic plotline, that about covers it. Underneath the umbrella of this wider story fall a dizzying number of subplots and character arcs, which leads to the very unique feeling that Horizon moves very slowly and extremely quickly at the same time.
It’s a fascinating sensation, and the construction of the show is likewise interesting. The two seasons contained in this collection basically encompass two distinct and complete arcs: Musashi (Tori’s home country, of which he is the leader) rescues Horizon from a forced suicide, and Musashi visits England to retrieve the first of Horizon’s emotions. The achievement of these primary goals is slow, but because Horizon packs so many sub-levels of action (national political posturing gives way to subsets of event-based negotiating, which in turn fracture into smaller goals, which again split into numerous individual battles between key players). Horizon is always zooming back and forth between these individual face-offs while zooming up and down between narrative stakes of varying import (some of which are well-established, some of which are not), so while the actual motion of the top-level plot points is quite slow, the immediate action is nearly always engaging.
As an adaptation from source material that was clearly even denser (and likely far slower) than its animated counterpart, Horizon‘s structure is really quite impressive in how well it succeeds at keeping the show engaging. With so many characters and moving parts, it’s pretty easy to get lost trying to keep track of all the motivations, allegiances, and personal goals, but the speed at which Horizon whips between individual conflicts constantly lends the show a distinct sense of forward momentum, even when the exact reasons for specific clashes have been lost amidst everything that’s going on. The torrential pacing on the ground level does make it difficult to be emotionally invested with what’s going on, but personal climaxes are generally done well enough to at least facilitate increased attachment to the character involved.
Horizon‘s cast is another boon in its favor as it navigates its messy story, as most of the main characters (although defining “main” characters in a show that splits screentime so liberally is difficult) are given enough time in bits and pieces to eventually become distinct from each other and endearing to the audience. I somewhat suspect an individual’s watchers preferred characters are likely to vary depending on their tastes, but glasses-wearing knight Adele, smiley merchant Heidi, tiny Suzu, and doujin-writing witch Naruse were among my personal favorites. At least among the main characters, though, there really aren’t any that stand out as being particularly weak. Each is just kind of quirky in their own way, so rooting for them as they go about their respective tasks is easy despite significant emotional investment being scare.
Thematically, Horizon never really actualizes any clear themes, but (as with the rest of the show) interesting concepts crop up pretty frequently. Musashi’s proposed war against the rest of the world for the sake of acquiring all of Horizon’s lost emotions is one such idea. While the series never spins any of the cast’s discussions about the morality of this quest into a substantive theme, it’s not a question that’s merely tackled by the characters in the show—it’s one that the show seems to invite the audience to consider. So it is with many of dilemmas Horizon‘s characters face: Is it right to rescue someone who is prepared to die? Can two disgraced people stay together? What role does equality play in committed relationships? From deeply personal debates to grand ethical questions (not even touching on all the political maneuvering in the show), Horizon kind of has it all in a way few, if any, other shows can without becoming bogged down.
It’s certainly something to behold, although whether or not it all has any actual value besides just being entertaining is probably a question to which everyone will have a different answer.
While I do like and enjoy Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere, ultimately it lacks the emotional resonance and general substance for me to be able to recommend it as anything aside from a fun junk food show. It’s an enjoyable watch, but there’s little to make it memorable aside from its staggering density and proficiency in staying entertaining despite that. If you enjoy huge mishmashes of ideas, characters, and plot points inside of a rich (albeit shallowly explored) setting, Horizon‘s likely a good pick for you.
English and Japanese language tracks, English subtitles
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: April 12th, 2016
Running Time: 650 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 16×9 Anamorphic
Insignia NS-32D511NA15 32″ LED 1080P HDTV and Samsung BD-H6500 HDTV Blu-ray player (2014 model) via HDMI set to 1080p.