HE’S HER SHIELD. SHE’S HIS SWORD.
What They Say
READY, SET, BLAZE ON!
Welcome to the prestigious Koryo Academy! A special school where students train to fight with weapons that are manifestations of their souls. On the outside, Tor Kokonoe seems like a regular academy student. But while his classmates carry swords, kunai, and axes into battle, his soul becomes a shield.
As students pair up in order to reach their full potential, Tor is partnered with the mysterious and exotic Julie. What he doesn’t realize is that their partnership means they’ll have to do everything together—fight, attend class, and even sleep in the same room! As the strangely affectionate girl begins pushing his boundaries to the limit, the other girls in his class start taking notice. While he’s fighting to make the grade, he’ll have to fend off the advances and attention from the tomboyish Tomoe, the meek Miyabi, and the exceptionally talented Lilith. A shield might be just what he needs after all!
The Japanese and English cast has a mixture of all-stars and newcomers. On the Japanese side is Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, who has been voice acting since 2009 and voiced characters from many anime, including Magi: The Kingdom of Magic, Nagi no Asukara, Love Lab, Strike the Blood, Ao Haru Ride, and No Game No Life, and Sword Art Online. He’s actually the guy who voices the titular protagonist for SAO, Kirito. He does a great job of voicing Tor, and while the other voice actors aren’t as big as he is, they do a great job. On the English side, there is Caitlin Glass, a well-known voice actress who has been working in the industry since 2004 who is most known for her voice of Winry Rockbell from Fullmetal Alchemist. She’s starred in many anime, including Gunslinger Girl, Black Cat, Fairy Tail, Attack on Titan, Tokyo Ravens, etc. She does an excellent job in her role as Lilith. The rest of the English cast is relatively new when they began voice acting for this series, but there’s definite heart in their acting and all of them do an excellent job.
The production quality for the audio isn’t bad. Voices are clear, the musical composition is nice and fits the story, and I didn’t have to change the volume like I sometimes do.
The animation for this series isn’t the best I’ve ever seen, and I feel like Eight Bit cut a lot of corners during the production of this series. I’m actually a little shocked that the animation for this series isn’t that great considering Eight Bit is the studio that brought us anime like Infinite Stratos, Tokyo Ravens, and The Fruits of Grisaia—all of which were fairly good anime with better quality than this. While the animation won’t be standing the test of time, the quality of the BluRay isn’t bad.
The white background of this standard BluRay case allows the two main characters of the series to really stand out. While the background is bland, the details added into Tor and Julie are more impressive than most anime cases I have seen. It looks like special attention was plaid to Julie’s silver hair, which is cast in shadows and highlights. Tor and Julie are placed in an evocative post, with one of Tor’s arms wrapped around Julie’s waist as they both point Julie’s twin blades at the “audience.” The front cover suggests there is a romantic connection between these two. While the front is provocative, the back is pretty standard. The description lays on one side along with screenshots from the series, and Julie is present on the other side.
With the title located at the very top of the screen, the background is a white-out version of the opening to the opening theme song. The music is a basic pop-rock rhythm that plays over and over again. On disc 1, you can choose between Play All, Episodes, and Setup options. Disc 2 holds the extras.
I’ve noticed a trend with anime that were produced and dubbed between 2014 and 2015, which is that all of them have episode commentaries. It seems to be something mostly unique to anime of this time since the episode commentaries seem to become more sparse after 2015. While the commentaries are interesting enough, there isn’t much else about the special features that will hold interest. It comes with all the standards. Textless Opening and ending theme song. Promotional videos. Trailers. Etc. The episode commentary is for episodes 10 and 12.
Content: (Please note that this portion of the review may contain spoilers):
I once thought Absolute Duo was going to be an interesting anime. The story begins with Tor Kokonoe (a play on the name Thor from Norse mythology) attending a magic school where students turn their souls into weapons. There is nothing new about magic schools in anime. This is a well-used trope that became very popular during the early 2010s to the later 2016s. Absolute Duo was merely following the trends of the time. In either event, during his first time at the academy, he meets and makes friends with Imari Nagakura. They seem to get along great and sit next to each other… only for their burgeoning friendship to take a dive when the principal—Sakuya Tsukumo—tells the students that to gain admittance to this academy, they have to defeat the person next to him. I thought the dark tone this immediately set would make this series different from your standard magic high school harem anime.
But I was wrong.
Immediately after this dark scene where former friends battle each other to become students at Koryo Academy, Tor begins attending class where he is introduced to his partner, Julie, and her fellow harem members—all of whom seem to either have a thing for Tor or just end up in awkwardly erotic situations for absolutely no reason other than fan service. Now, I am a fan service connoisseur. I love fan service in anime. At the same time, it gets annoying when directors can’t make the fan service actually appealing. I don’t want to see some girl randomly falling tits first on top of the protagonist. I remember one scene in particular where Tomoe jumps onto Torand her headlands in his crotch. Then Tomoe does another flip, and somehow, her butt lands on his face. That is the kind of awkward fan service I could do without.
Perhaps it is because I have already seen this done so many times, but I would like to see something more original—and something consensual. It would be nice if the fan service was actually integral to the development of the characters, like maybe if Tor and Julie became romantically involved and there was a consensual scene between them that involved him groping her chest.
But I digress.
During Tor’s first class, the teacher (a woman with bunny ears who dresses like a maid) tells the students that they need to find a partner who will be with them for the rest of their time here. Rito Tsukimi is probably the most interesting character of the series, if only because she has a split personality. Her first personality is childish and carefree. She enjoys having her students call her nicknames like Bunny-sensei. Her second personality is foul-mouthed, sadistic, and ruthless. During a test for her students, she brutally attacks and injures several of them, though nothing ever comes from this and she goes back to being their teacher. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for her split personality, but maybe the anime just didn’t get very far into the light novels.
This anime has all the tropes you’d expect from a harem magic high school series. In fact, tropes are about all you can expect from this anime, which seems to be rushing forward to its inevitably half-assed conclusion. I felt less like the director was telling a story and more like he was checking tropes off a list to make sure he had all the tropes he needed to end the series.
I think the biggest issue is that, from beginning to end, I never really understood what this anime was about. Why do students attend this school to turn their souls into weapons? Why is that even important? The anime doesn’t tell us why the students are doing this, why the principal created this school, and so I’m not sure why we viewers should even care. The only thing we know is that Sakuya—the principal—wants to reach Absolute Duo (the unironic name of the series), but it’s never explained what Absolute Duo is and so I found myself not caring about it one way or another.
There are also two separate revenge plots. Tor wants to get revenge on the person who murdered his sister, while Julie wants to avenge the death of her family. However, neither of these plot points are ever explored, so we’re left with a dead-end on the revenge plots as well. It seemed like this anime wanted to at first be a more serious version of the magic high school genre, but then the director changed his mind halfway through and instead turned it into a harem comedy with some combat on the side to keep people watching from growing bored.
If there was one thing good about this series, it is that the girls are cute, which might be enough for some people. I did find that I liked Julie and Lilith. Julie is a rather adorable girl who is incredibly gifted at using her Twin Blades. She’s quiet and doesn’t say much, and she yes and no in Swedish, which I guess is like a quirk to make her cuter. Lilith, meanwhile, is an arrogant British woman whose Blaze takes the form of a rifle. I liked her primarily because she was arrogant and demanding, which creates a contrast with Julie’s mild and quiet personality. The other two members of Tor’s harem are Tomoe and Miyabi. Tomoe doesn’t get much screen time, but Miyabi does play a stronger role in the end. Unfortunately, I feel like her role was shoehorned in to make her seem more important than she really was.
Like most anime, Absolute Duo is a series that had potential but failed to live up to it. The plot is all over the place, with various subplots being introduced and never resolved, too much time spent on fan service that doesn’t go anywhere, and various harem moments that, again, never go anywhere. It has all the typical harem high school fare without any substance. If the series spent more time developing its characters and giving us a clear plot to follow, I think this anime would have been interesting. As things stand, Absolute Duo absolutely failed to become anything more than your basic 12 episode anime with numerous unresolved plot threads.
Content Grade: D
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: C
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: April 30th, 2019
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
55″ Class AQUOS HD Series LED TV LC-55LE643U, Xbox 360 DVD player