It’s amazing that we can put a man on the moon but anime like this still somehow get made. Basically, it’s a poorly done student project that had someone with clout and money releasing it out of charity in commemorating Tatsunoko Production’s anniversary—some tribute this turned out to be since it’s so completely devoid of wit, style, intelligence or basic entertainment value that it makes Aldnoah.Zero seem like a purely artistic statement by comparison. Egao no Daika (The Price of smiles in English) seems above all abashed, embarrassed: It knows something has to change, but it can’t change anything. There is an awareness pulsing throughout each episode, as it pulses through our lives, that so much of what once seemed like progress was the opposite of progress, that our dreams of a better tomorrow were always leading them to a miserable today.
The story is the kind that takes two steps forward and ten steps back, you’re constantly finding yourself trying to make sense of things that you soon discover to be void of logic, to begin with. The Price of Smiles is a big high-concept mecha-filled exploration of war themes gone wrong, with the most absurd depiction of politics, because what else could you expect when mixing all of that with aloof cute girls? They constantly clash with each other and there is hardly any meaningful theme exploration to make it matter. You have your average cute girls react to the "atrocities" of war, a war which you see too little to really care about. Ironically, the biggest issue this show suffers from is that there is no war in an anime about war. While you do get to see some action, but the actual war and the epic battles that happen are canonically told. Picture this scenario: The characters are on a skirmish prior to a big battle near a city or a key location. The skirmish ends. Our characters retreat to heal and get ammo—and then it cuts abruptly to after the big battle. This happens so often that you really feel scammed. "Oh, the big city fell to the enemy!", "Oh, we were ambushed last night and lost two carriers!" You don’t actually get to see it happening.
The flip-flopping story wouldn't be so bad if you could actually sympathize with both sides, and this is thanks to how it was poorly structured from the beginning where you will naturally side with Soleil. But the way the show is portraying the characters, it clearly wants us to sympathize more with the Empire soldiers, even though at the higher story level there is no reason to do so. It ends up adding pointless confusion and dissonance to the emotional core of the story. They don't show enough regret or disdain for their actions either, so why should the audience forgive them? If they wanted us to actually like these people, they would have presented a credible reason for their invasion. Some secret atrocity committed by Soleil, or show the desolate state of their country due to sanctions etc. The characters are awfully bad, they lack intelligence, characterization, development, personality, and simple logic. Simply one-dimensional and unrelatable—especially the main protagonist in Yuuki Soleil.
And speaking of Yuuki, she is a profoundly unlikable brat who is very clearly directly responsible for their setbacks while the competent commanders struggle to win a war with an idealistic idiot in charge who does nothing to actually attempt to implement her ideas and spends most of the day crying. She's a perfect example of why you don't put children in charge of your army. The first episode sets up that she is a competent tactician—and then we never see any indication of this ever again. She has no real plan to win the war besides Deus Ex Machina. Throughout the show, you get to witness her grand scheme of preventing casualties which happen anyway. She repeatedly gives orders and people tell her that would be a bad idea and she immediately retracts them. Her reasoning is not just childish, it’s that of a hippie, and we all know that hippies never prevented or ended wars. She should have abdicated her role in commanding troops to those more competent at the job, and the generals should have had her deposed long ago, and it makes their side appear stupid to continue listening to her. A real peace monger has to convince the people, not just disappear with the weapons, along with every other advancement that their civilization made, but that’s another can of worms.
And when you think it couldn’t get any worse, The Price of Smiles production team butchered everything in the visual department. You have bland character designs, barely any effort in detailing the background art, poor animation throughout, and then, everyone’s favorite—PlayStation 2 like CG graphics for the large scale mecha action sequences. Not only is the CG horrendous but the cinematography is worse, poorly framed to such levels where it's hard to make out of what’s happening on screen. A huge load of cheap tricks and shortcuts are jarringly noticeable. The soundtrack is forgettable, sometimes non-existent with the only saving grace being the voice actors. Somehow, they managed to pick up some talent but when you have a subpar script, there not much that these voice actors can do to make these characters feel like real people, to make them at least interesting.
There is just no way that I would recommend this show, even things such as the strategy "guerrilla" warfare are barely seen within 12 episodes that makes it even harder to call it a real war anime. Terrible plot and unbelievable politics. Watching people tap on computers, act like assholes towards each other, and make a useless princess cry (she cries all the damn time) isn't really exciting. The price you pay for watching this? Wasting your time! It’s good to know that, if we have to leave Earth someday, we won’t have to go without our kitsch. Forensics experts will be digging through the rubble of this fiasco for a long time, trying to reconstruct the accident. How did the story become so ridiculous? Why create a war anime with a cute girl ruling a country and its army? Why were the action scenes so disappointing and unconvincing? Who put the stink on this? The Price of Smiles is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a poor excuse for a war mecha story is nothing more than another piece of seasonal anime trash that panders to moe-loving otaku.