There is no other writer working in the anime industry quite like Jun Maeda. His work soars on unapologetic sincerity and sappiness without any pretensions of being anything but. His stories crackle with a deep abiding belief in the intrinsic value of life itself. He has no shame about reaching straight for your heartstrings and plucking them with the ferocity of a Van Halen guitar solo of plunging you headfirst into worlds where youre encouraged to embrace earnest stupidity and let yourself feel for feelings sake alone. He is at once reckless and imaginative unhinged and miraculous making no sense while making all the sense in the world. Countless anime seek to capture huge largerthanlife emotions and many of them succeed. But when it comes to capturing the sheer unadulterated joy of what it means to feel so explosively and uninhibited Jun Maeda is second to none. Its that utterly sincere passion for the power to move hearts and minds that made me fall in love with anime back when I first watched Angel Beats all those years ago. And returning to it again with Charlotte was a rejuvination I didnt know I needed until I got it. From the very first episode Charlotte comes out swinging with an incredible premise: its Charles Xaviers school for XMen but if everyones mutant powers were all handicapped in comical ways. The protagonist Yu can take over other peoples bodies but only for five seconds at a time and he leaves his own body unconscious when he does so. Glasseswearing straight man Takajo can teleport by way of super highspeed leaps but he has very little control over his momentum and often ends up carving a path of destruction in his wake. Best Girl Tomori can turn invisible but can only turn invisible for one person at a time. Such a setup plays right into Maedas fondness for overthetop slapstick and the results are uniformly incredible. Takajos cafeteriadestroying attempt to snag sandwiches from the front of the line? Hysterical. Any time Yu activates his power and we see his real body flopping like a fish in the background? Gorgeous. Maeda layers slapstick together in such incredible ways gags in the foreground and background alike constantly giving you new reasons to bust a gut laughing. And the stellar production values courtesy of PA Works once again perfectly sell the stupidly overthetop madness of it all. But the shows real heart is found in its protagonist. Simply put Yu is one of the most enjoyably scummy bastards Ive seen in a while. Hes a shitlord teen with an elevated sense of selfimportance and he abuses his powers for petty gain and popularity points like any arrogant prick worth his salt. Hes such a jackass but what makes him entertaining to watch is how much of a fucking doofus he really is underneath that jackassery. He puts on a big show of edgy amorality but at heart hes just a dumb chuuni teen who has no idea what hes even doing. Dude straightup almost gives himself away by evillaughing in the middle of class for Christs sake. Hes an asshole sure but hes such a pathetic asshole that you cant help but laugh at how seriously he takes himself. Which of course makes it all the more entertaining when his sins catch up to him and hes got Tomori clocking him in the face at mach 10. Theres nothing quite like watching a smarmy asshole get endlessly dragged by everyone who easily sees through him. It keeps his assholery from slipping into truly despicable territory and it makes the moments where tragedy hits land all the harder. Even when theyre following right on the heels of absurdity like Takajo and Yu skipping across the lake like a skipping stone while locked in a halfnelson before awkwardly coming to a stop and sinking on the spot. See if you had to ask me the secret of Maedas success Id say that hes one of the few creatives whos not afraid to be ballstothewall stupid. His characters rarely share more than one collective brain cell the situations they find themselves in are patently contrived and the events of the plot always escalate to ridiculous extremes that often result in literal explosions of bodies blood and brains. And he owns it. He embraces his ridiculous rollercoaster sensibilities like few writers Ive seen piling on slapstick and snark and tonal whiplash and weaving them all together with genuine charm and sincerity. The results are giddily entertaining but even more than that theyre somehow improbably real. By embracing the chaos at the core of his work Maeda comes closer than almost anyone else at capturing the feeling of well life. Life is messy its wild it comes at you from a million different angles at once and sometimes makes almost so sense at all. Life is stupid and within that stupidity is all the love and friendship and laughter that makes life worth living in the first place. And whether by accident or genius the way Jun Maeda writes melodrama feels to me like a celebration of that stupidity in all its wild uninhibited glory. This more than anything else is the reason why Charlotte works. It embraces the messiness of life how snappy character camaraderie and unexpected tragedy can exist side by side without contradicting each other. It can be ridiculous and crazy and overthetop but it can also take a step back take a quiet moment and let the characters emotions speak for themselves. Its just as incredible and inspiring whether its focusing on Tomori being the most lovably sarcastic bad bitch of all time or Yu sinking into an episodelong depressive spiral. And even when it stumbles it always finds enough energy to pull itself back up and keep pushing forward. This is an anime power by sheer brazen confidence the likes of which you very rarely see: the confidence to put pretensions aside and go straight for the jugular with the simple goal of wanting to make an audience feel. This is the kind of sincere emotionality that defines the best this medium can be the same energy Maeda weaponized to make Clannad and Angel Beats two of the most enduring emotional masterpieces Ive ever had the pleasure to encounter. Thats not to say Charlotte captures the same impossible magic of Angel Beats. Honestly its biggest flaw is that everything it does well Ive already seen done better in Angel Beats. The wacky shenanigans of a bunch of student council lunatics dealing with hilarious supernatural occurrences that lead to ridiculous slapstick comedy fused with an undercurrent of guttwisting tragedy that dances in tandem with the outlandish humor to inspire laughter and tears in equal measure not to mention so so so many direct callbacks to its spiritual predecessor in motifs and character archetypes and plot beats alike Charlotte sets itself up to be compared to Angel Beats in its very DNA but that comparison was never going to do it any favors. The comedy isnt as outlandishly unpredictable the tragedy isnt as soulsearingly poignant the intimate themes of learning to love life even through sorrow arent as achingly realized. And it was never going to be because Angel Beats was Angel Beats. It was a fucking miracle brew in a bottle a perfect collision of ideas and effort that could only ever happen once. I still cant get through the final episode without sobbing some of the biggest tears animes ever wrought from me. Compared to that Charlotte was only ever going to fall short. And yes we cant exactly talk about Charlotte without discussing its ending. Even as a diehard fan of this show I will admit the ending is a mess. Its jampacked with too many things going on all of which come and go seemingly at random like toys being thrown out of a toybox after a single use. It escalates to lengths so absurd even Trigger would tell it to tone things down a bit. Individually any one of these ideas would be more than enough to fill out a satisfying climax but all together barely given more than an episode each to breathe? Not even Maedas good enough to keep hold of those reins. Honestly though the problem isnt really that the plot becomes incomprehensible wild as its trajectory becomes theres always just enough explanation to make sense of whats happening and why. The problem is that with so much Shit to do and so little time to do it in it doesnt have time to explore the ramifications of all these crazy events. It just barrels relentlessly ahead and leaves you spinning in the dust with more and more unexplained questions. Theres no time to really let things settle so theres no time to deal with the fallout of the plots manic surge forward and theres no time to deal with its effects on the characters. By giving itself so little space to pull off so much Charlotte loses sight of the consequences that drive good drama. But you know what? Unlike so many cases where a promising anime destroys itself with a rotten ending Charlotte is genuinely good enough no even great enough on its own merits to survive the process. Because everything that made me fall in love with Jun Maeda Angel Beats and anime as a whole is still present here. Its still got some of the best slapstick comedy animation can buy with a healthy helping of exaggerated bluntforce trauma. Its still got fantastic characters whose selfassured idiocy propels them forward with terrific chemistry that makes you fall in love with them without even realizing it. Its still willing to go painful and intimate and visceral in a way that gets under your skin and leaves you quaking with emotion. Its still endlessly imaginative in the way it juggles highconcept teen melodrama with a genuinely affecting story of love friendship loss and the meaning of life itself. And my god I could gush over Tomori until Im blue in the face. No matter how badly things go off the rails in the second half the magic this show captures is too strong to ever fully die. So when all is said and done it turns out Charlotte isnt a crushing disappointment or an unmitigated disaster or any of the many things youve likely heard about it. Yes its messy as hell and suffers from comparisons to its obvious inspiration but at heart this is still possibly my favorite anime scriptwriter reminding me of all the reasons he became my favorite in the first place. I dont just like Charlotte in spite of its flaws I genuinely love it in the trusting unapologetic way only Jun Maeda can accomplish. Its hilarious heartbreaking heartwarming souluplifting and charged with the kind of raw sincerity that represents everything this medium is capable of at its best. So dont believe the haters if theyve been scaring you away imperfect or not this melodramatic roller coaster is a wild ride well worth taking.
80 /100
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