My episodic notes, reactions, and commentary from M3: The Dark Metal (M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane), which aired during the Spring and Summer 2014 anime seasons.
Be advised: I was far more general in my comments for a while on this series due to my viewing schedule, and thus grouping multiple episodes of this show together at a time and other things I do not normally do for airing shows I write about. As a result, these are very condensed. This post covers sixteen episodes of M3 in over 4,000 words, while part two covers the last eight episodes with roughly 8,000.
Looking for my comments regarding episodes 17 – 24 of M3? Click here!
Everything is by and large as it was when I originally wrote them in the Hangers category when the show was airing. They have been sewn together and provided here for the convenience of readers to look back on my feelings on this series specifically, without needing to click and scan through numerous pages of unrelated material.
M3: The Dark Metal (M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane) [Episodes one – through – six]
I had seen less than positive things mentioned by those who gave this series a test run before, and the longer it has gone on the more I became fascinated with the severe drop off rate this show has had. Here is a link to the Reddit held episode discussion threads, which have gone off a cliff in terms of activity. Mainly folks either asking if the show managed to improve any or the people who are actively watching it attempt to parse out and explain what happened. And not in a “Oh, this is so rich in thematic elements” sort of way relating to meanings and interpretations.
We are talking about top level explanation when viewers are trying to figure out what occurred on screen from Point A to Point B.
This show is all of the worst dry as all hell “I am a teenager trying to write my own Really Dark Super Deep robot anime” lessons one could take from Evangelion when looking to make their 2014 mecha show. Which is absolutely shocking given the creative staff.
Kawamori put little distinct work into the machines. To my eyes at least, the primary Reaper / Argent looks like a slapdash amalgam of basic ideas of “edgy”, and that is about it. The cockpit scenes get far and away more screen time, and the camera does not know what to look at when the robot is on screen. To the point where I really had to search for a good freeze frame shot of the actual mecha to show above.
Okada gives little life to the overall Lightless Realm and crystal metal Admonitions monsters scenario, where everyone has the most cliched levels of one note character archetype driven personalities. The maniacal laughing scientist with a quirky lollipop is so obviously Up To Something and Main Character-Kun is so unassumingly generic I can not remember learning anything about his personality other than ramming his I Have Brother Issues history bit via repeated flashbacks. But that still is not itself a personality. Characters ask themselves lots of generic “Why are we here?” type questions in that particular way that do not resemble normal conversation flow but are to instead go This Show Asked Questions, Thus It Is Deep without doing any actual work.
And it is such a rush to tell you all this, it is a constant audio visual tonal barrage of No Really Though, Stuff Is Going To Go Down Sometime, Look Look, You Won’t Even Guess But This Is Gonna Have Big Dark Twists Because Dark Robot Shows.
Sato meanwhile is giving a master class in bland passionless direction, with awkward basic scene blocking with little visually dynamic happening as characters stand in front of backgrounds that look like they came off a cheap visual novel from half a decade ago. Which look even worse with the bland CGI robots and crystal metal enemy sludge beasts over them.
It is entirely possible that both the most well animated and best directed scene in these six episodes so far involves the following gif that Geekorner-Geekulture posted weeks ago of the busty nerd girl getting beaten with balls in her breasts.
I am not even trying to be quippy internet funny or anything here either.
That is a legitimate contender for being the most camera and animation effort put into this mecha series up to this point.
And that is, well, awful.
I do not exactly like writing “busty nerd girl getting beaten with balls in her breasts” and using that as what may be the high water mark of Sato’s directorial attention here. Certainly, creative camera use is nearly forgotten as a tool for large stretches of the program the rest of the time otherwise, and here I’m not sure if that is more directly the director’s fault, core issues with Okada’s screenplay, or what. This isn’t even a more fanservice oriented series at that, where maybe one could give it extra rope due to intended audience demographics. Everything in this production, top to bottom, just feels like it is mostly sleepwalking through motions. Until it wants to throw things at one of the girls.
I am also fairly certain that for things like CGI helicopters, Satelight is very likely just reusing CGI helicopter modeling work they had done in Macross Zero, which at this point is more than a decade old. But I haven’t sat down to do the side by side comparison.
I really would have liked it had the show turned around somewhere and went all “Nope, those first few episodes were awful, but then it picked up!” I mean, that is always the hope anyway, especially given some of the production folks involved. Then I could show up and talk about how awesome it got instead!
Heck, I’d like to be able to even go full bore and tear into the actual plot more, as looking back on my comment I realize I don’t really delve into it much. It’s all just so… murky and lost though. Even after marathoning six episodes a few days ago, I can barely even remember the name of anyone in this show.
So yeah, with six episodes down, anyone who decided to drop it made an A+ decision.
This is bad in that “I have sat through a quarter of the scheduled run, and I still do not understand basic facts about this world and the characters in it” kind of way.
It would not surprise me if all the budget was blown just hiring the creative team, while simultaneously not providing them enough to encourage more passionate output.
M3: The Dark Metal (M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane) [Episodes 7 – 11]
Because I don’t watch this weekly, but I really can not leave everyone hanging after the last time I covered this wreck of a series.
The Shoji Kawamori, Mari Okada, and Junichi Sato runaway train never stopped, it just kept right on chugging along. At least as far as getting out the door and onto the airwaves is concerned, as those home video releases have halted entirely under the cover of “to improve product quality.”
Speaking of which, Mari Okada gave an interview recently, which has some interesting quotes:
…be intentionally vague. If you give the animators every single detail, she explains, it’ll constrain their creativity. It’s better to give them something open enough they’ll think to themselves, “this is something I’d like to try to draw.”
Seems to me like the animation team gave up entirely then, because they sure as hell do not want to be drawing this show.
After our initial rounds of Dark Mystery, Evil Lollipop Munching Scientist, and Character Deaths from that front end of episodes, things have settled down a bit. Everyone is getting accustomed to their psychic links to various team members, as we keep getting Final Fantasy style nods they all knew each other at some point before. Maamu, who you may remember from this gif, keeps writing fiction based on real people in her Death Note, often speaking the lines out loud and at times within earshot of other people in the room. Her writings still come true in unintended ways, though it is hard to take her inner conflict, crying, and torment about it too seriously since she just keeps doing it even after other characters have called her out on it.
The show wants to actually prop up the Lightless Realm concept a bit more as it hurls around the Necrometal, Admonitions, and Corpse terminology, which is valid for not just anything resembling worldbuilding in this show but perhaps delving into Akashi’s repeatedly stated but never defined anger over his dead brother, who used to pilot the same machine he does now.
The Lightless Realm, incidentally, is the sort of thing that sounds pretty nifty in concept (a high contrast black and white or monochromatic look on the edge of our regular world) but looks like, well, a vague uncoordinated group project in execution. Clunky grey CGI robots with pilots in grey suits wandering around grey cityscapes fighting grey CGI monsters. The cameraoften feels like it fell asleep, with the kind of combat editing where things pass by or are otherwise launched past it, without feeling any pep in its step to keep up or show the weight of battle.
In this set of episodes, we do also see more execution on the real fate of Akashi’s brother, in that we learn he is not, in fact, truly dead!
He is… effectively the control system of the Argent / Reaper / Whatever we want to call the robot this week. And the show is super proud of this revelation, cackling lollipop scientist and all. Because a Necrometal infection would mean he was a goner anyway and science could do this to kind of save his life while also somehow make the robot better, essentially. To be honest though, it is really more of a “That one robot show Gainax made that got really popular did something similar” move than anything else.
So Akashi goes through some “My brother really was always there for me, and he is with me now as backup” motions, and there we go. Akashi still failed a mission to rescue two teammates and the Sable robot from the Lightless Realm even with this revelation, because fighting got hard so he gave up and walked out of the damn robot. But he “found” himself along the way or something regarding a nebulously defined brother complex and the soul of his family member leading him back to safety and confidence. So maybe that is done and over with (I doubt it). At least the lollipop scientist got rightfully angry about all of this, as of all the crazed and over the top lines of dialogue he has had so far him freaking out about the retrieval mission essentially being abandoned marks the first time he sounds like a reasonable human being.
This show feels like something a freshly minted Master of Business Administration graduate would make a design document for regarding a hypothetical television show, hurling in plot notes of things they vaguely remember being popular when they were growing up (Death Note, Final Fantasy You Know The One When They All Went To Orphan Kindergarten Together, etc). Then hand that over to a talented creative team (Kawamori, Okada, and Sato), and expect magic to be made. But while at the same time being very particular about how everything needs to adhere just so to the Excel spreadsheet or what have you. That is all me just adding an interpretive flavor of course, but it is remarkably apt for how sterile, cold, and just like a great big exhausted sigh this show feels like on screen.
This series must be utter hell to work on , near as I can figure out, given all that has happened to it both as a piece of media sitting before me and the meta narrative of the home video release just stopping entirely.
M3: The Dark Metal (M3 Sono Kuroki Hagane) [Episodes 12 – 16]
I marathoned my way back up to speed with this show the other day, to check in on how Junichi Sato, Mari Okada, and Shōji Kawamori are doing.
Given that the official website it dead, home video releases have stopped, and general internet activity on this show is a near ghost town, I am going to be a bit more direct in terms of just relaying what happened in these episodes.
Someone needs to remember that this show existed and how it operates narratively, and it can not just be me.
The worst kind of quasi-recap episode, in that it is taking active events in the present (Akashi fighting the Corpse in the Lightless Realm), while interspersing it with previous events we already know (here being essentially every scene with Sasame and Akashi), while also dumping in the character/s having flashbacks to new information we as the audience are not familiar with (Akashi and Sasame as kids). The kind of construction that really does not make it skippable like a more standard recap, since everything is bundled up in these competing balls. As much as I may not be a fan of recap episodes, I do find ones where most of it is recycled but there is essential story material I am expected to have to trudge through the things I already know to get to it in random little squirts as more annoying for the pacing of a narrative. I as a viewer am just flat out bored for most of the episode, which is not even a recap of the whole show so much as it really is more focusing on whatever “relationship” between Akashi and Sasame there was supposed to have been.
Given that Sasame is the kind of I Never Knew The Emotion Of Happiness Until Now yet while also being the quiet and demure Flagship Fantasy Vessel Who Will Never Speak Up Against You, Dear Viewer, to call her characterization up to now flat would be generous. As a result, her offscreen move to become a LIM system, so she can power a mecha for Minashi to go into the Lightless Realm and save Akashi, holds no dramatic weight whatsoever.
Here, Minashi and Akashi in their retreat come upon a magical glowing tree, to which Minashi immediately says will prevent the effects of the Lightless Realm from turning them into Necrometal for a while. How he knows this at this point in time is not given, as we have never seen anything to confirm this. Nor is it questioned by Akashi, which is more crucial. Really, it just serves to allow them to get out of their robots and have a chat face to face about Sasame, The One Girl With A Personality On Par To Akashi’s Ability To Pass As A Loaf Of White Bread.
From a screenwriting standpoint, I get the idea that having the characters have this discussion in person could make it a bit more compelling than having it done via their respective cockpits and communication links. Outside allows Akashi to hurl his body around and all that a bit more, after all. But this scene just does not make much sense given the information the viewer and Akashi has. The Lightless Realm is a high grade lethal deathtrap, where even these top of the line mecha can barely survive in its condition. Exposure results in damn near immediate convulsions and the onset of Necrometal corruption. Plus, they are in an active retreat mode, ideally. There is no reason for Akashi to get out of the damn robot, at this time, with the information provided to him.
This sequence of Minashi trying to explain Sasame becoming a LIM really only exists to provoke Akashi to emit Rage And Screams, because these were emotions he heard one time that human beings possess. Which results in him going into personal I Do Not Have Time For This mode, hopping back into his robot, and deploying the Mari Okada patented Curl Into A Ball And Cry Forever transformation mode of the machine, displayed above. The Corpse, to its credit, has no idea what to do at the sight of this as our lead character shuts down and wails a bit. Before then transitioning into bloodlust mode and aims to kick the everloving stuff out of the Corpse as a coping response.
All of which comes down to a song, from the ethereal girl we have seen a bit prior, to calm folks down as she vaporizes the Corpse.
We have a new intro! Which seems tonally… very, very out of place. The first one was a flat, generic M3 Is A Soaring Teen Robot Anime Show vibe, while the second is more upbeat and more Go Get ‘Em! energy.
Command is angry that one of the teenage robot pilots did not explicitly abide by mission parameters and had the gall to actually kill something with their robot that they considered a threat in the deadly Necrometal hellzone. Which is understandable, in that now the Lightless Realm is expanding, which is was not doing so much before. But also, this is one of those situations a reasonable organization would have already pegged as a risk, that maybe the weapon systems on the mecha could be used by emotionally underdeveloped teen pilots in a sense of personal rage or other feelings to kill something attacking the robot. Naturally, Lollipop Scientist and all around obvious bad guy Natsuiri then gets pedantic about the definition of the word Kill for a while, that the Corpse was “Defeated” but it can not be “Killed” since it was arguably never “Alive” to begin with and such other things that continue every effort to grind the show to a halt.
As Emiru’s machine is now back, and Heito is very much Necrometal contaminated due to being flopped around outside of it so long, we have a machine with a LIM but no pilot. Incidentally, Lollipop Scientist considers the notion that maybe viewers did not get the message before, and thus needs to remind everyone that Heito Could Only Pilot His Machine Because He Is A Sexual Predator Who Abused A Female Team Member.
We turn to Maamu then.
Winner of the Most Animation Attention Given To A Scene In This Show award for being assaulted by sports equipment back in the earliest days of this show, and to be honest really the only character in this show I have any interest in. Her fictional story writing from before tending to come true and all that, while also being the only member of the team with no psychically linked partner, makes me at least somewhat intrigued in what her actual purpose is in this story.
That said, the show sees this as more opportunity to do things to her body, this time via tentacle entities in her own mind as part of the attempts to see if she can resonate with Emiru’s machine.
Narratively, apparently Maamu sort of knew everyone else as a kid too, but was always off to the side writing sad fairy tale stories in her notebook. Emiru happened to come across this most prominently, chatted with her about it, and tried to edit one of her stories once to give it a happier ending. So now that they both have remembered this, and Emiru got to chew Maamu out for a bit as a Necrometal zombie, Maamu can seemingly now pilot Emiru’s machine and be best buddies going forwards.
Which is not quite the Death Note inspired supernatural antics I was sort of hoping she was going to end up bringing to the table here.
Akashi continues on as a blank slate who is also quite unlikable as a human being. Injured, and unable to speak, but safe, he considers the girl who saved him to be a “wench” several times. Like, there is the general unpleasantness of his character anyway, given that half of the show was it flopping his one note brother issues around like a fish gasping for air, then a trying to shoehorn in a haphazard One True Romance as quickly as possible before writing out Sasame. But “wench” is what he is going to go with towards this other girl, multiple times? I can not remember where I last I heard that word out loud outside of a period piece or someone who is otherwise supposed to be acting as or mimicking a pirate. It feels like someone at Daisuki did a Find – Replace or dug up a thesaurus or something, for how awkward it flows from Akashi’s thoughts.
The girl, who is clearly not Sasame in any capacity but Akashi has the consistent observational powers of a broken taillight and keeps calling her that when not using “wench” (which brings up its own set of very unfortunate implications), gives him a magic bracelet made of that magic tree from before so they can go outside for a while. Akashi goes along with this for a time, and then breaks the bracelet off because… plot reasons, really. Necrometal crows descend to attack. He beats them with a steel bar. They go to an amusement park in rain in the Lightless Realm, which would be kind of interesting to me (I have been to the abandoned amusement park in Pripyat, Ukraine within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, for instance), but not a whole lot is done with the scene other than for it to be a transition bridge.
Akashi, we are told, must apologize to the Corpse. Because it is sad and such towards him, and at least a hell of a lot smaller now after what was done to it previously.
“We created the lightless realm.”
Uh, ok M3. Please, do tell, explain to me how on Earth this ragtag group of orphaned teens with Final Fantasy VIII memory issues of when they played together as kids created the Lightless Realm and are directly responsible for this entire situation.
So Tsugumi, the girl Akashi thought was Sasame but is actually her sister, is at the core of this. Ok, I’m following. Minashi and Sasame grew up in the same community as Tsugumi, so the three of them were together as kids on the island of Yomijima. Sure, fine, you may have meant Yoroshima if we are talking about real but equally small islands off of Japan, but I am with you so far. Then the organization the teens presently work for came to the island and arsoned the community the ground, for reasons we are not told.
Cheap, but do continue.
Some village members, which includes our trio, retreat to a cave with the rock crystal thing of the lightless deity, and awaken it for the rural children to run off to Tokyo with to bring torment upon the mainland. This includes needing to throw clothes and things over the Corpse as they lead it around by the hand like it was an elderly lady. The kids meet the other kids by accident, and at first are scared they will need to kill them. But they do not, because of ball in a cup toys. The kids have lots of fun times together, but Tsugumi gets sad during a sleepover in some abandoned auditorium, because of the existential crisis of We Are All Going To Die One Day and such. Everyone promises they will never leave her behind, etc. They play hide and seek one day, with Tsugumi as the seeker and the others going off to hide.
This indoor playdate happened to coincide with the Corpse delivering its intended payload and destroying large portions of metropolitan landscape, because I refuse to believe at this stage the entire reason for everything that has happened is due to someone taking a game of hide and seek to such a pedantic level a decade prior.
This show is exhausting, in that it is so very uninterested in anything it is doing.
It is flat out bored of itself. Despite any spicier wording I may have used for the verbal soup here, this is not an amusing-bad kind of show. It just sort of washes over one is a haze of disinterest. Nobody on this staff seems to want to be working on this project, by the looks of it. Circumstances are delivered with such ill attention for viewer investment and characterization, and scenes that do not make sense in relation to what the characters know or should do in the narrative as they understand their situation to be. They just need to happen because the plot says it needs to, with all the gusto of watching paint drying. The show is no longer wildly careening down the highway, which I will admit is a plus, to instead come to its smoldering wreckage point long ago to where it is at least now no longer a danger to itself and others anymore.
But that still is not saying a whole hell of a lot, and the project must have a bundle of nightmarish behind the scenes stories given everything that has befallen it in sales, animation quality, and so many other areas.
Looking for my longer / more thorough comments for episodes 17 – 24 of M3: The Dark Metal? Click here!