A.I.C.O.: Incarnation Review - "What Exactly Am I"

What Exactly AM I?

  • Episodes : 12
  • Genre : Action, Sci-Fi
  • Airing Date : March 2018
  • Producers : Bones


Contains Spoilers

A.I.C.O: Incarnation Introduction and Story

Set in Japan in the year 2035, A.I.C.O: Incarnation follows the aftermath of an incident known as the “Burst” which was caused as a result of the project to create an Artificial and Intelligent Cellular Organism, or A.I.C.O. This resulted in the transformation of Kurobe Gorge into an area completely overrun by artificial organisms known as “Matter”, leaving it completely inaccessible. The research city has similarly been made inaccessible to civilians by the government. Two years after the events of the Burst, 15-year-old Tachibana Aiko, a young girl who lost her entire family to the Burst incident, was told by a transfer student that her body has a secret hidden within. This boy, Kanzaki Yuuya claims to know about Aiko’s mysterious body, as well as a lot about her family. When he suggests going to ground zero of the Burst in order to find the truth, Aiko readily agrees, embarking on a dangerous mission of catastrophic proportions.

From the very beginning, we are thrown into the mix in this anime – it is fairly quick in terms of its developments in the story as well as the characters. Each episode is filled with heavy action coupled with crisp-looking and fluid animation that looks like it crafted. The first episode throws us hints about Aiko’s strange body; however it masks it very well in the beginning as Aiko is recovering from the accident she was involved in, the one which killed her father.

She then regains her ability to walk and hence returns to school in what could be considered her total capacity; however, the appearance of the transfer student, Kanzaki Yuuya, causes Aiko to revisit the events surrounding the apparent deaths of her family.
Kanzaki assures Aiko that her family is actually still alive, merely in suspended animation within the dangerous vines, tendrils and columns of the synthetic organisms known as Matter, at the ground zero of the Burst event.

To make things even more interesting, Kanzaki demonstrates that Aiko’s body is completely made up of the synthetic organism as the rogue Matter. One more thing on top of that, Kanzaki Yuuya reveals that the current body in which Aiko resides was created in case of accidents such as the one she experienced with her father – her original body is at ground zero, with a synthetic consciousness placed within. Recruited by one of the scientists who led research on the creation of artificial organisms, one Kurose Susumu, Kanzaki Yuuya joins the Divers in order to reach Primary Point – ground zero of the Burst event.

The next few episodes capture much about this current Aiko’s confusion at being one of two existences with the exact same memories, thoughts, likes and personality. This is a prevailing theme throughout the rest of the series as Aiko continues to contemplate her current existence as a non-human sentient entity. Her real body beams thoughts, visions and memories to her current artificial self, allowing Aiko to see real-time visuals of her mother and little brother in stasis. This link to her original body also allows Aiko to access particular memories, which often come to her in fragments.

After getting acquainted with the Divers, Aiko resolves to join them on their high-stakes quest to rescue Aiko’s family from the Primary point. This soon proves to be extremely difficult as they navigate through territory completely overrun with synthetic lifeforms with a propensity to tearing off limbs and ravaging entire buildings. The majority of the series hence follows them into the Primary Point, as they complete their mission.

What We Liked About A.I.C.O: Incarnation

The most outstanding thing about A.I.C.O: Incarnation is its art, an opinion which could prove to be a unanimous opinion. The crisp, bright colours and use of shadows, seamless animation during the action scenes, as well as beautiful character designs make it a very enjoyable watch in terms of visual enjoyment. This is, of course, thanks to Studio Bones who tend to do very well in that regard. A.I.C.O: Incarnation brings with it a strange sense of visual clarity. Integration of CGI into the parts featuring mecha as well as the Matter was done incredibly well – as we said before, A.I.C.O: Incarnation is crisp.

While it could have been done with characters with more depth, A.I.C.O: Incarnation takes what we would call a “detached” approach to character development and story progression. There are elements of foreshadowing, as well as filmic markers which drive a certain perspective within the show itself. The characters themselves are fairly generic and familiar, with fairly predictable personalities; however, the way in which we are introduced to various parts of their character is through a form of exposition which sees the characters explored through their mission to Primary Point.

Discussion Time

Like we said before, the art is what makes a great part of the watching experience and it is a major point as much of the events within the anime itself hinge on the art being impressive. A.I.C.O: Incarnation is worth the watch due to its somewhat distanced approach to character development. Much of the anime goes by with a thin veil of mystery cast over its various elements Aiko’s role in the anime seems to also greatly resemble that of Hiromi from Vision of Escaflowne. The anime has various moments which are reminiscent of other shows. Some of the character dynamics are some of which seasoned anime watchers will be familiar with.

There are various things about A.I.C.O: Incarnation which were not quite well done. Characters were explored in a fairly interesting way; however, that is not to say that the characters themselves were all that interesting. They were, for the most part, generic characters who weren’t fleshed out all that much due to the anime’s focus on the journey to the Primary Point. This means that we are presented with a roster of about eight characters who are on our screens for vast spans end up being empty husks to which we can assign no sense of emotional attachment, relatability or even worth. Another thing we noted about the characters was the archetypal nature of these characters. We had our protagonist who was extremely important to the cause and is generally protected by the other characters due to her own inexperience in combat. Like we said before, this reminds us of Escaflowne’s Hiromi.

This particular aspect can be seen in two perspectives: A.I.C.O: Incarnation is a show which drew upon the existing base for inspiration where execution was concerned and this gives us the opportunity to be able to trace back particular tropes to contemporary examples, as well as really old anime from a long time ago; or A.I.C.O: Incarnation is a show which used tried and tested character archetypes but failed to use them in a way which cultivated a familiar yet refreshing cast of characters.

Why You Should Watch A.I.C.O: Incarnation

1. Art

A.I.C.O: Incarnation boasts art that we wish we could see on a regular basis with every single show we come across. The art style is not completely fresh or outlandish, it looks much like Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress where character design and the general feel of the line art is concerned. The animation in this show is incredible: it is watching an incredibly fluid and beautifully coloured story play out with a great use of the much-despised CGI. To sum up, A.I.C.O: Incarnation is really, really pretty.

2. Dynamics

Characters in A.I.C.O: Incarnation are fairly generic characters; however, we learn much about them from the next character, which we find particularly interesting. In one of the earlier episodes, a squabble between the Divers Kaede and Kazuki reveal to us information about Kazuki’s wealthy origins and his right hand replaced with a prosthetic made with artificial life form technology. This is also evident in episode 7 where the Divers come to realise that Aiko is not completely human – the unfortunate incident with crystallised Matter falling on her created a scenario where such information about Aiko was hence released.

3. Nudges towards other anime

A.I.C.O: Incarnation is the type of anime one who has seen a lot of anime could enjoy simply because they are able to pick out the various tropes which make up certain genres, as well as character dynamics which mirror those of other shows. Aiko’s role in this anime is very similar to that of Mishima Lisa from Zankyou no Terror (2014), as well as Hiromi from Escaflowne. The show does well to mould particular archetypes, dynamics and themes to its dystopian plot.


Why You Should Skip A.I.C.O: Incarnation

1. Dull Characters

Even though characters and character dynamics remind us of other shows and bring in a sense of “intertextuality”, for lack of a better word, the characters in A.I.C.O: Incarnation are simply not explored well enough for the anime to be able to truly apply its own twist to these archetypes and dynamics. It often feels like we’ve seen it all before. This is also not helped by the fact that the show has no sentient primary antagonist: the artificial life forms are assigned the antagonist role. We have characters on our screens for much of the show who bear no more relevance at the end of the anime than they did at the very beginning, which is rather disappointing.

2. Pacing

The plot of A.I.C.O: Incarnation is quite complicated and leaves much to be explained, particularly at the end of the first three episodes. The time from which Kanzaki transfers into Aiko’s school to when he and Aiko meet the divers for the first time is rather short, which seems to frame everything in much smaller fragments of time. Twelve episodes sometimes is not enough to fully flesh out the lore of an anime title, nor is it enough to explore each character to a decent level of development.


Final Thoughts

Overall, A.I.C.O: Incarnation is neither great nor completely terrible. It does leave much to be desired in particular places; however it is a good anime to watch in order to pass the time, as well as to treat yourself to truly beautiful art and animation. The fact that this was a Netflix release is rather exciting as it points towards more anime with interesting or complex plotlines like this one. Perhaps we can hope for truly exceptional releases from Netflix and Bones in the future.

Hoshi-kun

Writer

Author: Hoshi-kun

I’m South African, harbouring an obsession for anything remotely related to Japan, mostly anime, of course. I draw sometimes. Some people call me Naledi, it’s my real name, or something like that. People think I’m stoic because I don’t smile often (I do sometimes). I like languages. Hoshi-kun and Naledi are the same side of the same coin.

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