After watching Asura Cryin’, I realized that writing the review would be difficult. Why? Because so many of the aspects that are worth talking about would spoil things. This isn’t the first time I’ve had this thought. I’m sure you all remember my Another review, where I was basically unable to say anything except in the most vague terms. I love my reviews, I love being able to offer a spoiler-free opportunity for people to get an idea of some of the aspects of a game or a show… but I am really excited about this article. The chance to go deeper, to talk more about a show, to take the gloves off and really give you the full candid thoughts I had while watching it. And I can’t think of a better place to start Spoiler Alert than Asura Cryin’.
Just as a final warning – this discussion will not be holding anything back and it will be assuming a certain minimum amount of knowledge about the show. This is an article for people who have already seen the show and are looking for a little bit more in-depth discussion than a review. So if you are looking for something that gives the surface level info to help make a decision about whether to watch it – check my review, it’s spoiler free. But this post won’t make much sense if you haven’t seen Asura Cryin’.
The biggest running theme of this show is sacrifice. Asura Cryin’ is a show about paying, and about making choices, and about making sacrifices. As I mentioned in my review, everything has a cost. Nobody gets power ‘for free’.
Anyone using magic is either draining their own ability to remain in the world – essentially killing themselves over time – or, if they’ve found someone they truly care about, they’re making an even more significant sacrifice. Female Demons draw power from their mate’s ability to love, eventually rendering them unfeeling, while male demons draw power from their ability to remember the one they love – over time forgetting the very person they swore to love. And none of this actually prevents them from dying, because when they have lost the ability to love and remember their mate… the powers once again come from their own lives. Should they use too much, they will begin to crystallize, disintegrate, and eventually vanish.
You get some rather prominent examples of this. The moment it really strikes home how it all works is near the end of the first story arc when you see Ania’s sister Christina and her chosen Kagakagari. He treats her like crap, despite having clearly loved her at one point or another… while she is gradually fading into nothing. And all of this is just to try to find a way to restore their friend Kotori to life… you see, the handlers aren’t getting off for free either. Asura Machina may be giant robots, but they’re powered by the soul of someone willing to give their life to save the Handler and become the Asura Machina’s power supply(known as a Burial Doll). So Cristina and Kagakagari are essentially draining their lives and their emotions to try to defy fate and save their friend. And in the end… a very important lesson is learned: if you aren’t willing to sacrifice something, you’ll lose everything. Kagakagari, unwilling to lose either Cristina or Kotori, failed and lost everything, with Kotori using herself up and fading away, and Cristina vanishing.
It’s rather tragic, and it creates a very interesting sort of fear every time you see Kanade use her magic… will this be the time that pushes her over the end? What about Ania… will she go the way of her sister? Or any of the handlers, will their Burial Dolls burn away? It’s truly impactful… and it makes combat scenes all the more suspenseful as you learn more and more… and it makes the show incredibly powerful.
And truly, by the end of the show nearly every character except the main character has sacrificed something or someone. So then you get to the ending, and it’s all building up to this climax where Kanade and Misao are both clearly pushing their limits, having both come close to fading multiple times. And the entire world is on the line…
And it all just fizzles out…
Really, I’m not kidding. The ending of the show had such potential to offer a bittersweet ending. And let’s face it, those are always the best endings. The endings where things are “good, but…”. In stead of them forcing Tomoharu to make a sacrifice in order to save the world, essentially learning from the mistake(and foreshadowing) of Kagakagari… the writers pull out a good ol’ Deus Ex Machina in the form of Ania suddenly announcing out of nowhere that she has perfected the machine that Cristina and Kotori died for and that Tomoharu can save Misao all the while Kanade managed to survive the epic final conflict of the show.
The end result is that everyone else has something to be sad about… except Tomoharu, Misao, and Kanade. They all get to move on with life with no regrets. There is no happy ending for Reishiro – Aine’s gone forever. Yukari and Yo will still have to mourn Shuri’s death. The ending is bittersweet for Tokiya and Toru, since Aki is still gone forever. And let’s not forget Ania, who loses her beloved sister and the chance at the man she cares for(okay, yes, she loves Tomoharu too)… Every single semi-important character in this show has a tragic – or at least bittersweet – ending except for the main character. And it just leaves the ending feeling tremendously disappointing.
There was one rather cool touch to the ending. Well, two. The first was simply them reusing the opening theme for the first season as the battle theme for the big momentous battle. The second, and far more noteworthy, was the tie they drew to Tomoharu’s visit to the First World. When Tomo went there, he met Aki and got the chance to see her. Before he left, she offers him her pendant effectively symbolizing that she’ll be with him in spirit; and in the end it is partially thanks to her that they are able to win.
A Season of Introductions
The first half of the show is used in a very clever way. They take the first 12-14 episodes, and just use them to build up the lore, the world, and the basics of the story. Things are kept relatively tame, you only start getting the big surprise reveals right near the end. Yet it never feels slow… it just feels like you’re getting ordinary episodes of a show that isn’t all that out there. It isn’t until you reach the second season and start getting the really weird stuff that you realize they wanted to get your feet wet before plunging you in straight.
You know you’re starting to get into it for real when you start getting told the truth about the old world, and about Cristina, and the big turnaround is in the episode near the end of the first arc where Aine disappears and you realize that Misao isn’t just some eternal ghost… she’s a battery that is quickly running out. It’s a big moment, and it really signals the moment they’re letting you in past the façade… letting you see the truth about the show and it’s themes. Prior to that you just get a lot of time to adapt to this character, the fact that he has a ghost, and the concepts behind the show.
They introduce you to the school, the three student councils, the GD’s, what demons are, the secret behind magic, the Asura Machina, Daughters, and then only after you have all the basics do they give you a teaser of what’s to come by introducing you to the first Asura Cryin’. Essentially every new episode they expose a new concept while still doing a good job of naturally progressing the story.
Asura Cryin’ sometimes feels like it lacked a single guiding hand behind the writing. Certain parts showed an incredibly deft hand and a ton of forethought. They clearly had long planned for Shuri to not be who she said she was, and the fact that the Burial Doll in Hagane even responded to the name Yukari was a brilliant touch. The brief lapse where she lost her memory was crafted in such a perfect way to just make you wonder “is this just her trying to escape her hardships… or is this someone else… or what?”. They even made the references to Yukari being the better actress in a way that made it feel like they were inconsequential when really they were the hints needed to put everything together. It showed a level of skill in storycraft that was admirable. The mystery of Naotaka’s identity was another good example of this subtleness.
In other moments, it felt like they had to lean on making Tomo more ignorant than he really should have been. One prime example is the fate of the Burial Dolls – they give you a suitable number of hints for anyone watching the show to figure it out, but then they have to play the poor ignorant Tomoharu card in order to reveal it. It was such a crutch throughout the series, and it was really sad because when they weren’t playing that card, Tomoharu wasn’t made out to be that type of character. He wasn’t the typical dense anime male trope… he was actually a fairly interesting character. He just occasionally, I dunno, went temporarily braindead maybe? It was kind of sad to see, and it felt really unnecessary especially from a show that possessed such intricate subtlety at other moments.
Oh the Characters
This show had one other truly major flaw. I discussed it a bit in my review, but it’s the characters. Not the main characters… Tomo, Ania, Kanada and especially Misao are all fantastic characters. They have distinct personalities, are people you truly come to care about over time. Shuri, or should I say Yukari, is a character that starts out unlikable but builds very slowly into a character I felt a deep affinity towards. But the dozen or so other named and frequent characters…. were mostly forgettable.
One of the most critical moments; near the end of the first arc, Reishiro loses Aine after pushing their powers to the very limit. The moment is long, drawn out, everyone is melancholy leading up to it, the music is perfect… but when I realized what had happened and was happening I felt a bit bad that Aine was going away – it’s always sad when something cute disappears – but largely nothing overall for the situation. Reishiro just hadn’t made any sort of an impact as a character. This is repeated numerous times throughout the series as moments that are supposed to be very impactful kind of, sadly, fail simply because the affected characters just aren’t meaningful.
Asura Cryin’ is a show that tells a fantastic tale that is full of amazing and unique moments. But despite this… I was never able to truly forget about the flaws. In some shows, flaws are minimized by a show’s strengths – I think of a show like Sword Art Online or Angel Beats. Asura Cryin’ somehow manages to go the opposite direction: the exceptional parts of the show merely accentuate and highlight the flaws in an unflattering way. So while the show is fantastic and I did love it, it was hard for me to ever truly lose myself in it.