Spoilers for the early part of Coppelion.
It was about time for a good anime that reflected on the aftermath and tragedy of Fukushima. For the first few episodes, Coppelion, whose manga actually predates the disaster by a few years and now seems awfully prescient (along with Tokyo Magnitude 8.0), seemed like it was a serious candidate for that title. Its decayed and detailed backgrounds contrasted perhaps a bit too strongly with the thick-lined characters, a hallmark of the new Go Hands studio, but there was plenty of intrigue and sad realizations as we discovered that Tokyo had been ruined by a nuclear accident of some sort. There were scientists who were atoning for their sins, a few people who refused to leave their homes despite the devastation–just like in northern Japan at the time–and politicians and industry leaders passing the buck. Sure, the girls sometimes seemed a little too jaunty given the setting, but there was real pain and anguish in the people that they rescued in the early parts, and there seemed to be direct, pointed statements intended to resonate to a public still dealing with the memory of such large scale failure…
Then, in episode 4, the timer appeared.
The timer counted down how long until a certain character’s radiation suit gave out and he would die from the fallout poisoning. In its bombastic, over-the-top way, it was also intended to illustrate the brevity of life and the urgency of the situation. Instead, it was more like the cheesy bomb timer that the movie Galaxy Quest mocked years ago, that timer that you know will never actually reach 00:00–which, of course, it doesn’t, there or here.
Worse, this timer appeared in an episode where we discovered that somehow, stealth bombers had machine guns, lots of vegetation can exist in fallout zones, and these superpowered, radiation-proof schoolgirls can declare mission accomplished and treat all their outings like a school trip. It was, in short, the crowning moment where I could no longer take Coppelion seriously. And in my opinion, the show never recovered from that moment. For what might have been a semi-serious meditation on disaster, working together, and confronting the mistakes of the past, Coppelion became an action romp with cartoonish villains, silly characters like Aoi (one of Kana Hanazawa’s most grating roles yet), and a Vice Principal/Commander who looks like Saddam Hussein. Really!
I am the told the manga, which is available on Crunchyroll’s new manga channel, is considerably better. But despite its best efforts, the great post-Fukushima anime has yet to be produced. Coppelion turns out to be, sadly, just another anime.