A.I.C.O.: Incarnation – Episode 1: Contact & Episode 2: Target [First Impressions]
Episode 1: Contact
Ever since its announcement in Netflix Slate 2017 back in August last year many anime fans have been looking forward to A.I.C.O.: Incarnation to become available in Netflix this Spring season, I am no exception. As a fan of pretty much anything sci-fi, the summary to AICO hits many requirements that put them in the list of things I just have got to check out and I figured I might as well take you guys along for the ride. After the more recent announcement in January of the alliance between Netflix and a couple of the anime industry big studio names Productions I.G. and Bones, I would also say it’s a good idea to take a look at AICO with the intention of imagining what these alliances could offer anime viewers in the future.
The first thing I would like to mention right off the bat is that AICO is original anime. This is important because in my experience original anime can have a bit of a hard time taking off at first. Usually when anime is adapted from another source, this source is already pretty popular (which may count as a sort of quality check), but without a source material to adapt from, things can be a little hitch-y. This does not mean in any way that we should be discouraged and look at AICO with negative expectations, but we must keep in mind that all viewers of this show are going to be delving into it for the first time ever as they go into episode one. Another thing to add it that this show is not a simulcast, as Netflix holds the distribution rights, so all the episodes become available at once. Isn’t it awesome when you can marathon it like that?!
The story in AICO takes place in 2035 and centers around Tachibana Aiko and transfer student Kanzaki Yuya as they decide to infiltrate a facility to try and fix The Burst, an incident that happened two years prior where a form of artificial life called Matter spread throughout the facility and surrounding grounds. The Matter was contained within the research city Kurobe Gorge and sealed there to avoid damage to other cities as it is hostile. The key to solving The Burst has to do with Tachibana Aiko and Yuya wants to make this happen. This ambitious-sounding project is brought to you by Studio Bones, a company with over 100 titles under their belt, several of them original and successful. Of course, the overall staff of the show plays a bigger role, but Bones was in charge of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Wolf’s Rain, Eureka Seven and more recently Boku no Hero Academia, all very acclaimed, so it’s fair to give them a vote of confidence.
Anyway, I actually went into the first episode without re-reading the summary, so I had forgotten a lot about the setting, which means that right away I had a lot of questions. The show opens with two guys wearing these really cool armored suits, rollerblades and weapons. They are going into a facility and get attacked right away by some viscous monster thingy they refer to as Matter. The characters aren’t properly introduced in this first scene, we just get a couple names here and there that I don’t think we’re supposed to remember. It’s even hard to tell the characters apart because of the armor, but the action is well animated. It’s a bold choice to start off a show with very little exposition, but it’s intriguing. I was definitely paying attention.
Eventually one of the members of one diver team gets their arm taken, and then there’s just a quick succession of juxtaposed images, sort of like flashes of different events, fired at the viewer. I’m a patient viewer, so I didn’t mind, but I suppose for someone who would want to know what’s going on a little faster, they could find this annoying. After this we finally meet Tachibana Aiko for the first time. She’s sitting on a wheelchair and she just woke up in the middle of a softball game. Her blunder causes her to get injured, but quickly after the bruise just disappears. Later on we learn that Aiko lives in the hospital where she’s receiving treatment and rehab for nerve damage. The next day as Aiko and her friend make their way to school they run into a boy they hadn’t seen before. As the stranger and Aiko clash, she gets another blur of images in her mind. Eventually we find out he’s a new transfer student and as he introduces himself as Kanzaki Yuya, Aiko stands up on her own, surprising her classmates.
Starting next day Aiko leaves her wheelchair behind altogether and we just see her walking around like it’s nothing. That was a bit jarring to me, but well, fiction requires suspension of disbelief more often than not, especially within the sci-fi realm. We learn that Aiko’s family is presumed death, she goes back home to pick up some belongings and she recalls how her father died, just as she recovers some orb that I’m sure will become relevant eventually. Either way, events escalate to a car chase as Yuya and Aiko try to get away from anonymous pursuers. They make it to the border and there they are welcomed by a couple of guys who seem to be in cahoots with Yuya. Without much preamble Aiko is told her body is artificial and a fake, the group is willing to deliver her real body to her in exchange for the artificial one and they want her help.
The revelation wasn’t as shocking as it could have been considering the hints we get through the episode that her body is not normal, but it’s still a very exciting and intriguing revelation. The build-up could have been a bit less bland, but overall it’s a start with a lot of potential. In terms of production, the animation for the show looks really nice most of the time and the attention to detail in terms of visuals is evident. I found the character designs polished, but the main characters don’t stand out as much as they should in my opinion, who knows though, that could be what they’re going for: a mysterious male character that blends in and an innocent and weak-looking girl.
There are a lot of questions in my mind as I finish episode one, but mostly I’m excited to see where this goes. What is the project A.I.C.O. that is mentioned during the episode? Why does Aiko have an artificial body? How can they solve The Burst with this body? What exactly is the Matter? I hope all these question and more will be answered soon.
Episode 2: Target
The starting scene after the opening credits take us back to Aiko learning the truth about her body. Soon enough we also learn the man who welcomed her to this place called The Town is a scientist, Kurose Susumu, who used to work with her late father. Kurose is kind enough to warn the audience his speech will be long and then he tells Aiko she has in an accident two years ago. Due to sustained damage they weren’t able to save her normally, but somehow artificially recreating her body and brain and switching the damage body with the artificial one did the trick and they were able to treat the damaged brain and body separately. A couple things here seem a bit questionable, such as why were they able to treat them separately but not together or how come her real body works with the artificial brain, but I don’t think the show wants us to focus on that, so let’s move on.
The real focus of Kurose’s speech is learning that when the surgery to separate Aiko’s real body and brain and switch them with the artificial one took place, that’s when The Burst happened. The Burst was actually a direct consequence of the surgery, which obviously upsets Aiko. Although she first seemed open to learning the truth, now that this information is out, the thought that she could be responsible for such event makes her want to deny everything and look away from the situation. Her reaction is very frustrating to me, regardless of how possible or logical it is for anyone to respond this way in her situation, but the story must move forward and this little meltdown quickly puts Aiko on the run.
As Aiko runs around The Town, several inhabitants begin to pursue her and soon we see her run into the diver teams we met in the first scene of episode one. They have really interesting character designs and it’s cool to see them out of the suits! She’s frantic so they’re eager to help her escape, but eventually they deliver Aiko into Shinoyama Daisuke’s hands. Shinoyama is the other man besides Kurose who seems to be leading the operation.
The divers then are invited into the conference room and told they are being hired for a mission. I like this ‘divers’ occupation thing, they seem like some sort of bounty hunters, competing for clients and targets! But I digress, both teams are debriefed into what this very dangerous mission will be about and the route it will follow. This is where the viewer also gets a bit of an idea of where the show is going and what to expect based on that. As this is 12 episodes, I’m assuming they’ll pace the story so the mission takes the largest chunk of screen time, but it’s early on to say for sure. Both teams agree to participate and Yuya introduces himself to the teams as the final arrangements are settled. Suddenly the room fills with gas and as they scramble in confusion they find out Aiko is gone again, but this time she was taken away like some damsel in distress!
Episode two did clear up some of my doubts about the show’s setting and answered some leftover questions I had from the first episode. The goal of the show is clear and we even get a little glimpse of how they’re trying to reach that goal. I like the straight-forward approach on that regard, but I must say I found some of the exposition in this episode clumsy. We even get a scene of Aiko saying, “I know that!” after a long diatribe from Kurose summarizing some information clearly meant for the audience. There’s also a lot of very relevant and sensitive information given in a very short amount of time and I wonder if this information will be recalled at any point going forward. I’m still hopeful the show will live up to its potential, but overall I do think episode two is a step down from episode one.