Qualidea Code Decoded - First Impressions

The current anime season at this point seems to be mostly dominated by slice of life and comedy series, with a very limited selection of action shows to choose from. As someone who likes both comedy and action series, this reversal of the usual trend is certainly not unwelcome, but it definitely puts more pressure on the few action shows that are currently airing. One of these limited choices is Qualidea Code, A-1 Pictures’ latest entry in the “Magical High School” anime genre.

Note: This article was written after the airing of the third episode of Qualidea Code. As such, my knowledge of the show ends after episode three. There are no spoilers in the article, although the comments are fair game.

As an anime-original series, Qualidea Code is, at the very least, not hindered as an adaptation of source material like many of its peers. There haven’t been a whole lot of high-priority anime-original magical high school shows, and because of this I decided to give the series a chance when I would have likely passed over it otherwise. It’s not just the nature of the series that piques interest however; the writing staff is an interesting mix as well. The original concept for the series was developed by light novel authors Koushi Tachibana (Date A Live!), Sou Sagara (The Hentai Prince and the Stony Cat), and Wataru Watari (My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU). While this is certainly an interesting mix of talent, each of these authors has already created and maintained a series with substantial popularity. It was definitely clear that there was experience behind the writing for the series. Additionally, the marketing campaign for Qualidea Code is surprisingly aggressive in Japan as well, with promotional pamphlets being given out at the bookstores. There are already a total of six (yes, six) light novels that have been released in the past year or so that cover events taking place in the world of Qualidea Code outside of the anime.

So what is Qualidea CodeQualidea Code takes place in a post-apocalyptic Japan where an alien force referred to as the Unknown have invaded and destroyed much of humanity. At the time of the initial invasion, many children were placed in cryogenic sleep as a backup for what seemed like the end of the world. After these children woke up, they found that they had developed abilities referred to as “World” powers. The new ability wielders were sorted into three schools: Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa. At these schools, their powers are fostered as they protect the small remaining vestiges of humanity from a mysterious and seemingly insurmountable enemy. Each of the schools has two student representatives that make up the overall leadership amongst the teens, and it is these six students that are the primary subjects of the story.

If that summary sounds vaguely familiar, then you’ve probably seen another magical high school anime at some point in time in your anime-watching career. That being said, there are hints in the premise of slight differences from genre norms that could potentially be interesting if done right. Every single member of the main cast is one of the leaders of their respective schools, so the classic power struggle of a protagonist working their way up to the top of the school is not really present in Qualidea Code. Actually, in my opinion this particular detail is very representative of the entire series at this point. Qualidea Code seems to have something different that it wants to do, and to do it the series skips over or speeds through many conventional genre norms. Does that mean that it’s not clearly a magical high school show? No. Does that make it a good show? Not necessarily. At this point, I would say thatQualidea Code is definitely hit or miss, and I don’t think I can predict with certainty if the series will end up “good” or not. The fact that I’m not sure though is exactly what makes me consider it an interesting topic for discussion.

As I mentioned earlier, the primary cast of Qualidea Code is made up of three pairs of representatives from each school. Their names are Ichiya Suzaku and Canaria Utara (Tokyo), Asuha Chigusa and Kasumi Chigusa (Chiba), and Maihime Tenkawa and Hotaru Rindou (Kanagawa). To me, it seems like this cast is the one of the strong points of the series so far, but it is definitely not without faults. For starters, Ichiya Suzaku, the blatant main character of the group, is a classic super powerful and overconfident protagonist. His hot-headedness has already gotten the cast in some uncomfortable situations in these first few episodes multiple times. As the head of the Tokyo school, this is interesting because instead of a hot-headed maverick foot soldier, we have a hot-headed maverick leader in charge of the lives of numerous others. That being said, at this stage as a character Ichiya is (as you might have guessed) fairly bland and stereotypical. There’s only one particular aspect that sticks out about him, and that is his relationship to Canaria.

Ichiya utilizes his power (which allows him to manipulate gravity) to lead the front lines, but Canaria’s revitalizing abilities make her an ideal support from behind. Much of Ichiya’s aggressive fighting is a result of his past inability to defend himself or Canaria from the alien invasion. Ironically, due to this Ichiya’s reliance on Canaria is far deeper than merely the supporting role she plays in combat. Despite his inability to express his feelings properly, the narrative of Qualidea Code is surprisingly capable of conveying Ichiya’s under-the-surface feelings and motivations through details that range from visiting an injured student at the hospital to his minor decisions in combat. Even as early as the third episode, these details and his relationship with Canaria are already beginning to pay off in the story.

Outside of the main pair, the other four members are varying degrees of intriguing. For the most part, many of the characters have fairly straightforward and singularly focused development. What makes the cast appealing to me overall is less their basic characterizations and more their interactions with each other and other slight nuances thrown in by the writing. For example, Maihime’s apparent peppiness and slight absentmindedness are not unusual characteristics, but her attempts to make peace between the frequently bickering school leaders and her leadership in combat are both elements that add slight detail and make her a good addition to the cast. Chiba’s sibling pair of Asuha and Kasumi make for interesting characters as well. Kasumi’s apparent relaxed nature bordering on laziness is blatantly a cover for a man who cares quite a bit about his sister and even his frequent opponent Ichiya. While I wouldn’t call the characters of Qualidea Code some sort of god-tier temple of writing prowess, they are definitely articulate and diverse enough that I would argue that they are an effective portion of the story right now.

However, at the moment it’s not really the characters that feel like the biggest concern for Qualidea Code. So far in the early game for the series, there seems to be a push in the writing to make Qualidea Code something that stands out from other similar shows in the genre. When done right, these shifts in storytelling are intriguing, but I’d say that overall they’ve been pretty hit or miss, and as a result the pacing and world building are a bit mediocre. As I mentioned earlier, the entire leading cast is already completely made up of members of the leadership in the three schools. This is an example of a slightly unconventional shift from the traditional magic high school style of storytelling, but it’s not the only section of the story that attempts to make such a shift. Absent elements that usually serve as information dumps on the state of the universe, such as training sequences and character introductions, aren’t entirely replaced effectively by the narrative. Qualidea Code’s attempt to show and not tell about the world is admirable but not entirely pulled off, as much of the social and physical structure of the human world is merely left unexplained. This has made it difficult for me to feel the same sense of consequence that the characters feel for their actions.

For me, the biggest draw of Qualidea Code so far has been the character relationships, but this has thus far come at the cost of effective pacing plot-wise. The second episode of the series felt like borderline filler as the only real purpose it served was to develop the cast further. For a short series likeQualidea Code, having slow filler-like episodes is already a bit problematic, but when one of those episodes happens to be the second entry in the series, it makes for a bit of a barrier of entry for viewers whose interest might wane early on as a result. That being said, it is interesting to have escalated battles so early on, and if done properly the pacing could turn around for the better in the long run. It is still concerning in terms of drawing in an audience to have issues like this early on though.

From a slightly more technical perspective, Qualidea Code is mostly in the clear. The soundtrack seems quite effective so far. It’s utilized powerfully in action sequences, and many of the more subtle electronic sounds in calmer moments are quite well done. In particular, Canaria’s combat singing (as part of her World ability) and LiSA’s performance for the opening theme have been quite excellent. The character designs for the main cast are varied and fun, and the voice acting is lively and engaging. There were a surprising amount of off-model moments in the first episode that slightly hurt my opinion of the animation early on, but for the most part it has been pretty good.

Overall, I’d say Qualidea Code is one of the more interesting shows of the season, mostly because I honestly don’t know if it will end up being a show I like or not. Depending on whether or not it fixes its issues and continues its character development effectively, the show could be a complete flop or a really enjoyable addition to this anime season. While some of the pacing and world building issues from early on are going to be an unavoidable hindrance to drawing viewers in regardless, if Qualidea Code manages to straighten them out it has the potential to end as one of the better shows of its kind. For what it’s worth, I definitely have been intrigued by what the series has had to offer so far.

Vital Stats:

Qualidea Code is produced by A-1 Pictures and airing in the Summer 2016me season. With an original concept from light novel writing team Speakeasy, Qualidea Code is an anime-original series and part of an extended universe including light novel and manga series. Qualidea Code is available for legal streaming on Crunchyroll in the U.S.