What is Metallic Rouge? Is it a cyberpunk thriller? Is it a tokusatsu-inspired action anime? Is it a dark conspiracy about androids and aliens unfolding in the underworld of a Martian metropolis? Is it a buddy comedy about one girl who really likes chocolate and another girl who can’t wait to talk to you about the Roman legion? And why is the Joker there? So far, Metallic Rouge contains multitudes, and speaking as a fan of sci-fi that shoots for the moon, I like it a lot.
Metallic Rouge‘s first two episodes present the audience with a sci-fi series that feels both familiar and difficult to pin down. The premiere is moody and alienating, throwing us into the deep end alongside a Rolodex full of proper nouns, prejudices, and factions vying for each other’s throats for reasons that remain inscrutable. The second episode is a lighter and friendlier jaunt, giving us more space to grow accustomed to our two protagonists and explaining pertinent background info in a way that a (literal) child could understand. While these approaches seem diametrically opposed, in practice, they complement each other well. Moreover, the show’s insistence on starting with the more obtuse material demonstrates it has some degree of faith in its audience. It trusts us to read between the lines and make logical inferences. Irrespective of the details, I respect this lack of handholding, and the volume of information helps this setting feel real and lived-in.
Regarding the details, I suspect Metallic Rouge went with the in medias res approach because its backstory is deceptively straightforward. We can’t see the brushstrokes yet, but we can make out the big picture. The premiere inundates us with examples of the societal stratification between the dominant humans and the subservient biomechanical Neans. Still, it doesn’t feel too overwhelming due to the emphasis on showing over-telling. Seeing a Nean die without Nectar, for instance, packs a hell of a lot more impact than a lengthy explanation of what Nectar is, and seeing that Nean then get picked up by a garbage truck further cements the severity of this android apartheid state. Complicating this dynamic are the select few Neans who can disguise themselves as humans and violate other precepts of the Asimov Code, which naturally includes murder. While most of these “Alter” Neans appear to be members of a secret society called the Immortal Nine, our heroine Rouge shares their freedom (and color-coded name) but not their allegiance. She’s working with Naomi on picking them off one by one, and thus, conflict and spectacular robot suit battles ensue.
We can guess where the series might go based on its influences. In Blade Runner, arguably Metallic Rouge‘s closest antecedent (and it joins many other anime in that regard), Deckard’s pursuit of the rogue replicants eventually causes him to question not only the validity of their persecution, but basic tenets of his own existence. The series is also in conversation with foundational texts like I, Robot and War of the Worlds, and it’d be neat if each episode took a crack at one of the sci-fi greats. The William Blake poem “On Another’s Sorrow” also has a cameo in the OP, which may indicate the series has cast a net wider than classic science fiction alone. I expect the Neans and their relationships with the two alien races will lie at the crux of this conflict, and everything points to the use of androids as a vehicle for social justice commentary. However, I’m also excited at the possibility of Metallic Rouge having loftier or subtler ambitions.
But before I get too ahead of myself, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight how great these two episodes looked, and how fun they were to watch. Developed to commemorate Studio Bones’ 25th anniversary, Metallic Rouge feels like a throwback graced with slick modern blockbuster production values. Director Motonobu Hori previously helmed Carole and Tuesday, so he knows a thing or two about speculative sci-fi set on Mars. The premiere opts for clean character art, detailed cityscapes, cyberpunk lighting, and cinematic storyboarding. Its biggest flex is animating its climactic tokusatsu fight by hand. CG animation has gotten good enough to handle that kind of robot suit decently, but the traditional animation reinforces the anime’s nostalgic vibe. The second episode’s art is looser and more expressive, which fits the breezier tone. It, too, has a fun climax with Rouge tossing around the Usurpers’ retro-futuristic war machines (featuring storyboards and animation from the cube-loving Yutaka Nakamura). I love the musical punctuation in both examples. The chorus dramatically heralds the battle to come before the beat kicks into full gear, and it’s the exact right amount of fearless cheesiness.
Finally, I like our leads a whole lot. The character designs throughout the show are strong, but Naomi’s and Rouge’s are particularly great. Naomi’s big round glasses echo the spirit of the ’90s well, and Rouge’s relatively simple design contrasts nicely with the bright red armor she dons during battle. Naomi and Rouge’s chemistry, however, is their best asset. While their interactions are sparse but fun in the premiere, the second episode gives them enough room to breathe and truly shine. They have funny nonverbal bits like the rock-paper-scissors fight over the window seat; their dialogue is pointed and flirtatious, and you can tell they enjoy the kind of communication shorthand that only close friends develop—major props to both Tomoyo Kurosawa and Yume Miyamoto for nailing that sense of familiarity in their performances.
In short, Metallic Rouge is an easy recommendation from me. It’s a bombastic work from a veteran studio celebrating just how veteran they are, and the result should delight sci-fi nerds who aren’t afraid to dive right into some baroque worldbuilding.
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Metallic Rouge is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Steve is on Twitter while it lasts. He is absolutely not a biomechanical android in disguise. You can also catch him chatting about trash and treasure alike on This Week in Anime.