There are a handful of series that I think make the mistake of hiding their light under a bushel of breasts. Horizon on (in?) the middle of nowhere may be one of them. If you’re like me, and find character designs with exaggerated breasts repellant, all I can tell you is that (1) only half the female cast are doomed to a life of back problems (though maybe they have microgravity control along with all the other magical tech?); and (2) you’ll probably stop noticing halfway through the first episode since there’s so much else going on.
I’d originally shrugged off Horizon as fan-servicey otaku-bait, and was prepared to leave it at that. But a few people I trust said positive things about it, so I took a look. Now, I find I’m approaching the end of a second look.
We all know stories about brilliantly intelligent women who find people don’t take them seriously because they’re too pretty to be smart. There are anime series like that, too (though Horizon isn’t to be taken too seriously).
If the Samuel Delany of Triton were to write an anime, it might look like this (or the Charles Stross of some of the later chapters of Accelerando): technology as magic, but a magic that obeys a strict logic, yet transforms the world to be something almost unrecognizable.
Horizon, even with its truly dreadful character-designs, is a show that rewards multiple viewings: every scene has layers of meaning. The world is both bizarre and well developed — it’s a world of technology so advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic, full of characters that take that technology for granted. It’s full of people who actually live in that world. Listen to the classroom banter, and you realize these people have been in classes together for years.
And the tech! It’s wonderful! It’s magical! It’s beautiful! It’s portrayed so well!
Watching it again, I realized that Horizon on the middle of nowhere comes from a long tradition: it’s a comedy of manners. This nature becomes clear in the middle episodes which depict a series of “debates”: one, in the form of a battle between a giant robot and a fellow who has sold his soul (the robot was cobbled together from battleground gleanings by “the Engineering Club”); one a ‘fight’ between a shy blind girl and a knight; one an honest-to-god debate (though it starts off with a Bugs Bunny reversal of roles); and one is a contest between a warrior and a dancer.
The fight between blind Suzu and chivalrous Neito is the clearest sign that we’re dealing with a comedy of manners: Neito is defeated by being trapped between her social obligations and her sense of duty.
The Kimi Aoi/Futayo Honda battle is just poetry: the sensual confronts the disciplined and teaches it a lesson: Venus and Mars in their eternal confrontation.
The whole set-up: recreating the history of the 17th Century, is itself the foundation for a comedy of manners: there’s an arbitrary rulebook you have to find your way through, and what happens to you as you try.
I could do with less of Tori Aoi’s bufoonery, but …. where would Shakespeare be without his “rude mechanicals”, his sergeants at arms, his fools to throw nonsense at the walls making cracks the truth can shine through? Already, halfway through the two cours scheduled for the series, I am getting the feeling that I’ll grow to appreciate even Tori Aoi. I won’t be surprised if he will be remembered like the Irresponsible Captain Justy Tylor: fool? genius? lucky? Two out of three (“fortune favors the prepared mind”)?
I have to admit that my tastes run to complicated plots that require multiple viewings for the puzzle to become clear. Horizon helps by filling its first four episodes with nonstop action that tells the events of a single day from four different perspectives, introducing, and deepening its large cast as it does so.
Then the fifth episode ends with a climactic battle and a final scene that is nothing short of magnificent as Tadakatsu Honda and his retainer Kazuno hold the ground long enough for their king’s plan to be put into effect. It’s a superb last stand, with a touchingly sweet final moment.
All this, and the series is only getting started.
The series is full of action — I haven’t been as stunned by action since the high points of the Magical Lyrical Nanoha franchise. Watch as the two witches, Margot and Malge, defeat a “God of War”:
Itano Circus! Four minutes in, did you notice that Margot finished off the God of War with a “money shot” (“Here goes an average day’s wages!”)? And, of course, they’re “magical girls” so they have a typical “magical girl transformation”. This show is full of puns like that, at least where the witches are concerned (it took me a couple of viewings to realize that the witches also run a delivery service).
I found the scene that follows the defeat of the God of War — to some eyes, yuri pandering — sweetly touching. I think its quiet calm forms the perfect coda to the frenetic action before it. That’s fine directing.
I’m not completely sold on a lot of the dialogue, but it reminds me of improvisational word-play. A little non-sensical, a little humorous, and more pleasant to listen than layered with superficial meaning. It’s like poetry — moreover, it is poetry: who could listen to the debate between Tori and Horizon in the twelfth episode and not hear the poetic rhythm of the words, like a ceremonial chant.
Often, we find what we are looking for in the things we watch. I suggest that if you look for buried treasure in Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere, you won’t be disappointed.