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Cross Ange Tenshi: to Ryuu no Rondo 22 April 2015

2014-2015, 25 episodes: AniDB; vt Cross Ange: Rondo of Angel and Dragon.

In a magical/tech society, the princess is discovered to be a non-magic-user, stripped of her rank, and exiled to the high-casualty, low-empathy defenders of the kingdom.

The opening sequence is calculated to appeal: underdressed hot babes on flying motorcycle/mecha fight dragons. But actually that's a relatively small part of the show, even in its first phase; it's much more the deliberately grim story of the society in which almost everyone can use magical power, and just a few (the "Norma") cannot. The Norma are regarded as antisocial deviants and monsters, and when they're caught they're taken away in secret to be thrown into the war against the trans-dimensional invading dragons.

The story starts gritty and rapidly gets more so, with an attempted lesbian rape in episode 2 (and yes, it's played somewhat for titillation, but only somewhat). Ange, formerly the Princess Angelise, goes straight from the top of society to the bottom, and has trouble adjusting. I'm glad to see that, although she has a talent for this war, she's not automatically the best at everything: she can indeed fight and stay alive, but she's rotten at teamwork.

But the fighting remains in the background after the first episodes; this is more Ange's story, and how she tries to get back into the society that threw her out, first as a supplicant, then as an enemy. Then, around half-way through the run, everything's overturned, as we find out more about how the world got this way, and indeed where the dragons come from. I won't go into details, but I found the narrative satisfying, and consistent at least by the standards of anime. And there are some pokes at fan stereotypes too, with a principal villain who goes on and on about how he likes strong women but in the end just wants to control everyone's actions, most specifically including rape.

There's also an awful lot of T&A fanservice. The character and mecha designs are samey, and the animation is a bit basic at times, though the 3D work for the mecha battles works better and is well-integrated. Ange is remarkably well-developed, going through several significant mental evolutions during the story.

If you can get past the blatant pandering to the male gaze, there's actually a really good story here.

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