2035. A research project goes terribly wrong, resulting in the “Burst”, transforming the Kurobe Gorge into a quarantine zone infested with lethal synthetic organisms called “Matter”. Two years later, wheelchair-bound high-school girl Aiko Tachibana finds out that the gorge may hold the clues to her parent’s death. A secret is also lurking inside her body that she doesn’t completely understand, and the answer lies at the “Primary Point”, which lies deep inside the gorge, where she, along with new friend Yuya Kanzaki and a group of divers, plan to go. When boy meets girl with the fate of humanity in their hands, what new truths will come to light?
A.I.C.O. Incarnation was released as an original net animation (ONA), with Netflix acquiring the rights to stream the show worldwide in August 2017, with the intention of releasing it in March 2018. Produced by Studio Bones (Full Metal Alchemist, My Hero Academia, Space Dandy), and directed by Kazuya Murata (Full Metal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos, KADO: The Right Answer), A.I.C.O. Incarnation is an original show, with an accompanying manga which was released in November 2017. Admittedly, out of the increasing list of anime that is due to arrive on Netflix (both licensed shows and ‘original anime shows’), this show was something that I had totally forgotten about. Given that Studio Bones has a huge portfolio of their own, with their most recent mega-franchise (My Hero Academia) becoming a global phenomenon with its third season beginning in April, you can possibly be forgiven for not noticing this show coming out.
This is, by no means, the best sci-fi anime in the world, and sadly has not much to write about either. As we watch this team descend into the Matter in order to search for Aiko’s mother and little brother (who are rumoured to be still alive somewhere), we don’t really feel too much of a connection with any of the characters…and as we watch Yuya make it his mission to protect Aiko in this dangerous environment, one can be forgiven for not feeling gripped by any of the story or the action. However, as you watch each episode of this, you do somehow feel that sense of accomplishment in these divers as they make their way to Primary Point. While A.I.C.O. Incarnation is sci-fi through and through, it can also be interpreted as a road story.
From the beginning episode, we see young Aiko Tachibana confined to a wheelchair after the Matter separated her from her family. When the mysterious Yuya Kanzaki arrives at her school with fake documents, he takes her away from the comfort of the hospital she pretty much lives in and shows her that her body is in fact artificial. He tells her that a copy of her was made and that her real brain was implanted into an artificial body, with the artificial brain being inside her real body somewhere deep in the Gorge where she used to live before the Matter arrived. Once you can get past the rather confusing opening episodes, A.I.C.O. Incarnation can be a rather intriguing sci-fi anime to watch. The plot itself is a novel one, with no real bad guy to speak of aside from the Matter, and with Aiko being labelled as some kind of ‘chosen one’ to rid the planet of the Matter once and for all, you can follow the show without worrying too much about who’s who, what’s what and so on…
A.I.C.O. Incarnation is one cheesy show, though. However before you dismiss this completely, you wouldn’t be mistaken for finding some kind of mysterious charm to the cheese that can be found left, right and center. It doesn’t really employ that many groundbreaking science-fiction ideas or concepts, but as I continued watching the show, and as the team all formed together to enter Primary Point, I felt that originality was something that wasn’t really necessary here. You know Hollywood sometimes releases some sci-fi movie set in ‘the-not-too-distant-future’ with futuristic technology that you’re certain would be possible in, say, 50 years from now…only to find that Hollywood doesn’t really do sci-fi to impress the critics, but to impress the fans. Well, I can call A.I.C.O. Incarnation a pretty cheesy sci-fi, but a very harmless one. Yuya’s sudden transition from new kid at school to mysterious diver can grate on you at first, but that feeling soon passes, and as the viewer, you find yourself drawn to the complex and dangerous mission these people are going on, to take Aiko to the Primary Point to not only search for clues behind her family’s apparent death, but to try to stop the Matter for good before it reaches the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean.
The one issue with this show is the protagonist herself, however. Aiko has just about every anime girl trope known to exist, and that is not a good thing. She whines, she gets jealous, makes a lot of weird noises and gasps throughout the show (both in the Japanese and English versions), and despite being the lead girl, she doesn’t really have much of a presence, with the adult divers and ‘antagonists’ instead taking more of a center stage. What else one can be forgiven for finding extremely frustrating is her condition in the opening episode. She goes from needing frequent sessions of physiotherapy to get her muscles working in her lower body to running on her own two feet in a matter of minutes, and it’s as if everyone forgets she was ever in a wheelchair in the first place. The English dub is just as frustrating to hear as well; in fact, it’s more than just frustrating, it’s plain horrible. I can’t quite tell if it was a rushed job or not, but from the sounds of Christina Jopling and Alex Alvarez (Aiko and Yuya respectively in the English version), it sounds like they could voice act so much better. The opening theme is “A.I.C.O.” by True, and the ending theme is “Unknown Beyond” by Haruka Shiraishi.
It’s a real shame that these frustrating moments exist in this show, as it has potential…not so much to become a timeless classic (either for the right reasons or the wrong ones), but entertaining at the least. After over two decades of watching a lot of mediocre sci-fi anime shows, I see A.I.C.O. Incarnation as a show that can be added on the ‘fun but forgettable’ list. The thing with this show is that, despite the rather entertaining ‘road story’ plot of Aiko and the diver team heading into the Gorge to find Aiko’s real body, the protagonists (I suppose you can count Yuya as one too) aren’t really as charming as you would like, and because of this, the show as a whole falls behind.
Here’s the Netflix trailer for A.I.C.O. Incarnation:
A.I.C.O. Incarnation is neither a hugely entertaining show or a terrible one. The science fiction in the show is enticing enough to peak your interest and the ‘road story’ is fun to watch. If you can find some comfort in watching the somewhat frustrating female lead, and can avoid the English dub like the plague, your time watching this on Netflix will not be seen as totally wasted.
This can be a bit of a cheese-fest at some points, but as you carry on watching, you find that you actually have no problem with that. You came here to be entertained with some action sci-fi, not something groundbreaking or totally original. However, this show is not much to write about, and can often get very bland. But if you’re bored, or have nothing else to watch, this can very easily grab your attention. Just…whatever you do…don’t watch the English version.