ID-0 – Anime Review
Synopsis: In the midst of a field exercise operating I-Machines, Alliance Academy student Maya Mikuri is thrown into an entirely different kind of adventure. (Official Netflix Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Let’s talk about ID-0. First, Netflix’s synopsis is a bit bare bones, offering a very poor understanding of what to expect from the series. ID-0 is about the future of humanity, a time where our society has been built upon a certain substance, Orichalt, which has the properties required to allow mankind easy transportation across space. Mankind branches out and soon we are spread across the entire Sol System. Maya Mikuri, an Alliance Academy student, while on a field exercise, finds herself taken in by a band of excavation pirates. These individuals exist in I-Machines, the other major invention of the future. I-Machines are large robots that you can transfer your consciousness into, while keeping your body safe in another location. From there Maya becomes a part of the crew as they gradually stumble upon revelations concerning Orichalt that could change the existence of the human race as they know it.
ID-0 is a fairly contentious anime, with most people seeming to come out either loving or hating it. This is likely due to several issues, first of which being its animation style. ID-0 is yet another CGI based anime, a subset of the anime medium that sparks the greatest of divide between fans. As someone far more tolerant of CGI, ID-0 does a generally bang up job. Whenever the series is focused on its Mecha, the I-Machines, or its depiction of space, things look incredible. Celestial bodies, space phenomena and the I-Machines themselves are depicted with vibrant color and intricate detail that really pops. The character models are another matter. While detailed themselves, and depicted in fluid animation that rarely, if ever, stutters, their mouth movements are jarring and stilted. 2D animation isn’t known for providing great lip flaps either, with characters often just opening and closing their mouths with little effort put into the movement for varying sounds and syllables, but ID-0 takes it a step farther. Characters jaws tend to move so stilted, like nutcracker dolls, that they can at times look more like puppets than the humans they’re meant to depict.
But ID-0’s animation is hardly where the contention ends. Trouble lies in the way ID-0 chooses to move its narrative forward, the way it utilizes its characters, and how it even chooses to conclude its gradual escalation. ID-0 boasts a rather large cast. From Maya Mikuri, our ‘starter’ lead, to Ido, the titular character. Ido is a man trapped inside an I-Machine. Unlike the rest of the cast, he doesn’t know who, or what, he is, making his identity and search for it a central part of the series.
Other characters consist of Grayman, Rick Ayer, Karla Milla-Foden and Fa-Loser, all individuals also trapped within I-Machines for varied reasons. While characters like Claire Hojo, Grayman’s daughter, primarily exist in a supporting role, the series seems to tease the characters stuck within I-Machines as a central mystery. We don’t really know why each character chose to place their consciousness, seemingly permanently, in the I-Machines we first meet them in. Finally, as if those mysteries of identity weren’t already enough, the series has our cast stumble upon a young, potentially alien, girl, trapped within the Orichalt ore that’s so central to the series plot. The identity of this girl, and what she is, is another major question.
But the series perhaps sets itself too many mysteries. While the character work is excellent, able to craft endearing, fun personalities for each of its heroes, many don’t get the pay offs they deserve. Characters like Rick Ayer, the fun, jokey, flirty former racing pilot, or Fa-Loser the weird, alien animal trapped in an I-Machine, have their origins revealed with next to no fanfare. Revelations that should feel poignant, are slapped down on the table with all the ceremony of a birthday cake for a relative you hardly know or care about. The troubles don’t end there however.
Maya Mikuri, our introductory lead, is the vehicle through which we come to understand everyone else, and gradually learn about this futuristic society so dependent upon Orichalt. She’s akin to Kuromukuro’s Yukina, the girl who’s thrust into this ‘other world’ scenario and plays catch up as she meets a character far more versed in what’s going on around her. But unlike Kuromukuro’s Yukina, Maya is eventually sidelined, relegated to a supporting position as the series takes up total focus on its titular character, Ido. Maya’s character remains consistent, but her relevance to the main plot fades, and ID-0 makes no effort to find a meaty way to include her as all attention shifts to Ido the minute the revelations around his identity are answered. It’s jarring, and off-putting for anyone who was rooting for Maya and enjoyed her optimistic, naive nature. ID-0 makes little effort to actually give Maya a character arc. By the end of the series she’s almost exactly the same girl we were introduced to.
Other characters are handled even worse. The villains of the peace, a mysterious man wearing a golden mask, and an elderly, all smiles, old man, play a recurring role early on. These two menaces show up to tease various upcoming events as they mainly react to everything unfolding around our heroes. We rarely spend any time getting to know either. This means then when the two become much more relevant by directly confronting our heroes, the masked man’s over the top, maddened, screaming persona, is a jarring mash up. He goes from cold and calculating villain to screeching banshee with an about face that can wear on a viewer who preferred ID-0’s less than over the top nature. It’s this about face that speaks to the series’ own dramatic shift.
ID-0’s first half is something I’d consider to be ‘hard sci-fi’ or close to it. That’s not to say I think the science is all that realistic, for all I know it may well be, but ID-0’s mires itself in detailed concepts, sci-fi systems, and jargon that can be difficult to penetrate for the average viewer. That’s in part due to a disinterest in holding the audiences’ hand. So often ID-0 offers only the briefest of answers, blink and you’ll miss it. It’s a series not interested in entertaining the notion that you might not be giving it your full attention as you fiddle with your phone. It demands your full attention and thus doesn’t have the habit of repeating things twice.
In conjunction with that, the series plays out generally as expected. Not to say its predictable, but the logic behind why things happen, and how character’s react makes sense. There are times when the series’ internal logic doesn’t mesh with real world sensibility. In a future where people can transfer their consciousness into I-Machines, and find themselves jailed for abandoning their bodies, even by accident, the way we might react to such events sits at odds with how the characters would. So while characters may make an odd decision or two, it actually makes sense within the confines of the story. It’s an aspect I laud ID-0 for, and while at times confusing, makes sense the more one thinks about the scenario.
But after the first eight episodes, and reveals start to hammer home one after another, ID-0 abandons that internal logic for a full-forced focus on its underlying themes of identity and humanity. Characters begin to talk less about the scenario and narrative unfolding around them, and instead spew dialogue centered so much more around addressing ID-0’s themes. The villain I mentioned earlier is a great example, his dialogue so often centered on attaining his own identity, that it only just barely matches what’s going on around him. An even better example is when Maya Mikuri, in one of her last major roles for the series, gives an impassioned speech for the Earth’s forces to listen to Ido’s plan. She goes on about how he’s abandoned his identity and accepted his place as apart from society, no longer recognized as an individual, or to even exist. It’s a great speech, but has little to do with the universal threat of impending doom that Ido’s plan would address.
It’s moments like that when ID-0 seems to have transformed into an entirely different beast. One now disinterested with crafting a believable future world for the audience to get sucked into, and instead utilizing its characters as vehicles to talk about its most central themes. It’s this shift in the final four episodes that is bound to turn many viewers away.
ID-0 reminds me of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, or Strain: Strategic Armored Infantry. Both series are also mired in deep Sci-fi ideas, telling stories of characters caught up in a world larger than them. ID-0 is the same kind of story, at least early on. But the difference is that Gargantia and Strain are content to leave its characters as mere parts of the world. They stumble upon grand revelations, but have little hope of changing the global outcome. ID-0 has our characters address the grander revelations directly, and thrusts them into the role of ultimate heroes, a role I might argue none of them were truly built for.
Overall I find myself torn on ID-0. I enjoyed the first half of the series immensely, even if the series rarely looked back to make sure I was following closely behind. But as ID-0 enters its final episodes things get messy. Compounded by a desire to focus more so on theme, than narrative, ID-0 changes drastically from the series it was into something altogether different. But what ID-0 becomes isn’t bad, and digs deep at the heart of the series primary themes, addressing them in a direct, rarely seen, way. I still think it’s a series worth experiencing, flaws and all. It’s not realized with the greatest of finesse, but its messages about self-worth, identity, and humanity are endearing all the same.
ID-0 is available for streaming via Netflix.