By Andrew Osmond.
Magic schools won’t go out of fashion in anime for a while yet. Harry Potter surely helped the proliferation of ‘magic school’ anime, and Absolute Duo tips its hat back towards England. One of its school’s main features is a massive clock tower that’s the spitting image of Big Ben, while the support cast includes an English girl called Lilith Bristol, with a love for tea and a girl butler. Okay, so that’s not a name you’ll find on many school registers, but it’s no more contrived than, say, Motoko Kusanagi in Japan.
Absolute Duo is set in a version of Japan, though it’s a fantasy mash-up where the main action takes place in a modern-seeming world, with monorails and shopping malls, while the hero’s flashbacks look more like a samurai drama. As usual with these stories, we start with the hero’s enrolment, as schoolboy Thor, or Tor, arrives at Koryo Academy High School in a shower of cherry blossoms. This is a school with a special curriculum – it teaches martial arts skills to a minority of youngsters who are capable of receiving a device called a “Lukifer.”
The Lukifer lets the students produce psychic weapons called Blazes, which are embodiments of their souls. The purpose of the school is to train the kids ruthlessly – in the first episode, they’ve barely arrived when they’re forced to fight one another, and the losers are promptly kicked out again. As the series progresses, the single-minded ruthlessness of the staff becomes even more obvious. The school’s Darwinian principle is simple – defeat others in order to progress. Actually, forget Darwin – one character refers to the Spartans of 300!
This could be an Evangelion-style dark drama, especially with the hint that the students are really guinea pig test subjects for the school’s small but scary headmistress (who’s a fan of Gothic Lolita fashions). Instead the series is a comedy with harem elements and fan service. There’s also a very cartoony bunny-girl teacher, who turns out to be rather more than her cutesy appearance, while Thor’s situation could be out of a hundred anime sitcoms. While he draws the attention of several of the girls, the one who really fixates on him is the petite, doll-like Julie, who has tiny bells on her twin-tails. She’s a transfer student from Scandinavia, but it’s not Thor’s Norse-sounding name that attracts her.
Rather, Julie is fascinated by Thor’s unique Blaze – he’s a so-called “Irregular” student, and his Blaze manifests not as a weapon but a shield. In the first episode, an aghast Thor is told he must pair up with Julie, living and sleeping in the same shared room. Yes, it’s the staple anime scenario of a boy petrified of having to share living space with a girl. As the only ‘mixed’ couple in the school, Thor’s and Julie’s situation draws lots of attention, especially from the other scandalised girls. Officially, this is only a temporary situation before the characters can choose their real Duos – all the students must eventually pair off into battle teams, learning to fight in combination. But even the most casual viewer should guess how that situation works out for Thor and Julie.
Cue any number of goofy situations. Julie has none of Thor’s teen pruderies, and other girls are always walking into their shared room at the most “This isn’t what you think it is” moments. However, there’s plenty more story to reveal, as Thor and Julie learn they’ve enrolled for reasons that aren’t the least funny, and Thor’s protective instincts are fired up by a tragedy in his past. And Absolute Duo has no shortage of plot to draw on – the anime is based on a multivolume light novel series.
Absolute Duo is released on UK Blu-ray/DVD by Funimation.