By Andrew Osmond.
As we explained in our write-up of Charlotte’s first volume, the series tells the story of teenage boy Yuu, saddled with superpowers and forced into secret battles fought over people like him. The early episodes set us up for what seemed a lightweight series; highlights included Yusa, a singing idol with a Jekyll and Hyde double personality. Then… well, if you’ve seen Charlotte’s first volume, you’ll know things take a very hard turn in the last couple of episodes, slapping us down with tragedy.
The problem with writing about Charlotte, especially its second half, is like the problem with writing about Your Name, Death Note or Game of Thrones. The show is just so spoiler-able. As we noted when we talked about the first volume, the sheer number of story beats that Charlotte works in is astounding. By the later episodes there’s a plethora of whiplash, “What the…” shocks that’ll leave you punch-drunk. True, the blockbuster Your Name hinged on a headspinning development, but only one twist; Charlotte has oodles.
Yuu starts the volume in some kind of equilibrium, which is quite something after all that he’s been through. The first episode starts with a ten-second clip of him smiling at a loved one, saying he’s off to school – the scene is a heartbreaker. We seem back to the lightness of earlier episodes, with the usual jokey business. Yuu’s classmates are jealous of his closeness to Yusa (the non-psycho edition), while the Flash-fast Jojiro smiles through his everyday gushing injuries – remember kids, super-speed is dangerous.
The first order of the day seems to be just as trivial. Yuu is railroaded into accompanying Nao to a live performance by Zhiend, the band she adores. Before the performance, Yuu also bumps into Zhiend’s lead vocalist, a blind but vibrant woman, but that’s another story. You might remember that Yuu listened to a Zhiend track in an earlier episode, and responded to it intensely. At the gig, he listens to a brand-new Zhiend song being performed… and realises he remembers it. A moment later, Yuu finds himself living a whole other life.
This is only the first of the show’s new turns. Many of the developments may be familiar if you read American superhero comics; it’s possible that Western viewers may find the story more digestible than Japanese ones. Charlotte has caught flak from reviewers for just being too twisty, but it never loses sight of the people at stake. The show finds an effective balance between characters we’re already invested in and care about, and a number of new characters with their own loved ones to protect. In short, it keeps the heroes central without suggesting they’re the only ones who matter in the world.
And then there’s Charlotte’s final episode, which takes the story to a new level of epic, far beyond anything you’d expect from the previous episodes, and yet it’s a brilliant thematic call-back. One of the most infamous phrases in geekdom is “It’s like poetry… They rhyme”; it was George Lucas’s way of describing how Phantom Menace and the other Star Wars prequels reflected the earlier trilogy. Some fans have defended the phrase, more mock it mercilessly. The final Charlotte episode does indeed rhyme. Without spoilers, we can say it mirrors the harrowing last episode of the first volume, setting a character on a seemingly endless, horribly lonely journey with no return… and yet behind the darkness is an invisible presence, someone who cares for this lost soul, who might even save him.