When humans came down from the sky they brought with them the Testament, the guide to the path they must follow if they wish to return to the skies again. Now, in a strange world where only the islands of Japan are inhabitable, the nations of the world vie for power and protect the portions of Japan that they have claimed. And each is armed with its own ultimate weapon: a Roysmoi Opro, an Armor of Deadly Sins. But there may be a far greater threat to mankind than the Roysomi Opro, for the Testament ends abruptly, and it is now the last year. Is this the end of humanity, or can Tori Aoi and his fellow students from the aerial metropolitan ship Musashi somehow affect the course of destiny? Who and what is the HORIZON IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE?
So I was doing some chores and popped this DVD into the drive. Suddenly, I overhear the theme music. I roll my eyes. It's like, you know, that overly happy kind we're so used to hearing with pop anime. My first thought was "oh so I guess it's THAT kind of anime", the typical shonen type, riddled with boobs, fighting and budding romance. Meh. But that was clearly the reaction of just a cynical, ageing anime fan, because a mere twenty minutes into its first episode, something about this series clicked right with me.
Set in a future, the viewer is pulled into a new Japan that is split into states, which are overseen by separate government bodies. First there's the independent territory Musashi, a flying city. Its main school is Musashi Ariadust Academy which is also military training ground. By law, its Student Council can waiver government debates, sometimes even by taking their powers to battle. This only lasts until the day they graduate though. After that, they actually lose their political power. Confused yet? Not to worry as the familiar cabaret of crazy, but cool characters are lined up to help explain. They are mostly female with chests of varied extremities, plus there is one guy with a turban and a bowl of curry, which burns on the verge of risque... However! Beneath it all, there is an in-depth tale involving kings, bureaucrats and basics of human morality.
Initially, the story mostly follows two characters. First there's the lovely Tori, Chancellor of Musashi Ariadust Academy and President of the Student Council. He is foolhardy and a perv, but entertaining. He is well respected by peers for his 24/7 optimism. He is on a personal quest to confess his feelings for his true love. Unfortunately for him, (and without spoiling it) this person turns out to be a pinnacle for state politics.
Secondly, there's the cool Honda Masazumi, Vice President of Musashi Ariadust Academy, daughter of a Provisional Council Member of Musashi. Unlike Tori, we often see Masazumi away from the classroom, observing and dividing up the politics in her head, as she aspires to become a good politician one day.
In additon to a few others, it's mainly these two characters who take us on a meandering but slow-ish walk around Musashi. One day, the neighbouring capital of Mikawa begins to stir up some insane threats. The Assistant Vice Chancellors take notice and challenge a threat on their Far Eastern grounds. And with Musashi Ariadust Academy being independent territory, their position is questioned as a war begins to bubble around them.
As well as the states and their appointed governors, there is also quintessential legend. The eight incredibly powerful weapons, called the Mortal Sin Armaments, are possessed by the Eight Great Dragon Kings. In addition, there are the Divine Weapons, which are all named after weapons of actual real life history.
As a whole, this first season has been pretty good, albeit the slow start. If you are interested in world history and politics, then Horizon to the Middle of Nowhere would certainly be of interest you. Yes it is set in the future, but with replications of our real world past, so its take on that might fascinate you. For example, one of Musashi's Assistant Vice Chancellors had sought to inherit his name 'Muneshige Tachibana' by eventually winning a past battle with Gin Tachibana, daughter of the Tachibana clan, later marrying her. In actual Japanese history, Muneshige Tachibana was a famous and skilled samurai during the 16th century. He earned that name in a similar fashion. Later on, it's noticeable that this mirroring of our own history is more than just the writer's intention, but a subject of the plot itself.
I'm not a major on my politics or history, so I found the barrage of cross-over politics and history references overwhelming at points. The characters and settings are introduced just fine, and the breathtaking battles and character designs ease the plot. But no matter how dressed up it was, I couldn't help but feel I was being dropped in the middle of a concurrent story. I even went to check if there had been a series prior (there wasn't).
It is gradually brought to light what 'Horizon' is, and what the series' title means, but that's not the half of it. As with real life politics, there are matters of law, power and history to be taken into account. So be prepared to absorb a hack of a lot of backstory with this series. If you're not into history, I think some outside research will boost your overall experience.
Production-wise, the entire first season kept up to speed, with excellent animation throughout. There is delightful mergence of 3D and 2D effects. I turn to jelly watching angled HUDs during these ballistic fire fights (brought to you by Sanzigen, the same studio behind Black Rock Shooter's 3D effects)!
The gorgeous fight scenes make me want to pick up a beat 'em up video game and bash away. Coincidentally, a PSP game was released last April in Japan, but there's no plans for a Western release. The music is also spot on, with the theme song actually growing on me after a couple of listens.
The English dub varies from average to great, with good acting, good translating and well written dialogue. To highlight, Tori is played out excellently by Josh Grelle (Guilty Crown, Halo Legends), matching his over-enthusiasm for everything and anything. Elizabeth Bunch (Clannad, Towa no Quon) was my favourite, she plays the fun, confident and headstrong class teacher Oriotorai Makiko to a tee.
Overall, this is a well produced anime series, with an in-depth and genuinely rewarding plot if you have the patience, and don't mind being over-exposed to the female chest. If I were a governor of Japan, and I wanted to create an anime that sparked the youth's interest in day-to-day politics and history, Horizon to the Middle of Nowhere would be a close result.