Stop me if you heard this before, but the male lead of an anime series is going to a high school to help train himself to be stronger for his friends. He, just like everyone else at this academy, is gifted and must use these powers to help keep balance in the world. Along the way, a few female characters find themselves interested in the male lead, which leads to awkward situations, provided mostly for humor. Sounds pretty original, doesn’t it? No, it isn’t, which gives Absolute Duo a tough chance to make a solid impression with fans. With so many “magical/super power” high school series, it needs a lot to stand out. But does it?
Sadly, Absolute Duo didn’t do much to become one of the premiere superpower high school series. It received a negative review when Anime News Network took a look at the product. Reminding readers that when it was first being simulcast, many reviewers and audience members didn’t feel it warranted a weekly review. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s horrible, but the series was plagued by negative comments, making it clear that this show wasn’t particularly desirable. I believe that has more to do with the genre than the series itself. And while the company seems to be dubbing nearly every new show they license, back in 2015 this was a much bigger deal. Plus, many were enamored by the animation in the opening theme (which does look gorgeous). So it wasn’t as if Absolute Duo brought nothing to the table, but it might take some stretching to find more good than bad.
Let’s begin with our story, following Tor Kokonoe, who is entering a new academy (Koryo Academy) to become stronger. He attends what initially seems to be a traditional entrance ceremony, but which turns into a back alley brawl, where students need to defeat the person to their left to stay at the academy at the risk of getting expelled, using weapons they can manifest called Blaze. Tor being an irregular (a person with an irregular Blaze, his being a shield) wins his duel, allowing him to continue at Koryo Academy. The opening sets the tone for some weak suspense points later on. In any case, as Tor heads to his first class a young woman named Julie sits next to him. Julie is fascinated by the abilities Tor demonstrated during the opening ceremonies. As you might suspect, Julie’s sitting next to Tor sets them up as partners as they try to reach “Absolute Duo,” which the principal considers to be the ultimate awakening of power to protect the world.
The rest of the story follows Tor as he and his friends train to become stronger, and shows his training and some pretty intense fights. However, the series is plagued with predictable plot twists, such as shady-looking higher ups at the academy, friends becoming foes, and characters with not so subtle secrets. Absolute Duo tries it’s hardest to add intrigue to the series as we learn a bit about the students’powers in using their Blaze. But ultimately the series falls short of evoking any emotion other than an occasional laugh or eye roll. It was too predictable and didn’t do much to stand out among all the harem series that are out there.
The biggest disappointment I had with Absolute Duo was the fact that I initially saw a lot of promise in this series. I liked the fact that Tor was a more qualified male lead who wasn’t just used as a device to make girls fight each other for his affection. And of course, some of the artwork was nice to look at. But that wasn’t enough to overcome a few of the things that hindered my enjoyment of the series, starting with the script. The lines that Tor was forced to utter most often were either “I’m sorry” or simply stating the exact opposite of what someone was telling him. I’ve gotten used to that kind of dialogue in anime, but it was annoying nonetheless. And hearing Tor’s friend Tomoe continually calling him a pervert and a dog was agitating, to say the least. It got to the point where I felt that it was all she was allowed to say to illustrate the idea of how a few ladies have feelings for Tor and try to bring him down a peg.
I also think the term “waifu bait” applicably describes how Absolute Duo decided to design their female characters, as all of them were knockouts by anime standards. That can be okay, at times, but I felt the series went out of their way to make fans stare at these characters instead of getting to know who they are. It got to the point where it was obvious how the production committee wanted to be provocative, with Lilith dropping from a helicopter in a bikini, or the way a few characters’ boobs jiggled. There was absolutely no need for half of the antics that occurred, making it an apparent ploy to get more viewers (adding to the negative connotation of light novel adaptations).
What also hurt this series were the disappointing fights.. That’s a huge reason why High School DxD is so popular, since that series has some wonderfully animated fights. Absolute Duo rarely did, and any fight involving Lilith looked weird after her opponents were shot by her gun. The fights were quite underwhelming, which is a huge problem for a harem series that has very little else going for it.
It wasn’t all bad, though, as I enjoyed the relationship that Tor and Julie developed over time. It seemed sweet as the two genuinely tried to get to know each other and to cheer each other up after they both went through traumatic experiences. There were some instances that I could have lived without, but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as you sometimes see in anime.
I’m was also pleased with the way Miyabi grew as a character (even if it was a little cliché). In these types of series you always have one shy character who never reveals their feelings and is fine with standing in the shadows. They barely get enough screen time, and viewers are left wondering what motivated their affection in the first place. Instead, we watch as Miyabi started off being shy around Tor, then getting comfortable with him, later realizing she likes him, and finally, to confessing her feelings. That seemed refreshing in Absolute Duo compared to other harem anime. She then gets rejected and tries to become stronger so Tor will notice her (the cliché part), but it still was a nice arc for her. Of course, that leads to Miyabi helping out the villains later in the story, but hey, at least she’s doing something noticeable!
The English dub cast was one I was looking forward to hearing, due to it being a Broadcast Dub. Tor was voiced by Ricco Fajardo, who at the time I knew little about. It was his first lead role that I am aware of and I was blown away by the emotion he depicted during some of Tor’s most challenging times. I wound up being highly impressed by his acting. But Jennifer McDaniel stole the show as Rito Tsukimi, better known as Professor “Bun-Bun.” She was able to utilize not only the cute voice her character displayed when in front of her students, but she also nailed her psychotic demeanor when she would fight, which deserves a lot of praise. Hers was the best acting in the entire series. The rest of the cast was fine, particularly Caitlin Glass,who employed an excellent British accent. My only issue was how unconvincing Anthony Bowling sounded as a high school student with his portrayal of Aoi Torasaki, which was odd considering he’s given believable performances in other high school roles he has had. I’m guessing that because Aoi wears glasses and is always serious, that the ADR director suggested a more subdued performance, but it just didn’t work for me.
The product itself comes in a typical case with a slipcover, and I enjoyed the pink color it arrived in. The extras of the series include audio commentaries, which are fun to listen to, as well as trailers and textless openings and endings.
I do think Absolute Duo is fun, and there were quite a few moments that had me laughing, such as Julie asking if she could help Tor after he’s severely hurt, then proceeding to fall on top of him (hilariously animated). But what brings this series down is that we are left with questions about the characters’ backstories. I wanted to know more about Tor and Julie’s past. In addition, there was a lot of fanservice shoved in people’s faces. It’s already been done many times, making this series a follower instead of a trendsetter. If you like series like High School DxD and Date a Live, then you’ll probably enjoy this show. It’s just that Absolute Duo doesn’t set the bar; it merely follows it. Rating 6/10
Strengths: Beautiful opening animation; fun first ending theme; genuinely enjoyed Tor and Julie’s relationship; Jennifer McDaniel as Professor “Bun-Bun.”
Weaknesses: Certain fights weren’t animated well; fanservice shoved in audience faces; no follow-up with Tor’s backstory; doesn’t stand out vs. similar series.
C.J Maffris is an editorial writer for Toonamifaithful.com. He enjoys harem anime as much as the next guy, but felt this series didn’t do enough to stand out. Feel free to follow C.J on Twitter to talk anything anime @SeaJayMaffris