Season Review: Concrete Revolutio, Part 1

Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.

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“Those who do the right thing, not for themselves or their country, but for a single…”

“A single what? Justice? Peace? Freedom? Defending my freedom disturbs the peace! Pursuing your justice violates my freedom! There is no single answer!”

—Jiro and Jin; Concrete Revolutio

Concrete Revolutio is an alternate reality, a blending of pop art and fiction with historical events to create a sensationalized truth. It’s an attempt to make sense of history through fantasy, to find causality in the real world the way we would in a fantastical one. And, in so doing, it reminds us that history itself is written like a fiction, and that (much like fiction) the same general narratives and tropes continue to play out in multiple times and places, despite our best (or perhaps worst) efforts.

Mixing Silver Age comic book aesthetic with the turbulent 1960s, ConRevo takes place in the “Shinka Era” (which parallels Japan’s own Showa Era) in a world where humans exist with a variety of other sentient beings—robots, ghosts, witches, demons, superpowered humans, and so on—all grouped under the umbrella “superhuman.” It’s a catch-all term for anyone who doesn’t fit a strict concept of normalcy, and ConRevo shifts the metaphor from episode-to-episode to suggest multiple real-world parallels, from foreigners to the queer community to political dissidents.

In the midst of civic disagreement about Japan’s military cooperation with the U.S. (again, based on actual protests of the ’60s) and a growing sympathy among students for the superhumans (themselves denied all basic rights, as it is illegal for the press to even acknowledge their existence), a covert government agency called The Superhuman Bureau is formed. They police the “nonexistent” superhumans, providing protection and apprehending any who pose a threat to civilians.

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As that description might suggest, ConRevo is a smart, ambitious project interested in human history, civil rights, and what it means to “serve and protect,” and it draws some sharp parallels between the unrest of the ’60s and the modern-day along the way. While it helps if you’re familiar with the events being paralleled, it’s not essential, and despite all the Big Ideas floating around, the series is remarkably unassuming and avoids getting bogged down in lengthy exposition or lofty debates.

Instead, it shows its conflicts and arguments through selected events and individual actions, all of which plays very much like a mash-up of old-school superhero comics. The art is bright, the design distinctive, and the animation dynamic, using Studio BONES’s trademark shifting cameras and smeared motions to demonstrate the characters’ larger-than-life speed and strength. It’s a series that never stops moving, keeping its episodic stories fresh and exciting even as it builds its overarching plot and themes.

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(Gifs courtesy of Figma)

The fast pace occasionally hurts the show’s more intimate or emotional moments, but overall it helps create a sense of chaos, of individuals frantically trying to keep up with the changing cultural tides. The way it bounces around in the timeline accomplishes a similar task, as ConRevo sets us up in a current-day of straightforward, black-and-white superhero “justice,” jumps us to a much more muddled “shades of gray” future, and then spends the time in between showing how the world and the members of the Superhuman Bureau went from Point A to Point B.

Because causality (both small- and large-scale) is itself a twisty set of events rather than a single line, the early episodes can be jarring and confusing. The creators do know what they’re doing, though, so if you’re feeling lost I urge you to stick with it. After the first trio of episodes it settles more firmly into a linear chronology, guiding the viewer through key events and episodic Bureau missions to systematically peck away at the show’s early, childish concepts of justice and “evil” and to demonstrate the idealistic clashes between the Bureau members.

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And speaking of those members, you may have noticed that I’m deep into a review and I haven’t really talked about the characters yet. ConRevo follows the members of the Superhuman Bureau, particularly Kikko, a young witch who’s a newcomer to the group, and Jiro, a self-proclaimed “normal human” with a murky past and a car that turns into a robot-horse (because comic books). The narrative style is event-driven and somewhat episodic, meaning the characters are defined more by how they (re)act to the political/cultural tides around them and how the people they meet affect their overall worldview.

This isn’t to say that they aren’t distinct characters with unique personalities, ideals, and internal conflicts—they are, but it takes a while to get a proper feel for them because they’re not defined by one-on-one interactions or internal monologues, but by how they respond to events and individuals. I enjoy the cast and the way they play off each other, and some of the stories (about both them and especially the recurring or one-off minor characters) have strong, resonating emotional beats. Still, though, if you’re looking for a quiet character study, that’s not what this show is about.

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What it is about is still hard to say since we’re only halfway through. ConRevo is a thoughtful series awash in competing opinions and ideals, and seems intent on showing that few people are wholly in the wrong and nobody is entirely in the right. That level of nuance makes for great audience discussion but makes it hard to know exactly where the series intends to go.

And that’s just fine. We’ve still got another 13 episodes coming in the Spring, after all. That’s more than enough time for ConRevo to dig deeper into its world, cast, and conflicts, and paint a clearer picture of what its creators see as the best path through this mess. They’ve more than earned my trust. I can’t wait to see where this one goes next.

Season Grade: A-

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3 thoughts on “Season Review: Concrete Revolutio, Part 1

  1. To anyone who is enjoying Concrete Revolutio, I would commend them to use the break between its first and second cours to take a look at one of its author’s other works: Neo Ranga.

    Composed of 48 15-minute episodes, it was made in the late 1990s, and I would offer that it demonstrates that Shou Aikawa has addressed many of these themes and issues before, in a similar bat-out-of-hell, sometimes confusing, but always invigorating style. He’s clearly a passionate guy with a lot on his mind…

    Like

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