It’s year 571 of the Return Era, and on a train barreling through the apocalyptic desert landscape, a table is set for two. On one side sits a beautiful woman, dressed in a flowery pink kimono to match her pink hair, glimmering blue eyes staring faintly across the dishes. On the other sits an white-haired man, clothed in grey scholar’s robes, dining in solemn silence. These two are no normal civilians, however. The woman, Ouka, is an automaton, created with the power to wield massive mechanical armies against enemy forces. And the elderly man is her creator.
A few moments later, a soldier bursts through the front door of the train car. “A Lobelia scouting party is deployed 15 miles ahead!” he announces. The man sighs, looking over at Ouka with eyes full of concern. “Are you truly fine doing this…?” he asks hesitantly. Ouka returns his gaze with confidence in her eyes. “Ouka shall be of use,” she states flatly.
Thirty years later, we find ourselves in a peaceful city in the middle of the night. Another automaton stirs from her slumber to the chiming of a bell. This one, however, remembers nothing—not her name nor where she came from nor what she was created to do. Going outside, she meets a small girl separated from her family. But just as she’s beginning to make conversation with this girl, a nearby explosion shatters the silence. Seems that thirty years later, peace has still not come. Yet as the automaton stares down the mechanical monster barreling towards her, a song she’s never heard begins to play on her lips…
I’ve got mixed feelings about this premiere.
First, the positives. Prima Doll is the latest of Key‘s anime adaptations, and it has all the marks of a classic tearjerker from the beginning, with the war-torn world, the amnesiac but airheaded female lead, the tragic backstory, and the dramatic moments to top it all off (and all in the first episode!). I’m also a fan of the steampunk city design, and the backdrop of war has potential to raise all sorts of questions about purpose and conflict, which could lead to some satisfying themes. The animation is clean. The characters show promise for further development, especially the main lead (what are her automata powers?) and the café’s main bartender Touma (where’d he get his knowledge of automata anyways?).
So much potential. And yet, I’m afraid to be hopeful. After all, this is Key we’re talking about, and after what happened with The Day I Became a God, it’s hard to be optimistic. And the cracks are already beginning to show. The jarring CG breaks immersion during several serious moments. The animation direction feels off at times, including one scene that was so disorienting that I had to stop and rewind to figure out what was going on. And I’m having trouble getting invested in the five main characters, who each have exactly one remarkable trait (at most).
Again, I want to like this show. I really do. But with an introduction that’s mildly intriguing at best and terribly clichéd at worst, with lackluster production values, it’s a hard bet to take. I’ll stick around for another episode. But I don’t want Key to toy with my heartstrings again, unless the story it’s weaving is genuinely worth it.
Prima Doll can be streamed on HIDIVE.