Cøde:Breaker is a junkyard of a show, one bolted together from pieces shamelessly lifted from so many other, better things I lost count by the end of the second episode. Reviewing it formally would be like shooting a clay pigeon in a cage. What it does give me, though, is an opportunity to talk about two things — how the difference between a bad show and a good one, or even a great one, is not the material but the treatment; and how the fact that more and more anime is directed at "anime fans" and not at "young people watching TV", is detrimental to both fans and anime alike.

So, the show itself. It involves this kid with a bad attitude who has the power to burn people to ash in their shoes. He's part of his cabal of similarly-powered young'uns — the product of a sinister government program — created to operate above the law. He does his job with a little too much gusto. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and evil for evil," he intones before laying down his copious smack, and it's a line that is every bit as clichéd and irritating the first time he says it as it is the the 5,481st time.

One of his (female) classmates fixates on him, because it's in the screenplay, and tries to get him to turn that frown upside down. They eventually join up with a few others of their kind and gang up against one of their own — he's apparently gone rogue and kidnapped the Prime Minister, but he's really just looking to even the score with the system who's manipulated all those like him, etc. That "etc." right there is a sign of how just talking about the show is an exercise in tedium.

I mentioned how floating around inside this thing are the bits of other shows that do some of the same things albeit far better. The most notorious example is Darker Than Black, from which Cøde:Breaker lifts more than a few elements — e.g., when someone finishes using their power, they have a kind of refractory period where strange things happen to them. There, it was actually made into something like a story element; here, it's just a way to get a few dumb yuks. But it was also the attitude of Darker Than Black, not just the individual ingredients, that made it stand out. It cared enough about its material to do more with it than simply deploy it as, well, a bunch of anime tropes. Cøde:Breaker doesn't particularly care about being taken seriously — hence the silly business involving the female character's dog, or the high school byplay stuff that eats up the first few episodes.

How much, I wonder, of the compulsion to take shows for younger audiences and front-load them with goofy yuks is expectations? Adults have skewed ideas of what they think younger viewers will laugh at or find interesting, and often those things are dead wrong. I know that when I was younger, I didn't need to laugh every thirty seconds to be interested in something; I just needed to be interested in it. Many late-model anime don't try to be interesting by giving us an intriguing character or an exciting situation, but by appealing to the most easily stimulated and familiar parts of their audiences' tastes the same way processed foods rely on salt, fat, and sugar for their flavors.

Every show attracts some kind of fandom, and I'm not going to argue that if folks like Cøde:Breaker they are somehow wrong. I am going to argue, though, that just because they like it doesn't mean more shows like this are worth making — especially when they're made in this closed-ended a fashion.

The problem of catering ever more narrowly to fans has become most acute over the past couple of decades, as anime viewership has evolved from "younger folks who watch TV" into a self-selecting populace known as "anime fans". Sure, plenty of bad stuff reached the tube in the olden days, but at least it was bad in a harmless sort of way, forgettable and disposable. It was sincerely bad; its worst crime was being unentertaning, not cynical. That said, with no effort to preserve most of it, only the very best specimens survived, creating the illusion that the earlier years of anime were better — but I'd wager that even after taking that into account, the way anime was bad before was far less malodorous then than now.

Today, the bad stuff is both unentertaining and cynical. It's bad enough that Cøde:Breaker is dull and predictable (and stupidly plotted, and unfunny). What's worse is how it's a symptom of complacency, of how the industry is more interested in catering to its own ideas about its audience than in actually producing shows worth watching. Anime fans on either side of the ocean lose out because of this.

I'll go a step further and assert that the reason such product is as bad as it is is not just because it's lame, but because it's designed to reach people who will work to keep it alive and in the ecosystem, as it were, whether or not it has any actual merit. The only thing worse than obscurity for a show like Cøde:Breaker is success, because then it means we'll never be rid of the blasted thing.

Note: This product was provided by the creator or publisher as a promotional item for the sake of a review.


About the Author

Serdar Yegulalp (@genjipress) () is Editor-in-Chief of Ganriki.org. He has written about anime professionally as the Anime Guide for Anime.About.com, and as a contributor to Advanced Media Network, but has also been exploring the subject on his own since 1998.
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