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Review: “Freezing Vibration” Leaves the Viewer Cold

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Freezing Vibration

Freezing VibrationThe Freezing franchise makes itself clear what kind of show it is from the moment you look at the box art on the DVD/Blu-ray cover. It’s undoubtedly another “buxom women fighting each other” series, and the show heaps on panty shots, strategically torn clothing (possibly outdoing the infamous Ikki Tousen franchise in that department), and toplessness. Viewers of Highschool DXD and Senran Kagura will not find anything out of the ordinary here. However, what makes Freezing different from all of the other shows I’ve mentioned is a strong sci-fi influence and a deliberate mythology centered around the interdimensional beings called “Nova,” and the humans who defend the world against them. These anti-Nova forces are led by powerful female combatants named Pandoras, who are partnered with much weaker male counterparts called Limiters; both derive their powers from artificial tissue implants known as stigmata. The Lovecraft-esque designs of the Nova and the tortured existence of many Pandora (including female main character Satellizer) evoke more ambitious properties like Evangelion, and ask for more emotional investment out of the viewer as a result. This makes the Freezing franchise feel like an attempt to fuse two different types of show together. It did not do this well in its first season, and doesn’t make much of an improvement with the new season, Freezing Vibration.

The story picks up where the first season leaves off, with virtually no effort expended in helping newcomers figure out what is going on. There is a change of scenery as Satellizer, Rana, their shared Limiter Kazuya, Elizabeth (and her Limiter Andre), and Chiffon (with her unnamed Limiter) head to Alaska to participate in a grand training exercise with other Pandoras and Limiters from across the world. The threat of the Nova aliens are kept to the background this season, referred to ominously on occasion but (almost) never seen after the first episode’s opening action sequence. The Nova were one of Freezing‘s most interesting elements, and losing them makes the conflicts in this season almost entirely between different Pandora. Many of these conflicts are centered around the artificial, weaker “e-Pandora,” particularly their leader, Amelia Evans.

Freezing VibrationWhile the writing is deft enough to swerve from the “e-Pandora against the world” mentality that initially seems to take hold, the plot is still fairly thin. The elaborate mythology and the potentially interesting social dynamics of the show’s gender role reversal are rarely discussed. Other than Kazuya and Andre, no Limiter has more than a couple of lines of dialogue, and they have reduced roles compared to the first season. Kazuya especially feels like he’s just observing the events rather than being an active participant. Elizabeth, who spent much of last season trying to bully Satellizer, has now become Satellizer’s ally, and she drives the plot more than Satellizer in the early going as she tries to figure out the truth of the e-Pandora. What Elizabeth finds puts her out of commission, forcing Satellizer to appeal to her family to use their influence to expose Chevalier (the organization behind both the Pandora and e-Pandora).

Freezing VibrationFreezing Vibration is fairly rote, typical stuff for a fanservice-y show. It is even entertaining in spots, with some amusing, if simple, exchanges (Rana responds to “Don’t be stupid!” with the brilliant comeback “I will be stupid!”). But then we have an interruption as Satellizer goes looking for her family, and that’s when Freezing Vibration‘s mashup of titillation and mature drama goes together as well as oil and water.

Freezing Vibration wants to have it both ways. It wants to be a serious drama, while simultaneously tantalizing the audience (much like the way The Americans does). Unlike The Americans, both elements are employed like blunt instruments, lacking sophistication and often bordering on tastelessness. The two-episode mini-arc where Satellizer returns to her family simply makes this fatal flaw even clearer.

It is clear what the anime wants you to feel. Satellizer’s half-brother Luis is a monster who abused and molested Satellizer in her youth, which caused Satellizer’s standoff-ish attitude in the first season. Satellizer’s return triggers behavior in Luis that is completely psychopathic, and his efforts to force Satellizer to bow to his whims quickly move beyond redemption. Throughout these two episodes, there are many background (and foreground) shots of gargoyles and chains, and the symbolism leaves no room for interpretation. It is clear that Freezing Vibration aims to portray Luis’ behavior as monstrous, and to force the audience to feel sympathy for Satellizer, but the series’ use of nudity makes it impossible to tell whether it is trying to be chilling or is actually indulging in sick, twisted fantasies. There was no nuance in the nudity until this point and no purpose for it other than titillation. Even though Freezing is covering similar ground as dramas like The Americans or Game of Thrones, the franchise’s past history makes the drama fall completely flat on its face. Making matters even worse is that Kazuya is infuriatingly slow at figuring out what is going on.

Freezing VibrationEventually, Kazuya does figure it out and confronts Luis, who immediately tries to have Kazuya killed. Satellizer manages to break her conditioning, saving Kazuya and defeating Luis, but what should be a cathartic moment is, for the lack of a better word, dashed by Luis’ survival and incongruous vow to redeem himself. Again, this exploration of disturbing material just fails to work. If this type of material is going to be written and animated, the approach should have been different. What we get just feels like a complete disconnect.

We return to Alaska after that, and not long afterwards a civil war begins between the Pandora. It’s at this point that characterization goes flying out the window. Chiffon’s reasons for opposing Satellizer, Kazuya, and Rana makes no sense, with its only visible purpose to give an affirmation of how strong Chiffon really is as she shrugs off Rana and Satellizer’s most powerful blows. It also feels like events are being stretched out, despite this being an arc that lasted dozens of chapters in the original manga. I don’t know whether the director, Takashi Watanabe, and the writer, Masanao Akahoshi, can really be blamed for this or whether the blame should fall on the original mangaka. All I know is that the story just feels like stuff is happening just so it can happen, regardless of logic.

The final two episodes do finally feature the emergence of a Nova. The sequence in which the Nova reveals itself is actually the most compelling moment in the franchise so far, with theatrical-quality animation and a haunting piano score driving the scene as the horror emerges. This is when Freezing Vibration wears its Evangelion inspirations on its sleeve, and this type of scene makes me wish that the show would do that more often. Freezing Vibration is just more interesting this way.

Freezing VibrationOutside of that sequence, the animation is solid and competent, if unspectacular. There is some skillful usage of color and CGI to enhance the two-dimensional animation, and while there are shortcuts there are also some well-executed punches, kicks, and blade slashes. It’s not the highest-quality series, but it’s clear that some serious money was invested into the production.

Freezing Vibration reuses a lot of Masaru Yokohama’s old musical cues for the first season here, which is fine, because those tracks are still effective, and are powered by a hummable main theme and action tracks that wouldn’t be out of place in Hollywood. Some new pieces are sprinkled here and there, mostly cello and piano-based. Amusingly, the same track is used for almost every swimming pool scene. Not every day you get to say a swimming pool has its own theme. Overall, Freezing Vibration‘s music is well-utilized and well-composed, supporting the scenes effectively but also adding a bit of flair that makes them worthy of an independent listen as well.

Also worthy of an independent listen is the opening, “Avenge World”, by Konomi Suzuki. The opening is epic, with a highly energetic, almost Gothic, rock/pop sound that synchronizes with its visuals almost perfectly. Suzuki also performs the closing theme, “Sekai wa Kizu o Dakishimeru”, but it doesn’t make much of an impression. The visuals in the ending theme, however, are certainly memorable, in the same way as Highschool DXD New‘s ending theme’s visuals.

Freezing VibrationThe English dub is directed by Jerry Jewell, and it is competent but not particularly elite. Tia Ballard does well as Elizabeth; Cherami Leigh (hiding behind an alias but it’s clearly her) gets to put on a rather creepy air as Chiffon; Whitney Rodgers does fantastic work as Amelia; and Jamie Marchi has improved greatly (but is still miscast) as Rana. The best performance, surprisingly, goes to a male actor: Austin Tindle as Luis. Tindle’s voice is slimy and chilling, perfect for such a character, and the way he slips into the role makes Luis feel uncannily real. As Satellizer, Caitlin Glass puts on a haunting air in Luis’ episodes, using a soft monotone that also feels eerily realistic. Otherwise, Glass makes Satellizer sound like a teenaged Wonder Woman, which is fitting but definitely a different take from the Japanese. Similarly, the Japanese dub is professional but there are no standouts other than Kana Hanazawa’s far more natural-sounding Rana.

Special features include six OVAs that have more nudity than any episode of Highschool DXD and Ikki Tousen combined (surprisingly all dubbed); a pair of documentaries; and the clean opener and closer. The Blu-ray and DVD discs each get their own separate case nestled inside a high-quality artbox. Overall, it’s a decent allotment of extras, but the documentaries aren’t memorable at all. Conversely, the OVAs are quite memorable for possibly the wrong reasons (or right ones, depending on your mindset).

FreezingVibration07Overall, Freezing Vibration stumbles into the same trap as its predecessor: combining high-concept, emotional drama with shameless fanservice just doesn’t work. At best, it makes the series hard to take at face value, and at worst it makes the events feel exploitative. While the fairly rich, involved setting has plenty of potential, I am left questioning if it ever will be properly mined. With the final minute of Freezing Vibration implying more Pandora-on-Pandora conflict arising at the Japanese academy, it feels more like we will be returning to the same old, same old, instead of meaningful story progression. Overall, Freezing Vibration‘s failures to fulfill its ambitions.