#1 The Worst First Impressions Possible
Geneshaft has potentially one of the worst first episodes I have ever experienced in an anime. In fact, thanks to its brightly-flashing lights and loud zooming noises, this episode is literally painful to sit through by design. A seizure warning and earplugs are recommended for anybody going into it.
This is a horrible sci-fi anime shat out by Escaflowne director Kazuki Akane. It centers around the premise that genetic engineering has created an improved, utilitarian-minded evolution of mankind, at the cost of having a 1:9 men to women ratio. We follow the crew of a spaceship that embarks on a special mission, but its initial episode does little to sell you on this idea. Presentation issues aside, it’s just plain boring to sit through.
An opening scrawl is meant to kick off the show, but goes by too fast to reasonably keep up with; on top of being overloaded with details in an attempt to frontload all of Akane’s lore in there. From there the episode proceeds with obligatory character introductions and immediate drama, neither of which offer any kind of hook to get you invested into the series. The action scenes that then conclude the episode are so hilariously bad that the only reason to stick around for more is to see how far this trainwreck of an anime will go.
#2 Akira Takasaki
Anime has a pretty good track record when it comes to music. Not every show gets a Kenji Kawai or Yuki Kajiura soundtrack, but it’s rare to find an anime with a soundtrack that is outright bad… and then there’s Geneshaft.
Akira Takasaki is a guitarist and songwriter that has been active since the 70s, mainly in various flavors of heavy metal. His band “Loudness” has done opening themes for some older series and Akira himself has previously been in charge of the music for Odin: Starlight Mutiny from 1985. Inexplicably, he returned to the scene for this 2001 anime, leading to a soundtrack that is absurdly terrible.
90% of Geneshaft‘s soundtrack consists of random guitar solos, creating jarring breaks in the tone and atmosphere that the anime tries to convey. You got interpersonal sci-fi drama going on here—characters experiencing emotional turmoil—while Takasaki just jams out 20th guitar riff that episode. It is monotonous to listen to and ruins any kind of chance that Geneshaft had of being taken seriously.
#3 Intolerable characters
Having characters that aren’t immediately appealing or sympathetic is difficult to pull off well; audiences are always going to be drawn to heroes that are likable, funny, or easy to relate to. I admire those series that are brave enough to try their hands at rougher protagonists, but in the case of Geneshaft the cast is just plain obnoxious.
The main character is Mika Seido, a 16-year-old pilot whose entire characterization stems from her unreasonable desire to kill Hiroto Amigawa—the captain of her spaceship. We don’t learn why until a ways into the show, but not an episode goes by where she doesn’t do something completely unhinged to the detriment of everybody’s safety. Literally the first time she sees the dude she throws herself at an electric fence just to threaten him. She is almost perpetually angry, completely undisciplined, and still we’re asked to sympathize with her views on the plot.
Amigawa, for his part, could probably have cleared up 90% of the show’s problems by just explaining himself, but instead dedicates himself to being stone-faced and mysterious. He only thinks about the mission and ignores any of the social aspects of leading people, only to then be completely shit at that as well. He also has a habit of lecturing to people about the themes of the series, basically turning him into an annoying mouthpiece for the author’s self-important diatribes on society and human nature.
Other “spectacular” characters include a belligerent brat, a different belligerent brat with a puppet of herself, a haughty rival for Mika who is always tailed by her #1 fan, and a conspiring villain who is literally called “Lord Sneak”.
#4 Loose grasp of sci-fi
Despite taking place on a spaceship way in the 23rd century, Geneshaft struggles with ever feeling like a proper sci-fi series. This comes both from a surprising lack of creativity, as well as some curious liberties taken with basic logic.
The episode 1 battle scene shows this off well, as characters engage in a gunfight while freewalking in space, using basic, 20th century handguns as opposed to anything more futuristic. While it is technically possible to fire pistols in space, it creates a very strange scene that then gets even more bizarre when people start throwing knives around. This combination of strange physics and the use of 300-year-old technologies persists throughout much of the show, like when the boosters of a mechsuit cut out, instantly cancelling all of its prior momentum while it floats around in open space.
Other holes in the plot are filled with technobabble and cinematic programming/hacking which, while not unusual for science fiction, is particularly transparent here. At times, it almost feels like Geneshaft was intended as a parody at some stage of its creation, before going down the edgy route instead.
#5 Ugly CGI
Like so many other anime from around this time, Geneshaft overestimated its ability to blend CGI and traditional animation. While it doesn’t look as bad as Run=Dim from the same year, the jarring blend of 20-year-old CGI and a low-quality production made this a very unappealing series to look at.
The show’s visual style is already little to write home about. Its cover art paints the anime as the most generic, edgy sci-fi setting possible, which is exactly what you get. Characters are over-designed yet completely uninspired, the environments are bland, the lighting lifeless; it wants to convey a depressing atmosphere, but just ends up being depressing to look at.
This then also clashes with some of the anime’s more jarring moments, like the weird comedy skits with the debugging crew. Or how about the part of the show where a Beyblade villain is thrown into the mix, who flies a purple ship with a scary face on it.
Then you add in the actual CGI and you got yet another sci-fi anime turned into a laughingstock. Machinery, the spaceship, the mechs, it all looks completely detached from the series’ universe. In a way, these awful-looking early adopters were a necessary step to get us to the more refined CGI implementations we see in anime today. Sadly, such charitable nuances will be hard to keep in mind while suffering through Geneshaft.