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Andrew Osmond tries to make sense of Sunrise’s mad anime

As regular subscribers to Manga Entertainment’s podcast and twitter feed will know, there was some confusion about whether Sunrise’s new comedy-fantasy-action-fanservice series was called (deep breath) Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere or Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere. We’re calling it the former in the UK, although releases elsewhere have plumped for the “in” option. Either way, it sounds less weird and Escheresque once you know that Horizon is the name of a pivotal female character in the series. But it reflects the inescapable fact that Horizon is, well, confusing.

There are two ways to watch the series. One is to watch it expecting it to make logical sense. The other is to go with the flow. Part one kicks out logic at the start, with a dizzying (and barking mad) race between motley student characters. The cast includes winged demons, slimeballs, automata, ninja, witches, wielders of Shinto spells, wielders of sex magic, and a curry-wielding Indian. Oh, and robot power suits – this is a Sunrise studio show, though a Sunrise that’s let its hair down and gone for super-broad comedy. For an anime precedent, think of Production I.G’s Cromartie High School. Horizon also sees Sunrise bouncing more boobs than the whole of Gunbuster.

Most of Horizon’s characters live on a flying city called Musashi, above a far-future Earth. Musashi seems to represent Japan – the original Musashi was a samurai hero, who lent his name to a massive World War II battleship, the sister ship of the better-known Yamato. The Musashi in Horizon has place names like Tama and Shinagawa, which are as familiar to Tokyo viewers as Piccadilly and Clapham Junction to Londoners. If the inhabitants of Musashi are more cosmopolitan than Tokyo, other countries are equally transformed. Wait till you get to “K.P.A. Italia,” with its militant Pope-President, served by a demon called, um, Galileo. We’ll leave you to ponder if that’s any weirder than the real-life existence of Silvio Berlusconi.

The set-up for Horizon’s world is “explained” in two massive info-dumps at the beginning and end of Part 1, though they’ll leave the average viewer more confused than ever. For example, the whole world is supposedly re-enacting human history – it’s theoretically doing the 17th century, despite the big anachronisms – but there’s not a smidgen of an explanation why. Some of the Japanese audience must have read the light novel series, which was maybe clearer. The cycle of books was written by Minoru Kawakami, and reportedly sold 400,000 copies last year (and that was just the “Genesis” arc, from which the anime storyline derives). But at present, the books haven’t been translated.

However, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy the show as a manic blancmange of anime staples, like Baka and Test with much bigger battle scenes. The idiot in Horizon is a lech called Tori, who spends the early episodes stripping naked, being trussed like a sausage and groping girls (well, he does that in the later episodes too). He later turns out to be the hero, which some viewers will guess because he’s voiced by the prolific Jun Fukuyama, formerly the voice of Lelouch in Sunrise’s previous Code Geass. This raises the possibility of seeing Horizon as the studio’s hyper-parody of its own show. Code Geass and Horizon certainly have things in common: enormous casts of characters and seismic shifts in scale, from cartoony classroom larks to “everyone fights everyone” battle royales. If you ever wanted to know who’d win in a fight between an aerial power-suit and plucky witches on broomsticks, Horizon is the show to tell you.

In fact, Horizon’s central story is very simple and traditional; it’s just rarely told quite so eccentrically. Meanwhile, the action and spectacle rises massively in the show’s second half, though there’s plenty of battles, explosions and mayhem before then. The last episode ends the current storyline, though an extended post-credits epilogue gives a taste of Season 2. Be afraid… a lot of the next series takes place in England!

Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere is out now as a combined double-season UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.

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