Oh, I know what you’re thinking. “EX-ARM? A good show?! How dare you!!!” Well, at least what I would think when this is casually brought up in conversation or in social media threads. But I believe that this argument has far more weight than you’d think. As anime followers, it seems like we have become so conditioned to big-budget shows that have the backing and support of not just high-profile staff and voice actors, but loyal fanbases both in Japan and in the West as well, as well as media coverage and airtime. I’m talking about the big name shows of My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan, Madoka Magica, Sword Art Online, and so on. Not just this too; the standard when it comes to anime movies has become much higher as time as gone by. We’ve seen whimsical pieces like the Studio Ghibli movies of My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service be replaced by fancier and glossier epics like your name, Maquia and Weathering With You. Glitches and mistakes in shows (whether they be animation, script, or anything else) have become easier to spot, and in turn become something that the followers can scrutinize and shit-talk for days. Time goes by, and animation gets better – of course it does, why wouldn’t it? So perhaps this is a reason why EX-ARM was so universally panned. But some people see it as the sole reason for why the show should be on every ‘Worst Anime Shows Ever’ list. So is it really down to the poor animation, and only that?
(This would be the part where I say this post has spoilers for the show, but to be honest, what’s the point?)
EX-ARM came out in the Winter season of 2021, and even when the PV came out, viewers had incredibly low expectations of what it would be like. It was later revealed that the staff had never made an anime before, and thus had pretty much no idea on what the fans look for in shows, what they want to see, what they want to talk about online, and what they want to trash-talk and nitpick at with a fine toothcomb. The show is by the studio Visual Flight, who have also never made an anime before, and only really experimented in online 3D programs. Director Yoshikatsu Kimura has a lengthy resume in live-action TV, but not animation. The show has a total of 8 producers, suggesting that it was passed around from producer to producer in some desperate attempt to save it. Chief script writer Tommy Morton is a name that no-one has ever heard of, and is likely to be a pen-name. Music is composed by So Kimura, a music teacher who DJs in nightclubs. And action director Takahiro Ouchi has no experience in actually animating fights. In an article by Callum May, we discover that Kimura was brought in as they thought they would understand 3D space better, and to make EX-ARM look more like something they would make in a live-action show. It also goes on to say that Kimura believed that, as a newcomer to anime, they wouldn’t be tied down to the things that regular anime directors go through. These all seem like weird reasons and defenses of the show, but the fact remains that the animation in EX-ARM plain sucks, and we all know it.
Poorly-designed and emotionless 3D models dominate each episode, special effects are either rushed or filmed with a live-action camera, secondary characters appear in 2D making them look ridiculous compared to the 3D main characters, and the combat (mech, gunplay or hand-to-hand) is just gravity-defying. And there’s so much more as well that would make the critics cry in anger…even more than they already have. And it is this animation that has given us our first impression of the show; strong words considering the original EX-ARM manga was a pretty passable read. We look at EX-ARM at face value and see absolute garbage, and so with that, we either switch over to another show or shit-talk it to high heaven.
…and people really have shit-talked it.
I won’t waste time going into the nitty gritty of the show, since it’s not really that important. It pretty much revolves around a police force in 2030 trying to stop superweapons falling into the wrong hands, with one of them being a digital copy of a normie kid’s brain from 14 years previous. This is an okay action sci-fi plot, and maybe if any other studio had decided to adapt the manga, we may not be here shit-talking it like we are now. Fact remains though that Visual Flight were the ones who wanted to do it, and so we have this.
Now a good bunch of us (maybe most) look for many things when they find a show to love and enjoy. There’s the age-old ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ concept that has been thrown around for many many years. Some of us followers choose instead to pick the shows that are universally panned maybe for a few reasons. Maybe they want to compare the good with the bad, or maybe they’re just some kind of closet masochist who see these shows as ‘torture watches’ but watch them anyway. I’m no hypocrite here, by the way; I embrace the ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ concept, and think it’s a good reminder to people that not every show/movie/etc. is perfect. In this current anime generation, only the dividing shows stand out for us, while the mediocre shows disappear into obscurity and are never heard of again. We complain about how Kyoto Animation handled the Endless Eight arc in Haruhi Suzumiya for instance, or more recently, how the second season of The Promised Neverland was so vastly different than the first season, for all the wrong reasons. While at the same time, we praise hidden metaphors in shows like Evangelion or Madoka Magica, and pour heaps of praise on directors that make themselves out to be auteurs. After that one time I did a non-stop marathon of Mahouka without sleep, my editor on The OASG quakes in his boots whenever I suggest the idea of reviewing anything related to it for my regular column. I hold my hands up; I did act like the closet masochist when it came to writing about Mahouka, and had every intention of trash-talking it if I ever watched it again.
I say all of this, but what does that have to do with EX-ARM? It definitely is a dividing show, with many many more people hating it than liking it. But I believe that the show can fit into the “so-bad-it’s-good” concept, and can be something that can entertain viewers precisely because of its terribleness. I had never heard of Visual Flight, and I just shook my head when I discovered that the staff had no experience in making anime. But surprisingly, it wasn’t something that made me rage. As I watched the first episode, I knew straight away that the animation sucked, and that it was a show that people would really really shit on. Then I’d watch the second episode, and while not much changed, I still felt that pull to watch more, despite knowing how awful it was. And as episodes went on, it was like I had become been conditioned to it at that point, and so it ended up turning into something I could legitimately watch, even with all the flaws.
I think that is what divides us as anime followers; those of us who find comfort on praising the big-budget and big-name shows made by experienced veterans with great animation, art direction, and script, and those of us who just want to be entertained regardless of how the show is. EX-ARM sucks. Its animation is terrible, the direction is awful, the adapted script is laughable, the score is bizarrely put together with the rest of the show…but all of that is why I kept watching the show again and again. I looked for a laugh, and I got it.
(Credits to RocksterCA for making these series of videos celebrating the good and the bad in the show.)
I’m sure you disagree with my main argument there, and want EX-ARM to firmly be on your ‘Worst Anime Shows Ever’ list. But I hope that I’ve given some food for thought. There are a lot of other truly terrible shows out there. To add to this, each one of us has our own list of things we like to watch in a show and what we recoil in horror seeing. A show like Interspecies Reviewers can be something that followers can call out due to its overtly sexual nature; Funimation even decided to drop the show, only for Tokyo MX to later pull the plug too. The continuing trend of isekai shows that come out every anime season is now something people are getting extremely tired of now. Shows like GATE, Girls Und Panzer and Girly Air Force don’t hide their pro-military stances; Girly Air Force was even endorsed by the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force. Even people call out a big-name show like Attack on Titan because of its fascist overtones.
It’s a hard one to pin down I think, but maybe that’s just something that makes us anime followers what we are. We love to shit-talk some shows while at the same time talk non-stop about all our favorite ones. EX-ARM was a universally panned show, and a complete disaster for Crunchyroll considering they had labelled it a ‘Crunchyroll Original’, and now have to live with this on their resume (if you can call it that). But there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the terribleness of a show like EX-ARM. We can watch this show and be entertained by how awful it is. We can point out those kissing scenes that were blanked out likely because the studio found it too much effort to animate them. We can scratch our heads on why 2D characters and 3D characters were placed together in a lot of scenes because, again, animating them would be too much effort. And while the thought of the show being a better one if it were in the hands of an actual anime studio is at the back of our minds, the fact that it wasn’t is still something we can poke at.
And that is my defense of EX-ARM. If you think I’m crazy by defending it like that, then by all means write your thoughts down in the comments below.
EX-ARM is available to watch on Crunchyroll…if you dare.