Upotte!! Anime Review
US Release By
10 episodes, 23 minutes each
2012-04-08 - 2012-06-09
Upotte!! covers the adventures of a good-natured, high-spirited young girl named Funco and her classmates at the Seishou Academy. Although outwardly Funco seems like an ordinary school girl at an ordinary school, there is one small distinction: Funco is actually a tactical rifle (a Belgian FNC) and all of her classmates are battlefield weapons as well (don't ask). You see, Seishou is a special school where military weapons of various nations come to take the shape of girls (don't ask) and learn to be better weapons (don't ask) from teachers who are also human-form weapons (don't ask) at three grade levels: Sub-machine Gun (elementary), Assault Rifle (middle school) and Battlefield Rifle (high school).
One day, Funco's world is thrown out of whack by the arrival of Seishou's first human teacher, whom they hired for... some reason (don't ask) to teach... something (don't ask). Although only a mere human, Funco develops an instant crush on him when she discovers he has developed what may just be the perfect form and stance for wielding an assault rifle. Filled with determination, she sets out to work hard at her studies and battle drills with her fellow students, hoping one day she can prove herself worthy of being the unnamed (don't ask) human's personal weapon.
Umm... can I start asking yet?
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Two things about Upotte!! surprised me. The first is that it isn't horrible; it's a surprisingly entertaining series that effectively utilizes real-world gun information and battle tactics with great settings and spunky, fun-loving characters. The second is that the big things dragging it down have nothing to do with its completely nonsensical setting or the fact that it has no regard for the most rudimentary rules of the universe. Instead, they're the same things that plague a lot of anime shows: Excessive and totally inappropriate underaged fanservice, lack of a good central plot, poor story progression, boring non-combat events, too many filler episodes for a series this short, and an ending in which nothing is resolved. Honestly, if they had put in some work cleaning these issues up, I could see this having been a really good show.
Unfortunately, what Upotte!! boils down to is another generic anime series about cute girls sharing quality time and blowing the crap out of each other, distinguished only by excellent combat scenes and interesting gun facts, but nothing more.
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Let me start this out by answering my own question: If you want to get any enjoyment of the series, then no, you can't ask. Upotte!! is just one of those shows where any attempt at finding logic or reason is a lost cause. The most rudimentary rules of the universe do not apply, or can be changed on a whim for the sake of convenience. If you find that to be unbearable, you might as well just write this off and move on. But if not, then there are some appealing qualities that can actually make this series worth a look. By taking the most outrageous concept imaginable, Upotte!! actually manages to make itself appealing in a very special way, not just to firearm enthusiasts, but to all kinds of viewers who might be looking for something new.
As I said, Upotte!! takes place at a school where all the girls are actually guns. What difference does this create from a normal all-girls school in an anime? Surprisingly little. Basically it means the girls can make the respective weapons they represent, and assorted gear to go along with them (such as spare mags), appear out of thin air whenever they need them, and often use them for mass shootouts in school-sponsored drills or actual combat situations. That's not unheard of, or even uncommon, in anime by any means. After all, every anime fan has probably watched their share of scenes where girls just whip impossible-to-conceal weaponry out of thin air and use it with deadly precision. And cute girls with guns are one of anime's most common themes.
Beyond that, it means that the physical status of the girls will affect the functionality of their weapons, and vice versa. This is probably the most significant aspect of the "girls are weapons" theme, and the result is quite a mixed bag. At times it can be quite clever, such a girl getting covered in mud causing her weapon jam up, and an explanation of how one character representing an American M16A4 needs to take more work breaks than the other girls because she's the only rifle among the main characters that isn't capable of automatic fire (its fastest rate is a 3-round burst).
Those seem like lazy, simplistic jokes at first, but they actually work out pretty well, and in some cases evolve into entire storylines based on the real-life history of battlefield rifles, such as an arc dealing with how the American M16A4 and British L85A1 rifles have to learn to get along and work together despite the L85's long history of malfunctions and reliability flaws, just as the real life American and British soldiers who wield them must do in the field. This is where Upotte!! is at its best. The show contains a ton of real-life information on the history and performance of all the weapons involved, and explains it all in a brilliant series of flashbacks, jump-cuts, and in-anime cartoons. The information is excellent, and it's explained in an often comedic manner that is easy for everyone to understand, regardless of how much prior gun knowledge they come to the show with. Even a seasoned firearms enthusiast like me was able to learn a lot of new gun facts from this show, and, most importantly, I had a lot of fun doing it. Learning about guns this way was a lot more entertaining than simply reading a technical manual or a history book, yet just as effective.
Unfortunately, the show also can't resist using this theme to pander to the lowest common denominator of humor, and by that I mean anatomy and innuendo jokes, such as how Funco wears a thong because she has a "skeletal stock" (which the FN FNC rifle really does have) and countless jokes about hammers "going off." Not only are these generally not funny, they feel downright insulting. This kind of garbage just promotes the worst stereotypes about gun owners, and provides so much metaphorical "ammunition" to those who dislike them. It's what I would expect if the series was written by Sarah Brady, and it's what we spend so much time convincing the gun-ignorant populace that we don't do.
Beyond that, the jokes are just plain wrong. I cannot stress enough the main characters in the series are middle school girls. Not even high schoolers, but middle schoolers. There is no ambiguity on this issue here, they are clearly identified as such by the school's grading scale. Don't the creators of this show have any moral standards holding them back? Apparently not, because in addition to the anatomy and innuendo jokes, Upotte!! contains a ton of fanservice, including nudity, bath scenes, panty shots, and the main theme of Funco's crush on her unnamed adult teacher. It's not as bad as say, Agent Aika, but it's still way worse than most anime shows on the market, and way beyond anything a series should even consider having with main characters this young.
However, if there is one thing this series has to brag about, it's the shootouts and battle drills. Naturally, considering the material, this is the one place where it would be expected to excel. And does it ever! The combat in Upotte!! is simply outstanding. It takes place in a wide array of environments and features incredible animation, particularly in the characters. I don't know if I've ever seen a show depict such realistic expert weapons handling. Everything the girls do, from shooting and reloading, to taking cover and using team tactics, just looks incredible. It's as close to the real thing as I've ever seen in an anime, and I can't help find it amusing that 13-year olds are shown with better weapons and combat proficiency than most shows depict professional warriors using.
As expected, a few creative liberties are taken here and there, especially in regard to how much ammo the guns hold. But still, this is one of the few shows I've ever seen where characters do have to reload, as well as use unconventional tactics such as shooting from awkward positions to properly remain behind cover. More importantly, it's one of the only shows in which the characters have to deal with clearing gun malfunctions, and compensating for breakdowns, two things that are major aspects of real combat but almost non-existent in anime.
Another thing the battle scenes have going for them is diversity. One of my biggest complaints against female action-based shows, particularly ones in the magical girl genre, is that there isn't enough distinction between the character powers and skills. That's not a problem here. All the main characters use very different weapons, and the major differences between each one are highlighted and play a major roll in how the combat turns out. Each character has to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of their respective weapon, as well the weapons of their opponents and allies, in order to achieve the best results. For almost the entire duration of the battle scenes, I found myself nodding my head in approval at every action the characters take, and thinking "oh yeah, that's how it's done!"
One last thing to bring up about the violence is that it's very highly sanitized, kind of like what you normally see in an episode of The A-Team. Despite using the world's most lethal weaponry, no one ever dies, either because the combat takes place in non-lethal drills or because the story will come up with some highly convenient explanation that enables it to avoid killing young girls. Some people might object to the bloodless manner in which the weapons are shown off, particularly since these are used for thousands of deaths around the world in real life. But I can understand how mass slaughter of young teen characters wouldn't have worked, and the intended audience for the series should be mature enough to understand what these weapons do in the real world.
However, beyond the show's excellent combat scenes, there really isn't much going for it. Less than half the episodes in the series are centered around battles, and the rest of them are pretty unsubstantive. They mainly focus around bland, mundane school activities or the girls' various love interests, which consist of adolescent crushes that lead nowhere. Focusing on simple themes and activities has worked for other anime shows, such as Azumanga Daioh, but it doesn't work here. The characters simply aren't appealing enough, and don't have the ability to drive the series with nothing but their wit and charm. They need something to push them; a larger central plot and some attainable long-term goals.
Unfortunately, that's where Upotte!! falls flat. There is virtually no central plot at all. Their story starts us out in the middle of things and ends just as abruptly, without any closure for any story arc of any character. The whole time it feels like the plot is just spinning its wheels, doing nothing but coming up with excuses for fanservice and allowing the girls to shoot at things. The last battle involves a group of enemies who appeared out of nowhere in an earlier episode with no explanation, making it somewhat hard to feel much engagement in the outcome. Really, without the occasional battles, this show would have no justification to exist, and quite frankly, for a series with such an outrageous concept, it's surprising how forgettable the whole thing ends up feeling.
I was really surprised about two main things with Upotte!! The first is that it isn't horrible. It's a surprisingly entertaining series that effectively utilizes real-world gun information and battle tactics with great settings and spunky, fun-loving characters. The second is that the main problems with this show have nothing to do with its completely nonsensical setting or the fact that it has no regard for the most rudimentary rules of the universe. Instead, the main things dragging it down are the same things that plague a lot of anime shows in general: Excessive and totally inappropriate fanservice, lack of a good central plot, poor story progression, boring non-combat events, too many filler episodes for a series this short, and an ending in which nothing is resolved. Honestly, if they had cleaned this up a bit, put in a few more episodes, had a better plot that was more connected with the characters, and resolved some of the major story issues at end, I could see this show easily hitting the status of four stars or better. Instead, what Upotte!! boils down to is another generic anime series about cute girls sharing quality time and blowing the crap out of each other, distinguished only by excellent combat scenes and gun facts, but nothing more.
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I can't say I can think of anything similar to this. Girls as literal guns is kind of hard to relate to. Daphne in the Brilliant Blue is sort of similar, only it involves adult women who use guns, as opposed to being them.
Also, there are some others shows featuring humans as personifications of non-human things. For example, the series "Hetalia: Axis Powers" features characters that represent entire nations.
Notes and Trivia
Upotte!! is based on a manga series of the same name by Kitsune Tennouji that has been ongoing since 2009; it hasn't been officially released in English as of this writing.
This anime adaptation was originally released on the Internet in Japan and simultaneously in English on Crunchyroll, and shortly afterward on Hulu as well. It also aired on Japanese TV a few months later.
"Upotte" is the Japanese word for gun, "teppou", backwards (presumably following the trend of Popotan and its ilk).
The four main characters cover some of the world's most popular rifles: A Belgian FN FNC, an American M16A4, a British L85A1, and a Swiss Sig SG 550.
One rifle noticeably missing from this series is the main rifle of the Japanese Self Defense Force (Japan's military), the Howa Type 89 (or its predecessor the Type 64). The stock portion of the rifle is briefly displayed on a gun rack in a single episode, but the weapon is never displayed in its entirety. This could be because of its lack of worldwide popularity due to Japan's anti-export policy involving weapons; Japan is the only nation that uses both rifles.
For a series of just 10 episodes, the number of different weapons displayed is staggering. According to the Internet Movie Firearms Database, Upotte features 37 different types of rifles, five different submachine guns, four different machine guns, and two different shotguns, along with an RPG, a grenade, and a single handgun (a Glock 26).
US DVD Review
No North America DVD release exists as of this writing.
Minimal blood, no deaths, and no profanity, either, but the staggering amount of fanservice (involving girls who are clearly underage) makes this clearly not for younger viewers.
Violence: 2 - If there ever was such a thing as a non-violent gunfight, this show has the prime examples; bullet hits have the same effect as tranquilizer darts at worst.
Nudity: 3 - Bath scenes, skimpy clothing, and panty shots galore.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Bad sexual innuendo jokes with no doubt about what they really mean.
Language: 0 - Nothing.