Figure 17 is a thirteen episode anime from the early 2000s. OLM, the same studio behind Gunsmith Cats, Disgaea & Pokemon, was responsible for bringing it to life. It was written by Yonemura Shouji, who also worked on scripting episodes for both Doki Doki Precure & Hunter x Hunter. So, that’s all a positive sign as far as I’m concerned. Let’s get into it.
Shiina Tsubasa is having a rough time. She’s lost her mother and just moved to a new area for her father’s work. To top it all of, she’s very shy and doesn’t make friends easily. At least the place she moves has a nice dog that she gets to look after. I immediately relate to this character. Change the parent she lost and that’s my childhood. One night things change when there’s a loud crash. Tsubasa wakes up and finds a UFO with an alien pilot and a hostile alien life form called a Maguar. Maybe it just wants Reese’s Pieces? Tsubasa accidentally combines with an alien called a Riberus to take on an armoured form capable of fighting the hostile creature. After the battle, an unusual thing happens. The Riberus takes on Tsubasa’s form. She calls herself Hikaru and the newly created twins have to balance their school lives while secretly combating the alien menace before it overwhelms Earth.
Now, my big problem with the narrative is with one specific side story. Namely, the reporter’s. Basically, we get segments throughout the series of this researcher turned columnist wandering around the scenes where they’ve fought Maguar and trying to figure out exactly what happened to cause the ecological damage. And throughout the series I kept wondering how this random dude’s story was going to tie into the main plot line. So, how does it ultimately pan out? It doesn’t. This character and his bullshit segments could have been completely cut out and it wouldn’t have had any impact except to give more time for the characters who matter. Frankly, they could’ve given us scenes of the dog playing around and those would have been better. At least the dog’s cute and interacts with the main cast. Maybe Yonemura thought it would be interesting to get an outsider’s perspective (it’s not) or maybe he had plans that didn’t pan out. Still, ultimately, all the time we spend with this guy is completely pointless.
With that gripe out of the way, there are a lot of positive aspects to the plot. It melds the sci-fi monster hunting aspect with more personal, day to day life drama really well. There are stakes for both elements and there are points where there are problems trying to balance them or where things that happen in one will cause issues with the other. I appreciate that the trained adults can get help from Tsubasa and Hikaru while still coming across as capable in their own right, occasionally even battling the creatures by themselves. That’s not something you see often in this type of narrative and it’s not something that’s easy to pull off. Then we have the ending. I won’t spoil it, but it’s a strong bitter-sweet ending. Which works phenomenally in no small part due to the way it foreshadows the tragic elements. And the tragic elements may have made me tear up… a lot.
One of the significant reasons that the marriage of daily life drama and monster hunting works so well is because the characters are so strong. So much of this series is dedicated to Tsubasa’s personal growth. Not just as a reluctant heroine who has to come into her own but as an individual learning to cope with things like loss, loneliness and how to tap into her strength. Hikaru is a superb character as well. The “twins” are handled in a semi-complementary way with each one having strengths the other lacks but they also have aspects to their personalities that are very similar. And after the sheer number of twin characters I’ve seen who are basically one character, this is a refreshing take.
They also have a strong dynamic in spite of them both knowing they aren’t actually twins. Normally, I would say that it’s unrealistic for them to bond so quickly but Figure 17 makes it work by showing us what Tsubasa’s life is like before all of this happens and showing us how isolated she feels. So, it makes sense for her to latch onto a girl who opens up to her and treats her as family.
The side characters also get a good amount of complexity to their characters. Sakura may be one of the strongest representations of those aspects of adolescence that make teenagers difficult to deal with while also showcasing those parts of life that are hard for teenagers which makes her come across as pretty relatable. Even the pointless reporter has depth to him. It’s part of the reason his segments waste so much time.
The only things that don’t have complexity are the Maguar. We basically learn that they’re artificially created but they don’t seem to have sentience. They just kind of want to feed and spread.
The character design is pretty nice. It’s interesting the way some minor changes between the twins make it readily obvious which one you’re looking at even when they’re wearing the same outfit. That’s a good touch. The armoured Riberus forms are interesting looking. The alien technology is neat looking. The Maguar themselves have some interesting designs. At least, they do at first. After a while, they kind of gave up and started giving you a bunch that basically look the same. To be fair, there is an explanation for it.
The action is pretty well animated, although some of the motion blur and such can be a bit over-used. There’s also an action sequence near the end that takes place in tunnels where everything has a red tint. Which was a bit hard on the eyes and not that good looking. When we got to see the tunnels from inside the Riberus and they had normal colours, they looked great. But, unfortunately, most of it is spent with the redness.
The performances are great. Orikasa Fumiko & Yajima Akiko pull off the leads really well. There are also particularly good performances from Koyama Rikiya, Horie Yui & Inoue Kikuko. Although all of the performances are good. The music works quite nicely with the action on screen.
There really isn’t any. The crushes we do see among the children are hetero-normative. Although I do appreciate that they’re presented subtly.
Areas of Improvement:
- Cut out the Reporter Segments. This is definitely the most obvious thing, and for good reason. These parts do nothing. I’d honestly replace them with segments giving some spotlight to the side characters who actually spend time with our heroines.
- Colours for the tunnel scene. I mentioned this a bit when I talked about the artwork, but I’d show the tunnel scene the way you see it from the Riberus perspective instead of with that awful red filter.
- The Hikaru Question. One thing that comes up in the series is that no Riberus has ever done what Hikaru did. IE: take on a physical form like that. I’d like to see DD and Oldina discuss it from a scientific perspective and from a philosophical perspective. They don’t really touch on it that much in the series proper, which seems a bit weird.
The young man who requested this review said this was one of his favourite anime of all time, and I understand why. While it has some problems, most notably those pointless segments, it is a bloody good series. It has a fantastic sense of character, a compelling story, strong acting and artwork. It might not be one of my favourites, but I can respect it and what it does. Personally, I’ll give it a solid 8/10.