Scarlet Nexus is a perfectly serviceable show let down by pacing and length. It is a show that is both hard to fault and hard to praise, and in many ways its averageness makes it harder to recommend than if it were an outright dumpster fire – it lacks the spectacle that disasters often have. Nevertheless, I’ll do my best to give you the gist and you can weigh for yourself if Scarlet Nexus is worth your time.
Scarlet Nexus‘ premise is going to sound pretty familiar if you’ve come across any sci-fi dystopia from the past decade or so, being a simple variation on the “group of kids fight horrifying monsters from beyond” shtick. The show doesn’t shy away from those comparisons either, but it isn’t content to rest on those associations alone. First of all, it tries its best to escape the safe approach taken by its direct contemporaries, featuring a strong dual protagonist setup with Yuita and Kasane co-sharing the spotlight. Each of them gets a fair amount of screen time and the series does well in juggling them, often having each one lead a sub-team of the OSF on some mission or another. Their backgrounds are entwined, allowing for their narratives to always stay connected even if they are physically separated, which is a smart way to keep audiences engaged in both of their storylines.
There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot, and while some of them can be seen from a mile away (you’re telling me the army full of jack-booted soldiers using psychic child soldiers may be up to nefarious schemes? Shocking), there are also a number of genuinely surprising developments that keep things from falling into a formulaic rut. Scarlet Nexus seldom lets the status quo settle for more than a handful of episodes, to the point where its initial premise feels like a distant memory by the final episode.
The show also has a large supporting cast – even a conservative count of the “main” cast members is like nine people, and that number easily doubles once you account for people who regularly appear on-screen or impact the plot. That said, it does a good job of keeping each of them distinct from one another: their unforms provide a certain degree of visual cohesion (what with everyone wearing black and red) while variety in gear and body types makes telling everyone apart a breeze. Even during complex, lore-heavy conversations with lots of cast members involved, it wasn’t hard to tell what was going on and what everyone’s motivations were, generally speaking.
The problem is that Scarlet Nexus just doesn’t give its plot developments and cast enough time to breathe. In a typical sci-fi action-adventure show of its ilk, I would expect a few episodes of generic monster-stomping to get acquainted with the team. The monster-of-the-week formula is a mainstay in the genre for a reason: it’s effective at building up the cast, setting them against different challenges, slowly drip-feeding their backgrounds into the mix, and getting a feel for the team before the plot really kicks into high gear.
Unfortunately this… does not happen. The show basically drops the Other-hunting premise within about three episodes and goes full bore into secret conspiracies, betrayals, and shocking revelations. While I can understand the desire to want to get to the “meat” of the plot so to speak, there’s a distinct lack of impact to a lot of these reveals. Since the show barely gives the audience any time to get a feel for the world before breaking its norms, there is barely any weight to these sudden shifts in the status quo. “Everything you’ve ever known is a lie” doesn’t hit the same when I’ve only known about something for fifteen minutes. It’s clear that there was a lot of material to condense into a very small number of episodes, and that most of the build-up was left in the cutting room floor..
Similarly, character developments struggle to have much impact outside of Yuito and Kasane. While it’s easy enough to tell the side characters apart visually, none have much personality beyond “that one has glasses” and “that is the one with the crossbow” because there are simply too many of them for the show to juggle. Again, I’m sure there are lots of side conversations and missions in the game for players to build up affinity and get a better sense of understanding for who they are, but in this condensed format they mostly end up feeling like filler and it’s hard to derive much meaning out of their actions.
The Others are probably the biggest casualty of the show’s pacing. They certainly look menacing, with a great eldritch weirdness to their designs. But many of them end up reused throughout the series, and so little time is spent actually fighting them that they end up feeling like more of an afterthought. Again, with maybe another cour or even six more episodes of monster-mashing they could have come across as a more credible threat, but by the halfway point of the show it was clear that they only served one purpose: giving cast members a way to enter a scene dramatically by killing them.
The show’s production value and direction are both good but not great. The show toys with a bit of CG mixed with traditional animation, and surprisingly that meshes well. But merely having competent animation for 26 episodes without any real wow factor or particularly gorgeous action sequences is a bit dull, truth be told. I can’t fault it, but there is no single sequence or scene that I felt was enhanced by the adaptation. Even the weekly offerings of many action-adventure anime these days have brief moments of dynamic animation that try to wow the audience, but Scarlet Nexus is content to be just okay.
And maybe that’s Scarlet Nexus‘ greatest sin: It is merely okay. It has fine character and monster designs, an interesting plot structure, and a few neat ideas. But the condensed nature of the adaptation leaves its story feeling weightless, and without any standout visual displays to speak of, Scarlet Nexus ultimately ends up being a merely serviceable work in a densely crowded genre. In an era where hundreds of shows are vying for your attention, it’s hard to recommend it to anyone other than die-hard fans of the games or folks who want to see an average-to-good video game anime adaptation.