Unfortunately the Evil Empire I work for kept me too busy to blog last week, but I did finish watching Soul Link, and overall...well, I have mixed feelings about it. The setting, the number of couples (not all the girls chasing one guy), and the storyline were unique, but the animation and character development was lacking pretty badly. In the end all I can say is it was a mixed bag--I don't regret watching it, but it's probably not something I'll rewatch anytime soon.
The Soul Link anime is based on the game created by Navel, the same company that did Shuffle, and there's the usual variety of bishoujo (although no megane-ko, surprisingly enough--maybe in the future everyone gets LASIK). But instead of the typical high school setting, Soul Link is set in space, and the cast are mostly cadets who are training there, at an old space station called Aries. At first it's sort of typical military/school life, but then terrorists attack and take over the station, setting up the drama. It's kind of a refreshing change from the typical high school setting, although I wonder where you go to kokuhaku in a space station, the roof or behind the gym aren't really options anymore. A note in your locker saying 'meet me behind the trash compactor on level 17-B' just doesn't have the same ring to it somehow.
The part of Soul Link that impressed me the most was the girls by and large all like different guys. This is in contrast to Shuffle (aka "Everybody Loves Rin-kun") and most other game-to-anime series where all the girls have crushes on the male lead. In Soul Link, it's not even clear who the male lead is, since at first Ryouta gets a lot of screentime, but then his brother Shuuhei is squarely in the limelight. There are no love triangles, quadrangles, or so on--there's Ryouta, and Sayaka, his love interest; there's Ryouta's older brother Shuuhei, and his childhood friend Nao who has a crush on him; there's Kazuhiko, a classmate of theirs, and Karen; and there's Yuu and another guy that appears later on. I thought the less male lead-centric relationship chart made this more realistic than "all the girls in Hatsunejima want to be impregnated by Junichi and the other guys might as well be vegetables"--but the downside is in such a short series, there just isn't enough time to develop any of the characters or relationships. If they'd focused on Ryouta and Sayaka, or Shuuhei and Nao, then they'd have had the chance to develop at least a couple characters at the expense of the others--and realistically with 12 episodes that's all you can hope for. Instead they tried to be more ambitious and I think it backfired--all the couples just seemed forced to me, since there's very little backstory on any of their relationships, and next to zero character development. I give them credit for breaking out of the harem mold, but the relationships would have worked much better if they had focused on one, or if they had a 26-episode run to work with.
The animation quality is where Soul Link suffers the most in my book--yes, those Megami shots of Sayaka and Nao may look good, but you're not going to see anywhere near that level of animation watching this. Soul Link is one of the worst animated series I've ever seen, and it really hurts my enjoyment of it as a result. Some might argue that animation quality doesn't matter, but for me that's definitely not true. People do a lot of communication through body language and facial expressions--for example, when Nao should look worried about Shuuhei but instead has a vacant, neutral expression that looks like it was drawn by a five-year old, it makes it hard to feel what she's going through, or identify with her. Imagine Haruhi's tsun-tsun scowl replaced by a crudely drawn, neutral stare and you'll see what I mean. The animation quality in Soul Link started weak, took a dive for the worse, and surprisingly it didn't rally for the final episodes. Especially for a series with this many bishoujo you'd think they'd give it enough budget to let them shine.
The mystery of what the bad guys are up to probably kept me watching this to the end, along with the knowledge it was only 12 episodes. Although...
* spoilers for the end *
...a few things about the ending bothered me. Delicious Morimoto's death seemed unnecessary, since Ryouta had a gun and plenty of time to fire it, and Sayaka, as a military cadet, should have at least tried to push herself and Aya down to the ground to present less of a target. Someone should have told Sayaka rule one when a gun is pointed at you in combat is not "hug the person next to you and cower in fear." The whole "Morimoto is really Sayaka's father" thing just seemed...just odd. It's like the writers were going down a checklist for dramatic story elements and threw in the 'long-lost father' one at the last possible minute. Gale taking one for the team also seemed like it was just thrown in for drama's sake, since in the time it took Aya to get the shuttle ready to launch he probably could have just done that himself and gotten both of them the hell out of there. The extra ship for Shuuhei, Nao, and Nanami to escape in just seemed too convenient, and Cellaria seemed to have no coherent strategy the last few episodes other than 'send in the zombies'--I was expecting her to sabotage the shuttles or do something that would make the good guys' escape more difficult. Instead she just sat in the control room and busted out the diabolical laughter until Nanami took her ass down. Cellaria's seiyuu really took over the top to a new level, I haven't seen that much overacting since Dr. Claw.
So in the end, I don't think I'll be re-watching this soon, but it's anime and the storyline kept me watching it, so I can't say it was a complete waste of time. I think Soul Link had the potential to be really good, but the length of the series, lack of focus, and the lack of animation budget ended up hurting it a lot.