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Cross Ange: Rondo of Angel and Dragon (Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryū no Rondo) is an anime born from the mecha-loving team at Sunrise (Gundam, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion). Its first episode made big waves in the anime community when it aired in October 2014, but the shocking revelations each week, personally, made me unable to wait for the next episode. I couldn’t stop from staying up until 1:30 a.m. every weekend to watch. I was hooked.

As you can probably guess, I love Cross Ange to death. The moment I saw the opening sequence on the screen at the anime’s premiere, I knew this was something special. And while I was apprehensive about its beginning, after just three episodes, the show really hit its stride. Now, more than a year after the anime’s end, Sunrise screened four episodes of the series at a movie theater in Tokyo during its annual Sunrise Festival event. It also featured commentary from director Yoshiharu Ashino (seen center in the photo above), creative producer Mitsuo Fukuda (seen left), and script writer Tatsuto Higuchi (seen right).

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After seeing some of the best episodes of the series on the big screen, I remembered was what makes this show so memorable: its characters. Cross Ange is a story about a princess betrayed by her kingdom and seeking revenge on the world, so of course you’re going to have to have a cast of strong characters able to pull along such a heavy theme. Cross Ange succeeds in this aspect.

While it’s true that this show has the typical “big sister” girl–Ersha– and the “spunky girl”–Vivian–each and every one of Cross Ange‘s characters have traits that make them stand out as more than just an archetype. Every single one of the main characters have their own motives and set of ideals, so it’s very easy to sympathize with all of them–something especially rare in such a large cast.

Though there have been many shows in the past that have tried to have a big, lovable cast, most failed because they were unable to focus on each character long enough to care about them. Cross Ange doesn’t have enough time to go into the backstories of every single character, but instead of throwing away half of them and focusing on a select few, the show uses the time it has to make us love all of them.

For example, the sadistic doctor Maggy doesn’t have much screentime, but we are able to love her because of her short but strong interactions with other characters–she can be playful and cruel when dealing with her patients, but we also see that she’ll do anything to protect them, even if that means taking up arms. Heck, we don’t actually know that much about Salamandinay (and she’s a main character!). But does that make her any less attractive or interesting? Not in the slightest.

Similarly with the gentle mecha pilot Ersha, whose entire world revolves around taking care of her fellow teammates and the children that live in the prison where she and the other Norma–a race of people without the ability to use the all-powerful magic Mana–live. We see multiple scenes of her doting on the other Norma like a mother hen. They’re not that long, but we get to know her character through them. Therefore, when that world of hers is threatened, we feel invested in the character–we don’t want anything bad to happen to her.

Another aspect that makes the characters stand out are the myriad of unique character designs courtosy of Sayaka Ono. Not only can I remember all the names and appearances of our many main leads (there are at least twenty characters you need to keep straight if you’re going to follow the story) but because every minor character is designed so intricately as well, I can keep tabs on which is which and what role they play–no matter how small.

Even supporting characters like dragon doctor Doctor Gecko are hard to forget. According to the director Ashino, he had asked character designer Sayaka Ono to make the doctor’s design weird, so she took the extra step of not only giving her a helmet but also going so far as to make her bald underneath it. Just by seeing her design and comparing it to the more down-to-earth look of the human characters like Ange, we realize that this is the kind of race the dragons are. The designs immediately draw us into the world and visually explain what kind of world we’re in. While making background characters have prominent designs may seem like not that important of a detail, it’s vital in creating a living world and prompting the viewer to form an attachment to it.

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The star of this show, however, is of course Ange. And what a star she is. Though you despise her racist and spoiled personality at the start of the series, seeing her develop as a person by coming into contact with her comrades and her love interest. Her hilariously bold “I don’t give a damn” attitude made her not only my favorite character in the entire series, but also one of my favorite characters in any anime ever.

Though many might see her numerous fan service scenes and think, “How unprogressive,” I would argue that Ange is one of the most progressive characters in anime, and also a feminist icon. Ange does not hesitate to speak her mind and will kill anyone if they attempt to harm her or her friends.

I think one of the most powerful scenes in the anime is when she is slut-shamed by the villain of the show because of her relationship with her love interest. What does she do? Without any shame, she tells him off and calls him a narcissist and a pervert and attacks him with her mecha. And as for those fan service scenes?

The majority of the scenes portray Ange’s body as a thing of beauty, not as a tool for male pleasure. These scenes solidify the idea that the female body is not a thing of shame, but instead one of strength.

Ange, however, would not be nearly the character she is without voice actress and best-selling singer Nana Mizuki (who also performed the opening theme song “Kindan no Resistance,” seen in the video below). When first playing the character at the beginning of the story, she gives Ange a regal, sweet tone representative of her upbringing–so sweet that it almost sounds stressed. However, when Ange goes through the events that change her life and view on society forever, Mizuki changes her acting to a more subdued, deep, and relaxed voice.

Cross Ange has a star-studded voice cast, yes, but the interesting thing about the show is that most of the voice actresses are put in roles you would not normally expect them to play: the super cute voice actress Yukari Tamura is cast as Hilda, a brash and pessimistic girl who doesn’t take crap from anyone. The young idol actresses Kaori Ishihara and Yui Ogura are cast as Rosalie–a tomboy who is in fact very cowardly–and Chris–a seemingly introverted girl who actually has a very dirty mouth. Despite being typecast as cute roles for the majority of their careers, they blow it out of the park with their performances, making the characters all the more lovable and memorable. All this care about detail shows that they clearly love the project.

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And the staff’s love paid off, as I saw when I was leaving the theater this past week. Passionate fans lined up for an autograph session with the staff, with one holding a figure of Ange they had put together themselves and one other giving the director a box of sweets with a hand-drawn illustration of Ange on it (seen in the photo above). Despite it being late on a work night and despite the fact that the anime originally began broadcasting almost two years ago, so many people had come to the theater to pay their respects to a cast of characters that will continue shine for years to come.

You can watch Cross Ange now with subtitles on Crunchyroll and Sentai Filmworks is releasing Blu-ray and DVD sets of the anime with both the original Japanese audio track and an English dub (sample of Ange and Tusk’s voices above). The ComicWalker website has the Cross Ange manga–which serves as a short adaptation of the manga–available to read in English.

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