[This post was written by my friend Redblinky (@Cripplingnerd90) be on your best behavior and treat my potential intern like you’d treat me…. but much better]
It’s not often I feel compelled to write something, in fact before this year I hadn’t written anything longer than an e-mail in almost a decade. I bring this up solely to emphasize how much of an impact Solty Rei had on me. Solty Rei, a 2005 Gonzo show directed by Yoshimasa Hiraike (Kaleido Star season 2) that somehow manages to navigate a myriad of various personal themes, while posing poignant societal questions and still delivering an entertaining sci-fi romp. I want this to be as spoiler free as possible so i won’t be discussing anything past the halfway point of the show.
Roy’s Our Boy
The show begins with a well-trodden premise. Our first protagonist is an unassuming bounty hunter named Roy after the death of his wife he then loses his daughter to a natural catastrophe known as the blast fall. He has spent the last twelve years coasting through life hoping one day somehow he could see his daughter again. He would’ve lived out his days this way except he unexpectedly finds himself harboring a mysterious amnesiac female.
A formulaic intro/character that we have seen many times before (and since) but this premise is actually important because it allows us to experience the city alongside our female protagonist, Solty. Solty is a naive girl who harbors mysterious strength and various other powers. After being taken in by Roy she begins to fill the surrogate daughter role for him and help him heal from his past trauma. The show’s beginnings may seem inauspicious at first but it all begins to come together when our third protagonist Rose is introduced.
A Band of Thieves – Rose Anderson
Rose is introduced alongside her two brothers as a trio of thieves. She enters the story after attacking a convoy that Roy and Solty were hired to protect. Our heroes lose and the dastardly thief makes her escape. While the nature of these first three episodes make the show appear to be more of a Saturday morning romp akin to something like Heat Guy J that veneer will be shed upon Rose’s return to the story.
This is where the cracks of the city begin to be exposed as we are introduced to a vast undercity inhabited by unregistered citizens. In a similar premise to Matt Damon’s Elysium those who are registered receive countless benefits and prosperity while those who are not struggle for survival. Without spoiling anything this revelation greatly affects Solty and will play a large part in her development going forward.
A Multitude of Themes
That’s the basic synopsis of the first few episodes and while there might not seem like much that stands out I can assure you the plot of the story really takes off in the second half. What I will discuss is some of the thematic punch this show has and I think even Tyson would be jealous. The best way to parse this show in my head is splitting it into the individual and the collective themes/conflicts and I’ll just give a quick list.
- Grief and Loss
- Love and Happiness
- Systemic Oppression
- History and Power
Now I know a lot of these collective points are pretty standard fare for this genre. However, I think even fans of this type of fiction will be surprised by the direction the show chooses to go with them. I think the show does an excellent job of showing absolutes of morality while not painting one side as ultimately good or bad. The showrunners portray that there is no absolute perfect solution but that all solutions require cooperation in order to succeed. That people can ultimately be good and that the unity that fosters from collaboration can lead to a greater strength than even the strongest individual could attain alone.
I chose to talk about the collective first because it becomes much more prominent in the second half of the series. Much of the early episodes in the series are dedicated to Solty and Roy and their relationship. However, it’s not just those two the show is inhabited by a multitude of well-developed side characters. Every one of these characters has lost something and this shared heartache is actually what draws them together.
The Essence of Family
This is not only a father-daughter show but one that shows the importance of the family you make. While loss may have brought them together having each other is what ultimately allows them to heal. People handle grief differently and so do the characters in the show and it does a good job of portraying our different coping mechanisms, even the unhealthy ones. The show has very broad thematic appeal as it adeptly deals with many experiences shared by nearly all humans.
Solty Rei attempts to do a lot of different things and miraculously manages to do most of them well. I haven’t spoken much about the technical/production aspects of the anime because they accomplish what they need to so that the show can deliver its message and tell its story. The show can be lighthearted and funny then dark and serious in the course of a single episode without ever giving that feeling of tonal whiplash. Humanity is not solely about the individual nor solely about the collective and Solty Rei shows the importance of this balance. Balance is a good single word to describe the show not just thematically but also its characters and its sensibilities.
Give it a Chance?
I was purposely vague in nearly every aspect of the show because every theme introduced early on is given a second layer of depth in the second half of the show. On the off-chance someone does decide to watch Solty Rei after reading this, first off: Hurray Mission Accomplished second off: I wanted to spoil as little as possible for you. Maybe the vagary being so heavy means i won’t be able to entice anyone but we’ll chalk that up to my own inexperience as a writer for now. Anyway, if you like sci-fi or shows with a lot of thematic depth I can recommend this one to both camps equally, please give it a shot.
Tl;dr: If you want to watch a show with Universal human themes that still manages to juggle an exciting plot and poignant societal commentary watch Solty Rei!