Ingress: The Animation is an Enjoyable, Yet Flawed Sci-Fi Anime Adaptation

Ingress: the Animation, based on the augmented reality mobile game Ingress, is Netflix's latest anime series but while it will potentially entertain longtime cyberpunk fans, it may leave others somewhat underwhelmed.

The series's story hinges on XM, or Exotic Matter, a quantum substance used to manipulate human brains and minds. It comes from mysterious interdimensional portals, which become the targets of two rival factions, the Enlightened and Resistance.

An organization known as Oolong, seemingly overtaken by the Resistance, seek to control XM for insidious purposes. But their plans fail when one researcher, Sarah Coppola, exposes Oolong's experiments with XM. Soon, Sarah is on the run, aided only by detective Makoto Midorikawa. But it quickly becomes obvious that the two are Sensitives -- individuals who, after being over-exposed to XMs, develop otherworldly abilities. Sarah possesses the ability to see that which cannot be seen, while Makoto can read the memories of anything he touches.

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Along the way, a mobile app known as Ingress tells them the supposed truth: They're caught between the Enlightened and Resistance, two vaguely defined factions that fight a multi-tiered war throughout various organizations. They have to fight over dominance over the various XM Portals to gain dominance in a plot from a video game. Like the Ingress game, more specifically.

Very early on, it's apparent Ingress: the Animation draws heavily from The Matrix and older cyberpunk stories of similar ilk. Evil organizations? Agent Smith look-alikes who chase the heroes? All here. For those who adore the aesthetic, Ingress will be an understated cyberpunk/scifi series. For those not interested in science fiction, however, much of this might not be appealing, and that's in part because of the series's biggest problem.

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The series depends too heavily on its world-building to function. The first three episodes are devoted to introducing audiences to the world via long, expository scenes. The problem is, much of the exposition is relayed directly by characters explaining the world in an unnatural manner -- primarily, Sarah explaining it to Makoto.

Because of this, character suffers. Most of them remain one-note throughout the first three episodes provided to reviewers. Most of the action beats are uninspired, primarily being chase scenes or gun fights that don't offer any real tension. This is, of course, due to how little of the characters we really understand. We see flashbacks to the characters' pasts, but we don't really see how it ties into their personalities at all.

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The anime feels the need to explain the mechanics of the mobile game, and that makes some level of sense. This is, after all, a game adaptation, and as such, it adapts the rules of the game using simple audience surrogates in an attempt to present the universe's mechanics.

Furthermore, the conflict between the Enlightened and Resistance never feels material. It never feels like there is any ideological difference between the two factions, beyond the color they represent. It isn't really until three episodes in that audiences even have a sense of what's going on.

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However, the character designs are good and the animation is fairly solid. CG animation has become progressively more popular in anime, especially anime airing on Netflix. While this CG looks more natural, with several character models looking in some shots indistinguishable from hand-drawn animation, it isn't as smooth in motion. This issue is highlighted by the hand-drawn flashback sequences that look so much better than the bulk of the show.

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Ingress: the Animation is a serious sci-fi anime with cyberpunk themes that exists, primarily, to adapt the mechanics of a popular augmented reality game. As a sci-fi adventure, it's entertaining, with richly defined world mechanics. It effectively translates the experience of playing the game in real life. However, the plot and characters exist in service to these mechanics rather than the other way around. Fans of sci-fi with heavy world building might enjoy this; fans of character driven sci-fi, however, might not.

Ingress: the Animation, starring Yoshiki Nakajima, Reina Ueda and Shigeo Kiyama, is streaming now on Netflix.

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