Based on an ongoing manga by Tomonori Inoue that's been in print since 2008, the new anime show Coppelion is a promising-looking sci-fi actioner set in a not-so-promising-looking future, where a horrible nuclear meltdown in Tokyo--reflective of Japan's pre-Fukushima anxieties about nuclear power--caused most of the city's populace to evacuate. However, post-apocalyptic Tokyo looks far from hellish: 20 years have passed since the meltdown, so vegetation regrew over the cityscape, and feral animals wander the abandoned, forest-like metropolis. The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force sends three highly trained agents into Tokyo to look for remaining survivors. But because this is a seinen manga we're talking about here (a seinen is a manga targeted to a young male audience), the three agents are teenage schoolgirls, something that's never been seen in an anime before.
Ibara (Haruka Tomatsu), the leader of the force's special Coppelion unit, and her two fellow "dolls," bespectacled Taeko (Satomi Akesaka) and easily excitable, constantly-refers-to-herself-in-the-third-person Aoi (Kana Hanazawa), are all genetically engineered and resistant to radiation, so they're able to walk around contaminated Tokyo without hazmat suits covering their school uniforms. "Puppet," Coppelion's October 2 premiere episode, took a nifty approach to establishing the show's haunting--and thanks to its skilled background artists, oddly picturesque--setting. Instead of diving into a pile of clunky-sounding exposition right from minute one like most animated sci-fi shows do, the premiere took its sweet time introducing the Coppelions and doling out expository details.
We didn't find out why the girls are called Coppelions until the second episode, the overly melodramatic "Future," when Aoi explains to a survivor that they were named after the French ballet Coppélia, a tale of a mechanical doll who thinks she's human. We still don't even know what exactly Aoi's superpowers are yet, other than the power to annoy when she either cries during a tense situation or gets all Chris Hardwick-y about things that are great (dessert after a hot shower, for example). Aoi is reminiscent of Molly Hayes, the youngest, most immature and most pugnacious heroine in Marvel's Runaways, and I suspect her powers will be similar to Molly's.
I like how Coppelion is slowly world-building post-apocalyptic Tokyo, and "Hope," the best of the episodes that have aired so far, continues that gradual approach. It introduces the show's first genuine villains, a mysterious group of B-2 bomber pilots who are flying into Tokyo to make life difficult for the hazmat-suited survivors and are most likely responsible for spreading even more radiation to the already irradiated city (my money's that they're Americans).
The raised levels of contamination that they've perpetrated have disrupted the charity work of an anonymous figure known only as the Delivery Man, who's been bringing food and supplies to the survivors. The JGSDF discovers that the Delivery Man is actually Denjiro Shiba, the same scientist who built the power plant that caused the meltdown in Tokyo. He harbors enormous guilt for his connection to the meltdown, so to atone for creating the disaster, he's been doing all sorts of good deeds, whether it's delivering goods to the people or attempting to rescue an elderly woman who's been kidnapped by the bomber pilots. Shiba turns to Ibara for help in rescuing the kidnapped nursing home resident, and Ibara gets to demonstrate that she has "10 times the athletic ability of normal humans" in a sweet rescue scene that finally delivers--no pun intended--on the agile and combative action that's been briefly glimpsed in the show's opening credits.
Kill la Kill are the first anime shows I've been watching while they air first-run in Japan, instead of several years after they first aired (Coppelion episodes are being posted on Hulu and Viz Anime the same day they drop in Japan). Like during the first few minutes of the cautiously paced "Puppet"--we knew these three callow schoolgirls on some sort of strange field trip were going to be the show's heroines, but we didn't understand what their skills were until about halfway through the premiere--I have no idea where exactly Coppelion is headed, but I'm looking forward to where it'll go, as long as it's not a boring-ass farm that the show inexplicably stays trapped in for almost its entire 13-episode run.