Contrary to trending anime, this series takes a refreshing look at shōnen titles. And while the animation is very choppy, it makes up for it with a very complex story that challenges the popular concepts found in bildungsromans. We love countless stories about a boy hero from humble beginnings who becomes the guy that the people can count on. But along the way, he must face many trials where he is likely to fail, get tempted by the enemy, or realize just how far he is from the final goal. But where other heroes overcome these adversities by strength, World Trigger‘s heroes overcome their adversities by something else: their intellect.
There are a lot of elements to cover in this entertaining series, that I won’t be able to cover all of them. I will get to my main focus as part of this month’s theme on when determination is not enough, with a dash of humor. So in the spirit of all kinds of tropes made by this series alone, Trigger on, make your best duck face, and let’s raise the glasses population!
World Trigger takes place in Mikado City on Meeden, a world that looks like the cross between a dystopian police state and urban Japan. But before we get into social criticisms, the enemies are not the government (yet?), but the inter-dimensional invaders from other worlds simply called Neighbors.
Here we meet Osamu Mikumo, our boy hero who wants to become part of Border, the agency that protects Mikado City from these invasions and become part of the tradition of defending Meeden against Neighbors. But one day, he meets Yuma Kuga, a seemingly friendly Neighbor who goes against everything he knows about Neighbors.
An unlikely pair, Osamu and Yuma become friends and work together, along with Chika Amatori and many more Border agents, to defend their home against a common enemy… while making plenty of quips and duck faces because this show’s target audience is young teenagers.
I keep the intended audience thing in mind because I know that adults like to ruin everything (my bad). One thing I do appreciate about this anime is its focus on the tactical side of battles rather than the superpower side to them. Sure, the coolness of explosions and awesome weaponry still exists, but where this series wins is in the dialogue and decisions that are made between characters. World Trigger loves to play around with character dynamics, from individual personalities to tensions found within Border itself.
But of course, where superpower exists, there is also plenty of humor involved. And depending on the character’s personality, doing something amazing has a comedic flare to it from cheap quips to silly expressions.
Unlike your average shōnen hero, Osamu acts more reserved, often playing an observer role in a series where others are fighting to their “death” (I put that in quotes because the technology allows them to use Trigger bodies, which I will get to, rather than their actual bodies). That’s because Osamu is considered much weaker in strength and abilities than any of his companions, and for the most part, stays that way. But before you move on and say how dumb that is, Osamu more than makes it up by being an incredible thinker.
When you need a tactician, Osamu may not be the best, but has a rapid learning curve to be one. And in the many battles that he and his team get themselves involved with, he is their most valuable player. But even though he is fighting all kinds of Neighbors, Osamu is also learning that Neighbors aren’t always his greatest threat. And when factions within Border collide, Osamu and his friends are there to come up with much more creative solutions.
I’ll try not to spend too much of this review on technical mumbo jumbo which you can get from all the post-episode dialogues in the show. But I should at the very least discuss what it is Border is fighting for. Meeden belongs to a system of other worlds called the Neighborhood. Traveling from one to the other can be reached inter-dimensionally, making it easier to invade other lands or establish diplomacy. Compared to other warring worlds, Meeden is actually the baby. But all of these worlds are fighting over the same resource: Trion.
In short, Trion is like a life force in just about everything, and is the source of Border’s primary weapon: the Trigger. Trion allows these worlds to thrive, and like anything else, not everyone has the same amount of it. This is why Neighbors come to Mikado City to take control of it for themselves, and why most of Border absolutely hates Neighbors. But as Osamu discovers, that isn’t always the case.
Since Osamu is friends with one such Neighbor, it comes in his best interest to join Border’s Tamakoma Branch, a remote office with a much smaller staff that specializes in alternative tactics that often contradict Border’s principles. Unlike the main faction within Border, Tamakoma’s agents are a lot more lax toward Neighbors, and on some occasions establish diplomatic relations with them. Although their agency is smaller in size, they make up for it by having some of the best A-rank agents in Border and the elite S-rank, Yūichi Jin.
Okay, maybe I’m giving them the fan boy treatment. But where their power and abilities lie, just about everyone on this show is fairly weak or, as many an anime go, their full potential has yet been revealed. Trion may be flowing in everyone’s bodies, but some of them also come with side effects that give them passive abilities.
For example, Jin’s side effect seems to be predicting the future. But as he reveals, what he actually sees is more like multiple threads of possible futures that he can only see when he comes into contact with another person. By weaving together all these futures, Jin outmatches Osamu’s abilities to make tactical judgments that can change the course of the future, even if the immediate results aren’t so satisfactory. But even so, his ability is limited in that the future doesn’t always go as planned, and not everyone is certain that his ideal future is the right one.
World Trigger has a wide array of characters, each with complex personalities and backgrounds that offer all kinds of layers to how Osamu and Yuma understand their worlds, and I’m sure many fans of this show have their own favorites. Aside from the main characters, one of my favorites is Jin’s edgy protege, Shūji Miwa.
One of the best attackers of Border, Shūji has an absolute hatred for Neighbors, even going so far as never trusting Yuma. Having joined Border when an ineffectively young Yūichi Jin couldn’t save his sister, Shūji aims to destroy all Neighbors out of his rage. But despite that, Jin trusts him with protecting Osamu during the Crossroads of the Future arc, as Jin predicts that Shūji will be integral to the best possible outcome. Setting aside his distrust in Neighbors and anyone who sides with even one of them, Shūji reluctantly goes along with the plan to reveal Jin’s own Black Trigger.
Shūji isn’t one to show his soft side to others, but would definitely go along with much bigger plans if killing more Neighbors is a part of it. And while he probably doesn’t want to admit it, lending his abilities in such a fashion has made him more reliable.
Speaking of mean-spirited characters who actually turn out to be amazing allies, one of my other favorites is the cool-headed Ai Kitora.
Part of Border’s PR squad, Ai is Osamu’s classmate, despite outclassing him in abilities. Being one of the four most recognizable faces in Border publicly, she has to work double time to maintain her status in the ranks while saving face for Border’s sake. Unlike Shūji or Osamu, Ai belongs to the middle faction of Border agents who are fairly neutral toward Neighbor relations.
While she is still powerful, funny, and I totally wish that I had a girlfriend like her, the reason I bring her up here is because she understands Osamu Mikumo better than anyone else.
Osamu may be a thinker, but his greatest weakness doesn’t lie in his ambition or in his lack of abilities. He cares so much about his teammates Yuma and Chika that he rarely thinks about himself. Osamu takes on a lot of responsibility, but he also recognizes that he might also be holding his team back by being so weak. It also doesn’t help that Yuma’s body is rapidly dying and Chika’s brother and best friend are still missing somewhere in the vast Neighborhood. Osamu’s personal concerns seem much smaller compared to everyone else’s, so he tries to act strong for them. But no matter how much he analyses the situation or trains hard to overcome his next challenge, it always seems like he’s doomed to fail.
Before this anime cuts off where it had caught up with the manga earlier this year, Osamu asks Ai for advice on what he should do to get stronger. With brutal honesty, Ai lets him know exactly how far he is from even being considered an A-rank and therefore a candidate for Neighbor missions, yet teaches him one more tool that could help him in battle.
Ai may come across as mean and rather rude at times, but this is exactly what Osamu needed to hear. When determination is not enough, telling Osamu how good of a job he’s doing only adds more pressure on him due to his high sense of responsibility. Osamu prefers honesty over hearing nice things, as do I. And as far as the advice that Ai gave him, all she did was give him the tool. Without any other words, she trusts him to figure out what to do with it. That is his strength, after all.
World Trigger’s multiple narratives continue in the manga, but the anime as a whole offers a much different look at the shōnen hero. For when strength and hard work doesn’t cut it to fulfill our goals, the power to think things through might be our best ability yet.
So if you are looking for a more tactical aspect to the shōnen action genre of anime complete with the complexities of organizations and character development, check out World Trigger.