In the year 2054, broody college student Takuto Kaneshiro (voiced by Souichiro Hoshi) is vexed because his girlfriend, Maki can’t spend any time with him. What he doesn’t know is she is part of a top secret science project researching giant alien mecha life-forms invading planet Earth. On the very day Takuto plans to pop the question, he stumbles across the underground research station where Maki and her fellow scientists have reassembled a mecha-monster from scattered alien parts, a creature they name “Frank” (Yuuji Takada).
Upon being activated, Frank suffers a relapse and inadvertently destroys its creators, killing Maki and hospitalizing Takuto. Members of the ruthless alien-fighting organization FUNERAL, led by alarmingly butch Commander Lana Iness (Sayuri), scramble their Zark transformable robot-jets to track the monster menace, but it’s top hat-loving, blonde moppet Harriet Bartholomew (Houko Kuwashima) and her faithful dog Walten who run across Frank amidst the lovely Alpine hills. The pair develop a symbiotic relationship, with Harriet able to control the savage beast with her lilting love song, and several other uncanny powers. With clearly more to her than meets the eye, FUNERAL fighter pilots Lt. Heartland (Jouji Nakata), Guinevere Green (Kikuko Inoue), stuffy Brit Dan Simmonds (Takehito Koyasu), and plucky youngster Sue Harris (Yui Horie) recruit the innocent child and soulful monster into battling alien invaders.
Elsewhere, Takuto is mysteriously reborn as Ryu Argento, a facially scarred, half-silver haired superhero with a grudge against Frank and a freaky, Shakespeare quoting stranger (Hiroshi Takemura) appearing in his dreams. The ranting spectre somehow helps Ryu become FUNERAL’s latest hotshot Zark fighter pilot, where he finds himself torn between revenge and defending the Earth alongside Frank and young Harriet, who bears a haunting resemblance to his beloved Maki.
While its title sounds like a composite of an Italian horror film auteur and a mythical Hindu love-drug, Argento Soma is actually Greek for “the Silver Body”, and the anime itself offers a space opera twist on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Aside from the monster’s name, several sequences recall the classic Universal horror movie, including a laboratory sequence complete with mad scientist ranting “It’s alive!” and the lyrical lakeside encounter between Harriet and Frank that conjures instant memories of the Frankenstein Monster’s meeting with little Maria. Except here the youngster charms the monster into saving her life.
The series delivers an ingeniously crafted, consistently intriguing mystery, with creative twists and turns. Although strong on ideas, the show had the misfortune to arrive around the time when anime was going through on of its periodic upheavals, resulting in lower budgets and lacklustre animation. Shukou Marase’s character designs for the supporting cast are somewhat unappealing, although Harriet has a sprightly, kawaii cuteness to match her sunny personality and there is a neat visual parallel between the misshapen mecha monster and the scarred, schizophrenic anti-hero. The solid screenplay asks challenging questions, including if mankind really did encounter alien life, “would our collective intelligence combat our base, biological instincts” or would we “attack first and ask questions later.”
Anime has repeatedly shown child heroes forced to fight in wars, but after the groundbreaking Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995), television shows from the late nineties into the new millennium began to address the consequences and probe the scars of World War Two. Here, the military cynically manipulates the trusting Harriet for their own ends (only Sue objects) and seems content to sacrifice innocent civilians to win a war. As in The Iron Giant (1999), the ultimate defiance sees an idealistic child teach a monster it has the choice not to be a living weapon.