It's excellent. I really enjoyed it. It's a thoughtful, intelligent show that's taking its subject matter seriously.
Admittedly it's based on a light novel series and it has some very basic similarities with other series. It's about a genius hero who doesn't fit into regular society and keeps outwitting his superiors while making lots of female friends. However that's a disingenuous summary, if only because the show's quite good at gender balance.
More importantly, though, Ikta's a real, flawed and compelling protagonist, in a story that's being told with integrity. He's a lazy womaniser. He's super-intelligent and a gifted strategist, but he has no intention of using his military talent in the service of his country. He thinks his country's run by idiots. Soldiering is a dangerous job that doesn't have enough girls, so Ikta's planning to pull some strings and become a librarian. (His late father was a much-esteemed general and his teacher was one of the finest scientific minds of his age, but then the Empire decided that science was heresy and hence drove a brilliant inventor to move to the country of their enemies and work for them instead. Smart.)
This is a fantasy world with a late 19th century tech level, by the way, but powered by magic sprites rather than electricity. There are quite a few countries, most of which seem to be either theocracies or strongly motivated by religion. They also seem to be constantly on the brink of war with each other.
Anyway, Ikta ruins his own plan by making a terrible mistake. He saves the life of Chamille Kitra Katjvanmaninik, Katvarna's third princess. (She's very grateful, but she's only twelve and this anime has no paedo overtones.) The Emperor duly rewards Ikta for saving his daughter... by making him an officer in the army. Ikta calls this the worst day of his life. He hates the royal family and he hates nobles, heroes and soldiers. He's just become all of those last three, with the last one being the most life-changing... and not in a good way.
From now on, Ikta's in the army and obliged to obey orders, even if his superior officers are morons, bigots or war criminals. The show's first half introduces Ikta and his friends to military life. The second half is war.
Ikta's cool because he's clever, but he also cares enough for it to hurt when he fails. He feels like a real person, not a walking plot device. "The secret of victory is being lazy in the right way!" He's brilliant and we expect him to win, but this is war. People will die as a result of his decisions and sometimes that will be shocking. Being nice and sympathetic in this show doesn't give you plot immunity.
He also has good friends. It's not just one genius doing everything solo. There's his childhood friend, Yatorishino Igsem, who's been raised from birth to be the ultimate soldier and is, frankly, terrifying. She's Ikta's best friend and they trust each other completely, but they're opposites and in one episode they discuss what would happen if she were ordered to kill him. (Answer: she'd do it, but they'd both be very unhappy about it.)
Then there's Matthew Tetdrich (a bit touchy about being from a lesser noble family), Torway Remion (soft-hearted marksman) and Haroma Becker (a nurse with five younger brothers to take care of). They're the core five friends who are thrown together in ep.1 and stick by each other throughout. However the gang has an unofficial sixth member, Princess Chamille. She's cute, funny and a valuable ally who's very attached to Ikta, but she's also a little scary. Mess with her and I'm pretty sure she'd have you executed.
I like the show's clear-sightedness about the realities of both politics and war. Ikta thinks his country's rotten and he's only fighting to protect its people. Princess Chamille agrees and she's seen the imperial court up close, also having a formidable mind in her own right. As for war itself, it's often started for the worst and most avoidable of reasons and liable to lead to war crimes, scorched earth policies, the extermination of civilians as a deliberate policy. Ikta personally prevents a gang rape. This is the kind of thing that gives birth to generations of hatred. I spent quite a lot of the second half wondering why our heroes hadn't murdered their own commander, although of course by then it was too late. The damage was done. The enemy had declared war and killing your own commander wouldn't have stopped the fighting, although it could have prevented the deliberate murder of thousands of civilians.
This show's by Madhouse, by the way. They're a class act with a long history and a strong reputation. This lives up to that, both in story and in animation.
It's a great show, I think. It can be deeply satisfying in what happens to some people who deserve it, but it can also be unsettling. It also has one hell of a punchline. It's strong enough to go on my list of possible Christmas and birthday presents to give people this year, but unfortunately it's not out on DVD yet. Strongly recommended.