It's a series about war, which it portrays like chess. (It's set in a generic historical fantasy setting, but you can roughly map the different countries on to medieval Europe and environs.) Battle tactics are rendered visually by moving diagrams, in which chess-like pieces move around a map. The entire season is basically one complicated campaign, in which the minor territory of Alsace becomes a third faction in a civil war in the kingdom of Brune, with assistance from the Zhcted empire.
I enjoyed it, but to be honest, it's a bit dry. What saves it and brings it alive as a human narrative is the fact that most of the main characters are hot girls with huge boobs.
No, I'm not joking.
For once, fanservice has improved an anime! A more conventional telling of this story (to Western eyes) would have made all the characters male. This would have flattened everything out and made it, frankly, a bit dull. Here, though, the world's most powerful fighters are:
- (a) dragons the size of churches
- (b) women called Vanadis with magical weapons
- (c) a bloke called Ronald. No, sorry, Roland.
If you want to slow down a Vanadis, you've basically got to hit them with a dragon or another Vanadis. They're also more interesting than the male characters. They've got more self-awareness and a sense of humour. There are more dimensions to their interaction with each other and with the male characters. Plus of course it's cool to see a historical fantasy setting like this get gender-twisted to put women so firmly on top. Admittedly the rules of royal primogeniture are still chauvinist, as indeed they tend to be in the real world, but the anime eventually takes that somewhere too.
Tomoko thinks I'm only saying that because I'm a man, mind you. She'd prefer an all-male version of this story. That's fair enough, but I think there's also an objective argument, in that these girls subvert genre expectation in a way that male characters wouldn't.
The first episode made me worry that this might become a harem show. It had huge boobs, skimpy clothing and a girl being surprised while bathing. That kind of nonsense never entirely goes away, but it's not particularly important and personally I think you could only call this a harem show if you've broadened its definition to the point of meaninglessness. The Vanadis are being drawn as eye candy. That's it, basically.
The main character is Vorn, the lord of Alsace who spends the entire season technically as the prisoner of Eleanora Viltaria. He's an archer. We never see him use any other weapon, but he doesn't need once since he's so good with a bow. Everything that happens in this show is the direct consequence of the bad guys trying to squash puny little Alsace, not because it's any immediate threat to them but because they've calculated that annihilating its population would be useful.
There are lots of battles, the course of which is generally determined not by Vanadis but by their generals' battle tactics and regular soldiers. If you've got 25,000 men facing 5,000, then even the world's greatest hero couldn't expect to be able to change the battle's outcome single-handedly unless she has super-speed. (No one here does.) There's also an awareness that battles aren't actually good things, no matter how much a warrior might talk about honour and glory. Sometimes conflict can be averted through negotiation. Towards the end, we also see our heroes building a mountain highway for the sake of trade and cultural exchange. Civilisation trumps swords. Good government is about more than invading other countries and stealing territory.
It's a good series, I think. It's not perfect, though, even if you don't have a problem with the Vanadis's boobs and outfits.
I called it dry. Battles, battles, political maneuverings, alliances, more battles... I still enjoyed it, but keeping the narrative at that high level makes the story less character-based than it might have been. The death in ep.12, for instance, is weaker than it could have been, I think, and the narrative hasn't earned everything they try to milk from it afterwards. The deceased hadn't had enough story presence beforehand. We don't really care. The story beat's still passable and the plot keeps going well enough, but we're basically waiting for that bit to be over and for our heroes to get back to beating the enemy.
I'm also not wild about "oh look, a magical superpower". I can see that it's a requirement for this story, but that kind of thing always seems a bit cheap to me.
I quite enjoyed this one. I'm not madly in love with it and some might argue that the warmongering gets a tiny bit repetitive, but it's quite an intelligent take on the material and you've got to appreciate a show with battlefield tactics detailed enough that it needs to draw you a diagram. (The last time I saw that was when I was watching Legends of the Galactic Heroes.) The boobs are blatant, but... well, boobs. I don't hate boobs. Fanservice as paradoxical feminism strikes again! I'd give this a middle-of-the-road recommendation, if you think you wouldn't mind the visuals.