My favorite is the one staring into the clouds.
I went in with few expectations, and Blade Dance exceeded them comfortably. It’s not a world beater, but it was a fun ride throughout.
As something of a connoisseur of the magical-fantasy-action-harem genre—I’m not the ecchi writer, I swear!—I’ve watched a lot of them. Denizens of this rather crowded genre succeed for a number of reasons, but Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance is actually a good example of the raw elements which, if done well, will make a magical fantasy action harem anime work.
First is a male lead who isn’t a total bitch. Harems live or die by their male leads, who are regularly the weakest character in the cast; that’s why I so regularly heap praise on the rare examples whose male lead actually has some balls. Which is odd, because it’s not that hard to do. Teppei of Princess Lover! and Issei of High School DxD are two of my most oft cited examples, and they’re good leads for different reasons. The key is to actually spend some time giving the male lead a personality, or at least don’t make him a spineless punching bag and make it clear that he’s actually interested in girls. Kamito started off better than he ended—him teasing Claire during episode one was an early highlight—but he was never spineless, and it actually seemed like maybe he deserved some of the love he received. That’s better than a season of Ichika saying “Huh?” by a longshot.
Next are a handful of female characters with varied (and setting-appropriate) personalities, so each viewer can pick their favorite. Blade Dance had that, and though they started (and in some cases, ended) as fairly stereotypical, they were at least endearing. But note that I said “female characters”, not “girls”—I’m not talking just about how to make a harem anime, but how to make a good one. Every haremette needs to be a fully fleshed out character, with more on their minds than just love, and the ladies of Blade Dance were that. In fact, their growing feelings for Kamito frequently seemed to take a back seat to their current goal in life—which is exactly how it should be! From Claire’s quest for power, Rinslet and Claire being tsundere for each other, Ellis’ pride as a knight, and Fianna’s desire to get her spirit back, the girls were all doing other things. They just happened to be fond of Kamito as well.
Next, you actually need a plot. It can’t be all about the girls, otherwise you ought to be writing a visual novel (though the most beloved visual novels have solid plots as well). One-note stories get boring fast, and if you’re going for the magical-fantasy-action-harem thing, you need to justify the action part. Blade Dance did that, and better than I expected. Once again, it wasn’t a world beater, but it did the job, with Restia providing a constant antagonist, and the villains in Inzagi and Velsaria providing satisfying challenges. How the team formed was also organic and appropriately gradual, and I loved the group dynamic of their battles—it was usually all of Team Scarlet charging into the fray, not Kamito alone. Which makes them all stronger characters.
Finally, you need to remember to have fun. Whether you’re banking on ecchi (Kamito waking up to a naked Est, Claire and Fianna washing him in the bath), flirting (meido Ellis, deito Ellis, any time Ellis was on screen in otome mode), action (the team battles, the powerful enemies that they were able to face once they were all together), or some combination of these and more, magical-fantasy-action-harem anime are by their nature not the most serious of creatures. So have fun! And Blade Dance was fun, for all of those reasons and more.
And that’s it. At its bones, it’s a simplistic formula. Not as simplistic as I’ve painted it here, but those are the key points that trip up so many shows, but which Blade Dance managed to do either competently, or pretty darn well. I enjoyed it, and if I believed in guilty pleasures, I wouldn’t feel guilty about liking this one; it’s a story well told, and I bet it only gets better once they get to the titular Blade Dance they were heading to when the final episode ended.
But I don’t like the idea of guilty pleasures. As the Foo Fighter’s Dave Grohl famously said:
“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it.”
So if you enjoyed Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance, don’t feel guilty. This is a good little harem anime, enjoyable throughout. I don’t feel guilty for liking it, and neither should you. And yes, that includes the pervy kneesocks-tinged ED. Knee! High! Fight!
Check out my blog about storytelling and the novel I’m writing at stiltsoutloud.com. The last four posts: What comes first: world, narrative, or characters?, Comments re-enabled, I’m back!, and Vacation, & a taste of what’s to come.