“Kill One, Save Many”
So the Funimation simulcast seems to be having trouble with the simul- again, but let’s make do with what we have. Chaos Dragon: Sekiryuu Sen’eku seems to be the traditional epic-fantasy of the season, but the question still is whether it’s going to be than what’s written on the tin (that is, chaos, dragon, we’re done). As I noted in the preview, there’s actually a surprising amount of star power involved with this franchise, but those names need to be converted into something interesting in anime form.
Writing good fantasy is hard
One of the advantages of fantasy is that, if sufficiently removed from the real world, one doesn’t need to do as much research. You can just make stuff up instead of visiting locations and interviewing people (or, these days, surfing Wikipedia). But making stuff up and making it consistent is also hard work, and requires the writer to explain all the made up stuff to the audience. And thus the unfortunate amount of forced exposition one often finds in fantasy. Some shows manage to weave exposition naturally into scenes and dialogue more skillfully, but Chaos Dragon seems very eagre to tell us a lot of things about its unique, Eurasian setting and in its excitement has resorted to narrated infodumps and walls of text. The text is especially egregious, since making people read in your audiovisual medium seems to be missing the point of it all. And the essay seems to be part of an eyecatch, meaning nobody should be expected to read it all anyway. So… do I need to know this information, or do I not? Eh, you’re not going to miss anything if you skimp on some details.
As much as Chaos Dragon enjoys setting up its fantasy setting, there were plenty that remained unexplained. We know little still of the warring nations, except that they are, and that one of them is hamfistedly evil. We know little of what these dragons, these guardian deities are supposed to do, except one of them is, er, red. And of course, there’s the smaller but equally important questions, like why King Ibuki (Inoue Marina) can’t afford trousers like his retainers, why cat ears (on Sawashiro Miyuki), and what this Big Daddy is supposed to be. On one hand, it’s good that they’re not showing all their cards all at once—world building is most interesting one brick at a time, because we’re all suckers for mystery—but at the same time I hope they’re not going to have to spend even more episodes on blatant exposition. One episode with infodumps I can understand, but any more after that is going to mess with the flow of the story more than necessary.
Make a contract with me and become a magical girl, Ibuki
The story of Chaos Dragon is something you would have seen before, even if your only point of reference for fantasy anime is classic fare like Arslan Senki. If you’ve played many RPGs (noting that Chaos Dragon is supposed to be based on an RPG setting), then you know the script, and not just because one of the characters seem to be an ex-SOLDIER from FF7. If one ignores all the fantasy-babble and unexplained cameos, this pilot is a simple call to adventure. Ibuki initially refuses the call to adventure, so his loved ones are killed to motivate him. Luke Skywalker is content as a moisture farmer, until his family dies which gives him the resolve to become a Jedi/dragon contractor/whatever. It’s the tried and true monomyth, but the initial predictability may turn some off. Take that Mashiro girl (that was her name, right?). She’s the Unfortunate Childhood Friend, a blossoming love interest, and runs an orphanage. That’s a 110% chance of death, being too good for this sinful earth. It’s almost as unsurprising as Ibuki consenting to the contract, even though it’s a bit unfair that nobody ever told him what it was all about, even though one should never make a deal with Sauron, faithless and accursed, and even though Ibuki now has to live with a silly dragon-emoji in his eye. These kinds of developments seem almost obligatory, as much as a part of the genre as swords and sorcery.
There are still genuinely interesting elements to Chaos Dragon, though. Ibuki still needs to gather his party, use dragon powers, and take back his kingdom, so of course there’s all that plot stuff that have yet to unfold. I’m looking more to thematic elements, though. I’m interested in the shamanic Shinto religion, yet the use of Christian symbolism (a deliberate choice, or design dissonance?). I’m interested in the theme of sacrifice, and wonder how many of Ibuki’s kith and kin the Red Dragon will demand of him before we’re done (my initial guess: all of them). And, of course, I’m interested in the soundtrack from master composer Sakimoto Hitoshi, because I love that guy. Sure, the animation was not stellar (sometimes they didn’t even move at all, but at least the fight scene was okay) and the initial setup somewhat derivative but there’s still potential here, and with a dearth of epic fantasy this season it may be worth watching for genre alone. I’m going to give Chaos Dragon an episode or two more before deciding whether to cover it weekly (I know that technically three episodes have already been streamed online, but I don’t have them), but I’ll definitely be following it, if only to see how it turns out. It could be a mess, it could be good. I am, of course, hoping for the latter.
Full-length images: 12.