The original Utawarerumono aired back when Omni was still running this site, which in Random Curiosity terms is Mesozoic archaeology (but in reality only about nine years), so modern readers may not necessarily be familiar with this anime or the game it was adapted from. Luckily, that shouldn’t be too big a deterrent for Itsuwari no Kamen, which has a pilot that doesn’t bank heavily on its prequel and takes time to ease the new viewer into its setting. It seems the events of the first series has ascended into legend and Itsuwari no Kamen will spin a brand new tale. So if you think it looks interesting but were wary of jumping into sequels unprepared, don’t stress it overmuch. The background knowledge will help you with acclimation and perhaps allow you a better guess at what’s up with our nominal protagonist, but it’s more likely to be used for bonus points rather than for core enjoyment. Still, it can’t hurt.
In its quest to be newbie friendly, Itsuwari no Kamen has started rather slowly. To put it positively, it is thorough, quite deliberately showing off its environments, it’s people, their culture, their technological level, their dress, their food. It’s handy having an amnesiac in your story, because it gives you a convenient excuse to explain everything at every point. To be fair, it’s evident that someone put a lot of work into Utawarerumono‘s setting, which I mentioned in the preview as being based on Japan’s indigenous Ainu, and there’s perhaps a justified pride in putting it on display. The art is pleasant and suitably detailed when it wants to be (that is, costumes are great, backgrounds are great, monster design could use work). But perhaps there is a bit too much zest in this department, because you might notice that the camera spends a lot of time on establishing shots and panning. Slow, deliberate pans. This is a bit annoying for a blogger taking summary screencaps and perhaps creates the impression that there is a sparseness of animation. That’s sort of true, as Itsuwari no Kamen seems to have a predilection for admiring its own art rather than doing real movement, but when it does happen the animation is crisp and lively enough, with special mention going to a certain hyperactive tail that certainly steals the show in any scene it co-stars in. So while the anime is probably not going to look as good as the smaller-scale game opening, it at least holds its own in this first episode.
While this pilot is slow and mostly exposition, it at least does that job quite well, and we learn a lot in 23 minutes about not just the setting, but also our characters. The conspicuously named Haku (Fujiwara Keiji) is weak, whiny and lazy but clever (hey, gamer self-insert). First-girl-wins Kuon (Taneda Risa) is motherly, has medicinal knowledge, likes her food, but has a mischievous streak (hey, probable waifu material). The tail and fluffy ears are normal, the lack of them is an unspoken curiosity. The important thing we don’t know, though, is the general shape of the narrative; surely, Kuon and Haku aren’t supposed to just be sedate for the rest of the story, but our designated hero does not seem up to the task of doing anything heroic any time soon. I suppose they’re taking their time there as well. Our characters build some chemistry for now, and meanwhile they’ll throw around some proper nouns like the Sung or the Curse. This is where knowledge of the previous series or game might be handy, but I’m sure they’ll explain everything thoroughly when the time comes.
With two cours to work with, it’s probably wise for Itsuwari no Kamen to go at a gentler pace for now, but it does need to reward patience with real returns. If the first Utawarerumono is any indication, the story will start a bit goofy and the drama will ramp up as we go. And there’s even some guy with stylish facial hair showing up at the end to promise some kind of new development, so we shouldn’t worry too much about whether Itsuwari no Kamen will pick up; it most certainly will. For now, it’s laid out a fairly interesting setting, which is an important part of any fantasy, and based on that groundwork it can develop into something quite promising. There are no plans at the moment to cover Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen on Random Curiosity weekly, but you never know. It may well turn out to be the enthralling epic fantasy offering that any season can use, since it has shown a capacity for planned execution, and its second episode should give a clearer idea. At the very least, it’s worth keeping track of for promise alone.