「たたかいのはじまり。」 (Tatakai no Hajimari)
“Der Anfang der Schlacht | The Beginning of the War”
When I wrote the preview for Shuumatsu no Izetta I described it as the laziest fantasy World War II I have ever seen. Now, WWII, being possibly the greatest story of 20th century history, is an excellent time to set any anime. Alternatively, one can just loosely base their show on a large-scale continental conflict. There’s a lot of material to play around with, whether in alternate history or just anime-with-tanks. What Shuumatsu no Izetta does, though, is not really commit to either approach. It is basically geographically identical to the Europe we know and love, but to drape a thin veneer of fantasy over it, they’ve changed the names around (Thermidor, Westeria, Germania, Britannia), given Liechtenstein a bit more relevance beyond just a corporate tax haven by carving some extra land for it out of Austria and calling is Elystadt (and a cooler flag, lamer motto), and going back to the Kaiser instead of Hitler (sans swastika, but similar fascination with the occult). Come on, guys, if you’re just going to be WWII with witches, why be coy about it? I don’t mind if you do it like Joker Game and tiptoe around the history all season, but this Shuumatsu no Izetta‘s re-branded war seems at once trying too hard and not trying hard enough.
Luckily, I can’t resist any kind of European war in anime, and everything can be easily forgiven once things start exploding and we fully immerse ourselves in the setting. It also helps that Shuumatsu no Izetta almost immediately jumps into the action and offered up bribes of all the things Passerby loves most in his anime. I have waxed lyrical about it before when I was blogging Joker Game, but I do love steam trains, and starting the show in media res with a pursuit sequence on one is a certain way to win me over. It certainly wasn’t what I expected from the show, and it was a very pleasant surprise. It’s not (just) a matter of my subjective preferences, though; it was also a very effective way to introduce the character of Ortfiné Fredericka von Elystadt (Hayami Saori). It takes a specific personality , I think, to so decisively jump out of a moving train, and from there it’s quite easy to tell what type of character Finé is. At the very least, she’s not just a hapless damsel in distress at the top of an ivory tower, which is a refreshing change to the old ‘princess’ archetype. She is still stuck serving as cheesecake, though, but at least they worked in an important-looking scar into the shower scene. Still, I liked her character well enough, after learning a good deal about her without any lengthy exposition sequence.
That last point is an important one, for it speaks to some solid execution in this pilot. Lots of good things were in it overall, including the obvious good art (the period costume design is great, including Finé’s snazzy hat which she unfortunately lost) and animation (e.g. whilst midair) but there’s still something to be said for plain old tight storytelling. While the actual plot may rely a bit much on convenient coincidence, I always give points to anime that manage to avoid outright narration, and Shuumatsu no Izetta scored well there. Sure, to do this they tried all sorts of alternate exposition techniques—exposition by newspaper, exposition by awkward documentary, exposition by diplomatic dialogue—with some more successful than others, but it was a worthy effort. The important thing is not breaking the experience overmuch, for we don’t actually need to know all that many plot details so long as the experience is compelling. To that end I should offer a second commendation to both the sound design and the soundtrack. It’s not just about epic music, but also when an anime plays around with their soundtrack—it shows that someone is thinking about all dimensions of the medium. And so I liked both the ironic Mozart opera juxtaposition as Germania invades and the creepy choir that heralded the witch’s awakening. The latter, I think, goes a way to build the mystique of the show. How many of you watched the Mahoutsukai no Yome OVA? In a medium saturated with fantasy variations, how do you make magic feel actually magical, and supernatural, and otherworldly, beyond just the flashy light effects? I think the music plays a big role in this, in creating the appropriate atmosphere. Our first impression of the White Witch who is actually red would hardly be the same without the children’s choir.
So, yeah, very solid start to the series overall. However, I’m not really sure where it will go from here. My favourite part of the episode really was the start, on the train, and I really could watch an entire season of that stuff. Even without the trains, I would have been quite fine with just plain political action thriller set during the War. I don’t think that’s what we’re getting, though, signified by both of Finé’s retainers dying speedily so they can be replaced by Sleeping Beauty (I get the feeling men aren’t going to do very well in this story). I’m not sure how the supernatural elements and this Izetta (Akaneya Himika) are going to play into things. Yeah, I know she’s the titular character, but I think Finé would have carried the plot well enough, so Izetta will have to add something more worthwhile than just Elystadt superweapon. Perhaps I’m prejudging, since Izetta hasn’t had much in the way of lines other than variations of, ‘Hime-sama!’. Well, at least a magical readhead with an anti-materiel rifle reminds me of Darker than Black (/obligatoryreference), so I’ll give her a chance. And the rest of the show has intrigued me, so I’ll definitely watch more regardless. For those of you just scouting out the original anime this season, this one has promise. Take a look, and give it a few more episodes to see what direction it takes its story, because there are many paths it can take and may not actually be a alternate-history drama at all, despite how it opened. Come back next week, when we’ll figure out whether Shuumatsu no Izetta has the chops of a long-term proposition.
ED: 「光ある場所へ」 (Hikari Aru Basho e) by May’n