OP: 「Kadenz」by Sakakibara Yui
One of my friends at university swears by Dies Irae, and ranks it as one of his favourite visual novels. Although it touches upon intensely taboo subjects, pertaining to magical Nazis finding their way over into 21st Century Japan, there’s something grandiose about the premise. So naturally, it’s one of the series I’ve been looking out for this season, even with potential issues when it comes to crowdfunded adaptations. Looking at director Kudou Susumu’s portfolio, we can see his experience when it comes to handling these kind of themes and materials. K Project delved into conflicts between factions possessing superpowers, and also had underlying German influences, with Adolf K. Weissman being the amnesiac protagonist. Therefore, I’m confident that the quality of German is in no danger. My only concern would be issues with storyboarding, as it was a noticeable weakness in K Project, particularly during the second season. Otherwise, I’m excited to see how this turns out. Without further ado, let’s proceed into the thick of things!
At first, everything seemed really magnificent. A mega-sized golden airship descends from the skies, flaunting a skeletal motif. An epic confrontation was clearly being set up between Reinhard Heydrich (Suwabe Junichi) and his mysterious challenger – presumably our protagonist. However, the narrative kept jumping all over the place, and I eventually lost track of what the heck was going on. Suddenly we are thrown back into the past. A mage by the name of Karl Ernst Kraft (Toriumi Kousuke) finds himself incarcerated within a cell, and headed for certain death. He proceeds to make an eerily Faustian deal with Reinhard in exchange for his release, though the effects are not particularly obvious until much later on.
And here’s where things started to spiral out of control. Particularly irksome was how many random characters start appearing with little to no explanation. A man stumbles out of bed half naked, and is brutally murdered, his assailant spitting out a bloody wad of chewed up flesh. Meanwhile, a white haired man shackled by chains starts brawling with the police in the streets down below. In short, a lot of stuff was going on, but nothing I could make sense out of. As a result, although the character designs look cool and the voice acting seemed crisp, I could not understand a good portion of the dialogue and character interactions in the later half of the episode. The Three Valkyries, Eleonore (Yaguchi Asami), Beatrice (Mizusawa Kei) and Riza (Habuki Risato), offered brief respite halfway through. Despite pledging loyalties and thereby affirming their zealous Nazism, their odd antics were quite fun, and I particularly like what we’ve seen of Beatrice so far. Unfortunately, events escalated to the point I lost my remaining footing in regards to keeping up. Sure, the fighting and action looked pretty cool. Also, I appreciated the intensely graphical violence we received, since it sent a clear message that censorship will not be rife. But I didn’t understand what was going on one bit, not to mention the framerates kept on tanking during fights, indicative of budget animating. Every occurrence seemed impulsive, and there was just no natural flow to the story. For example, I could not anticipate Reinhard turning golden and incapacitating everybody, after some goading from Karl. Much less our bandaged crazy person jumping out of a window, through a hail of bullets that clearly hit their mark, yet coming out unscathed.
Here’s a case study where ‘show don’t tell’ has been taken too literally. With almost nothing being told, how am I supposed to make sense of what’s being shown? What is the adaptation trying to achieve from Episode 00?
To make sense of Dies Irae’s Episode 00, I had to dig deeper through online forums. My final conclusion? This was an episode made for fans of the source material. Considering that this adaptation was mainly crowdfunded by fans, I suppose that they are the intended target audience. I have also received some assurances that the next episode will set out the prologue in a less confusing manner. That said, I’m still greatly disappointed. Premiering episodes often define our expectations, so it could potentially misrepresent how this adaptation will turn out, especially towards people who are unfamiliar with the source material.
For those who are still sitting on the fence, I’m told that Dies Irae should come across a fusion of Fate Stay/Night and Hellsing. The abilities apparently work like Reality Marbles and Noble Phantasms, while the gore and all out badassery are reminiscent of Hellsing. If those are the kind of things that you enjoy, and you’re contemplating dropping it, I’d suggest giving the show another chance. As such, I will stick around for another episode before making any final judgements.