「微笑みの兵士」 (Hohoemi no Heishi)
“The Smiling Soldier”
So, I guess we have a good idea of the dynamic between the Kingdom and the Empire now. The Kingdom is Athens, the Empire is Sparta. Athens has superior arts and sciences, whereas Sparta makes nothing but supersoldiers and that works out pretty well for them. At least I think they’re supersoldiers; each one is a veritable Sagara Sousuke, crack shots, expert mecha pilots, master infiltrators, trained in hand-to-hand combat and information warfare alike. And this is supposed to be one of the less reputable squads of the Empire so just imagine what their crack agents are like.
Historically, in the Athens vs Sparta sibling spat the Spartans may win but we usually sympathise with the Athenians more. A large part of this is legacy; the Greek contribution to human civilisation is by and large associated with Athens while Spartans and their skill with pointy sticks became defunct pretty fast. And so from Athens we got philosophy, drama, democracy, mathematics and more (including history, which is quite helpful for their case) while for Sparta I suppose there’s a few movies about shirtless men fighting in slow motion. ‘Sparta’ needs a bit better characterisation, is what I’m saying, so Egao no Daika goes out of its way to dedicate an episode to the Imperials, in particular the Imperial we’re supposed to care about. I’ve was hoping that Stella would be introduced more dynamically than Yuki (who, thus far, is little more than a cute prop) and, thankfully, she actually goes around and does stuff. It’s all still rather heavy-handed development in the end — I mean, seriously? War orphans? I guess next episode Stella will have to put down her dog then send money back to her sick little sister — but at least we now have a better idea of the complexities of her character. This is good, because she’s supposed to be the protagonist and we should know what makes her tick (more likely than not PTSD). Of course, we still don’t know why she’s the protagonist yet — she’s just one soldier, after all, fairly stuck in her ways, and has yet to receive a call to action — but she’ll probably have some big propelling moment like Yuki did (i.e. someone’s going to die) and then we’ll probably be done with Act 1.
On that note, I probably won’t be blogging the rest of Egao no Daika. It’s not a bad show, by any means, but it does have its flaws. There’s the obvious technical ones here and there (like inconsistent art quality) but I’m not bothered too much by those. More problematic, perhaps, is the pacing, which we talk about every week. Egao no Daika is slow, even ponderous. Consider this: three episodes in and the two leads-apparent have not even met yet. At this point I must assume that they’re simply not supposed to. But I don’t know that for sure. And that’s the point, really; which how little we really know about the plot at this point it’s difficult to commit to blogging all of Egao no Daika, especially if it’s going to take more than one cour (and at the rate we’re going, it most certainly should). On the one hand, it’s a good thing that Egao no Daika feels comfortable taking its time to set up all its pieces, but it does require a higher level of investment than many other anime.
And while, again, Egao no Daika is not a bad show I’m not sure it’ll ever be a ‘great’ one. At the risk of sounding snooty, it’s a bit too much craft and not enough art. The writing just feels too… functional? Everything seems too obviously designed to either move the plot in a certain direction or to impart some piece of information to the viewer. Joshua’s telegraphed death (seriously, is he dead for real?), the contractually sad orphans, every line where a character deliberate drops or name or repeats something they already know, having another character tell us directly that Stella is a few marbles short of a checkers set — there’s so many little things where the story purpose is too obvious. The art of fiction, really, is obfuscating the hand of the writer and that takes wit, and unfortunately that’s where Egao no Daika is lacking. The dialogue could be snappier, perhaps, or maybe have the camera indulge more in some clever shots. A bit of flair is all I’m asking for.
Still, those are relatively minor concerns. Functional is still better than dysfunctional, after all, and no matter Egao no Daika‘s issues are now it can certainly rise above them once it’s done with its hefty orientation. I dare say that it has been getting engaging as we go and there’s a lot of promise, still. I won’t be blogging Egao no Daika but I’ll still be watching it with great interest.