The premise of Chaika - The Coffin Princess is really well founded and easily delivers enough intrigue to get you hooked on the imaginary world. Picture a fallen empire in it's recovery stage: civil unrest, changing politics, and a growing danger of the whole system going haywire. Sounds promising, right? Even with this, the whole development aspect gets shattered by erratic pacing mistakes with a horrid mastering of the prologue - the time taken to explore the pictured world or protagonists was very scarse (at start); therefore, sympathy or stress about their actions will be absent at the most part. Not saying that you can’t do that in the first minutes of a show, but here the chemistry had to be more progressed before throwing them into battles or emotional events. At least having some sense of fighting hierarchy. Don't just jump on a powerful lord or the most fearsome beast of the wilderness in the first seconds of a show - a big majority of the viewers expect a build-up beforehand.
While we're still grasping the beginning of the show, then I have to say, I loved the idea of the stereotypical unicorn portrayed as a gruesome beast, and it makes for a great concept to expand on. Unfortunately, it is promptly forgotten and never mentioned again in the next episodes - why the heck can it talk? What’s the stuff it’s saying? Why can it use magic? etc.
If we expand on this even further, then we stumble upon the show’s more itchy mistakes - leaving the viewer to figure out how this world or its inhabitants have come to be; or postponing it until the point nobody cares about. It doesn’t have to be written in black and white how the universe functions, but it’s a common knowledge to throw little hints of the creatures or historical events to keep the viewer interested; otherwise, it causes the feeling of events having no impact or being unrelated filler content. For example, the Gundo type sniper rifles, not saying that they cannot exist in that fictional world, but the more interesting question would be how can you make such complex metal shapes, tubes, or spirals without modern day equipment as they require far more precise measurements than a blacksmith can handle (and don’t get me started on the telescopic sights). If the answer is magic, then I haven’t seen anyone be able to bend objects using it. That might seem like a minor complaint, but these things stack up until it gets quite daunting to view the show objectively.
Another fault that I encountered was the lack of suspense and originality. I agree, it had its moments, but in the long run there were too many great opportunities left out. Let’s consider the events in the second episode - the mansion robbery - Count Abarth eventually says that he’s one with the building and can control anything in it, so I immediately thought that the heroes must undergo the same influence as the chairs and swords - this could’ve lead to more intense turnout as the heroes would’ve been forced to use unconventional thinking to get out of the mess they’re in. Instead it takes just a couple of tricks to have Abarth cornered.
This, and several other scenes, made me really feel like everything before the 5th episode could’ve been left out or reduced significantly - skipping to the part where the anime improves and becomes fairly gratifying - characters gain more personality and depth, we receive some decent twists, and generally the show pumps out some hilarious situations.
Credit definitely goes for exploring the ageless dilemma of what’s right or wrong. Tackling the idea behind moral relativism, where there’s no rule that could distinguish between good or bad, only society's morals that label them so. Still, it felt pushed upon the show and had no strong reasoning behind it, in a sense, it would always follow the same pattern and drift from one perspective to another way too predictably - “Look! There’s a bad guy. But wait, after 5 minutes he gains some loveable characteristics, so he’s not such a bad fella.” If the characters would’ve subjected to a more complex development, then it’d’ve been a blast.
Never will I understand the reason for the transformation process the saboteur siblings have (or any other show that does a similar thing) - having to say several sentences in the middle of battle to enter a more powerful stage of yourself or do a magic trick seems far too inconvenient as you become an open target to fatal injuries, and if the rivals weren’t brain dead, then they could accomplish just that. While some of the wizards use too bizarre rituals, others can immediately use their magic without any fancy lines. You can interpret this as a take on forced teamwork, where a weak magician needs a couple comrades to perform his attacks and kinda sets the idea of them having more of a support role during battles. What makes a strong or weak wizard? Well, it must do something with the magic fuel the heroes mention now and then - but again it’s a misty thing as its effects on their users or spells are never addressed properly - we know that it has to be applied to or used with machines, structures for it to be working; and the more pure it is, the better (whatever that’s supposed to mean).
Furthermore, some of the magic seems just to be there for the sake of it. For instance, the siblings Iron-Blood Transformation doesn’t seem to make them noticeably stronger - Akari and Toru, our main protagonists, practically fight the same way, with the same passion, with or without it - only thing what makes a difference is the color of the hair. It doesn’t drain their energy, doesn’t require some sort of recharging, or have any sort of health effect - so why have it? Or better yet - why not use it all the time?
In the end, as much as I looked forward to this anime, as much as I prayed to the anime gods that it would hold up to its hype (since the setting didn’t have the pesky schools), the story left me somewhat disappointed - there was much more I’d’ve rather changed than it actually could deliver. That said, I still felt slight enjoyment watching it, mainly because of the cuteness Chaika would pop out and the humorous moments in between the foreseeable fights. If you haven’t seen anything the likes of “a group of teenagers with swords helping one of them retrieve something valuable” with a little hint of mistery or have a fetish for goth clothing, then it deserves a go.
Chaika - The Coffin Princess suffers from a similar syndrome that Sword Art Online did - it has protagonists that are ridiculously powerful and mentally perfect that they become utterly boring to root for after a viewing or two - you just start to stop caring after a while, because everything goes so well for them if they want it or not. In this case, it’s even better to have a cry-baby like Yukiteru from Mirai Nikki. Even if you hated him with the deepest corner of your heart, it is still interesting to watch Yuki~ suffer and cry every ten seconds, since he had some interesting and unique personality to associate or despise. In comparison, Toru and Akari are without any distinctive traits or characteristics that would set them apart. Their faultless nature is the source of their one dimensional behaviour and makes me think if their existence is even necessary, if not for the sake of the immersion gab.
Thus, Chaika, the little goth girl who barely can combine two words in a sentence, has plenty of character and faults. She has her own goals and opinion, and is arguably the biggest selling point of the show. You’ve to be rock hard not to be spellbound by her cuteness and mysterious existence. If only the show would take time to do a good development - from paranoid as she was in the beginning to more open hearted later on (instead of just switching it at one moment) - it would convince me that the anime puts thought into evolving her individuality. As for the idea of Chaika begin able to express herself only in a broken language, then it’s quite a unique take and should be done very carefully not to become annoying over time - it stays fresh during the first chapters, but nearing the end comes across ear tearing. To some extend, I’d’ve rather seen Chaika develop from a half-mute character to being able to speak properly (the show does actually offer a glimpse of how that could’ve turned).
Next up is Dominica.. no, no, I mean the dragon; em, or was it a cat? Basically we have an ex-pet dragon with a multiple personality disorder who can transform into anything it desires - of course, it chooses a little girl named Frederica. Again, I could complain how this idea has not been used to at least the third of its potential, but let’s rather highlight the fact that theses characters are without any decent goals in life or an interesting higher objective - devote a good part of your life glorifying your master, and the second you get a good kick back to reality and a bit of smart talk, you decide forget all about it. Really? It only shows how shallow their motives are, since it usually plays along the lines of affection or dumb views that they try to make sound smart - “I want war, because I have no job.” And if we strip down Frederica to the core, then you start to see that she’s not annoying, she’s not funny, she’s just there, and contributes very little to the show as I’d often forget about her existence, because she vanishes and reappears all the time. The sequences when Frederica unleashes her dragon form always sparks some-what decent intrigue, but the show deliberately tries to get Frederica out of the way before that can happen, as she's far too powerful for the story to progress.
The only thing that is marginally frustrating in the artwork section is the architecture and interior design, most of the time, feels empty or lacking certain foulness. More or less that has to do with using a mix-mash of different styles (Rococo, Goth, Jugendstil), and it could be that I’m just not liking it as an choice of design in general as almost every character's outfit and looks feel uninspired and forgettable. Everything else is fairly well done: proportions of characters are kept the same during the whole thing, faces or body shapes don’t distort, and the flashy neon effects spice it up quite well - it looks good, but by no means does innovate in those aspects.