As a Greek I was curious to see how a steampunk version of the life of Alexander the Great would be like. Being animated by studio Madhouse, just added fuel to the hype. Turns out the aesthetics were the only thing I liked, and even those are not for everyone. The artstyle is very distinctive; once glance, and you know it’s from the guy who did Aeon Flux and some Animatrix shorts. Being someone who got sick and tired of seeing the same anime style repeated in almost every show, I found that very refreshing.
But I also found it grotesque, since I was essentially watching Macedonians with facial mascaras and tight bikinis. The weird clothes and the cybernetic implants were cool, but the animator has a thing for making everyone look like ugly transvestites. I’m an 80s guy, I am not into this whole sexual acceptance of GLBT. And I know many of you actually believe than most ancient Greeks were pedo-gay-goat bangers, but that is not true, they were admirers of the human figure. What you are thinking is called Romans!
As for the plot, they mixed historical events, many good sci-fi ideas, existentialism issues, and metaphysical concepts, making it sort of an illegitimate child of Neon Genesis. It is advised to know what the historical Alexander did before watching the series, since there a lot of artistic liberties, and we don’t want you to be misinformed, do we now? Assuming you care that is, and you don’t mind stuff like Pythagoras’ mystical artifact, cults of cyborg assassins, and preachings of Jewish Kabala having an orgy or weird ideas. It otherwise creates a wonderful blend of concepts that do not contradict one another, like a Sunrise mecha.
But then again, all that are too much to fit in 13 episodes, so the focus constantly switches from one theme, to another character, to another location, to DARN they look so weird in leather. This has the effect of making the story interesting on paper, and yet boring on screen because nothing and no one get enough spotlight. The good part is, no episode feels the same as the rest, the bad part is, you are left with too much to think about and yet very little to take away from it. Which is kinda sad really; I felt like everything fits into place and needed more time to show how it’s all part of a huge machine that ordains the fate of the algorithmic cosmos.
And despite that, it shows Alexander going against this system and thus his own destiny, thus not succumbing to fatalism, an ever-present element in ancient Greek theater, which I happen to dislike since it’s the birthplace of the term Deus ex Machina. It is overused even today, where cheap solutions come in the form of divine interventions. Even when you are losing, the scriptwriter will let you win anyways, because you are the protagonist and that is all the logic lazy storytelling needs to overcome any problem.
The ending is probably going to frustrate a lot of viewers, since it ends right before the final battle, and leaves the outcome open to interpretation. I was yelling “Where is the rest of it?!” even though I knew from history what will happen next. It was a messy way to wrap this clusterfuck of concepts, but thinking back at it, it’s not that bad. Not being shown how it ends, means you don’t know how it ends, therefore following the theme of going against destiny, and not knowing what happens next. That was so subtle, it took me a decade to realize it.
Regarding the characters, although I did say the plot constantly switches focus amongst them, it eventually comes back to Alexander, since after all this is his biography, set in a very weird cybepunk setting, where everybody is a queer. So you will probably remember only him as a character, despite having as much personality as all of his generals, and enemies. Which is not that much, but still more than enough to tell such a short story. I can’t say he or anybody else is memorable as a person, since they are closer to personifications of ideals and concepts, and yet still behave more humane that anything Urobutcher ever wrote.
Nevertheless, artwork and aesthetics tend to overshadow the cast, since they are simply way more eye catchy than anything the characters say or do. Which in a way is a disadvantage, since you end up caring more about the wrapper called pretty colors, instead of the heart of any story, called the characters. What I mean is that the show has an identity, but it’s not found in the cast within the story. It’s the animator who made it stand out the most. So meta, it becomes aesthetics for the sake of aesthetics, and I am not in favor of that. I did enjoy the show but only on a conceptual level. The presentation was also overbearing and hard to sit through, since I was essentially watching a dozen episodes of ugly ancient Macedonians talking about the meaning of life, before noticing a hole in their stockings.
- Aeon Flux, made by the same guy.
- If you dig protagonists who aim to rule the cosmos, then head for Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Death Note, and Code Geass.