The premise in a very short description: A little bit before the French Revolution a bunch of wizards want to use poems and psalms to create a new world order and are faced against a man who transforms into his sister.
Just like most anime, this could easily be a gem but unfortunately the makers were no professional screen directors and wasted a lot of its appeal on what I call “sounds good but looks bad”. And I don’t mean the visuals, which are very good. Production I.G. never fails to create aesthetically pleasing series and mature settings, yet at the same time their characters are not exactly the kind you bind with easily. They feel kinda cold and robotic. I mean just look at their faces; they are so distant. Not that I prefer those endless shounen delinquents or those moe cardboards; it’s just that they are good as personalities but lack imposing presence on screen. The director also seemed to be able to make something good about it but eventually didn’t. Furuhashi Kazuhiro did a good job in goldies such as Rurouni Kenshin and the old version of Hunter X Hunter but he then lost his touch by taking up various forgettable shows such as GetBackers and Amatsuki.
Anyways, the story is taking place during the French Revolution and mixes history with fantasy. And I’ll be damned if I don’t compare this to Rose of Versailles or Revolutionary Girl Utena, two of my retro favorites with French overtones, as means to explain why it looks bad. The problem is that it has no memorable characters or setting. What exactly is this show? A mystery/fantasy/adventure/fantasy? If so, what makes it to stand out or worth remembering? WHAM! Nothing.
And don’t tell me the French setting is enough because from the fantasy angle Rose and Utena were ten times more artistic and poetic, while from a history angle, Chevalier is very loose about it to the point it doesn’t really matter. And if I am to compare it to other I.G. animated series, Ghost in the Shell or Serei no Moribito had a specific theme, rare to all other anime. Chevalier once again has no specific objective or theme; it is almost a generic fantasy story.
By generic, I don’t mean it is mediocre or lazily written; in the contrary the story is quite elaborate and mixes nicely history with fantasy, while not neglecting to develop and flesh-out its characters. The problems here are both the pacing as well as the character appeal. The first part is easy to excuse; for the most part the anime is DAMN slow and unexciting, heavy on well-written dialogues that are otherwise unrelated to the main plot. As for the second, as I said the characters are interesting as personalities but lack presence. I am referring to them not being over-sexualized or with wacky personalities that would make them stand out because of its extremity. Come on; 99% of all memorable anime characters possess one or both of these features.
There is of course a third element that could help; the artistic direction of the series that bridges the setting with the characters as they are directly affected and affecting their surrounds. Think of Motoko in GitS, the cyberpunk setting fits like a glove. Think of the pseudo-Chinese world of Serei no Moribito and how its themes of obedience and honor were fitting there as well. Once again, this series lacks since the French backdrop is not really related to the characters or the story; it is just a fancy decoration. In fact, the thing that stands out AND is directly related with characters and story is an organization of mystics who collect magical hymns and poems that magically alter reality. Why do you need France to show all that? Just so you can show-off with a bunch of historical figures? Maybe to show the intrigue and backstabbing of the nobles of Europe? Yeah, and then a hoard of zombies storms the Versailles; how historical accurate (seriously, there are zombies in this show). Sorry but I don’t see the connecting points in this; the setting is simply unrelated to the story and despite how gorgeous it looks it is nothing more but a fancy wallpaper. Combined with the dull plot for 2/3rds of the anime and no wonder most viewers find it hard to complete this show.
Another point of how dull this show is lies in D’Eon, the protagonist himself… or herself. It is a human being that not only crossdresses but also crossgenders… like a lizard… with magic. It is part of the fantasy aspect of the show and trust me when I say it ends up being more annoying than catchy. First of all the protagonist is based on a historical figure which was JUST crossdressing. Going for this gender bender is an insult to him and history altogether, further alienating the viewer from both the setting and the attempt to be historical accurate. Beyond that, it is again useless to the plot. His sister could easily appear as a ghost or something and it wouldn’t make a difference if he could just crossdress the usual way. Hell, this way it would also attract ten thousand fujoshis to the show. And if I am to compare him with other characters that do the same ( Ranma ½ is the most famous example) he is again found to be the dullest of them all. Just think that something similar counts for all the rest of the characters; they are all very loosely based on the real historical figures which will insult those who know their past, and at the same time make them look all serious and uninteresting.
This is yet again one of those anime that most find dull yet those who are mostly interested in the theoretical aspect of the story or the superficial looks of the setting will love it. Oh sure, turn a blind eye to the dull plot, the cold characters, the lack of a central theme, the absence of memorable scenes and EVERYBODY can like it. You might as well give the script and the brainstorming sketches to these people, they will still love it the same even without watching the show. In the meantime the rest of humanity actually cares if a series is boring to follow or the characters look like statues.
… What else? Oh yes, the sound part; I always have very little to write about it if the whole series is boring. So yeah, the soundtrack is some pop/ballad/electronic guitar combo. Nice to hear but nothing memorable. The voice actors do a fine job in making the characters sound as serious as they really are and again nothing memorable. Sound effects ARGH ANNOYING PSALM EFFECTS!
So there you go; a show that sounds good but looks bad… and I don’t mean the soundtrack is better than the visuals. It’s not. I HATE THOSE PSALMS! The appeal is simply off.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 8/10
Analysis: General Artwork 2/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 2/2, Animation 1/2, Visual Effects 2/2
SOUND SECTION: 6/10
Analysis: Voice Acting 2/3, Music Themes 3/4, Sound Effects 1/3
STORY SECTION: 4/10
Analysis: Premise 2/2, Pacing 0/2, Complexity 1/2, Plausibility 0/2, Conclusion 1/2
CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: Presence 1/2, Personality 1/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 1/2, Catharsis 1/2
VALUE SECTION: 2/10
Analysis: Historical Value 0/3, Rewatchability 0/3, Memorability 2/4
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 2/10
Analysis: Art 0/1, Sound 0/2, Story 1/3, Characters 1/4
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