Sunday, September 19, 2010

Anime — Kemono no souja Erin

Where 2007's Seirei no Moribito adapted the first of a series of ten novels by Nahoko Uehashi over 26 episodes, this 2009 series adapted the first two of a separate quartet of hers over 50 episodes; and while they are, in broad, fantasy, there is none of even the limited magic from the Moribito series.

We follow Erin -- crabapple -- for a decade or so from her childhood, where her mother, Soyon, tends some of the ferocious war lizards -- touda -- that the Grand Duke of the land employs as the ultimate weapon against potential invaders, and Erin herself is a keen observer of her mother's craft and of the natural world around her. As an outsider, from a despised people, who had only married into the touda raising village, Soyon is the obvious scapegoat when the whole colony fall to some mysterious sickness.

Literally cast adrift after her mother's death, Erin is eventually fostered by a kindly bee-keeper, under whose care she discovers more about the natural world -- and encounters for the first time the ohju, the wolf/roc lord beasts with their iridescent plumage. Being fascinated by these creatures, and nature as a whole, she finally manages to be inducted into the prestigious school-cum-ohju care centre near the capital, in the peaceful lands of the True Queen, whom the Grand Duke protects.

And as Erin takes to her craft, and violates all manner of traditions of ohju-care in doing so, politics and dissension amongst the successors of both the throne and the dukedom brew up and engulf her, against all her desires, until a final resolution that changes the status quo forever.

Being spread over so many episodes, the pacing is glacial during the first arc, until Erin is cast into exile (part of the reason why this review is somewhat belated); but once that is past, and the story starts to move, albeit at a leisurely pace, it becomes gently compelling, in the same quiet way that Aria is.

It is clearly an anime aimed at younger children -- not only are there some comic relief characters whose function is purely that; but the last episode concluded with an announcement that there would be a 10 episode summary then broadcast on an education channel. As such, where there is violence involving touda or ohju, the art moves from realistic to an effective highly stylized mode; and the person-to-person combats are almost bloodless; this being Japan, though, there are several themes, including Erin's preference for suicide to being used as a tool by any of the competing factions, that are probably not sanitizable for sensitive Western tastes.

Overall, good, but not great. Being on Crunchyroll, it's viewable without fansub guilt -- but equally it's unlikely to make it to DVD.

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