Pile of Shame - Seven Cities Storyby Justin Sevakis, Jan 21st 2014
Seven Cities Story
One day, with no warning, the Earth's polar axis shifts 90 degrees, shaking up human civilization like an Etch-A-Sketch and killing everybody. Luckily by this time, humanity had a pretty decent settlement going on the moon, and once things settled down on Earth, they were able to re-colonize the place, establishing 7 city-states in strategic locations. In order to keep the new Earth settlers under control, the moon-based government also built the Olympos System, which is an array of weaponized satellites that blows anything that tries to fly into smithereens. Then, an unknown virus attacks the moon base, which kills everyone on it, leaving all of humanity trapped on the ground by its own satellite system.
All of this supposedly takes place a couple hundred years into the future, but you wouldn't know it by looking at Seven Cities Story, the interesting but somewhat weakly realized OAV adaptation of a series of short stories by Yoshiki Tanaka, best known for his Legend of Galactic Heroes and Heroic Legend of Arslan stories. In fact, one can barely call it science fiction, as the cars, the fashions and the technology look just like they did the year it came out. There are no computers anywhere, and all the laborious world-building is basically a thinly veiled attempt to transplant the tactical feuding of Legend of Galactic Heroes onto a maritime-based earth-bound setting.
To wit, Seven Cities Story is really about two opposing military strategists, both of them ruggedly good-looking charismatic young men. The first is the brash and cocky (and horribly named) Almarick Aswaer, often referred to as A.A, who commands troops for the city-state of Aquironia, and the uptight genius young military adviser Kenneth Guildford of New Camelot. The two never meet each other in the OAV, but are aware of each other as rivals, even as they fight through the complex chain of command in their own ranks.
The story is hard to keep straight. There is so much political world-building to be done and so many awkward names to learn that the show frequently relies on captions to keep us apprised of what side we're watching, and where that part of the story is taking place. It's too much for an OAV this short. We end up lost in a garble of fantasy location names, military-speak and battle tactics. We don't learn much about the characters, or what motivates them, or any culture from each land's people. There's never a sense of anything being at stake -- it's like listening to people playing a military role playing game from the next room.
More amusing is how few tricks Yoshiki Tanaka has up his sleeve, from a military tactics point of view. A sneak attack involving luring the enemy into what looks like a perfect location from which to attack, only to have that area be coated in oil and set fire to, is a pivotal turning point in the far, far better Heroic Legend of Arslan. Here, it's carried out so clumsily that it's difficult to tell who is attacking who. For this, the blame rests squarely on the screenplay, but to be fair, it's probably impossible to have told a story this complicated in a manner that's all that coherent. This, despite the original work being basically a short story.
The character design looks an awful lot like it passed through Yasuomi Umetsu's hands, or perhaps had some Kia Asamiya influence, but neither name graces the painstakingly translated bilingual credit roll. (The English titles are riddled with spelling errors, of course.) Character designs and animation direction is credited to Katsumi Matsuda, whose credits also include Legend of Crystania, Steamboy, and more recently with Umetsu himself on Wizard Barristers. The rest of the artwork is decent but unremarkable for its era, with lots of watercolor backgrounds and thick-lined warships that look painstakingly rendered, but are nonetheless dull to look at. Direction duties are handled by Mamoru Kanbe, who made a few other lame OAVs but has put out better-known works recently, such as Elfen Lied, Sound of the Sky and You and Me.
Despite the original author's fame, Seven Cities Story is boring and not very good. There is potential in the worldview it builds, but wastes it by half-assing its characters, and rushing things so badly that nothing seems all that important. It's one of those two-part OAVs from the 90s that belongs in the dustbin of history -- surely you will forget about it almost as quickly as it's over.
Japanese Name: 七都市物語 (Nana Toshi Monogatari)
Media Type: OAV
Length: 2 x 30 min.
Genres: Seinen, military, Sci-fi (?)
Availability (Japan): Aside from the original VHS and LD release, a DVD re-release containing both episodes was released, but is now out of print, and fetch a slightly inflated price on the used market.
Availability (English): Just fansubs.
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