The Spring 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Chaika -The Coffin Princess-

Apr 9th 2014

Theron Martin

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
In some respects Coffin Princess is in a difficult spot, as it is trying to live up to a heady pedigree established more than a decade ago while still capturing more recent stylistic trends. The former comes from it being crafted by the same director/creator team that turned out fantasy powerhouse Scrapped Princess, to which this series will inevitably be compared; after all, this one also features a central trio composed of pair of quite puissant male/female siblings in their late teens/early 20s who are traveling with a younger girl who was apparently once thought to have been killed and may now hold the fate of the world in her hands. There are even some distinct similarities in funky vehicle design, too. The first episode here pales in comparison to that of its predecessor, as it does not have as compelling a hook, as fresh a title character, or as clear-cut a direction in which it is going. However, it should do well enough to attract in viewers and is still a grade above many other fantasy title in recent years.

The story essentially centers around two characters. Title character Chaika is a 14-year-old girl who was told at some past point by a godlike being that she is a tool that will set Fate in motion. Now she is a coffin-toting girl who has gotten hopelessly lost on a mountainside while attempting to reach a particular person and secure (by theft if necessary) a particular item from him. She is also, as 20ish former soldier Tor discovers, a wizard who can use a rifle-like weapon to unleash devastating shots, albeit at the cost of requiring significant set-up time. Tor is no stranger to magic himself; as a former Saboteur he can enhance his physical capabilities through an Iron Transformation spell. The two fall in together when they are confronted by a particularly nasty unicorn, and afterwards Chaika hires him and his sister Akari – who laments that Tor is a good-for-nothing while she does all the work – to help her in securing the item she is after. But they are not the only ones seeking the item, and the noble who possesses it – who is also a wizard - is not inclined to give it up easily.

The first episode tosses out a lot of little details which will presumably eventually gel into something important, which results in the sense that an awful lot more is going on than we yet know aenough about to understand. That also means that the direction that this series will go in is not clear. However, the magic system looks intriguing, the writing blends in just the right touch of humor (a trait it shares with Scrapped Princess), and it has a peculiar-talking girl dragging around a coffin at its center – and there's no way that does not at least temporarily grab one's attention. Chaika's design and clothing are a concession to the more blatant moe flavoring of the past few years, but that is one of the scarier-looking unicorns you will ever see and its end is unexpectedly graphic.

Scrapped Princess
was evident as a major winner by the end of its first episode. This one looks like it will need a little more time to establish itself, but it also shows some promise.

Chaika – The Coffin Princess – is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Review:

Much has already been made of the damn scary unicorn in the first half of Chaika – Coffin Princess, so I shall simply confirm that yes, that thing is terrifying. But the hellicorn is but one feature of what is easily one of the best first episodes of the season, and while it is certainly the most striking, the rest of the show is actually far more interesting.

Toru Acura is out gathering edible plants in the forest when he runs across a girl in full Goth Loli regalia, toting a large coffin. She only speaks in sentence fragments and seems to have gotten herself lost on her way to Toru's village. He offers to take her there for the price of breakfast when the whole demon unicorn thing happens and reveals that he's something called a saboteur, which appears to be a kind of magic user somehow differentiated from a wizard. When the girl (presumably Chaika) discovers his skill, she asks him to do a job for her. Back in town, Toru's sister Akari threatens him with death if Mr. Lazy refuses, and so the three find themselves breaking into a nobleman's mansion to steal an unnamed item...which just so happens to be an impaled hand in a glass jar. More interestingly, the noble freaks out when he spots Chaika, shrieking that she ought to be dead.

It really comes as no surprise that this is from the same author who penned Scrapped Princess. There's a similar dynamic at play between the siblings as in that other series, a real sense of family that's very nice to see. The world likewise feels familiar with its mix of magic and technology-ish items, sort of medieval with a twist. That the story is just barely getting started is apparent, and there are clearly some very deep politics at play that we only just scratch the surface of. But the intrigue is deep and almost immediate, no matter how irritating Chaika's broken speech is. We've already established at least three separate groups who, for whatever reason, want the hand, and there must be a reason why Chaika's toting around that coffin besides a storage place for her weapons – perhaps she's collecting body parts to rebuild someone? Whatever the case, this is a strong first episode, and it looks like it presages a complex story peopled with real, understandable characters as it moves forward.

Chaika – The Coffin Princess is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Hope Chapman

Rating: 4

Review:
With all this talk about the increase in light novel adaptations, the question arises: how do you adapt a light novel WELL? I'm not even talking about the standout, unique light novels like Haruhi Suzumiya or Spice and Wolf, whose flavorful writing makes for memorable entertainment without much noodling in adaptive translation. Can you turn a run-of-the-mill adequate fantasy aimed at young adults into something special with strong execution? Look no further than another nice surprise this season: the darkly fantastical Chaika the Coffin Princess.

Now Chaika isn't the greatest looking show, it's being handled by Studio BONES' C-team, but it knows how to use its assets to make a strong impression, and it also seems to understand how to bring written material to life in a way that is uniquely visual. The coffin princess' world is a harsh and dangerous one, filled with class wars, magicians, and monstrous beasts like razor-toothed unicorns. The fights, even from the top of the episode, are fights to the death, with high stakes, heavy blows, and unspoken bitter histories behind them. (Also gore. Prepare yourself for unicorn gore.) Like Bones' other big outing this season, Captain Earth, a lot of fantasy terms are tossed forth without explanation, and screentime is instead spent exploring the characters' emotions and motivations, with the assumption that all the backstory and worldbuilding will be filled in as we go.

This is what makes it such a strong adaptation. A cursory glance at Chaika's material tells you that it could easily turn into a boring trainwreck of a derivative light novel anime, but there's charm, intrigue, and magic in the way it's translated to screen here. Chaika herself, a monosyllabic lolita dragging around an enormous coffin filled with magical weaponry, is spry and likable rather than babyish and annoying. You can tell she's not stupid just because she doesn't know many words in this strange world's language, and her resourcefulness and drive is admirable, and gels well with the other two characters in their merry band. Male hero Tohru is a little dull by comparison, but his world-weariness and cynicism are also handled with grace and charisma, giving him a strong basis for future development. Then there's Tohru's sister, Akari, who is protective of him in a blessedly believable light that allows her to act like a real sister: dryly funny and hard on him at the same time. No terrible siscon here (yet!) It's really neat that all of these characters feel intelligent in different ways too.

This one's all about the characters, with a sweeping tale of magical mechanics and intrigue hiding just offscreen to be introduced gently, as the story dictates. Which is just the way it should be done. Animation constraints aside, the action scenes are pretty strong too, and the comedy, praises be, actually funny! It's no game-changer, but Chaika the Coffin Princess is a nice little show to waste some time with.

Chaika the Coffin Princess- is available streaming at
Crunchyroll.com.


Bamboo Dong

Rating: 4

Review: Never in my entire life did I think it would be so cool to see a unicorn explode. I mean, I like animals of all kind and don't generally want them to be injured, but I've just never seen anyone fight with an evil, man-eating unicorn before. Especially not one that could gallop through the air on magic platforms. Considering how much anime I consume on a weekly basis, I absolutely need something out of the ordinary to perk up my ears. In the case of Coffin Princess, the unicorn was it.

The coffin princess in question is a mysterious, white-haired gal named Chaika. We don't know too much about her right now, except that she's a wizard, she carries a coffin around with her everywhere, and she's been sent to fetch some kind of magical, severed hand. Along the way, she recruits brother and sister team Toru and Akari, who are able to increase their body's physical defenses via an incantation. Together, they infiltrate a mansion where the hand is being stored (floating creepily in a glowing jar), and we discover that our enigmatic Chaika is supposed to be dead.

From start to finish, the series is just really darned entertaining, and even though I don't typically like quiet, mysterious girls who only speak in sentence fragments, I really like Chaika. She and her newfound compatriots are the right mix of serious and silly, and their interactions go a long way in making the episode a fun fantasy romp, instead of a medieval drag like so many other shows in this genre. The writing also does a good job of balancing exposition and suspense, withholding enough information to make viewers intrigued, but not being so vague that it's frustrating. It's not often that you come across season openers that are this deft at crafting a good hook, but Coffin Princess certainly is.

The mechanics of the world are a joy to watch, as well. Although we're not yet privy to the workings of Chaika's magic gun, it's a neat little contraption, and I like that there's actually a time-cost to performing the spells. It adds a nice bit of RPG flare to the series, and I'm certainly curious to learn more about Chaika and her past. It's a little hard to pinpoint exactly why Coffin Princess is as good as it is, aside from just calling it fun. Part of it comes from Chaika's quirky, twitchy charm, and her blunt methods of communication. Part of it comes from the character designs, whose eye-catching costumes separate the show from other series that take place in that nebulous, quasi-Old World/medieval times generic "fantasy" setting. The action scenes are imaginative as well (see: exploding unicorn), punctuating story progression with splashes of excitement. It's just a series that keeps on moving, without being chaotic or messy.

Originally, I was not too thrilled to watch a show called Coffin Princess, but I realized quickly that I was wrong. This show grabs you by the eyeballs and makes you want to watch. I hope the rest of the series holds up.

Coffin Princess is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Carl Kimlinger

Rating: 4

Review: There's no mistaking it when you find yourself in the hands of pros. Not necessarily creative geniuses, but pros: creators with years of experience, with the hard-won knowledge of how to build a story and seduce an audience. It isn't an easy feeling to describe, but it's unmistakable. There's an ease to pro work, an effortless three-dimensionality of character and world and tale. And right from the beginning Chaika has it.

It's there in the easy humor of the wooded opening, in which coffin-toting wizardress Chaika dodges deadbeat ex-warrior Tohru with adorable ineptitude. It's there in the way the world and the cast expand and flesh out, without once pushing a revelation or obviously explaining anything. We find out that Tohru is a thoroughgoing badass when he and Chaika are targeted by a terrifying unicorn (yes, that's a thing), not because anyone tells us. Chaika bleeds huggable charm, but not in a sugary way, and not without a scary hint of mystery. In the meantime, something epic in scale swirls invisibly around them, the outlines of it only faintly visible in the actions of a greedy count and a questing party who may or may not be hunting Chaika.

The cleanly textured characters; the seamless movement from expert action, to light comedy, to oblique scheming and tensely-orchestrated heisting… No doubt, this is the work of pros. And fantasy pros no less: the long belated reunion of BONES with director Soichi Masui and serial fantasy-world-builder Ichiro Sakaki. Their previous collaboration was Scrapped Princess, one of the better straight fantasy efforts from the turn of the 21st century. And Chaika seems poised to try the same for the current age. It isn't going to turn your mind inside out—yet—but it is tightly-constructed, sharply-presented, and wholly satisfying. It's quality, and in the end, there's no substitute for that.

Chaika – The Coffin Princess is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


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