Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 12th 2007
Le Chevalier D'Eon
DVD 4 - Ancien Regime
D'Eon and crew pursue Maximilien Robespierre and the Royal Psalms to England, but memory flashes from Lia's life, and startling indications that she was quite tight with the same Maximilien who now wants to use her soul to open the Royal Psalms, weigh heavily on d'Eon as the line between him and Lia starts to blur. In London they seek out the aid of the Comte de Guercy, a former Le Secret du Roi member and associate of Lia now serving as French ambassador, who helps them in their investigation into the work of a Poet behind the scenes in Parliament but soon shows that money controls his loyalty more than any spirit of national pride. Left in a precarious situation, d'Eon's team exploits their only feasible option: a direct appeal for aid to Queen Mary-Charlotte, made available by her own previously-unknown past connection to Lia. Meanwhile, Durand receives disturbing instructions from Louis XV, Maximilien advances his scheme to open the Royal Psalms, and maneuvering back at Versailles intensifies.
To date Le Chevalier d'Eon has built its appeal on its dashing swordfights, Psalms-based mysticism, exploitation of its period setting, and the intricate, multilayered intrigues swirling about (and often catching up) its core cast of four French agents. Volume four, which covers episodes 13-16, exploits the latter three elements to the max in crafting a superb example of quality anime plotting and storytelling. Characters scheme on multiple levels, struggle with issues of loyalty and identity, and use turns of flowery diplomatic phrasing to imply their meaning or manipulate people to their advantage, all while mystic use of Psalms and Latin phrases threatens life and limb or offers up new opportunities. Taken together they form a well-paced and thoroughly engrossing story which offers no shortage of twists and turns.
Those surprises, as much as anything, will keep viewers coming back. Think you figured out most of the basics after the first three volumes? These four episodes are guaranteed to catch you off guard at least twice, possibly more often; the tantalizing suggestion of a past close association between Maximilien and Lia revealed in d'Eon's flashbacks is only the least of the shockers. Only two true action scenes will be found in these four episodes, but plenty enough danger and intrigue exists that action is not needed to keep the intensity level high.
Another factor sure to keep history buffs coming back is how cleverly the series continues to work historical context and characters into its structure. All of the new named individuals in this volume – the Earl of Sandwich, the Comte de Guercy, Robert Wood, King George III, Queen Charlotte, and Paul Whitehead – were real historical figures, although in some cases extreme liberties have been taken with historical fact. (There is no indication, for instance, that Queen Charlotte was ever referred to as “Mary”) The most interesting case involves Sir Francis Dashwood, founder of the notorious Hellfire Club, an organization whose name is not directly mentioned in the series but whose “do what thou wilt” motto, internal naming conventions, meeting place at Medmenham Abbey, and associations with other major names (both the Earl of Sandwich and Paul Whitehead were, as depicted in the series, reputed to be members) are used. The historical d'Eon, for his part, did indeed work in the French embassy in London and associate with the Comte de Guercy there, and did in fact ply English nobles with wine of his home vintage of Tonnerre, a detail slyly worked into the series under other pretenses.
As has been typical of earlier volumes, designs for new characters adhere as closely as feasible to existing historical portraits of the time, although character designer Tomomi Ozaki also used some well-known current Western actors as models for characters where portraits are not available. (Guercy, for instance, is supposedly patterned off of Jack Black.) Quality background art continues, as do the occasional unusual perspective shots and nice but sparingly-used CG effects, but unfortunately quality control issues with character renderings and minor background/foreground integration problems still linger. The swordfighting and other action scenes flow along as elegantly as ever, but throughout this span the animation also occasionally looks a little stiff. A slightly different color scheme from the norm gives the series a earthier look than the typical brightly-colored anime, reinforcing that this is a series aimed at more mature audiences.
The soundtrack for the series has always been good, but through these four episodes it becomes an exemplar of how to surreptitiously use music to enhance mood and tone. Without ever becoming loud or obvious it masterfully manipulates its orchestrated and string numbers to craft an undercurrent of tension, unease, and suspense. Its opener and closer remain unchanged.
While it may not be a stellar effort, the English dub nonetheless provides a satisfyingly competent and appropriately-cast collection of performances in both new and supporting roles, with the only significant differences between languages being a more exaggerated flourish for Guercy in English, a deeper voice for Louis XV in Japanese, and more accurate pronunciations of English names in English. The English script stays especially tight through these four episodes, going exactly word-for-word with the subtitles whenever lip flaps aren't an issue and often coming close to that even when they are.
Volume four offers a lighter set of Extras than previous volumes, but still more than what the average anime volume packs. On-disc offerings include clean opener and closer and more historical files on important secondary characters, while the accompanying liner booklet delivers character profiles on Caglisotro and Lorenza, an interview with Ken Narita (the Japanese voice of Durand), part IV of the ongoing script serialization, and an ending animation gallery. Amongst the most interesting tidbits these Extras offer is that key secondary characters Lorenza, Teillagory, and Durand are also all either based on, or modeled off of, actual historical figures.
Anyone who was not previously convinced that Le Chevalier d'Eon deserves to be considered amongst 2007's best North American anime releases should be won over by this volume. Its superb use of music and storytelling, combined with solid extras and great (though somewhat inferior to past volumes) packaging, make it one of the year's best individual volumes of anime.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A
+ Intricate storytelling loaded with twists and surprises, exceptional mood-setting musical score.
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