Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Aug 2nd 2013
Leviathan: The Last Defense
Episodes 1-13 Streaming
The land of Aquafall is under attack. Meteors have been striking the land, bringing with them destructive beasts that multiply at an alarming rate. Syrup, a tiny fairy with an outsized personality and even bigger ambitions, is on the offensive, hunting for powerful warriors to induct into her Aquafall Defense Force (current membership: one). Her search brings her to a peaceful country village. There she meets three girls with differing magical powers. Calm Leviathan can manipulate water, prickly heiress Bahamut can conjure flames, and busy Jörmungandr has immense physical strength. None is particularly inclined to help Syrup out, but they nevertheless have several adventures together, growing closer as they do.
Leviathan is the definition of froth. It's so aerated with cutesy nothingness that it isn't until episode five that it develops an ongoing plot and only three episodes into that that we actually realize that the plot is ongoing. The series is three-quarters gone before its RPG roots really come out, not because it resists RPG tropes but because plot points are so few and far between that it isn't until episode nine that it accumulates enough tropes to be felt. That frothiness is both Leviathan's great strength and its ultimate weakness. It's effortlessly fun to watch, but also about as memorable as, well, something that I can't quite remember right now.
Leviathan's nature is obvious from the outset, where it spends most of its opening episode following the four principals as they meander their way through a normal day, meeting each other in passing before converging at a bar for a thoroughly adorable brawl. It's about as cheerfully free of substance as an episode can be, casually avoiding anything that might possibly undermine its sugary nothingness. This includes intrigue, hard character edges, real emotions, and thought-provoking subtexts, among other potentially ruinous qualities. And that's the strategy that the series sticks with through its entire run. The girls get lost in the forest and mired in a swamp, chase an axe down the digestive tract of a love-struck dragon, go fishing in the ocean, get their barbecue trashed by an alien party-crasher, let a stick decide their route through the desert, help an inn-keeper resuscitate her hot spring, rescue a ruin from ruin, and protect their town from their old enemy the barbecue-crasher—all without doing anything to interfere with our mindless surrender to cuteness.
There's a definite charm to that. Sometimes you need something to carve out a pleasant space in your day without putting any strain on your various faculties. In the past that series might have been (and in my case, was) something like UFO Princess Valkyrie, but Leviathan is a perfectly adequate—and entirely more harmless—substitute. Its fan-service is light and generally innocent—the show considers sex one of those stressful things to be avoided—and the tone of each episode almost terminally laid-back. Much of the series' humor comes from the carelessly unconcerned way that the girls confront objectively distressing situations. Their biggest complaint about trekking through the four stomachs of a swamp dragon? (Apparently dragons are ruminants.) No food. Their reason for taking on an island-sized meteorite beastie? He ruined their barbecue. Bahamut's worry while the group is living off of bugs and dehydrating in the desert? No beds. Their blasé ineptitude makes an easygoing joke of pretty much any conundrum, and sucks the potentially damaging tension from mine cave-ins, monster attacks, quicksand, and any other mortal danger the girls might face. The result is silly, sometimes exceedingly dumb, and strangely, lackadaisically alluring.
It helps, of course, that Leviathan is murderously cute. Takaharu Okuma's huggable moe designs contribute, as does director Kenichi Yatani, whose ability to dance on the sugary precipice of preciousness without falling in is essential to the series' success. Ultimate credit, however, must go to the girls. Leviathan is quiet and prone to endearing fits of po-faced airheadedness. She spends her downtime pining for her possibly-deceased brother and excessively enjoying barley tea. Bahamut is proud and bit standoffish, but also sweetly scared of being alone. She spends her downtime doting on her doting father. Jörmungandr is athletic and outgoing and cheerfully unconcerned with appearances. She spends her downtime taking care of the mining collective that adopted her after she was orphaned. Each has exactly the depth of character to be adorable without violating the series' edict against substance. It's hard not to melt into a puddle of syrup in their presence.
Outside of its overpowering cuteness, the series hasn't a lot in the way of memorable imagery. Aquafall is your average RPG world, full of generically attractive forests, deserts, beaches, and vaguely old-timey architecture. Gonzo's animation is solid without being impressive; extremely effective when communicating the girls' cuteness but merely sufficient to any other purpose. Okuma's designs are incapable of expressing anything more extreme the mild anger and light sadness, though they excel at glowing smiles and silly camaraderie. The3D CG work is classic Gonzo—fluid and detailed and outrageously out of place in the 2D settings—but is undermined by the silly Transformers-esque designs of the 3D meteor monsters. All told, it's an artistic effort that exactly reflects the series' priorities: not awesome fantasy action, not detailed fantasy world-building, not intense drama; just airy, easy comedy with a touch of magical capering.
Shiho Terada and Tomoki Kikuya's score is as light and fluffy as the show itself, forever lending pleasant support but never establishing much of an identity. There are moments, though—especially during the world-building monologues that kick off each episode—when it conjures a dark fantasy atmosphere that makes you wish the pair had a more substantial series to compose for.
The problem with being the series that carves out a pleasant space in your day without putting any strain on your faculties is that succeeding means failing. Specifically, failing at being in any way remarkable. The time spent in Leviathan's company is time enjoyably spent, but it isn't time that leaves any noticeable mark. The show serves its purpose—with occasional flashes of inspiration even, as with the brilliantly stupid gag about the girls' first meeting with a certain lava dragon—and is gone, exiting our lives without so much as a ripple. Unless it's the ripple that reminds us of the side-questing, item-gathering RPG trap that the series falls into in its final stretch.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : D+
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Effortless, innocuous moe fluff with a pleasingly dry sense of humor and an intensely cute main cast.
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