Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Feb 20th 2014
Storia Della Arcana Famiglia
Blu-Ray - Complete Collection
Somewhere off the coast of Italy is the island of Regalo, ruled by a group known as the Arcana Famiglia. The Papa, or head, of the family has just made a decree – he will hold an Arcana Duello to determine who will be the next Papa...and who will get his daughter Felicità's hand in marriage. Since Felicità's not thrilled about this and all of the Family members have mystic powers granted by the Major Arcana of the Tarot, this is going to be an interesting battle indeed...and eleven other episodes to get to it.
On the beautiful Italian island of Regalo there lives a very special group. Known as the Arcana Famiglia, not only is their core group devastatingly handsome and ready to fill all of your fetish needs, but they also have made contracts with a sentient deck of Tarot cards. Each main member of the Famiglia has a special mark and power related to this Tarocco (Italian for Tarot), always one of the major arcana. The group is led by Mondo, a grizzled man who has a contract with The World and who, for various reasons, is ready to retire. At his birthday celebration, he announces that there will be a battle for the succession – Arcana Duello – and that the winner who successfully uses his skills and powers to defeat Mondo will have a wish granted, the title of “Papa,” and the lovely Felicità's hand in marriage. Felicità is Mondo's daughter, a member of the group in her own right, and in no way pleased by this turn of events. Thus is set up a battle for the throne and the girl, as well as her own fight for her right to choose.
If only that were the plot of the whole series rather than the first and last episodes. Storia della Arcana Famiglia sets up for an exciting and potentially empowering and/or romantic storyline, but then throws it away in favor of ten episodes that feel like events from the game. Yes, the show is based on a 2011 otome game from HuneX, but that alone needn't dictate its quality. As it stands, Arcana Famiglia is more a story of wasted potential than anything else.
Despite the fact that it is littered with eligible men, Arcana Famiglia narrows down its harem very quickly to two primary contenders for Felicità's heart, which is actually quite a good move. The focus is on the two Famiglia members closest to her age: her hardworking and stoic cousin Nova (Death) and excitable and energetic Libertà (The Fool). This does allow for both young men to have a decent amount of character development, even more than Felicità herself when you come right down to it. It is also a nice change to see Libertà, whose reverse harem trope rarely makes it anywhere near Mr. Right in stories of this genre, ultimately be one of the two major options. He really is the stand out character in the show, a fact helped by Jun Fukuyama's vocal talents in the sub track, although Blake Shepard also does a very good job in the English dub. Libertà and Nova are at constant odds, which gets old quickly, but they also do learn from each other. Presumably Felicità is also getting something out of her interactions with them, but for a girl with the power to see into other people's hearts (courtesy of The Lovers), her own is pretty much a closed book to viewers. While she is not as blank a slate as the infamous heroine of Amnesia, she is also not nearly as much of a character as any member of her harem.
“Adventures” gone on in this series do include a cave laden with traps and being stuck on an island after some nautical foolishness, but for the most part this is a show that focuses on the everyday aspects of Famiglia members on the island. They tend the garden. They eat lemon pie. Pace (pah-chay) eats a lot of lasagna. Debito is smarmily seductive while Luca freaks out and Jolly (joe-lee) is darkly mysterious. If you just like looking at idealized Italian scenery and attractive men, you'll enjoy this show more than if you want a solid plot. Similarly disappointing is the general air of convenience and contrivance around powers and plot points. Everything just comes easily to the characters, and explanations are thrown in whenever it suits the writers, even if that means awkward timing or info-dumping. There are also some issues with the time period. Technology would indicate the early twentieth century, but Felicità wears a micro-mini and most characters favor swords, which would be anachronistic. There's a car, but all boats are sailing vessels. Given the paucity of the plot, these small details become more noticeable as the viewer has time to gaze about the lovely town and mansion scenery.
Both the Japanese and the English vocal tracks work for the show, but there are a few more issues with the dub than the sub. The latter's main problem is that it reverses the accent marks on Felicità's and Libertà's names, facing them right rather than left. The dub, on the other hand, makes two somewhat baffling choices. The more striking one is casting a woman as Nova. He has a very masculine voice in Japanese, so it doesn't appear to be a case of matching, and while Kara Greenberg does a fine job, her voice just doesn't fit the character. The other major issue with the dub may not bother everyone: little to no effort has been made to correctly pronounce the Italian. This is most glaring with “famiglia,” in which the “g” is silent. Honestly, even without background in the language, the fact that “fam-ig-lee-a” sounds kind of silly is enough of a problem when it is perfectly simple to say “fam-ee-lee-a.” As I said, this may be too picky, but it certainly can take away from the enjoyment of an otherwise mostly fine dub.
Storia della Arcana Famiglia is not the best reverse harem show out there. With the plot wandering away for the ten middle episodes, a heroine who doesn't have a whole lot of personality, and clunky explanations and convenient plot devices, this is not nearly as fun or enjoyable as it could have been. If you are a devoted fan of the genre, there are still elements and characters to enjoy, but if you are looking for a mob story, romance, or any of the other things this could have been, look elsewhere.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Gorgeous Italian setting, some interesting characters. Makes some changes to the usual reverse harem line up, at least in terms of who has a chance. OAV is quite funny.
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