The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
Alderamin on the Sky
How would you rate episode 1 of
Alderamin on the Sky ?
What is this?
In a world where magical sprites exist alongside late 19th-century technology and serve as companions to humans, Yatorishino Igsem, her longtime associate Ikta Solork, and a trio of others journey to take their important military exams in the Katjvarna Empire. During a storm at sea, their ship runs into trouble and they take to a lifeboat with a young girl who Ikta rescues from the ocean. The girl turns out to be Chamille, the 12-year-old third princess of the Empire, and they soon discover that the cave they've taken shelter in is part of Kioka Republic territory. They're now behind enemy lines, since the Empire has long been at war with the Republic. Before the Republic forces find them, they must decide whether to surrender or try the more dangerous approach of breaking through to the Empire's border. Alderamin on the Sky is based on a series of light novels and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Fridays at 1:30 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
Another day, another dry-as-dirt light novel adaptation starring a lovable misogynist. Our snarky and disaffected "hero" Ikta sure crams a lot of uncomfortable behavior into twenty minutes. First, he starts feeling up his busty female comrade while asking if she does much housework. (His other lady-friend drags Ikta off her at this point and casually comments that if the poor girl doesn't watch her back, he's liable to grope her chest or just outright rape her.) Then when Ikta sees a young girl stowaway on board his ship, he comments that she's "five or six years away from being ready to eat, but fifteen away from being fully ripe." Gross. Finally, when that young girl starts to panic after they've been shipwrecked, he grabs her roughly by the face and tells her to shut up. So yeah, Ikta's not going to win any awards for likability anytime soon. Unfortunately, the show itself seems to think he's just a charming rapscallion, and that's not even Alderamin on the Sky's biggest problem.
No, the real issue with this show is that the dialogue is atrocious bland blather from start to finish. Everything that comes out of these characters' stiff faces is either long-winded exposition about the overworld lore or an in-depth explanation of some new character's family history and class attributes. Oh, and sometimes there are icky attempts at humor like the protag's hilarious "jokes" mentioned above. Props for setting your teen military adventure in a fantastical island jungle instead of a high school, I guess, but at no point are we given any reason to care about any of the too-detailed politicking and generic worldbuilding that gets spewed our direction. The overreaching design work can barely be animated on this series' apparent shoestring budget, so the characters' inability to emote much only makes the lack of decent characterization worse. Not even tiny fairies with teletubby powers can make this dud interesting. Unless Alderamin somehow turns into a complex epic masterpiece down the line, I'd say this light novel pabulum is a pretty easy skip.
Alderamin on the Sky's first episode reminded me of nothing so much as the first session of a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign. The show quickly finds a reason to toss together its six would-be heroes - the sarcastic male lead, the stoic female lead, the ditzy healer girl, the soft-spoken sniper, the princess, and the comic relief - sticks them all on a boat, and then sinks that boat immediately. When they wash ashore, they're trapped behind enemy lines, and now must journey across hostile territory in order to bring the princess safely home.
It's a pretty typical fantasy premise, but as far as that goes, I actually liked how this show didn't beat around the bush. It's nice that the principle leads Yatori and Ikta already have a clear relationship, and even if the other relationships seem pretty flat (Haro and Matthew in particular aren't really characters at all), the focus here is clearly on propelling these heroes into their adventure as quickly as possible. The episode moves well, and the idea that everyone outside of the princess was essentially a general-in-training means this party possesses a base competence that lends itself to an exciting adventure. Additionally, the fact that Ikta as an orphan has a strangely intense level of reverence for the royal family (in that he got angry when the princess let down his expectations) is a somewhat unique character beat, one that will hopefully steer his character in a more interesting direction than “teaches the princess how to enjoy the real world.”
The show's aesthetics aren't that much to speak of, unfortunately. The character designs feel a little stiff both at rest and in motion, and there also isn't that much motion. The animation is quite limited, and direction fairly flat as well - no scenes here really conveyed any information visually that wasn't already being explained through dialogue. This episode also didn't get to much beyond introducing the party and premise; we know they're behind enemy lines, but there's never a sense of urgency, and even the shipwreck that kicks off the narrative isn't a particularly exciting setpiece. The combined lack of directorial punch and fairly mundane narrative events mean Alderamin spends most of this episode in a dramatic neutral, simply laying out pieces that might become exciting somewhere down the line.
Altogether, Alderamin in the Sky's premise is a reasonable start to a fantasy adventure, but not something that's likely to hook anyone not already interested in a classic hero party-style trek. If the show is able to flesh out the secondary members of the party and add some spice to its narrative, it could build up into a perfectly satisfying adventure. As of this episode, it could go either way.
Review: I may be giving this one a little higher rating than it deserves, but that is to show my appreciation for what may be my favorite type of steampunk/fantasy series: one which may use kids but focuses mostly on characters who are actually appropriate in age for what they are doing, is dense in its world-building aspect, and employs sumptuous visual standards. In fact, in some respects the look and feel of this series reminds me of Guin Saga, and that's not a bad thing at all.
Studio Madhouse can produce some truly fantastic-looking productions when it brings its A game to the table, and this is the most recent example. It features attractive characters who have a greater sense of depth than normal and are distinctive-looking and distinctively-dressed but without being too outlandish, though apparel more appropriate for being on a beach seems to be the norm for the fully-grown women. (That's basically the series’ concession to fan service so far, though it doesn't look to last; the promo art and opener both indicate that all of these characters will eventually be in proper military uniforms.) Background art is quality work both on the ship and in natural settings, and the animation is a definite grade above the norm.
The writing makes a distinct effort to lay out the setting without info-dumping, though some of the naming conventions being used (A mix of Western names and purely fantasy-themed ones) become cumbersome. It also tries hard to quickly establish the personalities of the main cast and their relationships to each other, although that scene also perhaps could have been a little smoother. The personality types involves aren't anything unusual; Ikta may be lazy and a womanizer but is also quite capable when he wants to be, Yatorishino is the more even-tempered and proper woman who can put Ikta in his place (or perhaps more accurately, he allows her to do so, as he seems like he could resist it if he wanted to), Haroma is the more shy and uncertain one, and so forth. However, they should make for a pretty good mix going forward, as their personalities give them ample opportunity to bounce off each other while still allowing them to work together. The mild surprise here is Princess Chamille, who already has a relatively good balance of childish emotion befitting her age and the firmness one would expect of someone being raised to potentially rule.
My guess is that this is head toward being one of those “forge diverse characters into a military unit through crisis” kind of stories, as the group shown so far offers two probable shootser, one probable melee specialist, a probable tactician, and a combat medic. The opener and promo artwork suggests that the princess is going to be around for the long haul, too, even if getting her back to the empire only takes part of the season. Whatever does end up happening, the first episode may be a little rough around the edges (it is a first-time director), but it has all of the elements in line to be a solid series of its type.
Well, this is certainly and odd way to set up a military action series. Instead of showing off its production values by starting off with some sort of out-of-context battle scene, Alderamin on the Sky spends its first episode telling the audience how interesting and exciting it's going to be. Part of me expected it to turn into the anime equivalent of a survival crafting game once everybody washed up on a deserted beach, and I'm a little disappointed none of the characters started punching trees in order to get wood. Considering the contrast with the gray, serious opening credit sequence, it's hard to figure out just what this show is trying to be.
It certainly doesn't help that Ikta makes a lousy first impression as the ostensible main character. He's painted as the kind of hero who manages to be hyper-competent despite acting lazy and abrasive, but he ends up coming across as an irredeemable pain in the butt. We're supposed to like him for instinctively risking his life to save the princess, but that's a lot to ask when he spends the majority of the episode alternating between “obnoxiously snarky” and “kind of a creep.” If he doesn't get the hot air knocked out of him in a hurry, this series is going to be a very long slog.
At least the rest of the cast is tolerable. Matthew is kind of endearing, even if it's far too obvious that he's the designated comedy relief character. Despite being a little on the generic side, Yatori helps keep Ikta in check and seems like the more interesting of the show's leads. Chamille strikes a decent balance between shouldering the responsibility of being part of a royal family and acting like she might actually be twelve years old. Everyone else slots neatly into their respective supporting roles, and the group as a whole is pleasant enough.
The show's technical merits seem fairly solid, even if they have yet to be tested by any kind of major action sequence. The characters look fine, and some of the environments are very easy on the eyes. The blend of magic and more traditional machinery is kind of intriguing, as is the storyline that this episode sets up. There's some potential here despite the oddly talky first episode, but a weak main character can easily derail a series like this if left undeveloped.
This is definitely a show that needs another episode or two to get going. Alderamin on the Sky, which does not appear to be science fiction despite the title, is in the throes of setting things up for an epic war story wherein our lazy jerk protagonist becomes an amazing general and saves the (currently) loli princess. As far as set up episodes go, this one is actually quite interesting. A group of teens are setting sail for what I assume is the military academy to take their qualification exams when their ship goes down in a storm. The vessel also happens to be carrying the third princess of their nation, so naturally when their lifeboat washes up, it does so in enemy territory, making this look like a combination of Robinson Crusoe and Baby Island with a fantasy twist. Since those are both good books, this is a pretty promising start.
The problems here lie more in the execution. Character introductions are very clumsy, with everyone walking into their cabin on the ship and immediately saying their names and those of their little sprite companions with almost no preamble. Each introduction is geared to show us what type of character everyone is, with Ikta, the main male lead, creeping on the sweet girl, Haroma, within seconds of meeting her. There are competing nobles, a wannabe hotshot, and the gentle medic all thrown together, with commoner orphan Ikta bragging about his lack of heritage loudly enough to make us all instantly guess that he'll be revealed to be some lost duke's son or something. As far as by-the-book introductions go, this is pretty classic.
Things do pick up with the shipwreck, although that scene itself isn't all that well done – there's nothing for them to have broken up against, the seas aren't that rough, and what kind of crew only puts five people in a large lifeboat before lowering it? Especially if one of them isn't the princess. Of course, this could all be brilliant set up to indicate that the enemy country whose territory they wash up in orchestrated the whole thing with the express intention of killing or capturing Princess Chamille. That would explain how they so quickly turn up near the secluded cave the gang holes up in, although not why the sails were full and not collapsing in the water as the ship went down.
There are a lot of nice visual touches in the episode, such as the characters’ outfits, which have a vaguely middle eastern fantasy flair, and the jungle the group ends up in looks lush and has recognizable flora and fauna. (I particularly liked the pitcher plants.) Character designs give everyone chubby cheeks and they all have their own distinct body types rather than just one for the guys and a choice of two breast sizes for the girls. The animation feels a little blocky in places and isn't always as fluid as it ought to be, often cutting out action scenes in favor of still moments, such as how we see Ikta take off his shirt and Chamille underwater, but neither of them actually swimming towards each other.
Once the main story gets going, Alderamin on the Sky may become an engaging wartime story. It has the potential to, it just needs to get where it wants to be. This episode feels harmless enough to be interesting without being thrilling or hugely engaging, so this is definitely a case of “time will tell” if you feel like sticking around.
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