The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide
Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion
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Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion ?
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If you're searching for a suitable replacement for Golden Kamuy's life-or-death action scenes, Angolmois is looking like a strong candidate. So far, the protagonist has beheaded mutineers on a boat in a storm, set fire to a building he was imprisoned in, and mowed down the scouting party of an invading army. On top of that, there's not even an out-of-place CG bear to distract from all the fighting. As the opening act of an action-focused period piece, this episode is pretty solid across the board.
This premiere does a particularly nice job of establishing its main characters as the underdogs. Kuchii and his fellow exiles barely even make it to the island of Tsushima at all, and they're greeted with the revelation that they're essentially cannon (or perhaps arrow) fodder for an impending battle. The princess who tells them all this seems confident enough at the time, but we soon see that she's even more worried about the invasion than the guys who'll be on the front line. On the other side, we have an enormous force whose scouts are apparently able to slip onto the island unimpeded. The expendable baddies are clearly a cut above the defending soldiers, and their commanding officer is tough enough to fight Kuchii to a draw. Couple all of that with an opening flash-forward suggesting that the coming battle will be remarkably bloody, and you've got a compelling hook for a story about a ragtag group fighting against an overwhelming foe.
As far as the characters go, Kuchii is suitably tough without giving off the impression that he's invincible. He's clearly screwed up badly enough to get himself exiled, and while we don't get much information on how he ended up here, that backstory seems like it will be intriguing piece of the larger narrative. Teruhi walks an interesting line between outward confidence and inward hesitation; the image she projects when the exiles first arrive is a far cry from the fears she reveals in private. There's plenty of potential for engaging character development there, provided the series doesn't relegate Teruhi to a damsel in distress role. Kuchii's fellow exiles are less noteworthy in their characterization at the moment, but I'm inclined to chalk that up as an efficient use of screen time; there's only so much that can be crammed into a single episode. Hopefully there's at least some depth behind their basic personalities.
The one thing this episode could absolutely do without is the “vintage” filter that's applied to just about every scene. Its effects are inconsistent at best: it does give the show a unique look and makes for some neat visuals in the opening and ending credits, but for the most part it just distracts from the otherwise strong visual direction and animation. Your enjoyment of Angolmois will depend at least partially on your level of interest in dudes killing other dudes with swords, but it certainly looks like it could be a top-tier genre piece. I'm a sucker for a good battle scene, so I'll definitely stick around to see how this invasion plays out.
Angolmois is a curious entry in this season, as a work of pure historical fiction rather than some supernatural tale with historical trappings. It looks like it's going to focus (at least at first) on one of the two Battles of Tsushima Island, which were the first battles of the Mogolian invasions of Japan in both 1274 and 1281. (That unfortunate honor happens because Tsushima is located roughly halfway between Korea and Japan at their nearest points, and thus lies in the ideal invasion lane.) Based on the details presented in the first episode, I have to wonder if the two instances might be getting muddled together here for storytelling purposes. The mention of the princess's father, So Sukekuni, as the leader of Tsushima Island seems to indicate that this is 1274 (he died in action as the island was overrun), but the numbers quoted at the end of the episode fit better with 1281 and how the historical Tsushima forces successfully defended the island in the later engagement fits better in a storytelling sense.
Regardless of which invasion is actually going to be depicted, or if it is going to be a conglomeration of the two, it makes for suitably dramatic fodder for an action-oriented story about a pivotal point in Japanese history. The first episode shows that the series is going to be able to deliver quite well on its action chops, with a number of short but intense action sequences that are both figuratively and literally sharp; Jinzaburo's fight with the red-eyed foreigner near the end of the episode even features some deft battle choreography. A fair amount of graphic content is also evident, including severed heads and one shot through a body that has just been slashed in half.
The cast also shows promise. None of the major characters introduced so far is a complete caricature or stereotype, with Jinzaburo not coming across much earthier than the standard persecuted hero and Princes Teruhi struggling to find a balance between the incredibly crass pragmatism demanded by the situation she's in and being a genuinely good soul. Some of the other exiles also show signs of becoming a respectable bunch of ragtag warriors. (Which invasion the story follows will likely determine how many of them actually survive.) The antagonist this episode, in the form of the red-eyed warrior who seems to be a foreigner but also knows Jinzaburo's fighting style, is more of a standard mystery, though why he was attempting to kidnap Teruhi if he's not affiliated with the Mongols is a potentially interesting twist.
Visually, I wasn't crazy about the filters being used to give the whole production an aged look, but Teruhi is plenty pretty enough and the technical merits are good beyond that. Overall, this series looks a worthy choice for those seeking something more mature and distinct from the anime norm.
As far as historical action dramas are concerned, Angolmois: Record of Mongolian Invasion is about as straightforward as they come. The setting is 13th Century Japan Kuchii Jinzaburou is a former general who finds himself disgraced and captured by pirates, though it isn't long before he turns the tables on them and commandeers the ship and the crew for himself. It turns out Kuchii just can't escape the looming threat of Mongolian invasion, though, as he finds himself taken in by Princess Teruhi of Tsushima, who expects Kuchii and his men to fend off the Mongolian threat. A ransacking and couple of swordfights later, and we have the setup for a rousing adventure that is certain to satisfy any fans who feel this summer is lacking in some good ol' blood n' guts warfare.
This was definitely a good premiere, but it didn't necessarily wow me. The historical setting and the underdog soldiers narrative makes for a choice setup for an anime, but there's just something about how all the pieces came together that had Angolmois leaving me a little cold by the time this first episode finished. Maybe it's the crew of pirates and ne'er-do-wells that Kuchii has rounded up on Tsushima, who are all perfectly serviceable as supporting characters but don't do much to stand out here. It could also be the show's art style that's rubbing me the wrong way; I dig the efficiently simple character design and well-choreographed duels that this episode delivered, but I'm not a fan of the smeary filter that's been laid on top of all of the animation. In certain scenes it gives the series a painterly look that helps cell the age of the setting, especially during the quick-battles and pillaging scenes that take place at night. During many of the more still, dialogue driven sequences, though, the effect comes off as cheap and distracting, and I think it detracts from the otherwise solid aesthetics of the episode.
Thankfully, the show is buoyed by its atmosphere, plotting, and the strength of the two central characters we meet this week, Kuchii and Princess Teruhi. Kuchi is the kind of fundamentally honorable hardass that these kinds of stories were made for, a man who is more than capable of spilling gallons worth of enemy blood in one moment and serving as a capable and inspiring leader the next. The princess is even more engaging, a conflicted young woman who has to figure out how to save her people while fending off a horde that seems positively inhuman. If there's one narrative hook I'm on board for in Angolmois, it's seeing how these two characters will rise up to face the hardships of the coming war, given their unique positions of authority.
Covering first episodes in the Preview Guide can be tricky, since first impressions can be affected by so many factors. It's highly possible that six weeks from now, this series will have warmed on me, and I'll look back on this premiere more fondly. For now, I can still recommend Angolmois to anyone looking for something with a little more edge this summer. I think I'll stick with it myself, in spite of my criticisms, if only because the world could always use more shows that feature a pirate and a princess kicking ass together.
If you're looking for interesting action this season, I suspect that Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion will have you covered. It's already got an appealing attention to historical detail in its architecture and the little things about how Princess Teruhi live, such as her lady's maid holding her hair behind a screen while she bathes, and the battle scenes are just bloody enough to get the point across without being overkill. Add in the fact that it's an interesting period of history no matter whose side you approach the invasion from and this is a recipe for an interesting show.
This episode is a nice combination of set up and action. The story opens on the aftermath of a pitched battle that's clearly a vicious one before switching to a few days previous, when disgraced Kamakura retainer Jinzaburou is being shipped to a remote island as punishment for his crimes. He's clearly in rough company and basically a good guy (although the same might be said of pirate Onitakemaru, who takes Jinzaburou's side against the mutineers), although he's obviously been through some things that have forced him to take a less than honorable path. The question of just what he did is likely to be a major plot point, as well as why, specifically, he did it, because while he's rough, there's a feeling that it's because of what he's been through. This guy did not have a cushy job back with the ruling class, and I'm very curious to know more about him.
The other major player of the episode is also interesting, albeit in a totally different way. Princess Teruhi is in charge of Tsushima while her father is away, and that leaves her as the highest authority as the Mongol invasion looms. She's determined to put on a brave show, but she's really not prepared for how war works. The way she can just sort of switch on her Princess Face and become the implacable ruler is impressive, and she's willing to learn what it is she has to do to not be acting when she's being brave. She and Jinzaburou should form a good team going forward, because she's willing to learn and he seems to genuinely want her to survive. He makes a comment about not being able to escape from war in his life, so there's a suspicion that if he could live quietly on Tsushima, he'd welcome the chance…and that means helping Teruhi.
The animation looks pretty good here, but the major visual drawback is that the episode appears to have been run through a filter to make it look like it was painted on old, crinkly paper. That's kind of annoying and at times affects the clarity of the picture, but the story itself is interesting enough that it can be ignored. Angolmois (an Old French word for “Mongolian”) is looking like an invasion to follow.
Well that was unexpected. Angolmois wasn't on my radar at all going into this season, but after watching this premiere, I have exactly one complaint: too many filters. The grainy filters Angolmois places over every scene actually do contribute to the show's intentionally weathered tone, but they felt obvious and overbearing at times, like you were watching the episode through a dirty screen.
Other than that, I have to admit, this episode was basically perfect.
A great number of Angolmois' strengths are clear even just from its opening song, as we're introduced to its generally gorgeous art design. Angolmois' character designs are distinctive and expressive, and that opening song elevates them through fluid cuts that melt into blots and brushstrokes. This evocatively anachronistic style is matched by a beautiful array of colors and dramatic, creative compositions, an intelligence of visual design that will carry all through this episode. From its beautifully animated, choreographed, and directed fight scenes to its generally dynamic compositions and keen understanding of visual economy, Angolmois is a visually stunning production.
That strength of visual execution is matched by equally sturdy storytelling. Angolmois introduces us to Kuchii Jinzabouru, a former general who's now been consigned to exile for some unmentioned crime. This first episode drops us directly into the action, opening with a bloody mutiny on board Kuchii's prison ship. This opening sequence acts as both an action highlight and a graceful introduction to much of the cast, as we learn about Kuchii's fellow prisoners at the same pace he does. By the time Kuchii and his fellow exiles have arrived at the island of Tsushima, we have a clear impression of the personalities of a good half dozen prisoners, all inferred through offhand lines and character designs. Angolmois comes across as simultaneously propulsive and incredibly rich in inference, wasting no time in establishing its main cast.
Once the prisoners arrive at that island, they learn they've avoided execution only to be conscripted to fight a mongol army. Their jailor is Princess Teruhi, an uncertain leader whose rapport with Kuchii and own personal arc also build naturally all through this episode. Angolmois leans on archetype when convenient, but its iconic story is so energetically told and gracefully realized that I can't really fault it for cliche, particularly when its larger tropes contribute so naturally to its overarching “larger than life historical drama” tone. By the end of this episode, I was genuinely invested in Teruhi, Kuchii, and even a few of Kuchii's fellow ne'er-do-wells, and the episode pulled that off without ever relenting from its action-packed central narrative.
Angolmois offers terrific art design, fluid fight animation, engaging character writing, and a breakneck action narrative from start to finish. I'm not sure if the show can keep up its current beauty of execution, but its fundamental strengths in terms of plotting, direction, and overall storytelling are so clear that I don't even necessarily think it needs to. This was the best premiere I've seen this season, and I encourage everyone to check it out.
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