The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide Lord of Vermilion: The Crimson King
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Lord of Vermilion: The Crimson King ?
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How was the first episode?
In looking up its origins after this premiere, I wasn't surprised to learn Lord of Vermilion was based on a CCG franchise. The narrative has that cobbled-together feel to it that many mixed-media franchises exhibit; several key pieces of Fate/stay night's setup here, visual flourishes echoing Tokyo Ghoul there, and an overall focus on establishing a platform to enable general actiony sound and fury. But in spite of feeling pretty Frankensteinian in its various narrative choices, Lord of Vermilion still ultimately offers a reasonable enough premiere.
The show begins with an exaggerated version of that ever-popular “stick around, exciting things will happen in six or seven episodes” cold open that so many shows are fond of, treating us to three and half full minutes of characters killing each other with Tokyo Ghoul-reminiscent powers before getting to the actual narrative. This opening segment neatly demonstrates Lord of Vermilion's fundamental compromise: the show's animation and general art design are poor (they aren't kidding about the vermilion thing - literally everything is red-themed), but its understanding of storyboarding and shot composition is much better. There are some evocative visual moments throughout this premiere, they just tend to be more compelling in concept than they are in execution.
In story terms, this all feels like a pretty standard setup for a post-apocalyptic supernatural war. Our introduction to Chihiro Kamina and his family situation isn't gripping, but it's competently executed, and the show dawdles just enough on pre-crisis conversation to make its dramatic turn land with some impact. I felt this episode overdid its combination of actual character introductions and ominous “here's a character grimly spying on our protagonists” reveals, but the episode's overall narrative arc was one I've seen many, many times before, and Vermilion's take on this classic number stayed engaging enough throughout.
Ultimately, Lord of Vermilion hues closely to an extremely familiar narrative template, and it's so mediocre in all respects that there's really not much to say about it. There are always a few action shows like this every season, and they're always entirely overshadowed by that season's versions of shows like My Hero Academia and Banana Fish. Vermilion isn't actively bad, but I can think of five action shows I'd recommend before it from just this season, and the show doesn't do anything novel enough to be worth recommending. Vermilion gets a gentle pass.
Lord of Vermilion's premiere indulges in the same kind of folly that has undercut so many series before it. It confuses “being confusing” for “being intriguing” and offers up empty spectacle in place of genuinely exciting action, throwing as much nonsense at the screen as it can in the hopes that a vague promise of “We'll explain everything later!” will be enough to keep viewers interested. Some shows have enough production chops and the confidence of style necessary to take this kind of aggressively obtuse approach and succeed (Planet With being a prime example from this season), but unfortunately Lord of Vermilion just doesn't have the chops to pull it off.
We begin with an overwrought action sequence that involves a lot of gaudily dressed teenagers trying to kill each other with weapons and magic. We don't know who they are or the circumstances of their conflict, so the battle is completely meaningless, and the rest of the episode doesn't make the opening any more effective in retrospect. Instead we're introduced to two excruciatingly bland college students, Chihiro and Kotetsu. Chihiro's single defining personality trait seems to be his irritating tendency to quote Shakespeare out of context, and Kotetsu can only be described as being the kind of guy that blends in perfectly with the background, only being even slightly noticeable when he's delivering exposition.
The only real plot event that occurs this week is the Great Collapse, an event that leaves our protagonists and many other citizens comatose for a week after a mysterious red mist and an accompanying giant plant appear out of nowhere to infest Tokyo. We meet other side characters who all have vague observations to make about this event, but that's all the story we really get. Chihiro has some dreams involving another Shakespeare-quoting character, a girl named Dux, and at the end of the episode Chihiro's caretaker has been transformed into a monster by some villain. We get no explanation as to why any of this might be happening, and none of the action or dialogue scenes are put together well enough to leave the audience satisfied with being left in the dark.
If anything, it reminds me most of last season's stink bomb, Caligula, which was also a confusing soup of bad fight scenes and nonsensical storytelling that could only possibly be appreciated by people who already played the game on which it was based. So yeah, Lord of Vermilion is a hard pass for me. Maybe it will pick up as the season continues, but this kind of sloppy and rushed execution leaves me with very little confidence.
Lord of Vermillion's opening episode shows off a lot of things that should, in theory be interesting or exciting. It opens with a flash-forward scene of people killing one another while saying dramatic things, there's a ring of red mist that isolates Tokyo from the outside world, references to Shakespeare abound, and the main character's father figure turns into a giant monster and tries to kill him. Sounds fun, right? Unfortunately, all I got out of this premiere was a half-hour of boredom.
Chihiro, the show's ostensible protagonist, sits at the core of the problem. The guy is blandness incarnate, with next to nothing in the way of charisma or personality. For most of this episode, things just sort of happen around him while his emotional responses range from slightly happy to mildly upset. The other characters we meet are either forgettable or annoying: Kotetsu seems to exist for the sole purpose of following Chihiro around like a lost puppy, the reporter is downright obnoxious, and I assume we're supposed to like the nurse because she tells everyone else to shut up. That's a bunch of winners right there.
The plot isn't any better. For all its dark red hues and ominous dialogue, the out-of-context opening scene almost feels like a parody of supernatural action shows. The one-liners that the various combatants hurl at one another are laughably generic, and the constant “you killed me but not before I killed you” moments are reminiscent of a cheesy video game trailer. Then there's the matter of the Great Collapse and the ensuing ring of red mist, which already feels like it's full of plot holes. How is it that the city still has water and electricity and is somehow receiving shipments of food, but no one can get out? Who is the masked girl who talks to Chihiro in his dream, and why does she spend the conversation twirling around as if some animator had just discovered the rotation tool in a video editing program? Above all else, who cares?
Nothing about this episode leads me to believe that Lord of Vermillion is going to get any better in the coming weeks, and even if it does pull off a miracle I doubt many viewers will stick around long enough to witness it. With a generic and self-serious premise, a forgettable protagonist, and a worthless supporting cast, there's just nothing to latch onto here. The opening scene is unintentionally amusing, but beyond that I can't think of any reason to watch this premiere.
I suspected that I was in trouble when the first two minutes of the episode introduced roughly twelve characters, all fighting each other while spouting off questionably philosophic lines like, “Are we evil?” while lamenting the fact that they were fighting each other. That's often a hallmark of a show that takes itself just a tad too seriously because it's Dark, and while that may not turn out to be entirely the case when things start getting explained in the plot, the addition of a Shakespeare-quoting Goth girl certainly doesn't help this episode. (Good taste in plays, though; I love The Tempest.)
The ostensible plot revolves around a strange red mist and a series of annoying sounds. College students Chihiro, who may have murdered people thirteen years ago, and his best buddy and foster brother Kotetsu arrive at school from Kotetsu's family's dojo where both guys live only to be knocked unconscious by a horrible high-pitched noise, which is followed up by a red mist that seems to dissolve some people, something never brought up again in the episode. Five months later Chihiro wakes up to the worst nurse in Tokyo to learn that the mist has blocked off the city. (Again, no mention of dissolving people. This really bothers me.) Kotetsu (not dissolved) shows up to take him home, but oh no, now there's an awful ringing sound and Dad's turned into a monster.
Mostly the issue here seems to be that Lord of Vermillion is trying too hard to distance itself from its TCG roots, and the method chosen is to just dive right in to a plot that makes very little sense and, more importantly, isn't particularly intriguing so that watching more to figure out what's going on is an attractive prospect. Clearly there's a human hand behind at least some of what's happening, and a supernatural element is also at play. But the talk of heroic blood and gods, not to mention the not-so-subtle hint that Shakespeare's Prospero is out there somewhere doing something plot-related, just makes it feel like a hodgepodge of elements from better done supernatural action shows. Add in some lackluster visuals complete with tried-and-true character tropes and this is a series I'll be exiting as if pursued by a bear.
Lord of Vermillion was originally an arcade-based system for fantasy CCG battles that debuted in 2008. Such an origin isn't evident from the first episode, which plays out much more like a typical light novel or mobage adaptation. If the game's backstory – which involves the boundaries between seven worlds being destroyed when a human lord attempted to use the forbidden magic of the vermillion stone – is going to play into this series, then that's not evident from the first episode beyond the mention of the Great Collapse.
All we know so far is that a bunch of characters are going to manifest reddish-themed powers and fight each other to the death in a ruined Tokyo. Or perhaps that series-opening scene depicts events that have already happened in another world rather than the future of this one? Either way, the end of the episode makes it clear that superpowered combat is on the horizon and that Chihiro was involved in some huge incident 13 years ago, which is doubtlessly connected to what's happening now. The suggestion of some greater connection between Chihiro and this woman Yuri, who appears briefly in the background right before the Great Collapse, suggest some great love transcending time threaded through all the colorful battles. In other words, everything about this production screams “standard supernatural battle series.”
This also includes the visuals. This co-production between asread (Corpse Party, The Future Diary) and the brand-new Tear Studio has about the most generic aesthetic imaginable for a supernatural action series, with the only distinguishing feature being the pervasive use of red tints and maybe that girl Dux, who is portrayed as a twin-tailed blonde wearing a mask but had a very different appearance in the original game. That's not to say the technical merits are bad, but they don't stand out either. This makes me wonder if all the Shakespeare references being thrown around aren't there just to give the series more character, since it's so lacking from the mundane cast. It's also a bad sign with the main protagonist comes across as so limp in personality.
So yeah, this one is more bland and underwhelming than outright bad. If it doesn't pick up in the next couple of episodes, it'll be easy to write off as one of the season's most forgettable titles.
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