The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide The Thousand Musketeers
How would you rate episode 1 of
Thousand Noble Musketeers ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
We're at a point in the anime world where it's a safe bet that there will be at least one mobile game adaptation each season, and the majority of these titles suffer from the same problem. When the core mechanic of a game involves collecting as many new characters as possible, it's all but inevitable that any adaptations will be burdened with an unmanageably large cast. The Thousand Musketeers trades the ship girls and sword boys of previous seasons for characters based on antique firearms, but that small detail does little to change how this opening episode plays out.
After a relatively quick and painless explanation of the show's backstory, we quickly get bogged down in the usual revolving door of character introductions. The musketeers are ostensibly trying to organize a rescue mission while juggling other operations, but this is really just a convenient excuse to cycle through a litany of stock character archetypes while alluding to the existence of even more gun boys elsewhere in the world. The quick introductions mean that even the main characters of this episode get only a modest amount of screen time, and this causes them to come across as having one-note personalities. Perhaps there's more depth to these guys in the game, but that's not the impression I'm getting from this episode.
It takes quite a while to actually reach this episode's big action scene, but at least that scene is an improvement over the content that comes before it. The highlight here may actually be the moment of calm before everyone starts shooting; there's some nicely understated tension in the air as the rookie musketeers steel themselves for the upcoming firefight, and this scene also shows off a fair amount of detail in the design and function of their weapons. The battle itself is a relatively mediocre affair, competent enough to hit the necessary story beats but not impressive enough to merit the attention of anyone outside the show's core demographic.
As is often the case with this particular kind of adaptation, I expect that The Thousand Musketeers will be an amusing but disposable diversion for fans of the game or folks with an interest in its subject matter. If you've already got a head full of flintlock trivia, maybe give it a try if nothing else strikes your fancy this season. Otherwise, this seems like an easy skip to me.
2012's Upotte!! was a series about girls who were anthropomorphized guns and the more recent Touken Ranbu franchise is about anthropomorphized sword bishounen, so I guess it's no surprise that we would eventually end up with a series about anthropomorphized gun bishounen. It uses a consistent flintlock theme, complete with costuming appropriate to the era and nationality of the gun in question, and most characters are incarnations of archetypes rather than specific famous guns. Some characters even have cutesy nicknames based on their gun affiliations, like “Keny” for the Kentucky rifle (aka American Longrifle).
Structurally, this is every bit a standard otome mobile game adaptation, and so far it has made little effort to be anything more. Predictably for a game-sourced series, the gun-boys have some kind of power-up move that allows them to overwhelm even modern weaponry with their flintlock guns, like shooting magic blasts instead of bullets at a much faster rate than possible for such a rifle. This may or may not be connected to the character's “nobility” level, which sounds like an awkward code phrase for a game mechanic. As in Touken Ranbu, they serve a (currently nameless and absentee) master responsible for bringing them into being, another obvious holdover from the game's structure. The premise and antagonist show little creativity, and the personalities so far are all standard otome game archetypes.
Even so, the series might have done better with stronger visual representation. TMS Entertainment's production relies on subpar art on all fronts beyond the background art. While the concept of anthropomorphic guns in combat might hold some appeal, the first episode doesn't offer enough to hold the interest of anyone watching the series for anything other than the pretty boys, and even then I question its merits. It's not so much bad as just thoroughly lackluster.
The Thousand Musketeers is a perfect storm of qualities that just aren't for me. For one, it's based off of a mobile game, which rarely bodes well, and this property just happens to be a Touken Ranbu styled “cute anthropomorphic weapon boys collection game”, which is a genre I've never been able to wrap my head around, especially when adapted into animation. At least as a phone game you have the gameplay that I imagine makes the experience of The Thousand Musketeers inherently more fun to engage with; as a story told through non-interactive media, it runs the risk of consumed by its bloated cast and the already limited niche appeal of its subject matter.
That's exactly the pitfall that The Thousand Musketeers runs into. The basic premise has the stylishly dressed incarnations of famous historical guns fighting a revolution against an oppressive modern military regime. The majority of the episode is just tossing what feels like dozens of characters at the audience at rapid-fire, offering little in the way of characterization outside of cliché dialogue and a brief explanation of what specific gun they represent. Unfortunately, since I am neither a fan of the game nor a military history buff, names like “Brown Bess”, “Springfield”, “Kentucky”, “Rapp”, and so many others mean virtually nothing to me. This is obviously a property catering to preexisting fans of the material; I struggle to see what an utter newbie would be able to latch on to with a concept that essentially requires the audience to be really into guns and/or vaguely cute anime boys.
More successful game adaptations, like the anime based on the Touken Ranbu franchise, are able to provide some kind of leeway for general audiences, but The Thousand Musketeers' premeire is too exposition heavy to satisfy action fans and too straightforward and dull to rope in anybody simply looking for a good comedy. The animation and aesthetics are largely middling, until the action sequence of the final third, where the whole production devolves into terribly edited and animated firefights that have all of the dramatic impact of a slide-show presentation. Unless you happen to be a hardcore devotee of The Thousand Musketeers or similar franchises, I can't see any reason to stick with this one.
I feel a certain sympathy for the writers assigned to projects like The Thousand Noble Musketeers, projects that were never really designed to support an actual “narrative” in the first place. The Thousand Noble Musketeers wasn't created to be an epic story - it was created to be a mobile game, very much in the line of hits like Kan Colle and Touken Ranbu. Instead of reimagining naval ships or famous swords as cute girls or boys, Musketeers' gimmick is renowned military muskets. Thus our heroes here take the form of characters representing concepts like “Napoleon's beloved flintlock pistols,” concepts which are parsable enough for their specific audience to appreciate, but which don't really lend themselves to anything approaching a coherent story.
In light of this strange origin, it's not even necessarily clear that Musketeers is actually attempting to be a satisfying narrative in its own right. Shows like this are essentially just fanservice for fans of the game property, meaning they can “succeed” simply by parading all of the game characters around and having them demonstrate their various characteristic quirks. Catherine the Great's flintlock wears a frilly dress and eats cake, Napoleon's shotgun conducts himself with the confidence of Napoleon himself, etcetera. Every character is somewhat over-designed, there's far too many of them for the show to give any of them meaningful focus, and the world they inhabit exists in a vague, groundless state of post-apocalyptic peril, providing some shaky justification for why these characters exist or do their thing in the first place.
As an actual show in its own right, Musketeers is pretty much a failure - it's narratively shapeless, the comedy is too edgeless and generic to bring any laughs, and even the character art isn't terribly compelling. On top of that, as someone who's not invested in the original game, the fact that these characters are designed to simply echo their historical moment actually makes me less able to care about them; their quirks don't come off as human foibles, they come as knowing winks to dedicated weapon history enthusiasts. There's also nothing about the larger world these characters inhabit that feels either convincing or intriguing - as I said, the narrative mostly seems like the most briefly explainable excuse to anthropomorphize these characters in the first place, while the larger motions of the plot are driven by an unseen “master” who seems to represent the game's player character. And in terms of its own subgenre, Musketeers can't match the aesthetic appeal of a show like ufotable's Touken Ranbu, or the slice of life focus and convincing atmosphere of the other Touken Ranbu adaptation. All in all, while Musketeers isn't an actively unpleasant experience or anything, I see nothing here that I'd recommend to anyone but dedicated fans of the actual game.
I must admit that I had hoped the title of this show was hyperbolizing – clearly there couldn't really be one thousand musketeers. Sadly for those of us who have trouble with names, that doesn't appear to be the case, something that may be attributable to the show's mobile game roots, which has a collection aspect to it. The problem here is that there may have been too much of an effort to cram as many of the characters into this first episode as possible, which may be good from a marketing perspective, but from a storytelling one, it just gums up the works.
The story itself has some promise, especially if you're a fan of antique guns. The base plotline of an evil World Empire having bought peace with tyranny and then foolishly deciding that antique weapons could remain in museums because there was no way anyone could possibly use them to stage an armed rebellion. The poor fools clearly were not counting on human desperation, which somehow or other resulted in the guns becoming people and fighting successfully with antiquated firearms against armored tanks and guys with machine guns. It's got the makings of a good underdog story in that respect, and the attention to detail when the actual guns are shown is really impressive. From ripping open a packet of powder with their teeth to the careful details of the firing mechanisms, it's interesting and exciting in a way that other stories don't need to be. Someone was really paying attention, and it shows.
This, unfortunately, doesn't cross over with the very modern interpretations of the antique uniforms (what is going on with Kentucky?), and honestly, there are simply too many characters introduced to fully appreciate most of them in terms of design or personality. It does look as if Brown Bess is going to be a main character, but beyond that it feels a bit uncertain. Given that this is a story about the little guy triumphing over the evil army, I do think that we're going to need to have a specific small group of characters to root for, and if that doesn't come clear in the next couple of episodes, the story risks not quite getting off the ground.
That's essentially where I stand on this initial offering – it's not quite achieving liftoff. It has some beautiful details, and the starkness of the Empire-run towns is striking. The final quarter of the episode is the best in terms of pacing and the focus on fewer characters, but it can't quite make up for the first three-quarters. If you're looking for your ikemen show, this will deliver on the visuals, but the plot is going to bear monitoring to see if it can keep up.
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