The Fall 2019 Anime Preview Guide
- Assassin's Pride
How would you rate episode 1 of
Assassins Pride ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
If Assassin's Pride has one easily quantifiable problem, it's that it takes itself too seriously. The story seems convinced that it is dark, edgy, and serious even while facing issues like a hero and heroine whose last names are Vampir and Angel and monsters that look like cheap Halloween decorations, alongside a plot that's really very cut and dried. Just a little bit of lightheartedness would have gone a long way towards making this more palatable, but it's over-serious tone truly does the episode a disservice.
The story is one we're all familiar with, and not just from anime. Young noblewoman Melida has failed to manifest the expected powers in the years since she's turned seven (and she looks about thirteen now), and so Kufa has been sent to figure out if she's illegitimate or not based on her lack of mana and if she is, he's to kill her. But golly gee, she's just so hardworking and sweet that he can't help himself from somehow giving her mana instead of offing her, and now they're both stuck carrying this secret so that the assassin doesn't get assassinated. Add in some genre standards like Melida falling from a balcony to land gently in Kufa's arms and a mean girl (unsubtly named Nerva) with the requisite single-curl pigtails, and you could be forgiven for thinking that this is just same-old, same-old.
It very well might be, but in its defense, Assassin's Pride does have a couple of interesting unanswered questions. One is definitely the use of the phrase “chosen noble class” in reference to mana; does that mean that only the existing noble class got the ability, or was the class system developed based on who could use mana in the first place? That feels potentially significant given that Kufa feeds Melida a potion that gives her the ability, and if it is the former, there's almost certainly a corrupt government pulling some strings. Since there's a lot of talk already about Melida's mother and biological father being commoners, I'm leaning towards this idea, which could develop in interesting directions. It's also worth pondering the origins of the city of Flandore and what might be outside it; my first thought when we saw an aerial view was that it looked like a city under glass, a toy for someone to play with. Was there an apocalypse? Were the citizens made to think that? Since the architecture of Flandore is more interesting than the characters right now, that's something find myself wondering.
On the whole, however, there's not much else here that's all that intriguing, unless you want to ponder the clothing choices for the women in the show. Those cat-eye bodices are really distracting, and I'm still trying to figure out if Mysterious Redhead forgot to put on her underdress. This could develop into something more now that the preliminaries are out of the way, but if it doesn't start doing that next week, I'm not sure that it will be worth it.
Assassin's Pride is a strange and somewhat lopsided production. Based on a light novel, there were many elements of this premiere that felt so goofy, it was a little hard to take the story seriously. The two main characters are named Kufa Vampir (the titular assassin, dressed all in black) and Melida Angel (the girl he's guarding, all in white). The episode ends on a confession in a rose garden, where Kufa refers to Melida as “my little lady” in english as red petals shower around them. At one point, Kufa dramatically intones the show's title, before heading off to perform his, well, assassin's pride. If you have a low tolerance for chuunibyou theater, this episode will likely put you in a giggling fit.
And yet, this episode is also so sincere in its chuunibyou nonsense. The relatively inexperienced director Kazuya Aiura actually seems like an ideal fit for this material - in the same way that the narrative is hokey and overwritten, the direction is melodramatic and infinitely embellished. There are constant slow pans and soft focus shots, along with closeups intended to convey far more emotion than these generic character designs and underwritten narrative could possibly evoke. The slow pacing and gentle, orchestral soundtrack give this charmingly silly narrative an odd sense of false grativas, as if everyone involved in this production is trying to believe in it hard enough for it to actually earn the seriousness it aspires to.
Sincerity counts for a lot with me, and Assassin's Pride's gleefully melodramatic approach ultimately won me over. It certainly helps that the show looks pretty good. No one is phoning it in here - Assassin's Pride looks polished from start to finish, with only the mediocre digital backgrounds really undercutting its visual effect. This episode also opens and closes on some impressively animated action cuts, and I enjoyed what details we received regarding its novel setting - a world within a lantern, where electric lights can only partially counter the perpetual twilight. Assassin's Pride feels both underwritten and over-directed, and yet somehow, those two wrongs seem to make a right, resulting in an undeniably silly but endearingly heartfelt production. It demands a fair degree more suspension of disbelief than many anime, but if you can meet it on its own terms, there's a lot to enjoy here.
One significant detail seems prone to getting lost in any discussion about this light novel adaptation: this is easily one of the oddest physical designs that I've ever come across for a fantasy world. If I'm understanding this correctly, all of the remainder of humanity lives in what's essentially a giant candelabra surrounded by perpetual darkness which sprouts creatures that look like Halloween reject monsters, with each domed branch effectively being its own city and glass tubes through which trains run connecting it all. You could almost build an entire story around explaining how that came to pass, and it seems so odd that I have to wonder if this whole set-up isn't some kind of alien experiment, a la Dark City, and the people inside just test subjects. But that's not the point of the story. . . for now, at least.
No, this is actually about a professional killer who finds himself unwittingly getting more deeply involved in the circumstances of a preteen girl that is strictly professional. If that sounds like the live-action movie The Professional or last year's anime series Angels of Death, well, that's probably not a coincidence. All of these stories come down to the same basic appeal: the seemingly-vulnerable girl being looked after and protected by the most dangerous of men, who wind up being influenced for the better by the girls. Some kind of “Beauty and the Beast” draw could probably be read in here as well, but I don't think this story is aiming that high. It instead seems to be aiming for a more straightforward, intense intrigue that is build on a secret that the audience is privy to which must be kept from everyone else, including the little girl. If the series can push that while developing the relationship forming between Kufa and Melida then the concept here might just well work.
The first episode shows both positive and negative signs concerning whether or not it can pull that off. The emphasis on how Kufa shifted between personality modes with his expressions was reassuring, as it made his status as an assassin and his colder, more businesslike persona more believable. Melida got some of her own expression emphasis as well which could easily be missed. On the downside, none of the personalities shown so far are all that vibrant, Kufa looks like Kirito's long-lost brother (or any of a number of other dark-haired fantasy action protagonists), and Melida doesn't capture the visual appeal of her closest physical equivalent: Rachel from Angels of Death. The animation effort provides a splashy opening battle but does not much impress beyond that, though the flower scene in the garden is an attention-catcher.
On the whole, I give this one a 50-50 chance of amounting to anything.
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