The Fall 2020 Preview Guide
Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World
How would you rate episode 1 of
Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World ?
What is this?
For years, a great war has raged on between the scientifically advanced Empire and a paradise of witches known as the Nebulis Sovereignty. This age-old battle sets the scene for a fateful encounter between two young combatants: an imperial swordsman, Iska, and the witch princess, Aliceliese. As sworn enemies, they vow to cut each other down in order to unite their worlds, and yet Iska finds himself entranced by her beauty and righteousness, while Aliceliese is moved by his strength and resolve. In the midst of a never-ending war that forbids them from being together, they have no choice but to destroy each other-or find another way.
How was the first episode?
Originality isn't exactly a prerequisite to a light novel being chosen to be adapted into an anime, nor is it a predictor of any kind of success. In fact, it seems like the opposite has come to be true – the more a show rehashes old tropes, the more likely it is to be a smash hit. Well, if I'm right about this, Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World will probably do quite well for itself, because it's nothing but a mishmash of old ideas, only barely remixed.
It opens with a monologue, with two characters not in conversation but taking turns reciting lines obliquely describing their world's situation and the direction of the plot. There's a war between technology and magic, a super-powerful hero who fights not for its own sake, but in hopes of ending a longtime war. He's part of a core unit with lots of camaraderie, where the Captain is female and supposedly competent, but clumsy and squeaky and clad in a highly impractical miniskirt. He meets the enemy, another super-powerful witch, clad in a highly impractical lingerie-meets-wedding dress getup. Their eyes meet, they realize we're not so different, you and I, and begin to fall in love.
The story starts with Iska standing trial for freeing a witch from imprisonment and while I make fun, it's actually kind of a nice change of pace to have a protagonist who actually stands for something and is willing to make sacrifices to bring his vision to reality. It's also unusual in its understanding of longtime international conflict: neither side is evil, necessarily, but both sides are trapped in a cycle of aggression that's incredibly difficult to break out of, especially once the conflict starts spanning multiple generations. It's not a graduate-level treatise on the complexities of international relations, but it's more than the bare minimum.
It's the kind of premise that doesn't require a lot of deep thought, but does promise plenty of cool battles with powerful magic and technology-that-might-as-well-be-magic duking it out, right? Not quite. They made an effort, to be sure, but the fight scenes are overall pretty lacking. They make use of a lot of shortcuts, often cutting away to avoid the kind of hard-to-animate shots that would be impressive. There's a couple decent cuts, but nothing to write home about.
At the very least, it's gentle in its mediocrity. Yes, the women's outfits are impractical and more designed to show off their boobs than anything else, but the camera doesn't stare at them obsessively… most of the time. Yeah, the main character is overpowered, but at least he has values and principles. Yeah, the action is subpar, but at least it's on-model. If you're craving junk food anime, you could do a lot worse than Our Last Crusade.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the season of light, it was the season of darkness. It was actually a pretty decent start to an anime, it was kind of a by-the-numbers light novel adaptation. Thus is the dual nature of Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World, a fantasy story that's as indecisive as its own title.
On the spring of hope side, I really do like this setup on paper. The two most powerful and passionate fighters on either side of an unending war, united yet at odds in their desire to finally stop this senseless conflict that has ravaged both countries for a century. That's some classic melodrama, and the nod to it through heroine Alice's love for trashy romantic theater is surprisingly endearing. Maybe it's just the part of me nostalgic for Romeo X Juliet, but the whole enemies to comrades to lovers shtick this episode sets up was the exact kind of cheese I'm looking for. It's also surprisingly nuanced for these kinds of fantasy stories, with some dialogue establishing that even the soldiers involved in continuing this conflict recognize it as a cycle of invasion and counterstrikes that's never really going to resolve itself unless somebody tries something besides pure aggression. And while the art of the series is a bit inconsistent, there were some genuinely cool moments during this episode's central fight. It's not amazing, but these little touches and eccentricities really did endear me to Last Crusade more than I expected.
But then comes the winter of despair, where we get ridiculous stuff like Alice, a hardened warrior who's become legendary on the battlefield, tripping on a piece of ice she made herself, just so the chivalrous Iska can catch her in his arms on reflex. Or how both of Iska's female teammates are constantly glomming onto him boobs-first, especially Nene who's introduced to us from the waist down. There's also the question of why Iska, a traitor who freed a POW just a year earlier, has been pardoned unconditionally and trusted with such a delicate and critical mission by his superiors. That could just be setting up a mystery, but it's a question that I couldn't get off my mind even as this premiere shrugs it off with barely a word. I get that Iska is a super special dude and the only one they can pick for taking out the enemy's greatest powerhouse, but letting somebody who previously betrayed you access to the special swords of your force with no insurance just seems like a bad idea. That's the kind of fundamental plot hole that no amount of cheesy romance can distract me from.
Thus I stand astride a line with Last Crusade. Do I give the questionable writing decisions room to even themselves out and hope that the parts I actually enjoy will win out? Or do I call it quits to avoid wasting time waiting for a series to spontaneously figure out its own best aspects? Perhaps the relative strength or weakness of the rest of the season will be the deciding factor, or maybe there just won't be anything else to bother with on Wednesdays. It could go either way, really.
I always say that any show's premiere has two different but equally important jobs. The first and most straightforward of the two is to simply get the story started. If an anime can use its first episode to effectively introduce the audience to its world, its characters, its plot, and all of the other necessary factors that go into the simply functioning of a story, then it at least has a leg to stand on. The worst anime are shows that are so poorly-told that you can't even fully understand what is going on, much less get invested, and Our Last Crusade clears that hurdle well enough. Iska is a badass soldier for the Empire whose only flaw is that he cares too damned much about protecting people, even when they belong to the enemy nation of Nebulis. Alicliese, who also goes by the much less awkward name of “Lady Alice”, thank God, is one of Nebulis' most powerful witches, and she proves to be a formidable foe for Iska when they first meet. That they will eventually become star-crossed lovers, torn between their duty to their nation and their feelings for each other, is obvious, even if you didn't read the blurb on the website that tells you as much.
Premieres have a second job though, and arguably a much more important one: it also has to make a case for the show's very existence. Any good work of art or entertainment is going to be competing with untold numbers of competitors for its audience's attention, and while there's nothing wrong with sticking to familiar ideas and time-tested tropes, the job is going to be that much harder for a show that is perfectly content to walk in the shadow of the stories that came before it. This is where Our Last Crusade stumbles more than it soars.
There is nothing out-and-out wrong with Our Last Crusade so far, but there isn't a single thing about it that I would describe as particularly good, either. Its aesthetic is a mishmash of fantasy and science-fiction that feels like the show is aiming to be little more than a bargain-bin riff on Final Fantasy or the Tales RPG series. None of the supporting cast are given anything to do except contribute to fight scenes and deliver boring exposition, and it isn't as if Iska or Alice fare much better either. The animation is fine, and the action beats are well-directed enough, but it is impossible to escape the general sense that even the show itself is only going through the motions in even its most exciting scenes. “Here's a fight scene, there's a character monologue about their role in the story, and maybe we can sandwich some important names and concepts into whatever random banter fills the empty spaces in between.”
“Comfortable mediocrity” is hardly the bar that fans should be settling for. There was one bit that I liked near the very end, where Alice and her companion Rin go to see a romantic opera that leaves Alice a blubbering mess. I enjoyed this scene because it was the only time that this story came close to demonstrating so much as a spark of its own personality. Close, but no cigar. Maybe there's a decent anime hiding somewhere in the featureless mush of Our Last Crusade, but I'm perfectly fine to let that mystery be.
“Insanity,” Albert Einstein famously said, “is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Although there's some debate as to whether or not it was actually Einstein who said it, the truth it states remains the same, and it's one I kept coming back to as I watched this episode. That goes for both the action of the show and the basic concepts it uses – the Romeo and Juliet theme of star-crossed lovers is blaringly obvious even before Alice and Iska meet up at the opera house in the subtly-named Neutral City. But in a more productive, deliberate sense, the plot may be looking to prove Einstein's point rather than get sucked in by it, because as the characters point out in a few different ways over the course of the episode, the central conflict between the Empire and the Sovereignty has been happening in the exact same way for one hundred years with no end in sight.
While that might simply indicate that both nations are spectacularly bad at this whole “war” business, it also could mean that someone at the top of either or both wants very much to keep the nations in a state of turmoil. It's definitely too early to know who that might be, but we're already seeing some signs that things in the Empire aren't all that rosy for its soldiers. Iska's imprisonment for freeing a witch (or astral mage, depending on who you ask) says that he has some major doubts about the Empire being in the right, and that he's freed a year later and sent on what his fellow soldiers regard as a suicide mission speaks more of eliminating two problems at once rather than “a mission only he can do.” In fact, when he meets up with Alice, the mage known as the Ice Calamity Witch, he discovers that they both have the exact same reason for fighting: to end the war. If there's someone in the upper echelons of either or both nations who doesn't want that, sending Iska after Alice may be an attempt to take them both out at once, thus allowing the war to continue.
If that proves to be the case, this may have more potential than is immediately apparent in this first episode. (Or the first novel, which I remember having very middle-of-the-road feelings about.) Because as of right now, this is bringing back that quotation I opened with in a different way: there are a lot of very familiar trappings to this episode that aren't working terribly well. One is absolutely a pet peeve, but it feels particularly glaring here, and that's the fact that the male soldiers are all covered neck-to-feet while the female soldiers are wearing a variety of clothes that should never be worn in combat, like floor-length dresses, stiletto heels, shorts, and a mini-skirt, to name a few. While we may be able to make an argument for the fantasy side of the war, the science fiction side has no excuse. And yes, this is another sci-fi vs. fantasy story, with the astral mages fighting off guys with guns in their hundred year war for reasons that have not been revealed yet. If the history of fiction is any judge, it will be because the sci-fi side is afraid of the fantasy side's power and so treated the fantasy people badly.
This episode certainly isn't all bad, but it also doesn't try to lift itself above or at least to the side of other similar tales. Alice and Iska are of course going to fall in love and work together to end the war, which will either work or end with them both dead. It does look almost exactly like the novel come to life, which is a definite point in its favor, but it's not a story I've ever enjoyed and this isn't giving me any indication that this particular iteration will be any different.
This episode is based on the first quarter or so of a novel that I reviewed last year. In terms of adaptation quality, it is a very reasonable rendition of its equivalent novel content and looks almost exactly like I imagined it would in anime form, down even to the way the content was trimmed. Whether that's a Good Thing or not is another story, as the novel wasn't exactly a sterling example of light novel storytelling. Still, anime adaptations have shown before that they can rise above mediocre source writing, and that is the one hope I hold out for this one.
At essence, this is a straight-up Romeo and Juliet scenario. Only one of them is actually the scion of a ruling family, but both are the most powerful young combatants on their respective sides in a long-standing war between magic and technology, and they both make an immediate impression on each other on first encounter. Neither is hard core about the war situation; both wish for peace, with Iska even having gone as far as once releasing a witch that his side had captured, and given the title of the series, that should serve as a potent common ground. The scene at the end of the episode also shows that they both have a common interest in opera, suggesting a potential deeper connection. So at least the story is making some effort to establish how they might be attracted to each other beyond just physical appearance. This will no doubt lead to future interactions between the two off the battlefield, and that part should be cute.
Unfortunately, the same problems that the novel had remain here, and for me that mostly involves Iska's team. Jhin is reasonable and accurately reproduced here, but engineer Nene strays too much into anime clichés (in both personality and visual form) to be wholly convincing and the short, busty captain is worse by a magnitude of 10. Her vocal performance does not help with this, so she is already getting on my nerves in her brief appearances so far. I am also very less-than-impressed with the artistic effort by SILVER LINK so far, especially in the character designs, and the doses of fanservice are not sufficient to offset that.
I am giving this one a slightly higher grade than I might otherwise because I still think the story concept has potential, but the execution so far is not promising.
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