The Winter 2022 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Community score: 2.7
What is this?
Musashi is a teenager living under demon rule. As children, he and his best friend made a promise: to become the greatest warriors in the world and overthrow the demons. But life intervenes, and five years later, he finds himself about to become a miner.
How was the first episode?
While I'm sure I'm not the only one who noticed the extreme dips in quality when it comes to the animation in Orient's first episode, that's only a minor part of the reason why I found it so unenjoyable. When it comes down to it, the problem I have with this anime is simple: I am unable to suspend my disbelief.
The setting is complete nonsense—and no, I'm not talking about the demon invasion and subjugation of humanity bit (I'm actually fine with all that). Rather I'm referring to the fact that one hero has a motorcycle and the other is wielding a custom-made double-scythe pickaxe. This is a world where the planet was invaded in the 1500s and the demons have had control of all technological advancement since then. So who made these items? How did a miner and a trash collector get them? How did they afford them? We can only assume they are demon-based technology given to humans, which is crazy. But then again, these are the demons who insist on arming all the descendants of those who fought against them—you know, just in case they feel like rebelling at any time. With such incompetence, how can we take the villains seriously?
And then there is the issue with this episode's moral. Being true to yourself and not being afraid to shout your dreams to the heavens is a good message—but not in this setting. Whether they know it or not, humans are a slave caste while demons manage all levels of society. Schools are made to brainwash kids and produce workers. If Musashi had ever revealed his true dream to murder those in charge there's no doubt his teacher would have reported it. Musashi would have been dead the next day. The moral of the story should be do what you need to do to survive, then express yourself once you're in a safe place to do so.
But what really hurts is that Musashi didn't keep his true feelings to himself to bide his time. He did it to be popular at school. In other words, he did the smartest possible thing for the dumbest possible reason. I suppose for your incompetent villains to be a credible threat your heroes have to be equally incompetent. But, honestly, watching a battle of the morons isn't my idea of a good time. I look forward to never wasting another braincell thinking about this series again.
Orient is not going to set the anime world on fire. With its cheerfully hot-blooded hero clad in red and his more cool-tempered (and, with his blue kimono, cool-hued) best friend since childhood, both named after famous historical samurai and determined since they were young to take on the oppressive system and row row fight the powah, it falls well within genre expectations. No shocking developments or plot twists to be found here in the first episode! Just two young men, ready to take down their persecutors and change the world with the power of their fists! And sword! And, uh, pickaxe.
No, Orient is nothing revolutionary. However, this first episode was actually pretty fun.
Oh, it's completely ridiculous. Poor baby Kojiro trudging along with the weapon he's been forced to wear as an outcast, along with a ball and chain! The villagers mocking him with lines like, “Why don't you use that sword to pick up trash?” Musashi's classmates going gaga over finally realizing their dream of performing hard physical labor! The oni that look like giant cats with buttholes for faces! None of it makes a lick of sense if you think about it for more than a minute after the fact.
It all works because Orient completely owns its weirdness, presenting all of this truly bizarre imagery without a single wink at the camera or nudge toward the audience. It also avoids going too far in the other direction, going so grimdark that it turns ludicrous and only unintentionally hilarious. I laughed at the episode's odd contrivances more than once, but I never felt like I was mocking it, only that I was getting a kick out of something I'm a couple decades too old for. It's the anime equivalent of a Saturday morning cartoon, the visual equivalent of the sugar cereal much of its audience would no doubt be slurping a couple decades ago. And if that's what you're looking for, I wish you the best. Have a good time watching Orient.
If I had to describe Orient in just two words, they'd probably be “inoffensively half-assed." It isn't a terrible show, and, to its credit, this premiere zips by fast enough that the end credits are already rolling by the time you're able to fully register how mediocre it is. I always appreciate lame anime just a little bit more when they have enough basic decency to avoid wasting too much of my time.
That's about all of the positivity I have to muster for Orient, though, because otherwise this is a premiere that will evaporate out of your memory within minutes of finishing it. Our two heroes, Musashi and Kojiro, are so generic and lifeless that you could swear that they accidentally wandered in from one of those old How to Draw Anime books that us poor millennials weebs got tricked into buying whenever the Scholastic Book Fairs came rolling into school. There isn't anything interesting about the Sengoku Era setting or the demon-slaying premise, either, unless you count “Oni that look like giant Nekomata with starfish butthole mouths" as a point in Orient's favor.
The most disappointing thing about this series, though, is how cheap and flat the art and animation is. Shinobu Ohtaka is author behind Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, for goodness' sake, so either she fell asleep at the wheel for this one, or A.C.G.T. assigned their C-team for the anime's production. Either way, I would only recommend this show to action-adventure fans who are desperate for literally anything that can fill the void in their watchlists until other, better series come along.
Is it weird to say Orient made me nostalgic? It feels weird to say, at least. I'm not a long time fan of the manga or anything, nor did I ever get on the boat for Shinobu Ohtaka's previous series Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic. But something in the premiere brought me back to the mid-2000s, when shonen anime were all about bright-eyed and spiky-haired boys wielding incongruously large weapons and making dirt simple speeches about friendship and the power of believing in your dreams. Add in a REEL BIG FISH opening theme and I could be convinced this was somehow a Rave Master spinoff. Alas, while it was a fun way to relive my teenage years, as its own show Orient doesn't have much to offer.
For one, its animation feels almost as dated as its overall design aesthetic, oozing all the energy and oomph of a mid-aughts digipaint series, barely getting by through strong posing and layouts rather than any impressive movement. Considering this is the first episode of what promises to be an action series, that doesn't bode well for the rest of the season. It's functional at best, but in an era where seasonal shonen properties can deliver much more consistent and impressive action, Orient can't help but pale in comparison. Doesn't help that the main monsters they fight this week are giant cartoon mascot cats with buttholes for faces. Doesn't matter how good your sakuga is, you just can't make it look cool when your heroes are facing down chocolate starfish Heathcliffs.
The character and plot are about on the same level as the animation. The world so far feels super simplistic and not particularly inspired, meshing familiar Sengoku-era architecture with pretty familiar shonen fantasy, lacking anything interesting or memorable. Our main characters are your stock shonen fighty boys, tragic backstories and all, and while the story sets them up as believable underdogs it doesn't do much to make them actually interesting to follow. The closest it comes is Kojiro trying to dissuade Musashi from becoming a Bushi alongside him, in order to spare him the alienation that comes with it. But that's resolved by the end of this episode, and the two just don't have a strong enough chemistry besides that. Series like this live or die on how much you care about the characters, and I just don't right now.
I wouldn't call Orient bad, but it's underwhelming in just about every way a show of its kind can be. It's not thrilling enough to work as spectacle. It's not engaging enough in its script to sell the main character or world. And it's just not all that interesting even if you're somebody who enjoys shonen battle series as a rule.
One of the good things about basic shōnen action fantasy is that it's almost always fun, even if it isn't distinguishing itself with new and innovative storytelling. Orient, based on the manga from the same creator who brought you Magi, is basically playing with the same deck this kind of show always is, but its first episode still manages to be engaging. I'll admit that in part I enjoyed it because of its use of Japanese folklore – the monsters our heroes are up against may be aliens who invaded an alternate Earth in 1568, but their names reflect what they looked like to people of the time: oni. The main oni are called kishin after the wrathful deities of both Shinto and Buddhist religions, but even the less imposing oni-aliens look like creatures right out of mythology – the ones we first get a good look at bear a distinct resemblance to nekomata, the two-tailed cat yokai you've seen in other shows. It's a neat way to tell us about the story's world.
There's also an interesting aspect that plays with the notion that history is written by the victors. When the main plot begins 150 years after the initial invasion, we can see that over time humanity has been assiduously imbibing the kool-aid given to them by their new masters: somehow over the past century and a half humans have fully bought into the notion that they are the inferior beings who must bow down to their oppressors. The level of indoctrination is impressive: schoolchildren are fed a very twisted narrative about their duty to the great and powerful oni, taught to desire subservience and manual labor, and told that their ancestors, and more specifically the swordsmen who initially fought the invasion, were responsible for the wars in the first place. Because after all, if the silly humans had just immediately bowed down and accepted slavery in the first place, no one would have had to die, right? It's frankly a little chilling, and that's even before the reveal that all of this is nothing more than propaganda designed to feed the monsters.
While I might hesitate to call this good dystopian fiction, it does feel like the background to the main story of Musashi and Kojiro (and as-yet-unintroduced girl character) fighting to free humanity from alien oppression was well-developed enough that the more standard aspects of the story may not be a drag on it. There are definitely elements that are patently ridiculous – everything is looking an awful lot like the 18th century and then Kojiro shows up on a futuristic motorcycle, for one – but the rest of the episode is pretty solid. Orient is firmly in its genre, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing, and if you're looking for brightly-colored action, this is worth a gander.
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