Reviewby Theron Martin,
Alderamin on the Sky
Ikta Solark will one day be renowned as “The Invincible Lazy General,” but now he's just a young man who prizes scientific thinking, idleness, and women in some order. Though hardly the ideal military officer, Ikta nonetheless finds himself challenged in that regard when a trip with his longtime friend Yatorishino Igsem (the scion of a legendary military family) results in the rescue of 12-year-old Imperial Princess Chamille. Compelled to serve in the military as part of the honors bestowed upon him, Ikta reluctantly but decisively proves himself to be a master strategist, which plays a key role in keeping Yatori and his companions alive when strife breaks out in the empire's northern reaches. But a certain young princess may have even bigger plans in mind for him.
Any brief synopsis of this light novel adaptation from summer of 2016 would make the story sound like it's primarily about a lazy, womanizing guy who nonetheless succeeds at everything because of his overwhelming genius. Indeed, that element never entirely goes away; at one point Ikta even gives a speech promoting how laziness has been a driving motivation for human progress throughout history. However, the story is never content to operate merely at that basic level. What starts out as a tale about a lackadaisical young genius' rise to prominence gradually expands to include many bigger ideas, including how a nation can rot away through incompetence, intolerance, and prejudice, how difficult decisions have to be made on a battlefront, how tactics must evolve to account for advances in technology and what changes that might force on traditionally-held values. All of this builds toward a stunning final plot twist, where a student takes her understanding of a teacher's lessons in unexpected directions.
Though Ikta is not the only focal point of the story, he gets the lion's share of attention as the main star. Fortunately, he has enough character to carry the story on his own. As brilliant as he may be at strategy, he is quite flawed in personality, as liable to irritate as charm, eager to strike out when his buttons are pushed, and resenting any competition for the ladies. Most of the series' few lighthearted moments involve him getting tripped up by his foibles, such as discovering that one of his subordinates is the daughter of a married woman he once bedded. His charm shines through in other scenes, such as one sequence where he delights in discovering that a female soldier might have a budding interest in science too.
But Ikta doesn't have to carry the series alone. Infantryman Matthew and combat medic Haroma never rise above supporting cast status, but budding sniper Torway makes more of an impact as Ikta helps him to realize his full potential, and Princess Chamille offers an interesting mix of intelligent maturity and childish immaturity as a girl who's clearly fond of Ikta, though the direction that fondness goes in is far less predictable than usual. The biggest delight is the flame-haired swordswoman Yatori, who literally and mutually has Ikta's back throughout the series. Theirs is a special relationship, as more than just ordinary friends but perhaps not lovers. The depth of understanding and trust that they share sets them apart from many other anime couples and results in some of the series' most potent scenes, such as in one late episode where Yatori explains what she would do if ever ordered to kill Ikta by the state she is sworn to serve.
But the series is hardly just a character study. Its initial two-episode arc describes the gathering of the central quintet and the establishment of their interactions as they finagle the princess out of enemy territory. It's followed by a couple episodes of academy life and a critical episode-long flashback before advancing to the northern campaign, which dominates the last half of the series and then some. Along the way, Ikta gets numerous opportunities to show off his strategic acumen, while others (especially Yatori and Torway) get ample opportunities to show off their specialties, resulting in some dazzling action sequences. Amidst all those events, Ikta and crew confront many issues and themes, like the cruel behavior of soldiers against conquered foes when not sufficiently supervised. All of this progresses at an even pace, assuring that the story never feels stretched or overloaded, and most of it gradually pieces together to form the foundation for the final plot twist.
The series also excels in its world-building. What little info-dumping it resorts to is more smoothly melded into the story than normal, with tidbits dropped almost constantly. The show's world has been dominated by religion, so averse to science in the past that many are even unfamiliar with the word. Crossbows and the rough equivalent of muskets are still prominent and elite guards still wear armor, but rifles and hot-air balloons are on the verge of coming into use and military uniforms have more of an early 20th-century style to them. Soldiers are all paired with little spirits of light that are used to power weapons and fit into the religions of both the major countries and a tribal people within the Empire.
The series' technical merits are sharp, though they usually function more as background support than a selling point of the series. Character designs favor realism slightly more than the average anime aesthetic in every regard except bright hair colors. Most of the cast sports military uniforms for most of the series, so clothing designs within each faction don't vary much after the first few episodes, but the only character who seems outlandishly dressed for the situation is the Sinoc chieftain Nana. Though the action scenes sometimes resort to stills, they can also be quite dynamic, especially in one sequence where Yatori must rescue the princess from a group of soldiers kidnapping her. Overall, the animation effort and shot selections are pretty strong despite occasional struggles to stay on-model. The content can get graphically bloody at times, and one of the most harrowing scenes involves a finger being chopped off, but this is not a pervasive feature of the story.
The series' music director Keiji Inai also created the awesome musical score for DanMachi, and much of that symphonic orchestral sound carries over to this project as well. Complementing those numbers are several suitably poignant piano pieces for softer moments. Opener “Tankyo no Alderamin” is sharp and energetic in both song and visuals, while closer “nameless” is a softer number even though it is also upbeat in tempo.
Funimation is offering the series in its standard Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. Extras are sparse, with only web previews and clean opener and closer provided, but at least a dub is included. The dub script stays tight enough that it doesn't lose key lines in translation, and performances are generally fine, but casting choices are more of a mixed bag. Joel McDonald and Caitlin Glass are perfect as adult Ikta and Yatori, and Austin Tindle makes a better Torway than I would have expected, but Marcus D. Stimac (the new Saito in Ghost in the Shell Arise) never seems like a good fit for Captain Sazaluf and Shawn Gann is an iffy choice for Matthew. A few other small roles also seem somewhat off. The good performances are strong enough to carry the dub, but it's not among Funimation's strongest efforts.
Overall, Alderamin on the Sky turns out to be a much stronger series than its first impression might suggest. It ends at an ideal stopping point, with the last plot twist effectively acting as the cap for the story, but it only covers the first three novels of a series whose 13th volume is scheduled for release in Japan later this year, so there is definitely much more story to be told. However, whether or not we will ever see more animated remains to be seen.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Strong world-building, musical score, and numerous compelling scenes
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