Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion
Episodes 1-2

by Paul Jensen,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion ?

Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion is a piece of historical fiction with a tried-and-true premise: an invasion is on the way, and it's up to a small force of underdogs to hold the line. In this particular case, the underdogs are led by Kuchii Jinzaburou, a former samurai who has been exiled to the remote island of Tsushima. When he and his fellow exiles arrive, they're greeted by Princess Teruhi, the daughter of the island's ruling family. Teruhi explains that a massive fleet of Mongol warships is preparing to attack Tsushima as the first step in a larger invasion of Japan, and the exiles are expected to help fight them off. The odds are stacked against them, but Kuchii has been told that reinforcements will arrive in seven days. Now all he has to do is survive that long.

These first two episodes throw a lot of named characters at the audience, but Kuchii and Teruhi still manage to stand out as the protagonists. Kuchii is a natural fit as the show's action hero, blending impressive swordsmanship with a good head for strategy. Whether he's carving up a scouting party of Mongolian soldiers or analyzing the doomed efforts of Tsushima's defensive forces, Kuchii comes across as the kind of person who might just be able to pull off an unlikely victory. His backstory also poses some interesting questions, the biggest of which is why such an obviously competent soldier has been sentenced to exile in the first place. His most notable shortcoming as a main character is that his emotional investment in the battle is somewhat limited; survival seems to be his primary motivation for fighting, although there are some hints that he's beginning to see his own family reflected in Teruhi.

While the emotional stakes are a bit low for Kuchii, Teruhi has no such problem. She strikes an interesting balance between strength and weakness in these episodes, and that inner conflict makes her seem more human than the seemingly unflappable Kuchii. Teruhi puts on a brave face when the exiles first arrive, but we soon see that her talk about fighting and dying for Tsushima is covering up a genuine fear of failure. From that point onward, the majority of Teruhi's time on screen is marked by a visible tension between her desire to protect the island and her uncertainty over whether or not she'll be able to carry out that duty. That's a compelling and believable position for a character to be in, and it opens the door for some worthwhile storytelling as long as Angolmois doesn't relegate Teruhi to the sidelines.

The rest of the cast is something of a mixed bag. Most of Teruhi's family members don't last long enough to make much of an impression; they're introduced early on in episode two and are dead a few minutes later. The one noteworthy character in that group is Teruhi's father, who starts off as the typical overconfident leader but becomes a more nuanced voice within the story before his defeat at the hands of the invading army. Kuchii's fellow exiles are a more colorful group, though they do tend to fall into neatly defined archetypes like the constantly complaining merchant and the big guy who throws rocks. Still, they do at least cover a wide range of ages, backgrounds, and skills; they're not just a bunch of indestructible badasses. Given some more time to develop, they could make for a solid supporting cast.

Part of the reason the characters haven't had much time to distinguish themselves is because the show's focus has been more on the big picture narrative, and it's in this area that these episodes make the strongest impression. In a relatively short amount of time, Angolmois does a nice job of providing the necessary context and backstory to explain the situation, even if viewers aren't overly familiar with the historical events on which this series is based. It's easy to see that the odds are stacked against the protagonists here: the other side has an overwhelming advantage in terms of numbers, the first episode's fight scene shows that they're more than a match for the defenders in terms of fighting skill, and the second episode's battle scene highlights their superior weapons and tactics. At the same time, Kuchii is given just enough hope to keep going with the promise of reinforcements after seven days. That ticking clock provides a natural source of dramatic tension, and in theory it should also serve as a guide for how the season should be paced. These are all good signs, and they imply that Angolmois is in pretty good shape from a storytelling perspective.

Of course, it's impossible to talk about this series without mentioning its visual style. In terms of raw animation quality, the production values are relatively high, and the first episode's swordfight features some particularly fluid motion. The character designs also look fine, and they do a respectable job of conveying each individual's personality and social standing. The sticking point is going to be the lens through which all of these elements are presented. Angolmois consistently uses a kind of video filter that gives the visuals a weathered, vintage look, as if the show had been animated on old pieces of parchment. There are moments when it works, especially during dimly lit scenes, but in many cases it's just a distraction. Slow pans across landscapes look particularly bad, perhaps because they do more to highlight the fact that the filter is just a static visual element layered on top of the animation. It's certainly unique, but I'd argue that it does more harm than good.

If you can ignore the nagging impression that you're watching it on a dirty television screen, there's a lot to like about Angolmois. The characters are good fits for their roles in the story, and the plot itself has been nicely paced and presented thus far. Viewers looking for a new historical action series to pick up where Golden Kamuy left off last season would do well to check it out, as would anyone who enjoys a good swordfight. As long as it makes the most of its strengths, Angolmois should be a strong and entertaining period piece.

Rating: B+

Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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