Reviewby Theron Martin,
Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion
Episodes 1-12 streaming
Kuchii Jinzaburo was once a general in 13th century Japan, but he fell out of favorable and was banished to Tsushima Island, one of Japan's most distant isles. After he and his fellow exiles survive a treacherous journey to the island, they are greeted by Teruhi, daughter of the island's lord, who seeks to connive them into joining the defense of the island against an expected Mongol attack. The exiles soon learn that whether they are willing to accept that role in exchange for a place on the island or not, they may have no choice but to fight. The Mongols' arrival in overwhelming numbers leads to a series of desperate battles which may determine the fate of all on the island and thrust both Kuchii and Teruhi into the forefront of the actions, though each for entirely different reasons.
Tsushima Island is located about halfway across the Korea Strait, which makes it the closest Japanese territory to the Korean Peninsula. Hence any invasion of Japan from Korea would naturally use the island as a stepping stone. Such was the case in 1274, when the Korean vassals of the Mongols touched off the first of two Mongol invasion attempts of Japan. Although some historical accounts exist of what happened on the island during that invasion, they only make a single mention of exiles from the Japanese mainland having participated in the island's defense. This 12 episode manga adaptation from the Summer 2018 season strives to creatively fill in the details of who those exiles were and how things played out for them. Taken purely as a work of historical fiction, it does its job pretty well.
The first thing that should be understood up front is that, for all of Kuchii's attempts at heroism, this isn't really a heroic tale. History is quite clear about how things ultimately played out at Tsushima when the Mongols came: the island's defenders were wiped out and many of the inhabitants were slaughtered. This story makes no effort to change that overall outcome. Instead, the series carefully and diligently builds a case for the one way that something can be salvaged under such overwhelming conditions: sometimes merely surviving can be a sort of victory. As trite or underwhelming as that might sound in other cases, it makes for a potent closing theme here, as it signifies that that all of the sacrifices that were made, all that the characters endured, weren't totally senseless.
This theme isn't obvious until near the end of the series, however. Despite a calamitous initial battle against the Korean forces (which plays out exactly as documented in historical accounts), most of the story has at least some sense of hope and optimism. Kuchii becomes the quintessential scrappy ex-general, fully in the vein of Russel Crowe's Maximus: one whose laments over his lost family don't in the slightest curtail his warrior's spirit or acumen for battle tactics. He's capable, clever, forceful, and pragmatic, to the point that things generally go well when people carefully heed him and go wrong when they don't. Why he gradually attracts the tentative interest of Princess Teruhi is not at all hard to understand, nor is her perplexity at that attraction. Thankfully Teruhi is not portrayed as a fragile beauty, but as a young woman whose powerful sense of noblesse oblige spurs her into actions that she isn't fully prepared to handle. Surrounding them are some mostly realistically-portrayed locals and a more colorful and fanciful Rogue's Gallery of exiles, from pirates to deposed nobles to those who simply got on the bad side of those in power.
However, very gradually signs arise that things are not going to go well in the end. After the first battle there is a low but steady level of attrition as the Mongol forces progressively back Kuchii, Teruhi, and their allies into a corner, and there are traitors among them as well – some due to hostages, some due to pragmatism winning out over loyalty. The actual Mongol leaders also aren't fools and have talented people of their own sufficient to match the defenders. Further, they have explosives, armor, and tactics that the Japanese haven't seen before, and Japanese weaponry and fighting styles of the time aren't well-suited to combating them. Built into this are a lot of history lessons, as the Mongol invasions did force the Japanese to quickly update their military tech and tactics, including developing the katana into the heavier form that is commonly-known today. (Swords of the time had a bad tendency to get stuck in Mongol armor because they weren't weighty enough to slice through, and some of that is seen in the series.) History is sometimes embellished here, as I rather doubt that the Emperor ever secretly came to Tsushima Island in the middle of the Mongol invasion and one Westerner appears on the island for reasons that are never fully explained, but overall the content isn't found wanting for period detail.
Even though the Japanese are mostly on a losing course, they still manage some impressive battle scenes. These are often very graphic affairs – almost shockingly so at times – but they are quite effective at portraying the sense of danger and the feelings of terror and bravado that can dominate on the battlefield and keep things lively by constantly varying the terrain and battlefield conditions. Death scenes are also both suitably dramatic and suitably bloody. While the animation effort cuts corners in many places, it provides decent-looking movements (when it does detail them) which emphasize the graphic contentand generally consistent quality control. The coloring also finds a nice balance between being vivid and earthy, and that combined with character designs that favor an older anime style gives the series a very distinctive look even without the obnoxious screen filters; these were apparently intended to give the series the feel of taking place on old parchment, but it's more a constant minor distraction than an enhancement.
The musical score of the series is also a highlight. Music director Shuji Katayama, who has also done meritorious work in franchises like Overlord and Saga of Tanya the Evil, provides a cinematic mix of orchestration, piano, and even occasional riffs of electric guitar or Japanese string instrumentation sometimes backed by airy vocals. It is quite effective and promoting the more dramatic scenes in the series and giving them sufficient gravitas. Both opener “Braver” and closer “Upside Down” are stirring light rock-flavored numbers, with the former having better visuals but the latter being a better song. Voice work is also mostly solid, though having all of the Koreans and Mongols sound like ordinary Japanese and fluently speaking the language was a minor suspension of disbelief issue.
On the whole, Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion fares decently well as a war-based action story and shines much brighter for its historical fiction merits. If you've got an itch for a mostly-realistic period piece with a lot of historical detail, then this series should scratch it quite nicely.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Lots of historical detail, stirring musical score, solid central cast
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