Reviewby Theron Martin,
Dies irae: To the Ring Reincarnation
ONA (episodes 12-17)
With an alliance with the Father in place and Kasumi safe, Ren learns more about the bigger picture, including what role Rea/Theresia is to play and how the Obsidian Round Table's Golden Alchemy can be disrupted. His task is easier said than done, however, and the remaining Round Table members are fearsome opponents, even with the help of allies like Shirou. There is also an even greater level of magic to learn and Reinhard Heydrich's own objective for never-ending war to consider, to say nothing of what the godlike Mercurius is actually after. And what does he really want with Marie/Margeurite?
I covered the first twelve episodes (#0-11) of this series in episode reviews during the fall 2017 TV season, so this review will be covering the last six episodes, which have been released as an ONA series under the subtitle To the Ring Reincarnation but are simply being listed under the main Dies irae heading on Crunchyroll as episodes 12-17.
I heavily recommend reviewing the established characters and storyline from the first dozen episodes before beginning this part, as episode 12 expects immediate familiarity with everything that's transpired so far, with no recap or flashback for help. Even that doesn't assure that everything going on will make sense, but at least these final six episodes try to explain things enough to paint a picture that's at least somewhat comprehensible.
For anything to make sense, knowing where everyone stands is essential. Mercurius is effectively a god who's tired of being a god. Heydrich is a potential replacement but he's too in love with a repetitive cycle of all-out war for Mercurius's tastes, so he's looking for someone else. That's where Marie/Margeurite comes into the picture, while Ren represents the unpredictable element that Mercurius has long sought to break Heydrich's cycle. Or something like that. In other words, for all that stuff about immortals, reincarnations, bringing people back from the dead, time cycling and so on, the plot basically boils down to a bored god seeking his replacement and making everyone jump through hoops in the process. The story puts on pretenses of being about more than that by tossing in all manner of philosophical sideroads, but that's just existential window dressing with no deeper meaning to be found.
These episodes fill their time by delving into the backgrounds and circumstances of various key characters. It's explained why the Father looks significantly different in the current timeline than in episode 0, although the process involved in bringing that about isn't clarified. The defining nasty event in his backstory, although basically pure evil, doesn't even come close to being as twisted as the background of Wolfgang Schreiber (the boy with the eyepatch), however. He was shown in episode 0 passing himself off as a female prostitute, and apparently that wasn't far from the actual truth. The stories with the other two lieutenants are simpler: the scar-faced woman is hopelessly in love with Heydrich and the big bruiser laments that he didn't die when he should have. While these tidbits do flesh out the characters some, the story falls into the same trap with these background reveals over and over; revealing this stuff right before killing off the character doesn't make them more compelling or sympathetic, especially given how utterly horrible they are.
In fact, that speaks to the series' biggest problem in general: the writing just isn't very good. The direction tries to make up for that by staging a succession of epic battle scenes through these episodes, but pacing problems abound as scenes stretch awkwardly to accommodate discussions that are much too casual for the situations in which they're happening, interrupt the flow of battle, or lack the emotional resonance necessary to make them work. The one place where the script does get things right is in its handling of the series epilogue at the end of episode 17, but that's just a tiny sliver of polish out of six full episodes.
These episodes are at their strongest (relatively speaking) during the epic battles. The limits on the animation budget don't allow these scenes to be the pure spectacle that they aspire to be, and not all of the action scenes work (one where two characters are being dragged behind a motorbike by a chain looks particularly cheesy), but the grand staging and execution of the major battle scenes still make for a number of visually impressive moments, especially in the final two episodes. CG use isn't the sharpest, but it's good enough to favorably contribute to the action, while the artistry in general retains all the strengths and weakness from earlier episodes: weird eyes on otherwise solid character designs, and vivid power displays in a striking color design.
The biggest strength of the earlier episodes also remains the same: the musical score. The series continues its predilection for grand operatic numbers, primarily from the works of Wagner, and infuses in various classical orchestra, organ, and rock numbers too, all in an effort to lay on the drama as thick as possible. It's just too bad that the storytelling can't keep up. Original opener “Kadenz” is retained for most episodes, as is original closer “Opera,” albeit with actual visuals this time.
At the time of this writing, Funimation has yet to dub these episodes (they are coming on August 28th), so I cannot comment on the dub quality through this span. However, I can't see the English dub making much difference in the series' quality. Ultimately this series might be remembered for some of its vivid imagery, but it doesn't have a compelling enough cast or storyline to be memorable otherwise.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Vivid imagery, strong musical score
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