Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Libra of Nil Admirari
Episodes 1-12 streaming
Tsugumi Kuze is the daughter of a noble family, struggling to keep things together emotionally. She's had a marriage arranged that could help save her family's finances and she's unsure of whether or not she wants to accept. That's decided for her when her younger brother, Hitaki, falls under the sway of a “cursed tome,” a handwritten hand-bound novel imbued with dark feelings, and tries to commit suicide. When Tsugumi sees the book, she realizes that she has the power to see the auras that mark a tome as cursed, which leads to her joining Fukurou, the government agency policing the books. Alongside the other Fukurou members, most of whom are attractive young men, Tsugumi finds new purpose as she tries to find the people behind the evil books.
It's always a welcome surprise when a series turns out to be better than it reasonably ought to be, and Libra of Nil Admirari is definitely one of them. Based on a reverse harem otome game and featuring a heroine whose resourcefulness and strength is quieter than usual, the story is an interesting dark fantasy about the power of words and their ability to stir emotions – and why that can scare people. Set in an alternate version of the Taisho period, which looks roughly comparable to the late 1920s/early 1930s based on the women's clothes, the story follows Tsugumi Kuze, the daughter of a noble family who isn't entirely comfortable with the direction her life is going. When a cursed tome causes her younger brother to attempt self-immolation, she discovers that she can see the auras of books that are imbued with dark feelings that affect the readers. This in turn leads to her joining the government agency investigating the cursed tomes, Fukurou, which gives her a new sense of purpose.
Tsugumi's dilemma is indicative of both the time she lives in and the various foils found in the other female characters. The time covered by the Taisho period, also known as the Between the Wars era, was one of great social change, one element of which was the role of women. Tsugumi signals her new phase in life by cutting off her long hair, which in anime has a definite symbolism of a fresh start, but is also in keeping with the setting as women bobbed their hair to indicate their new freedom from old restrictions. While Tsugumi isn't the proto-flapper that her friend Koruri (playing the role of girl reporter, a popular pop culture character in fiction of the period) is, she's also not bound like Shoko, whose story shows how Tsugumi's own could very well have turned out. Shoko is mostly portrayed as the Madwoman in the Attic (ancestress of the Woman in the Refrigerator), a troubled lady trotted out by her husband on special occasions and always shown wearing the fashions of thirty years ago. In the final few episodes of the series we learn what brought Shoko to this particular state, and it's almost exactly what Tsugumi was afraid of with her arranged marriage, barring one very specific horrible event. Tsugumi has broken away from that possibility by using her talent to join Fukurou, enabling her to choose her own path in life. Thirty years ago, Shoko didn't have that chance, and was trapped behind Charlotte Perkins Gilman's wallpaper.
That Tsugumi can choose her own man is, of course, a particular feature of the show. As the lone young female agent at Fukurou, she's thrown into a ready-made reverse harem, with fellow agents, potential villains, and authors quick to find her attractive. Libra of Nil Admirari does a good job balancing this out with the actual plot of the story – while Tsugumi gets a chance to spend time with each of the potential suitors, their episodes serve to advance the cursed tome storyline rather than simply focusing on dates. Even better, each character's episode also provides good character development for them (Akira's being the most impressive in this regard), running the gamut from disturbing (Hisui) to quite a bit lighter (Shogo). “Lighter,” however, does not mean “fluffy” in general – although the show does try to inject softer moments into the show, mostly in the form of its skittle-tailed mascot character, this is a very dark story overall. Themes of suicide feature prominently, but sexual violence and other forms of inflicting pain are also very prevalent. Tsugumi is largely an observer, but there are a lot of episodes that don't hold back in depicting the horrible things that happen to the characters; it's worth mentioning that the fact that most of these things are implied through the careful use of screams and shadows does not lessen their impact.
The visuals do err more on the side of well-done than not. While there aren't really any moments of spectacular animation (and one weird walking scene of Koruri and Tsugumi walking toe-heel instead of the natural heel-toe gait definitely made me wonder), the production is at least acceptable. The shading employed gives the entire show a sort of soft glaze, as if we're looking at the characters through an old pane of glass, and that really works for the feel of the series as a whole. There are some cheesy CG effects for the cursed tomes' auras, and Tsugumi's work uniform is wildly anachronistic, but the overall appearance of the show works with the mood it's trying to convey.
The vocal cast does a good job with this mood as well, with the standouts being Hikaru Midorikawa as Nabari and relative newcomer Akane Sanada as Shoko. In both cases the actors work to build the characters over the course of the show, so you don't really notice what they're doing until the story reaches its climax, something which also works well with Takahiro Sakurai's Rui. There aren't truly any bad voices at all, although Juri Kimura doesn't have quite as much to work with as Tsugumi, whose development is much more due to her physical actions than any lines she speaks.
On the whole, Libra of Nil Admirari is a much better show than you might expect. It acknowledges its otome game roots in the seeds of each character route sown throughout the series, but it never allows its romance aspect to usurp the actual storytelling. It's a dark story, but one with interesting aspects and an engaging vocal cast, and one that's really worth checking out.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Interesting parallels between characters, readily handles dark topics, balances plot and romance nicely
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