Reviewby Theron Martin,
Lord Marksman and Vanadis
BD+DVD - The Complete Series
Tigrevumod Vorn, an ace archer in a land where archery is not well-respected, is the young Count of Alsace, a border province of the nation of Brun. When a Brunish army is defeated by an invasion force from Zchted, despite the Zchted forces being vastly outnumbered, Brun finds himself as the captive of Eleonara Viltaria, a rambunctious young woman who is also one of Zchted's seven sentient weapon-wielding war maidens (aka Vanadis). She respects his mettle and skill enough (and is probably attracted enough to him, too) that she agrees to help protect his beloved Alsace from a rival Brunish count in exchange for essentially annexing Alsace. What follows is a series of conflicts in which both “Tigre” and “Elen” must face rivals in war, politics and romance both in their own respective lands and against a third nation intent on invading and enslaving Brun. And there's a supposedly-dead prince, a goddess, and a maid involved, too.
Tactical fantasy warfare meets fan service-laced harem antics in this Fall 2014 TV series. Though based on light novels, Lord Marksman actually feels more like a game adaptation, as it boasts distinct RPG flavoring and an emphasis on combat overviews more reminiscent of tactical scale miniature games. That may contribute to why the series is such a mess. For all that it is a mess, though, it still hard to truly hate. Somehow it manage to generate just enough charm to overcome its more eye-rolling aspects. Well, mostly, anyway.
The messiness shows quite prominently in its setting. Though it fundamentally bases itself in European geography (the shape of the continent greatly resembles Europe), it also shifts geographic features around; the mountainous region between Tigre's Alsace and Elen's principality of Leitmeritz is about where Belgium would be, for instance. Though Brun is supposedly inspired by France and Zchted is supposedly inspired by Russia, little to no classical cultural elements appear in either nation's architecture, clothing, weaponry choices, or attitudes; that is all more fantasy standard, especially the ridiculous armor and weapon designs worn by some Brunish leaders and the anachronistic cosplay outfits typically worn by the Vanadis. (I would call the uniform of the maid Titta anachronistic as well if it wasn't for the long history anime has with more modern maid outfits coexisting with Medieval-based fantasy settings.)
The pacing is also a major issue. The anime adapts the first five novels, which isn't too extraordinary for a 13-episode series. In this case, though, the story comes off as quite rushed for it, especially in the first few episodes. Events advance pell-mell from one major set battle piece to another, rarely taking time to elaborate, provide linking scenes, or even properly round out conflicts; all too often the portrayal of battles feels truncated. Where episode 13 ends is probably the most natural break point in the franchise's overall story, and at the very least better than ending the story where the fourth novel stops (at the point where the supposedly-fallen prince comes out of hiding), so likely director and script writer Tatsuo Sato (Bodacious Space Pirates, Martian Successor Nadesico) felt compelled to rush the story to get to that point. Still, a couple more episodes to tell the story might have smoothed out the storytelling.
Though this is, first and foremost, an epic fantasy series, it does also include a distinct harem series flavor (for better or worse) Tigre cuts a more studly figure than many harem leads, and he is quite talented both as a leader and as a combatant, so it's no wonder that he catches the attention of multiple Zchted war maidens, his maid Titta, and possibly even a princess. The squabbling over Tigre is mostly limited to chief rivals Elen, the more petite Ludmila, and Titta, though others do occasionally intrude into the shenanigans and how much Ludmila is attracted to Tigre versus just using him to mess with Elen is in question. Mostly that plays out in the form of tried-and-true harem antics, which does, of course, include ample opportunities for fan service and a camera which never lets the viewer forget that the service is a core component. However, this never results in fully-exposed nudity or anything sexier than Tigre occasionally accidentally copping feels, so it stands about in the middle of recent harem fare in that regard. As one might expect, Tigre is hopeless when it comes to dealing with the women in his life despite how decisive he is otherwise.
The approach to the battle scenes is more unusual. The series makes extensive use of computer-driven mass animation of troops, but this sometimes produces very awkward results; the worst case comes in several scenes in episode 10, where an encirclement of Arab-themed foes looks like they are swinging in repetitive patterns at nothing. The way the series introduces and provides overviews of most battles is what sets it apart, though, as it smoothly depicts entire units as chess-like CG pieces moving around on a computer-generated battlescape while the narrator explains. That simply and efficiently lays out the grander tactics being used in each battle, allowing the regular animation to focus more on individual character heroics.
The most important appeal of the series, though – and the factor which saves it from utter mediocrity more than anything else – is its engaging cast. Tigre may be a bit on the dull side, but his nobility in character as well as station provides a solid foundation for everything that happens. The perpetually-smirking Elen, contrarily, provides the spark and charm with her mix of enthusiasm and immaturity. Ludmila, as the more elegant and proper but also equally feisty rival, is a perfect foil for Elen, while the more straight-laced Lim perpetually tries to rein in Elen as her chief subordinate and bodyguard. (She shines a lot more in the included shorts, where a hobby which seems dramatically at odds with her normal persona is revealed.) Titta is a more typical clingy “childhood friend” type, and one who is totally useless in a fight, but she does also serve the purpose of representing Tigre's connection to, and love for, the province that he rules. Numerous other characters with supporting roles or more limited appearances also make favorable impressions, while villains are a mix of evil caricatures and thoughtful tacticians.
The messiness also shows in the artwork. Lord Marksman is a very boldly colorful series, and does have a mix of scenic vistas, rough terrain, and interesting architecture (Tigre's family home is a particular stand-out here), but it suffers greatly from inconsistent quality control, with characters slipping off-model with annoying frequency. Female designs split about evenly between being well-endowed and very petite, with not much middle ground, while male designs fall into an unusually broad array of distinctive appearances. Despite the flaws mentioned previously, the overall effort on the CG aspects is better than average.
The musical score, contrarily, is rock-solid. Bracing, dramatic opener “Ginsen no Kaze” by Konomi Suzuki, who has also shined in themes for Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, Freezing Vibration, and WATAMOTE, sets a strong standard for the series, which it follows up with a varied sound which can include full orchestration, folksy tunes, synthesized efforts, and even dramatic vocals. It definitely captures the sound and feel of a fantasy epic. Both the regular and a one-shot closer are also strong numbers, though they don't have quite the replay appeal of the opener. Curiously, the opener and closer both include a character who never actually appears in the episode content (the seventh war maiden, who is only briefly mentioned as being on a journey).
Funimation's English dub is also a strong effort overall. Caitlin Glass (who also directs) is dead-on for Elen in both vocal quality and the attitude she brings to the performance, as are Joel McDonald as Tigre and Jad Saxton as Ludmila. (Deeper-voiced Alex Moore is also good as Lim, though like her character, she shines brightest in the OVA shorts.) In fact, the only questionable choice is Vic Mignogna as Roland, who I'd imagined having a much deeper voice in English. There are a couple of bumps in the minor roles, but that is a very picky complaint.
The English release of the title follows the standard Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack format, with two disks included for each. (They come in the same case for the regular release and separate cases in an artbox for the Limited Edition release.) Color choices for text on the menu screen leave a lot to be desired on the Blu-Ray version, but both versions have the same set of Extras: (mostly inconsequential) English audio commentaries for episodes 6 and 13, clean opener and closer, an array of promo videos and trailers for the series, and a full set of 14 OVA shorts, one for each episode plus series preview. These “Tigre and Vanadish” Chibi Theater bits are easily the highlight of the release. Rather than being fan service-laden, they aim for a more comical look at the cast, and several are absolute riots. In fact, I recommend watching them even if you don't care much for the series as a whole.
Four more novels have come out since the series first aired, which leaves the door open for a possible eventual continuation. Given the likability of the cast and the loose plot threads dangling at the end, a second season would be welcome. As is, Lord Marksman and Vanadis is a flawed work but tolerably so.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : A-
+ Musical score, engaging cast, “Tigre and Vanadish” Chibi Theater shorts.
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