Lord Marksman and Vanadis
by Jacob Chapman,
The process of discovering Lord Marksman and Vanadis was a weird one for me. By "discovering," I mean "discovering that this is actually a good show," and while it might not be good to everyone, it was awfully good to me in its odd, unassuming way.
The premise is simple, but it takes a while to fully develop, and there are a lot of complicated names in it. Tigrevurmud Vorn (gesundheit) is the too-young Earl of Alsace, forced to adopt the title at age 14 when his father died. Alsace is a wee province in the kingdom of Brune, but Tigre cares enough about his honor and title to enlist as a Brunish (bless you) archer in the war against a dreaded Vanadis warlord of Zchted. (Need a tissue?) As it turns out, these seven warlords of various nations are more like warladies, and the one out to conquer Brune is Eleonora Viltaria. (I think they make a cream for that.) She's an equestrian swordswoman with power over wind magic, and Tigre is lucky that challenging her head-on only gets him kidnapped instead of skewered. Eleonora is impressed with Tigre's skill as a bowman and decides to make him one of her soldiers rather than her prisoner once he's proven that he holds her no ill will and seems as fascinated with her as she is with him. Still, the king of Zchted (for god's sake just blow your nose) is still sending troops into Brune, and his violent and babyish son has decided to raze Tigre's home of Alsace to the ground. Desperate, Tigre strikes a deal with Eleonora. She can have his service in her army, and keep Alsace as a Zchted-ish (Zchted-ian?) base if she will first use her troops to defend it and spare the lives of its citizens. The self-motivated general agrees, marching on her own prince, and making the whole war a real "who's on first" situation of scrambled sides.
Looking at the key art for this series, I would never have guessed it to be as smart as it is. The production design is as boilerplate anime fantasy as you can possibly get, (although the animation for the show is fairly nice, if also limited.) All the female characters have ridiculous boob armor and those gross little pink pimple highlights all over their skin that are supposed to be sexy, but I'm not sure why. It's packed with ridiculous names and bulky lore, and on top of that, led by a protagonist who is Mr. Perfect Self-Insert Incarnate. I kept holding my breath for the wacky, stupid fanservice escapades to start, punctuated by boring lulls of worldbuilding exposition. You really can't judge a book by its cover though, because Lord Marksman and Vanadis is neither wacky nor boring. It's just pretty good fantasy, elevated by some great character chemistry.
Tigre has some of that "perfect milquetoast" blood running through him, but the stakes are raised so highly against him that it somehow works. He's an archer in a warrior society where archers are seen as weak and disposable, but he got attached to the weapon through a love of hunting, and in the process, mastered a discipline that the rest of the world was ignoring. Eleonora is a woman of ambition who appreciates people who think outside the box, and the sympathetic barbs the two trade back and forth is reminiscent of the endearing character dynamics in Spice and Wolf or MAOYU. The show spends two episodes developing Eleonora and Tigre enough to make it believable that they would bond together against their own countries in two very different ways, and the payoff in episode three is just a well-paced, compelling, and extremely cathartic battle scene that lets you know where the story's really going.
One of the nicest things about this climactic battle is how easy it is to follow, even though there's a lot of complex strategy involved. The show gets around battle strategy exposition that could drag the excitement down in a pretty novel way. Instead of having internal monologues or flashbacks to characters standing over a map discussing strategy, the show introduces a CG chessboard-map of both armies before the battle, and intercuts the continuous action with this wider view of which troops and characters are going where and why. The novelty here is in the camerawork, which helicopters around the 2-D character action and the 3-D strategy map in the exact same way at all times, matching cuts and action down to the path of an arrow, and making the battle strategy and why it worked crystal-clear even to dummies (like me) who have trouble paying attention to that kind of minutiae. I'm not sure I've ever seen it done that way, and once again was surprised to find some innovation in an anime this innocuous.
The "surprise" twist in all this is that Lord Marksman and Vanadis is still a fanservice show, with plenty of implied nudity, shots of big bouncing boobs cut into otherwise normal action scenes, and a tense scene where Tigre's doting maid gets her clothes ripped open by the mad prince. (As sexual assault scenes go, it doesn't go very far, and is notably downplayed to emphasize the peril of the victim rather than to titillate, but be warned that it is in here.) Still, its weird little blend of worldbuilding, character building, solid action, and battle strategy really works for what it's trying to do, and I'm excited to see where the story will go in the future. What a nice surprise!
Lord Marksman and Vanadis is currently streaming on Funimation.
Hope has been an anime fan since childhood, and likes to chat about cartoons, pop culture, and visual novel dev on Twitter.
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