Reviewby Theron Martin,
Lord of Vermilion: The Crimson King
Blu-Ray + Digital
As a child, Chihiro Kamina moved in with his best friend after the deaths of his parents under suspicious circumstances. 13 years later, he and everyone else across Tokyo lose consciousness when a piercing sound reverberates across the city. He wakes up months later to learn that some former Tokyoites disappeared and nearly all others were unconscious for a week; he's the last to awaken. Further, the city is now surrounded by a red mist which prevents people from entering or leaving, though contact with the outside can be maintained. But the problems don't end there; people are randomly turning into monsters, while certain others with a “Heroic Lineage” can manifest red-themed powers; both Chihiro and his friend prove to be ones. As a girl from his past appears – one who may have answers to things he's forgotten – and a masked girl steps out of his dreams, Chihiro finds himself in the midst of a battle of opposing ideologies over the fate of Tokyo and its people, an event where the deciding factor may be the emergence of the fabled Lord of Vermilion.
The anime Lord of Vermilion: The Crimson King is connected to a series of popular Japanese arcade CCGs originating with Lord of Vermilion in 2008. However, calling this 12-episode series a true adaptation of the game may be a stretch, as the plot here has only a thin connection to the game setting and mechanics; indeed, the one character who seems to be in common to both is dramatically different in the anime than in the game. In other words, the production team is taking its cues more from the likes of a Rage of Bahamut Genesis in bringing the game to animation, by creating its own story which uses some elements of the game's setting. Unfortunately this attempt is nowhere near being in the same quality league as its predecessor.
The Summer 2018 debut of the series so completely failed to catch visitor attention that it didn't get voted in for episode reviews on ANN at the time. That does not automatically mean that the series is not worthy of attention – a typical season has at least a couple of overlooked titles, after all – but very little which happens after the first episode suggests that initial judgments were wrong. The problems with the series are across the board except possibly for music, but let's start with the setting. The reasons behind why the defining event called the Great Collapse (which is also the foundation of the source game's setting) happened are hazy and essentially come down to an excuse to have monsters and super-powered individuals popping up and battling. The red mist which shuts off Tokyo is implied to be the result of those who did not survive the Great Collapse, but what it is and does is never well-defined, nor is any explanation offered about why those from outside couldn't just fly over it. Again, just contrivances to suit the purpose of the storyline.
The plotting at least shows some ambition, as it attempts to establish a sort of three-way conflict between two groups seeking to destroy Tokyo for their own purposes and a third group intent on protecting Tokyo. Two potential lovers emerging from the clash of ideologies is clearly intended, and Romeo and Juliet is listed in the credits as a reference. (Other references to Shakespeare's works are made, especially to The Tempest, but those never seem to amount to much more than the use of a few quotes.) However, the development of the conflict suffers many missteps, not the least of which is the third group largely not doing anything while the other two advance their schemes to destroy Tokyo in their own ways. A plot twist clearly inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion gets thrown in to weakly justify the motives of one of the main villains, as are major subplots involving an experimental subject on the verge of losing his humanity and an investigative reporter looking into Chihiro's troubled past and whether his father was killed by Chihiro in self-defense or committed suicide. In other words, the storytelling is almost desperate to build a lot of angst to give the impression of this being a darker-edged series, but none of it flows well at all or comes together well to support the overall plot. The one element what does somewhat work is how Dux (a helper in the original game) fits into all of this, but that truth is hardly original, either.
Characterizations are not as much of a disaster but are a mix of overplaying some and underplaying others. Firmly in the former category is the journalist, who seems improbably strongly-motivated and vindictive for as petty as his reasons are for going after Chihiro. The piano-playing villain, meanwhile, is irritatingly overdone in a “can we just kill him off so we don't have to listen to his drivel” kind of way, which is sad since he has one of the neatest powers. On the flip side, Chihiro's Familiar is given little to do beside worry over him and watch from a distance, main love interest Yuri is lacking both as a love interest and as a person with any real force of will, and the tattooed guy with the lip rings is just there; who he is and why he's involved in this is never explained. Other characters, like the sunglasses-sporting Jun, can never seem to make up their minds what their motivations are. The characters aren't a total loss, as the policewoman has some merit and the other young couple is at least interesting in how their relationship starts to form, but few of these characters (especially the morose Chihiro) leave any impact.
The series is also wholly unimpressive on the visual front. This most prominently shows in the red projections that empowered individuals on both sides show when their powers are activated; these projections were probably meant to be grand and intimidating, but they just look lifeless instead, in many cases like someone doodled them in as an afterthought. Character designs beyond that don't fare badly, including a handful that stand out from the norm (Tsubaki was a favorite), and the design of the exterior of one concert hall – which is made to look like it's part of a giant harp – is actually inspired, but the lackluster animation support puts a hard limit on how dynamic the visuals can ever get. Between that and some equally weak battle choreography, only a couple of the many action scenes have even a mild thrill factor to them. Violence gets graphic at times but nothing too severe and fan service is surprisingly negligible given the presence of some conspicuously well-endowed female characters; in fact, the only female characters who dress in even slightly revealing fashions are ones with the most petite builds.
In contrast to all of the problems the series has, the soundtrack is the one aspect that holds up well. Music director Show Aratame is a young talent (he was only 25 at the time of production) who shows a lot of promise, as his mix of orchestrated numbers and creepy electronic sounds provides what little gravitas the series achieves and prevents many scenes from being total disasters. I look forward to his work in future titles. Opener "Tenshi yo Furusato o Kike" by May'n is a solid set-up for the series and closer "Akaku, Zetsubō no Hana" by JUNNA, while less memorable, is still deserving of better content to support.
The otherwise-unremarkable Japanese dub for the series is notable for including at least one member of idol group Nogizaka46 in a prominent role. The English dub directed by the normally-reliable Jerry Jewell is far from being one of the company's stronger efforts, with several performances suggesting that the cast was having trouble mustering enthusiasm for the series. A couple of performances – especially Skyler McIntosh as Chihiro's Familiar Eiko – even seem unusually stilted for Funimation dubs. The enthusiasm didn't show any more on the physical production side, as the release is Blu-Ray and digital access only and comes with only clean opener and closer and some promo videos as Extras.
The epilogue for the series suggests that the plot was being left open for a continuation even though the main conflict seemed to have been resolved and Tokyo was saved (if also transformed by the climactic upheaval). But why bother? Surely there's better material out there that production time, money, and effort could be spent on.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : B
+ Some good character and building designs, solid musical score
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