Reviewby Theron Martin,
Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World
episodes 1-12 streaming
The Empire is a nation built on scientific advancement. The Nebulis Sovereignty, on the other hand, is a nation built on astral power – energy from within the planet which can be harnessed by those dubbed witches by the Empire and astral mages by the Sovereignty. For over a century the two nations have been at war. As the youngest-ever Saint Disciple and Successor of the Black Steel, 16-year-old Iska is one of the Empire's aces, though he has been imprisoned for the past year for helping a young witch escape. He is called back to service to confront one of the Sovereignty's aces: Aliceliese Lou Nebulis IX, a purebred descendant of the Sovereignty's founder who is known as the Ice Calamity Witch. But while they may be enemies, a series of encounters leads both to find a surprising amount of common ground, including a mutual desire to bring an end to this long-standing conflict and an almost uncanny ability to work together against common foes. However, barriers to peaceful relations lie on both sides
This 12-episode Fall 2020 series is based on a light novel series, whose first volume I reviewed here. The anime version did not get voted in for episode review coverage, but I followed it anyway to see if the content beyond the novel's first volume could capitalize on what little potential the first novel showed. Sadly, it fails to do so. While these episodes do raise some somewhat interesting plot threads, they seem too enamored with playing to anime norms to develop anything fresh or compelling, either on their own or as a very loose Romeo and Juliet-type scenario.
The anime version introduces a major new problem by glaringly omitting one key bit of background information: that the Sovereignty was specifically formed from Empire citizens who gained powers when astral energy was discovered and were persecuted for it. Hence the two countries are supposed to have a built-in reason for the conflict, but the anime not only never acknowledges it, but also has characters on the Empire side act as if this is an unknown. They also seem shocked when one of their own develops an astral mage's emblem and abilities after being exposed to a raw astral energy stream . Whether this is a case of information control on behalf of the Empire (it would not be out of character) or another adaptation omission is unclear, but novel readers knew about this upfront. The absence of such context also waters down the righteous anger of the Sovereignty's founder, which comes into play at one point early on.
The problems with the series run deeper than that, however. The descriptions of Iska's unit commander, Mismis, in the novel painted her more as an otaku fetish object than an actual character, and that impression comes across even worse in anime form: she's built like Hestia from DanMachi but with a massive degree of klutziness and a mental age barely half of her physical age (she's 22). The novel describes her one redeeming characteristic as being her social skills, but even that much is not apparent in the anime. She seems like dead weight at best and shows no reason in the anime (beyond maybe pity or mascot factor) why the others value her, much less put up with her. She is at the center of one of the more interesting plot twists in the series' second half, but that is not even close to being resolved by the end of the season. In contrast, Iska has barely any personality outside of being somber, while engineer/driver Nene seems entirely too chipper. Only sniper Jhin has a personality which actually seems aligned with being a soldier. The Sovereignty side is less problematic, though no less stereotypical; Alice is a classic tsundere, while her maid Rin is the standard serious-minded, highly-protective servant. And of course there is a guy in a mask for no apparent reason.
This all amounts to the impression that original writer Kei Sazane was aiming for “Romeo and Juliet, but with harem elements,” though nothing in this story beyond the representatives of warring sides falling for each other parallels Shakespeare's classic. Neither Mismis nor Nene is clearly shown as having romantic interest in Iska, but that is not hard to read in, and Alice (and later her young sister) clearly do, even if she does not want to admit it. Thankfully, this is not all dependent on a “love at first sight” scenario, as the story does at least show that Iska and Alice have many overlapping interests and can work together like a long-standing team when needed. Both also equally appreciate that the war should not be allowed to continue. The big unspoken obstacle they face in pursuing that goal is that, while Alice may be in a position to exert influence if she gets elected as the next leader of the Sovereignty, Iska isn't; he's an elite soldier wielding special swords, but still a soldier nonetheless. This all plays out over the course of four story arcs, which correspond to the first four source novels: an introductory one, one involving the discovery of a new astral energy well, a third involving an infiltration into Sovereignty and the release of a dangerous Sovereignty radical, and the fourth involving Alice's younger sister.
The technical effort by studio SILVER LINK does not sell the series, either. The animation effort isn't bad overall, but the fight scenes rarely accomplish the degree of excitement that they aim for and the animation places nearly as much emphasis on jiggling bosoms. One late automaton animated mostly in CG also fails to impress. Character designs are as anime-generic as they come, with possible exceptions being the almost mechanical-looking eye designs used for all characters and the extreme bustiness of certain female characters, especially Alice. (Rin is about the only female character to appear who looks like an adult and yet does not have extra-large breasts.) If there is a visual highlight in the character designs, it is in the elaborate dresses worn by Alice. Musical support is adequate, but that's about it.
As of the time of this writing, Funimation has provided an English simuldub for the first seven episodes. Casting choices and performances are remarkably strong so far, to the point that the English dub may even be an improvement. The biggest plus is Lindsay Seidel's performance as Mismis, which tones her character's idiosyncrasies just enough that Mismis is more tolerable in English. Sarah Roach achieves a similar effect with Nene, while Alejandro Saab and Jason Liebrecht are more cases of being ideal casting choices as Jhin and Iska, respectively.
The final episode leaves so many plot threads dangling that it feels like it was made with a second season in mind, but none has been announced as of this writing. Frankly, I won't be eagerly anticipating more if it does come. Directors Shin Oonuma and Mirai Minato have done some stellar work on other titles (including a previous team-up on BOFURI), but they did not have enough to work with here to produce anything memorable.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : B-
+ Iska and Alice have good foundation for their growing relationship, some potentially interesting plot twists
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