to the abandoned Sacred Beasts
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 4 of
to the abandoned Sacred Beasts ?
When this series was first announced, the story “March of the Behemoth,” which covers chapters 4 and 5 of the manga, was the part that I was most looking forward to seeing adapted. It is a potent vignette that sets aside nearly all of the story's cheap shenanigans in favor of telling a simple but devastating tale about a former soldier's desire to achieve an innocuous wartime dream and the practicalities that force others to try and stop him. I am pleased to say that the adaptation not only does the original story justice but also improves on it by adjusting some details, in the process delivering an emotional impact that these kind of anime rarely achieve this strongly.
The story is essentially another “monster of the week” tale, this time concerning Arthur “Artie” Allston, whose Incarnate form is Behemoth, a creature so huge that it's nearly unstoppable by even conventional weaponry. On top of that, it's even got an advanced healing ability that makes repaired parts harder to damage again. Since Artie is fully transformed and unable to turn back, he makes for the second Incarnate (after Schaal's father) unable to communicate verbally. That makes his movements and his all-too-human eyes especially important, and despite technical weak points elsewhere, the animation does get these crucial indicators right. The mystery is why he's headed in this direction when he's clearly not on a rampage (he has scrupulously avoided causing any more than incidental harm), which is important since his path endangers a crucial rail bridge.
What makes this case different from previous ones is that it's not about dealing with a monster who has lost his way, so there's less of a moral imperative to take him down. He still must be stopped because the bridge in his path is both an important economic link and a symbol of the nation's hard-won peace (it lies on the border between North and South, literally connecting the two). This also raises the question of whether he would have actually crashed through the bridge if not driven into a pained frenzy by the actions of locals who decide to take matters into their own hands; he seemed consigned to his fate when Hank stopped him, as he showed that he was easily capable of breaking free. The story relents on going the full tragedy route by revealing that he only wanted to see the ocean, and he was content to stop once Hank showed it to him. The scene where his still-human eye opens wide and tears up, then slowly closes as his body falls, is terribly sad but also wholly satisfying, and I must give director Jun Shishido and his team credit for pulling that scene off in such impressive fashion.
Unfortunately, the technical merits elsewhere were much shakier, with some scenes struggling to keep characters on-model, and the level of graphic violence in certain shots borders on grotesque. The epilogue focusing on Cain also impresses much less; he's just too cartoonish a villain for the series' general tone. Minor tweaks that were made in adaptation allow the story to flow more smoothly, with the only real omission of note being a revelation that one of the “entrepreneurs” was a former Southern soldier; former soldiers (especially from the South) acting as mercenaries or marauders was a real problem in the wake of the American Civil War. Still, that's not directly relevant to this particular story, so it's a skippable detail.
While I would hate to think that the series is peaking early, this is easily the strongest material in the manga's early volumes. I'm not expecting the series to maintain this level of excellence, but I will definitely enjoy it while it lasts.
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