to the abandoned Sacred Beasts
Episodes 1-3

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 1 of
to the abandoned Sacred Beasts ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
to the abandoned Sacred Beasts ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
to the abandoned Sacred Beasts ?

Anime, manga, and light novels are known for having some crazy titles, but this is one of the rare cases where I have found a series' title to be genuinely sublime. It doesn't just succinctly speak to the subject matter of the series; it also implies the emotions underlying the subject matter: loss, betrayal, and regret. Whether or not the anime version will live up to the depth of meaning suggested by its title remains to be seen, but by the end of the first three episodes, it is at least making a solid attempt.

At its core, to the abandoned Sacred Beasts is a tale about the reality of the soldier—the sacrifices they must make to assure that battles are won and the dear cost that those victories can levy on the soldiers even long after the war is over. Psychological suffering following experience in warfare is now a well-recognized phenomenon; some can never truly leave the battlefield behind. Some injuries suffered in warfare can also define a lifetime. This series takes this idea literally, in the sense that transformed bodies cannot be fully reverted, which is driven home especially hard in episode 3's focus on the Minotaur. He's so driven by the fear from his wartime experiences that he has descended into full-blown paranoia, and hence seeks to build an ever-expanding, trap-filled fortress to protect himself from enemies that do not exist anymore. We also see it in episode 2's focus on Schaal's father, the Dragon, who tries to return to a peaceful life even though he cannot escape his dragon form, but the destructive instinct that comes with being the dragon gradually gets the better of him. This comes through to a lesser extent in the manner of Danny Price, the Spriggan, at the end of episode 2, where a man's good nature descends into a simple-mindedness beneath basic morality in his efforts to help his village. Along the way, those who once looked up to the Incarnates as gods have come to justifiably fear them for the damage they can unthinkingly do – it's a biting commentary on how the value of a soldier can plummet in peacetime.

Starting with episode 2, the series is also about Schaal, a young woman who saw Captain Hank mercy-kill her father because he was starting to rampage out of control. With her purer heart and lack of experience in the grim reality of war, she cannot comprehend why Hank needs to do this, so she intends to tag along until she can understand, in the process serving as a moral compass. Though she may not accept it yet, she's gradually starting to see Hank as a man who pursues this dark goal because he feels an obligation toward those who served under him to stop them from becoming true monsters. So far, the series has done a good job of showing where Hank's heart stands on this matter, as his own tears over this mission are nearly as touching as the reactions of the fallen Incarnates.

The series is at its best when focusing on this content. However, it has trouble staying entirely serious, as if the author felt the need to throw in some lighter moments to keep the whole thing from getting too grim. This shows in the ridiculously revealing apparel of the huge-chested Liza and in the need to provide further gratuitous fan service by showing Schaal in the shower on two occasions. (To be clear, I'm not objecting to the presence of fan service per se, but to the way it doesn't fit with the tone of this story.) Turning Cain into an almost cartoonish villain isn't the greatest choice for maintaining this tone either, and there's also some humor that feels painfully out of place, though it's actually toned down somewhat from the manga.

Speaking of the source material, the handling of this adaptation so far is also interesting. Small chunks of episode 1 were present in scattered flashbacks in the manga, but otherwise the backstory segments are mostly new. While this makes for a slower and less graceful opener, it does also establish the series' perspective more clearly. The same can be said for the first half of episode 2, which details Schaal's background; this part probably went on a couple of minutes longer than necessary. From the middle of episode 2 through episode 3, the content is mostly faithful, though in the original manga Hank made the offer for Schaal to come along rather than Schaal insisting on doing so; I prefer the anime's version.

The show's visual merits are not the strongest but aren't bad so far, with convincing portrayals of the Incarnate forms and some suitably savage action scenes. The overall setting, which hearkens back to mid-19th century rural America (unsurprising given that its civil war is heavily modeled after the American Civil War), gives the series a more distinctive aesthetic than just using a typical Japanese or medieval setting, and Schaal's look, with her long pigtails, delicate features, and classic Western apparel, also stands out. The real star of the production is the musical score, which hits all the right dramatic and poignant notes.

Based on its first three episodes, each one better than the one before, to the abandoned Sacred Beasts has a lot of potential if it can stay out of its own way.

Rating:

to the abandoned Sacred Beasts is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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