Reviewby Theron Martin,
Ulysses: Jeanne d'Arc and the Alchemist Knight
Episodes 1-12 streaming
In an early 15th century France plagued by the revival of the Hundred Years War, Montmorency is a young knight candidate with grander aspirations. He wants to become an alchemist and develop the Philosopher's Stone, with the ultimate goal of using it to end warfare. However, things don't go as planned when the disastrous Battle of Agincourt leaves France in tatters and Montmorency literally loses several years to alchemy. Under the guidance of the fairy queen Astaroth, he seeks to create Ulysses, an immortal alchemist with nearly-unlimited power, but he winds up using the Stone to save the life of a peasant girl named Jeanne. This imbues her with short bursts of incredible power to fight off marauders and the English, though she requires a baiser (kiss) from Montmorency to recharge. Using prophecy to his advantage, Montmorency seeks to use Jeanne as an icon to rally the flagging French forces and break the siege of Orleans, even if forces both political and supernatural stand in his way, and his childhood friends have now become enemies.
Sadly, any discussion of the worst anime of 2018 wouldn't be complete without bringing up this title. Though the series does improve somewhat in its later stages, I have rarely watched a more disastrous anime to completion.
To a point, this light novel adaptation follows actual historical events, which gives it at least some initial sign of promise. The Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and the siege of Orleans in 1429 were the defining military conflicts of that era, with the former winning the English a massive advantage and the latter not only averting the ultimate victory of the English but also setting France on a road to recovery; it was such an important event that Jeanne d'Arc is still commonly referred to as the Maid of Orleans. Many of the characters in this story have real historical namesakes too, although in some cases (Charlotte = Charles, Arthur, and Philip) they are gender-swapped, and Montmorency's identity isn't revealed until midway through the series. This is a version of France where fairies are commonly known to exist, but several scenes are still broad interpretations of actual historical accounts and legends, such as Jeanne proving herself by recognizing that there was a stand-in for the Dauphin, then getting wounded at Orleans, and Arthur being captured by the English at the Battle of Agincourt and later coming into conflict with George de la Trémoille.
Normally, gender-swapping characters in historically-based stories isn't a problem, but that's where the problems with this series start. Rather than doing something interesting with the gender-swaps or just relying on them for cute girl appeal, the clear intent was to build a harem around Montmorency and provide ample opportunities for fanservice, as both Charlotte and Arthur wind up being busty and even Philip transforms into a more voluptuous version of herself. In stark contrast to that, Jeanne is a lolita type character, though the outfit she wears as the inspirational figurehead of France is every bit as inappropriately revealing as the ones for her big-bosomed peers. Only the more mature-looking Astaroth gets a reasonable outfit and build.
Normally, playing characters up for fanservice wouldn't be a problem for this kind of anime, but the show's sleazier aspects really sap Jeanne's credibility as an inspirational figure, as does her timidity and naivete in her non-Ulysses state. The real Jeanne was an uneducated peasant girl and probably used as a tool by greater powers in France at the time, but historical accounts are also clear about her having a fierce and resolute will and an abiding passion for the restoration of her country, to the point that she could turn around flagging morale just by appearing. In an effort to make her into a lovesick little girl for Montmorency, this Jeanne offers none of that charisma. In effect, she becomes the love interest to Montmorency as the protagonist, and her fierceness when she goes into Ulysses mode doesn't make up for that lack of complexity. Making the limp Montmorency the hero was definitely a questionable choice.
But there are other major problems beyond weak leads. Through the first several episodes, the editing is horrendously choppy, with scene transitions landing with jarring abruptness and uneven flow, especially in battle scenes. This greatly hampers the animation effort at times, and the show was already straining to stay on model to begin with. By the time the rhythm improves about three-quarters of the way through the series, a new problem arises when a bizarre plot twist brings Cthulhu-inspired creatures and ancient Mesopotamian gods to the battlefield at Orleans. Despite the presence of magic in the setting, absolutely nothing on that scale had even been hinted at before, and it doesn't fit well in a story that had otherwise depended on traditional medieval warfare peppered with superhuman warriors. Though the animation and storytelling improve as the story goes on, it never captures a true sense of excitement or drama.
The technical merits of the series are inconsistent at best. The outlandish and anachronistic outfits worn by many of the main cast members are pretty standard in design, as are the characters who wear them. Background art shows appreciable detail, while actual battle scenes emphasize intense graphic violence; granted, this kind of warfare is pretty brutal, but the series aims more for flashy splatter than gritty realism. The relentless early emphasis on fanservice tapers off by the middle of the series but never entirely goes away, with the most consistent animation effort focusing on bouncing bosoms. Action scenes at least show some effort to dynamically portray battles, but the results are mixed and the quality of the animation isn't often there. CG animation used for the supernatural creatures and massed troop movements is also very typical for anime; not awful, but nothing you'd want to see either.
On the audio front, the highlight is undoubtedly the gentle melodic closer "Hyakunen no Melammu", composed and sung by rionos, the same artist who did the lovely closing theme for Maquia. The much more raucous opener “Liberation,” while nowhere near as impressive, is more visually and tonally fitting for the series' content. The show's soundtrack, which alternately uses orchestration and synthesized numbers for plaintive or dramatic scenes but has some jaunty options for lighter ones, is serviceable but peaks effectively in certain dramatic scenes, especially when Jeanne first becomes a Ulysses. Funimation's English dub for the series is more than serviceable, with all the roles cast well. Unfortunately Bryn Apprill's performance as Jeanne focuses on matching the style of the original performance by Yuko Ōno, so it can't help correct the major issues with the character.
At times the series ups its game and even manages a poignant moment near the end by acknowledging Jeanne's unpleasant future fate. (The series' run stops with Jeanne's march toward Reims to crown the French Dauphin.) However, on the whole Ulysses is a gross disappointment. It doesn't achieve its entertainment goals very well, even including its fanservice. It might have been served better by going purely in the supernatural action direction rather than trying to tie itself so closely to actual history.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Story does follows history surprisingly closely
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