Reviewby Theron Martin, Dec 25th 2012
In an alternate version of 1930s Europe, neutral Gallia (roughly equivalent to France geographically) is a country rich in Ragnite (an energy-producing ore which essentially replaces oil), which makes it a prime target for invasion by the Empire (Germany, more or less), which is at war with the Atlantic Federation. One of the first places the invasion strikes is the town of Bruhl, home to baker Alicia Melchiott, who is also a prominent member of the town watch. In the process of defending the fleeing townsfolk, Alicia falls in with Welkin Gunther, a biologist whom she initially suspects is an Imperial spy but who actually turns out to be the son of Gallia's most renowned General from the previous war. Together with Welkin's adopted Darcsen (a dark-haired minority people) sister Isara and Isara's prototype tank Edelweiss, the trio helps secure the retreat from Bruhl. All three go on to join Gallia's militia and become a core part of the militia's newly-formed Squad 7, with Welkin raised to Lieutenant and given command and Alicia as his reluctant NCO. Though the rest of Squad 7 is initially distrustful of their somewhat flaky new commander, Welkin gradually wins them over by engineering a string of clever victories sometimes supported by Squad 1, a unit led by Welkin's college buddy Faldio, who also takes a romantic interest in Alicia. Those victories also earn them the unwelcome attention of Gallian General Damon, who sees them as stealing the regular army's thunder, and of the leaders of the Empire's invasion forces. Squads 1 and 7 face an even bigger danger when the Empire proves to have one of the legendary and devastatingly powerful Valkyries at their disposal, while Alicia faces the additional challenge of being torn between the enchanting Faldio and a growing affection for Welkin.
This 26-episode mid-2009 production from A-1 Pictures (Fairy Tail, Sword Art Online, et al) is based on an acclaimed and innovative tactical RPG from Sega for the PS3, a game which also saw an American release in late 2008. Given that, the series lasting without being licensed until streaming site Crackle picked it up in November 2012 is quite surprising, as its video game connection would presumably give it a built-in audience beyond normal anime fandom and should have justified at least a dubbed DVD release. Its use of a Western setting and strictly Western naming conventions also should make it quite accessible to Western audiences, too. Still, at least it is finally available, and despite some distinct flaws it delivers well enough on its story and characterizations, and looks good enough doing so, to be worth checking out.
Unlike many game adaptations, familiarity with the source game is not required to fully understand and appreciate the series; both the game and the anime contain some details that the other does not (for instance, the anime version explains where the name of the Valkyrie Selvaria comes from, while the game explains better why Gallia's royal Randgriz family has the secret that it does), but nothing that is missing on either side is a crucial detail. Thus this can be viewed satisfyingly as a stand-alone project. In fact, the only clear signs that this was originally a game are that the tanks get ridiculous by the end of the series and that the lack of unified tactics on both sides of the battle give many of the missions a quest-like feel, though the prominent presence of female soldiers is more than a little incongruous with a setting that otherwise mostly bases itself on the real-world 1930s.
At essence the story is primarily a military adventure tale flavored with a central love triangle involving Alicia, Faldio, and Welkin and a couple of peripheral fledgling romances. Much of the content involves Squad 7 being either deliberately or accidentally involved in assorted missions, although the story also spends a fair amount of time looking at what key figures in the Empire – Imperial Prince Maximilian (the leader of the Gallian invasion), his loyal underling Valkyrie Selvaria, and Generals Jaeger and Gregoria, predominately, although one episode does focus entirely on a lesser Imperial officer – are up to. Racism is also a recurring theme, as the Darcsen are widely-oppressed due to history painting their forebears as villains. (A not-so-subtle stand-in for Jews, perhaps?) The writing does not skimp on character development, either, as even many secondary characters get a thorough treatment, although Welkin is too romantically dense to be credible, Maximilian lacks personality, and Gallian General Damon is irritatingly obnoxious. In fact, the series actually finds a nice balance between character development, plot development, and action over the course of its run.
The writing falters a bit in the early stages as it struggles to set up that balance, and gets into trouble again in the late stages when it builds to a mightily clichéd climactic confrontation, but it starts improving with the Barious Desert matter in episode 7. After temporarily regressing during a weakly-motivated royal kidnapping scheme, the series hits its full dramatic stride beginning with the battle for Fouzen in episode 13 and extending through the Valkyrie emergences in the early 20s. Along the way it deals quite thoroughly and satisfyingly with the impact of the death of one prominent character, although the death of a second prominent character later on is crassly tossed away without a follow-up thought. Be forewarned, though, that the new opener which begins with episode 14 contains major spoilers for an upcoming revelation that was only vaguely hinted at in earlier episodes (but likely will not be too surprising).
Artistic merits stay more consistent. Alicia looks a little too physically fragile for the role she's asked to carry, and Welkin and Faldio look similar enough that one sometimes has to look closely at the slightly different shading of their hair to tell them apart, but otherwise character designs are uniformly appealing and appropriate. The feature design is arguably the petite, very cute Isara, with Selvaria standing as her full-figured, big-breasted counterpoint and Alicia representing the halfway point between the two, but the prurient fan service is very limited and the series has plenty of handsome male characters for female viewers to ogle, too. Weaponry and uniform designs which have real-world parallels are largely based on World War I-era designs, with some concessions to World War II-era styles for Imperial officers' uniforms; the uniforms for the female militia members involving skirts actually are not too much of a stretch given that women's military uniforms of that era did involve skirts (though those uniforms were also used in non-combat roles, unlike here). A somewhat flat color scheme does help promote the period feel, but much more noticeable is a distinctive shading pattern seen in the character renderings. Background art and animation are both strong but not top-rate, with the animation effort being lavished most prominently in the second opener, and the integration of CG effects is generally smooth. Although the many battle scenes generally go light on graphic content, a couple of key scenes of characters getting shot and an injury that Selvaria takes in the late stages of the series can get fairly graphic.
A fully orchestrated musical score serves the series well, effectively playing up the intense and more ominous moods while also cheerfully supporting the less serious moments. Although neither opener used for the series is spectacular, the more intense and flashy “Kanashima Rensa” is a distinct improvement over the forgettable original opener “Ashita e no Kizuna.” The closers present a much sharper contrast, with light-hearted first half closer “Ano Kaze ni Notte” featuring chibi versions of most of the cast before being replaced mid-run by the softer, wistful “Hitotsu no Negai” and its collection of poignant stills. Given some of the content of the mid-to-late episodes, though, it is definitely a more appropriate fit for the series' second half.
At the time of this writing the series is only available in streaming subbed form on Crackle, so unfortunately no English dub of it has yet been made (or even seems likely at this point, despite one having been done for the American release of the game). Most of the key cast members from the Japanese dub of the game version carry over into this animated version, with Largo Potter being the most prominent recasting. Marina Inoue's rendition of Alicia comes off a little too chirpily upbeat at times but sounds better when Alicia is disgusted or in more emotional moments, while other performances are more constant and range from mediocre to good.
Valkyria Chronicles is not an especially tightly-written series, so one would need expend only a little effort to pick it apart; for instance, characters have a bad habit of behaving much too casually in clearly dangerous situations. (This is especially evident in the first episode.) Later on the story also brings up an apparent secret Valkyria development program and a shocking revelation about the Randgriz princess but never bothers to explain much about either, especially how one prominent character survived the former experience. Battle tactics are, at times, a bit questionable, too. The series does enough things right to balance out the weak points, however, resulting in a production that, as a whole, is a satisfying (if unspectacular) view.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Generally attractive character designs, some nice surprises, handles its more emotional content well.
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