Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
World Break: Aria of Curse for a Holy Swordsman
BD+DVD - The Complete Series
At Akane Academy, there's something special about the students – they're all reincarnations of past warriors and mages who can harness the powers they held in their former lives. Called “Saviors,” these students are important soldiers in the battle against “Metaphysicals,” monsters that sometimes appear to take on humanity. Moroha Haimura is just starting his education as a Savior, but he soon discovers that there's something a little different about himself: he remembers not one, but two past lives, one as a swordsman and the other as a wizard. With powers from two pasts and the girls from both lives as his classmates, Moroha may be the greatest Savior Akane Academy has ever seen. Now if only the girls would leave him alone long enough to learn to use his inheritance…
At this point in anime history, light novel adaptations are inevitable. World Break debuted in the same season as Absolute Duo, Saekano: How To Raise a Boring Girlfriend, and The Testament of Sister New Devil, as well as a new season of Durarara, making it one of five LN adaptations, and its first episode held up fairly poorly. Unfortunately, being seen outside of proximity to its fellow adaptations does not do much to improve the show. While part of the issue is that it sticks very closely to the genre constraints of “magic battle high school” stories, the bigger problem is that it's clearly trying to cram too much story into only twelve episodes, making it feel like we're only getting bits and pieces of the plot and not really getting to know the characters.
The series appears to be based on the first five or six novels out of roughly fourteen. This divides up to two episodes per novel, which means that even if the actual plot follows the books faithfully, things like world building and character development are left out due to necessity. This definitely shows even within the first two episodes. There's a sense that we're really missing something when it comes to the world the characters live in. The premise of the story is that certain people are reborn with their memories and skills from their past lives intact, and with proper training they can harness those powers via an energy source known as prana (the Sanskrit word for “life force”), using them to help defend the earth against monsters called Metaphysicals. People who engage in these fights are Saviors, and the best students at Akane Academy are put on an elite fighting force to defend the school. Protagonist Moroha Haimura is special in that he has two past lives he can both remember and call upon, putting him in the usual position of being both a swordsman and a sorcerer, when most Saviors are one or the other. Naturally, this makes him grossly overpowered, something he takes in stride, which is one of the better aspects of the show. It also means that he comes equipped with two built-in romantic interests: Satsuki, who was his younger sister in his swordsman life, and Shizuno, who was his wife when he was a sorcerer. Along the way, he picks up a couple more ladies, including the obligatory loli, but it's fairly clear that the only one really in the running is Shizuno (and that Satsuki's insistence on calling him “big brother” while hitting on him makes him at least a little uncomfortable). Whether this is entirely of her own invention or they did have a romantic relationship in the past is unclear, and in this instance that lack of certainty does a lot to damage any romantic geometry or tension that the story was attempting to build.
That's the chief complaint, really – the skims-the-surface style of storytelling employed by World Break robs the series of any heft, emotional or otherwise. For a show that's advertised on the packaging as being fanservice-heavy, it lacks a lot in that department as well, with odd moments of censorship, such as in episode five when glowing fog is used to hide nipples, and the fact that all of the female characters wear the exact same style of underwear in different solid colors. The result is that this feels like the blueprint of a more involved story, never giving us a chance to really get into things. This also keeps us from understanding why the characters use what looks like the most unwieldy magic system ever: spellcasters have to write spells out longhand in runic script while chanting along, and the spells all take the form of terrible poetry. Apparently some spells can be “stored” for later, but how many? Why don't they keep them all stored so that they don't have to spend five minutes in battle chanting and writing? It may feel like a nitpick, but regular consumers of fantasy will find themselves sidetracked by the sheer inefficiency of the system.
Despite this, World Break does at least a few things well. Moroha can be more sexually aware than the average male protagonist of this type of series, not to a predatory degree, but more in that he understands what's going on rather than just blushing his way through boob scenes. More interesting is Shizuno, whose sad past life as a slave seems to have distinct parallels to her present one as the daughter of a prestigious family and the constraints put on her behavior. When we first meet her, she appears to be the relatively standard narcoleptic character who just falls asleep anywhere, but in an unusual bit of development, we find out that she's actually using sleep as a defense mechanism – it's an escape from situations and discussions she doesn't want to be in. That she uses it less and less as the series goes on shows us how much more comfortable she becomes, making her the most developed of all the characters.
This is particularly good because most of the cast is either intensely annoying or underutilized. Chief on the first list is Kanzaki, the vice-captain of the defense squad, who spends most of her time molesting Moroha by grabbing his butt and groin. It's meant to be funny, but the result is just a lot of very uncomfortable scenes of sexual assault. Satsuki, meanwhile, rarely speaks in anything below a yell in either the dub or sub track, and the “Evil Russian” trope is carried to an extreme comparable to Cold War era James Bond films. There's also something off-putting about little girl Maaya telling Moroha to use her as a hug pillow when she insists on sharing his bed; just wanting to sleep next to him would have been harmless, but the commentary makes things uncomfortable, especially with the lack of explanation as to why she's so attached to him – or why she's the frame narrator, which seems out of place given her apparent lack of importance to the main plot.
While Funimation did dub this show, there are no commentary tracks, which is unusual – the only extras are trailers, commercial spots, and clean opening and ending themes. The dub is also below their usual standards, with actors taking longer than usual to get into their roles and a lot of voices feeling phoned in. Clifford Chapin and Jad Saxton, as Moroha and Shizuno, do eventually get some mileage out of their characters, but on the whole, the sub is a bit better. The music is equally unimpressive, with background songs wavering between quite pretty and sounding like a subpar video game soundtrack.
World Break is decidedly lackluster as a series. It has a few good moments, but it mostly tries to cram too much plot into too few episodes, skimming over details and just paying lip service to a genre that's already stretched thin. Unless you're in desperate need of a new magic high school story, this is something that you can safely skip.
Overall (dub) : D+
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : D+
Animation : C
Art : C-
Music : C-
+ Some interesting character details for Shizuno, a few nice insert songs
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