Hitsugi no Chaika – 01/02 Review
The one good thing about Chaika’s “riveting” way of talking is that it really saves time. It’s unbelievable how few words are necessary when you reduce it all to simply blurting out the bare essentials!
Hitsugi no Chaika 01/02 – A Quest Of Sentimental Necrophilia
Welcome back to Otakuness Anime Reviews, guys! After a bit of a hiatus the blog you maybe know or haven’t actually ever heard of before is back! I’m M0rg0th, one of the writers on this blog (obviously, I guess…) and the biggest public recognition I’ve gotten was being mentioned on 4chan for a review I’ve written that everybody hated because I hated the series everybody liked for some or no reasons (long story short: it was the internet being the internet). Anyway, the first series I will review here is rather randomly chosen, it’s just one of those new ones I’m watching this season. Also, I’ve seen Scrapped Princess (which I actually like quite a bit) and was therefore interested to see how this one would turn out. Let’s see what I’ve thought of it, shall we?
Two 20-year-olds retired soldiers that just don’t seem to find a place in the world because fighting is all they know to do and they don’t know what else to do, it’s not like they have the time at their young age to learn some new tricks and move on or that it seems rather whiny to see a 20-year-old wallow in self-pity because he doesn’t have a war to fight anymore… Anyway, the guy of the two meets one day the girl in the forest while collecting magic flowers (or something). The girl has a coffin on her back, the guy’s like “What the hell?!”, the girl’s like “Something, something, I’m an idiot.” and the unicorn is like “Grrrr.” because it wants to eat the two for… reasons (I don’t know, maybe humans taste good, who knows…). The guy and the girl kill the unicorn, he’s surprised that the girl with the coffin has a big gun which makes her a wizard (because guns are just magical little things, aren’t they?) and the girl is surprised that the guy it a Super-Saiya-jin with ninja moves which makes him a saboteur (because the writer likes “Sabotage” from the Beastie Boys).
They go back to the city where the girl who turns out to be VERY rich pays for the meal of the two. Then the sister of the guy appears who naturally has a thing for him or whatever their actual relationship is. She’s also a Super-Saiya-jin ninja that likes the Beastie Boys too much. They agree to do a job for the girl with the coffin because she obviously can’t do shit without anyone else around – and she’s also rich.
Things get a little more complicated as more details are revealed about the job but saboteur-girl and saboteur-guy decide it’s time to stop looking for work and invest in heroism so they pledge to help coffin-girl do her stuff.
Also, the fate of the world depends on it because why not, right?
Okay, so the saboteur-guy was scrounging around for breakfast in the forest?! Just how poor are these two?! The first two episodes certainly do a good job of downplaying the downsides of poverty. Also… They seriously should have brought the remains of the unicorn! I mean, the unicorn tried to eat them, so it’s only fair that they are allowed to do the same thing to the unicorn in return, right?
Two grown-ups, adequately proficient in protecting someone and a girl, innocent and young but with a special fate which puts her constantly in danger, so with the help of the two able fighters she tries to survive and cope with the responsibility of her fate. That is the most minimalistic summary of Scrapped Princess, a light novel series from Ichirou Sakaki. Not coincidentally it could also summarize this series and making it even less of a coincidence this series is based on a light novel series written by the same guy. That isn’t to say that both series are effectively the same. In fact while the similarities make a comparison between Scrapped Princess and Hitsugi no Chaika an obvious choice, it’s the differences that show how much inferior of an execution of that stated concept Hitsugi no Chaika is at this point.
The first episode opens with a flashback to the main-girl’s childhood as she’s confronted by this shadowy monster that uses way too many words that basically amount to “Hey, you, girl, you main-character.”. Destiny and fate are funny things to use in a story, usually it’s either about living up to the “fated role” or fighting against it. And neither of them will deliver a very interesting plot-hook as both have been used as tropes far too often for anything new or worthwhile to come out of it most of the time. Scrapped Princess, in comparison, had a vastly darker and more interesting story-setup at the start: There, the “fated role” was an evil one and while it was only natural for the main-girl to go the “rebel-route” in this case, the series made the good choice to keep challenging the two guardians and the main-girl by asking the simple question “But what if the prophecy is true?”. Of course, such stories about fate have another ace up their sleeve as well called “self-fulfilling prophecy” but in the case of Scrapped Princess it was the lack of proof for either side of the arguments that made it so dark and interesting at the start of its story. But Hitsugi no Chaika has a monster just declare the main-girl to be “the fated one” which makes her role far more obvious and it definitely makes the whole situation less ambiguous and more straightforward.
Like Scrapped Princess this series has a very distinct High-Fantasy-setting mixed with sort-of-RPG-video-game-ish conventions in the construction of the setting. It’s a bit like a class-system in the way how specific abilities and the people who use them are treated. That isn’t to say that this is like .hack or Sword Art Online where the RPG-videogame-references are the basis for the setting. Instead it’s just that the magic-system and the abilities are structured and categorized in a way that would be more at home in a videogame than a typical fantasy-genre-novel. For example something like a mythological approach where magic and magical stuff is tied to the history of the world and that way become something like worldbuilding instead of the gimmicky nature you would see in a video-game with a fighting-system. That said, though, it needs to be repeated that this isn’t the direct copy/paste-relationship series like Sword Art Online have with RPG-games and there’s definitely some thought put into a system accompanying the gimmicky nature of the magic (and magic-like stuff). Also, saboteurs are ninjas with a super-saiya-jin-mode but I guess the series is going for a more Europe-medieval-kind-of fantasy-setting so there you go…
Now, pacing-wise, these first two episodes are hard to get into. There’s a lot of backstory missing to really know what’s going on in the first episode and the second episode just rushes through it expecting at the end that the audience already gives a shit about the whole thing. Hitsugi no Chaika’s setting isn’t so deep, complicated and/or weird that it really hampered my understanding of the events as they happened but what was hard for me was to find a reason to care. I don’t want to spoil anything but the true identity of the main-girl and what she wants is treated as one of the first major reveals of the series. But the reveal really just happens a couple minutes after the story necessary to understand the reveal got explained. Also: This was the second episode. Basic stuff about the setting that provides the context for the adventures and why they matter gets explained in the SECOND episode. I gotta say: Pretty ballsy move. Usually one puts this stuff in the first episode and then finds some way to recap it in the second (and maybe third) episode. But you really gotta commit to one way to storytelling there. You either embrace all the weird kinks of the setting and hope that the audience is smart enough to figure out what the hell is going on or you do exposition. Now, in the first episode it was a bit unclear what exactly Saboteurs are but the second episode made it clear that they were ninjas in the war – and everybody hates them (for some reason). I get it, Ninjas are NOT cool in this series! It’s one thing to let this detail colour another character’s behavior but another thing to let the characters state their dislike for saboteurs again and again in the most blatant way so that even the last idiot in the audience gets what’s going on. So there’s this chaotic feeling to the way exposition is treated in this series where it’s not really clear at any point if the exposition to something is still coming or whether it’s just indirectly implied. The problem isn’t that the story puts an object in front of me and doesn’t explain it, the problem is that it puts it there, explains it and I don’t know whether that was the whole explanation. This kind of stuff really makes it hard to get invested in the flow of this series.
That was a thing that happened.
Someone who probably doesn’t fully know what’s going on is the semi-moe-blob that is the main-girl with the titular coffin. She speaks broken Japanese! Why does she do that?! I mean, it has to be that she isn’t fluent in the language all the other characters in the first two episodes are talking, right, RIGHT?! Even if it’s that, that’s like the most racist way you could portray a character in a foreign country. But she seems to be able to understand everyone so… does she have mental problems? I’m really not sure. The way every character just seems to takes it in stride à la “Hey, you talk weird but hey you’re the one with the money… Let’s move on with the plot…”. It doesn’t really matter what the explanation is, any attempt to tackle the weird way of talking in a sensible manner has already been destroyed after two episodes, I believe. There’s really no purpose to making her talk this way except to make her more moe. I mean, it’s not like another one of those “anime-amnesias” would’ve been any better but at least there would be a chance for good dialogues. But now it’s at best just a setup for stupid jokes or “simple-minded charm-attacks”. Well, at least she isn’t incompetent; at least she got that going for her.
Animes love teenagers, they love young people in general these days when it comes to the chosen age of any major role in a story. But the two guardian-characters in Hitsuga no Chaika really take the cake: They are two retired war-veterans scraping for money in a peaceful war that doesn’t need them anymore. Oh and they are 20 years old. What. The. Fuck. Why the fuck would you pull the “Lost old war-dog can’t learn new tricks”-card with a 20-year-old character?! Sure, I buy that he was traumatized by the experience but such a young character would be all about moving on. And this disconnect definitely made me distance myself emotionally from the final minutes of the second episode. I understand rationally what that scene was about and what the dialogue was implying (that Chaika’s mission just turns out to be the sort of commitment Tooru was looking for and had lost after the war, that’s my take on it at least) but emotionally I didn’t buy it at all. Also, the war was five years ago which means that they were 15 when the war ended which means for the war to have any serious impact on their lives they must have been like 10 or so when they entered the war – at least! Maybe they’re war-children who grew up in the middle of that war, who knows… But that kind of emotional understanding needs to be earned. At this point the story didn’t offer enough exposition to earn that sort of emotional understanding.
But the series true strength at this point is its action. It isn’t very epic or flashy but it has the entertaining rhythm of shit being done by people who actually know what they’re doing. And in animes that is indeed rare as there are way too many glorified hotheads in animes who through luck, bravery and sheer power (also, sadly, sometimes, plot-convenience) win the day. Seeing the three main-characters actually execute a plan in a calm, professional manner that also seems more or less reasonable is the main-reason that those first two episodes are enjoyable to watch.
It’s really hard to praise a series that keeps its cards so close to the chest like this one does after two episodes. The story could go anywhere and having watched Scrapped Princess there are certainly some major plottwists coming at some point. While the action is very well-put-together the portrayal of the characters still lacks in depth and the exposition is delivered in a chaotic, uneven manner. The first two episodes obviously serve just as a prologue to the actual story but since it isn’t doing very much except setting up the stage for the story, it is ultimately a rather disappointing beginning.
Episode-Rating: 1st Episode 6.0/10 – 2nd Episode 6.5/10
- Does Hitsugi no Chaika actually play in the same universe as Scrapped Princess? I remember having heard about it somewhere but it’s not like the first two episodes support this idea.
- I’m not really sure what to make of the relationship between Tooru and Akari. They act like brother and sister but it doesn’t seem the kind of sibling-relationship that is blood-related (there’s no ‘You always were like that’-line used by either of them for example). But Akari is clearly fond of Tooru… I don’t know, animes portray sibling-relationships so often as covertly somewhat romantic that there’s little difference between a romantic relationship and a sibling-relationship, even though the differences should be much clearer.