Rokka no Yuusha – Review
I really question how these Braves got chosen when a creepy kid like her gets to be one…
I know, I know, it has been a while… But this season I really didn’t have a series that I had any strong desire to review weekly. But I really got into J-Drama in the meantime. So far I’ve watched these: Hanzawa Naoki, Roosevelt Game, Galileo (just the first season so far), Tokyo Dogs, Hard Nut, Kagi no Kakatta Heya, Border, Kurosagi. Granted most of these are Mystery-series as that’s what I like to watch that genre and my personal favorite so far has been Border (the mysteries aren’t the most compelling thing ever but boy if that story doesn’t take some VERY interesting turns and the ending was a real “Holy shit! They really went there…!”-moment for me). But back to anime. Well, I will continue to blog Aquarion Logos (or maybe not… so far it’s worth a yawn and not much more) and God Eater, I guess (it has gotten better actually, I would say, as it has become clear what it’s trying to do). And the new season will start soon, so I hope something will air that catches my interest. And now for one of my personal favorites of this Summer-Season: Rokka no Yuusha – the high-fantasy-series that spent most of its season just dealing with a locked-room-mystery.
One thing that keeps the fights interesting in this series are the abilities of the various Saints. Here, Chamot, the Saint of the swamp, can use swamp-water to create various minions – except said swamp-water is in her stomach and she has to vomit it up in order to use it.
In a post-modern landscape genre is a rather flimsy categorization for what narratives can and want to do. Nothing proves this more than series like Rokka no Yuusha which blur the lines between where one genre begins and another one begins. This very thing is what makes this series so intriguing but at the same time it’s genre-spanning efforts end up being too scattershot to have much of an impact. In the end what this series has been doing during its run has been more interesting than what it has accomplished at the end of it.
The most obvious example of what has made this series so interesting is that it started out as a fairly standard fantasy-adventure with an obvious villain and plot-driving threat in the form of a demonlord and the protagonists would be a bunch of heroes who were supposed to stop him. The first three episodes do some interesting things in terms of characterization but nothing that would keep the series from going the obvious path with its plothook. But it’s immediately apparent in the 4th and 5th episode that the first big and LENGTHY arc of this series would be essentially a ‘locked room’-mystery.
It’s natural to wonder why you would go for that as a plothook for the first big story-arc of this series and anybody’s enjoyment hinges on accepting that. The fact that two thirds of this series rely heavily on a mystery-plot should actually push this series into mystery-series-territory despite a premise that would make you expect something else. The way this series treats its story is something that obviously clashes with stereotypical expectations and while I applaud this series for not following some hackneyed formula for its plot, it’s equally confusing to deliberately choose a certain premise and then sort-of ignore it in order to go for a very atypical sort of story-arc. The series doesn’t prepare the audience for this approach in any way and so I wouldn’t be surprised if people turned away from this series either because they didn’t see their expectations fulfilled or because they didn’t like where the series was going.
Of course, it’s a bit too simplistic to say that two thirds of this series hinge on a mystery-plot as this series has a lot more going on than that. At this point it’s important again to mention how post-modern this series is in how much it defies genre-conventions. There’s a little bit of everything in this series if you look closely. On the surface you’ve got the mystery of Adlet, the main-character, trying to find the traitor in the group (there are supposed to be six Braves but there are seven and they’re all trapped together in a magical field). At the same time, though, nearly nobody seems to be entirely trustworthy in that group of heroes (who are supposed to work together) and this leads to a couple of confrontations which highlight the strengths of each hero while also establishing their background and personality.
It’s a particularly smart move how this series seamlessly transitions from characterization to plot-development constantly and even if the plot doesn’t work the story manages to give you strong impression of the whole cast (which being 7 people would pose a great challenge for any series to characterize properly within one season). Characterization is where this series finds its strength. Of course the series needed that as a proper treatment of a mystery-plot would demand that very thing. When everyone can be a suspect you need a very distinct kind of characterization to allow the audience to actually hone in on the real culprit alongside the hero.
One persistent element for the description of the characters’ abilities is using animals as metaphors. It… never really works. Goldov, Naschetanya and Hans are the most obvious anima-imagery but the connection is superficial at best.
While the fights and the exploration of the individual characters deliver a lot of entertainment, the series does grow stale over the course of its first arc. Since the cast is imprisoned in a little area and since the stakes of the plot remain static throughout the arc the atmosphere of the plot grows stale. The story (and with that the solution of the mystery) moves forward at a snail’s pace and what is there to entertain you starts to feel like the series is just trying to distract you from how little is actually happening in each episode. While Adlet, the character we follow for most of the series, is constantly in danger for the second half of this arc the series still only manages to create tension that also dissipates because of how it gets stretched out over the course of a couple episodes. Instead of a sense of urgency the series’ plot often feels like a back-and-forth that never seems to go anywhere significant. Intention and effect seem to be at odds here as it’s clear that this mystery-story wants to convey how the heroes got caught in a trap and are now imprisoned as well. But the effect it’s having is one of tiring paranoia and action that feels like flailing.
No matter whether you will watch this arc in a weekly format or binge-watch the whole thing, it seems tiring one way or another. And it’s then when the mystery gets resolved you feel more relieved than excited. The slow pacing kills the mood here which is sad because the mystery is actually good if you look at it in retrospective. And the writing is good, too, but with everything in this series it never is poignant enough to be really impactful. This series has a habit of nicely talking around the truth or delaying a revelation by disallowing characters to connect the dots prematurely or keeping them from being too inquisitive.
On that note it’s important to talk about the red herrings. As with every lengthy mystery-story this one has some as well and they’re really painful to endure here as the plot in general dragged out every little thing. The worst offenders in the paranoid mystery-scenario are of course the least helpful characters which are Maura and Chamot. These two characters followed the kind of stupid character-logic that also gets employed what characters in horror-movies do stupid stuff like splitting up and so on. With Chamot you got a character that really is just a dumbass and is completely fine with being a dumbass. She doesn’t listen to what anyone says and doesn’t care what’s going on. Well, she does listen to Maura except… Maura’s the other problematic character. The thing with Maura is that she’s a real asshole. And the series does little to acknowledge it. I really don’t understand how she even could be chosen as a Brave considering what she did in the last third of this series. Red herrings are a way to extend the logical time it would take a character to solve a mystery but having too many of those is annoying as well as having red herrings that seem like stupid distractions. And this series indulges in the latter for all its red herrings which makes the slow-paced narrative even more frustrating.
You feel relieved after the mystery got resolved but then the ending of this series does feel like the story saying “Fuck you!”. After all, the thing with the mystery was that a false 7th Brave was among the group and so what happens after the traitor got revealed…? Another character appears claiming to also be a Brave and so once again there are seven Braves when there should be only six. Considering how much the audience has already dealt with this “Seventh Brave”-shit in this first series I honestly don’t have the patience for that to become a thing AGAIN in the narrative.
Rokka no Yuusha distinguishes itself by following very non-traditional routes with its narrative and the most interesting aspects of this series are how it can always surprise you with genre-crossovers. It also helps that the characters have strong personalities that are easily distinguishable as well as well-though-out combat-moves. As far as nuts-and-bolts-magic goes this series is simply great as shown that someone smart enough to understand supernatural powers on a scientific level and having MacGyver-esque abilities is enough to be as strong as those Saints who have supernatural powers. But at the same time the pacing of this series is painfully slow and despite all the great, individual elements the overall narrative fails to feel energetic and exciting. As much as this series demands you to be curious regarding its central mystery it also asks you to be very patient as it takes a LONG time for the mystery to get resolved. If you can deal with both these things this series will be a great experience.
Let’s talk about the series in a more spoiler-y manner, shall we?
- Early on my list of suspects for who the Seventh was looked like this:
1. Maura (because she was a real dick and pushed way too hard for a confrontation)
2. Chamot (because she’s crazy and never had a problem with killing someone else)
3. Naschetanya (because her behavior within the pyramid when she first arrived was REALLY weird, her freak-out was too over-the-top and the way she threw herself at Adlet a few moments later was also suspicious)
- Ultimately it has been Naschetanya as we all know now and Maura was the red herring but I definitely feel like the series tried WAY too hard to distract us from suspecting Naschetanya. I mean, the series literally turned Maura into a lying asshole just to make her the obvious culprit before revealing who the real culprit has been the entire time.
- Also, in retrospect it does seem like Naschetanya wasn’t trying THAT hard to convince the Braves to kill each other. I mean, she couldn’t kill anyone without arousing suspicion until Maura had lied about how Adlet had attacked Hans. At some point Naschetanya had to either convince Goldov to help her. Killing him would’ve been a tip-off but if she had killed Adlet for a flimsy reason Goldov certainly would’ve become suspicious even if he hadn’t wanted it to be true. Really, Maura has been a better “Seventh” than Naschetanya actually.
- What kinda surprised me was how far the series went with its romantic sub-plot between Flamie and Adlet. The whole thing was surprisingly well handled, I would say and it wasn’t used for some cheap melodrama. Instead it created the proper tension when it needed to, so a scene could get a little spicier.