The Black King has stolen half of the chain chronicle (which apparently documents everything that happens in the world) and now he’s using it to engulf the world in darkness. The heroes have already tried to defeat him and failed, but have they given up hope? I reviewed Chain Chronicle week to week so if you want thoughts on the individual episodes click here.
Before getting into this there’s a couple of things I’m going to make clear. I am a major old-school fantasy fan. I have read pretty much every sword and sorcery style fantasy book I could get my hands on growing up and read out entire fantasy sections of school and public libraries. My appetite for these kinds of stories is voracious and I’m not too picky about quality as long as it isn’t boring. Therefore, when I say that this story is lacking in originality but still really fun, you should probably understand that it really only applies if you are equally fixated on good vs evil, hack and slash with swords, with some magical explosions and the occasional dragon thrown in.
When this came out in Winter I was really happy because it has been a long time since we’ve gotten an anime that is so unapologetically classic fantasy. It wasn’t trying to give us a subversive hero, add in unnecessary self-aware comedy, give the villains complex backgrounds and having people make morally grey decisions. There is nothing wrong with any of those things, but they aren’t classic fantasy and while they can make for stories that feel a bit different, I still just like my fantasy pretty straight forward. There’s something comforting about the familiarity of light vs darkness and the good guys will be down but not out for three quarters of the story before they rally for the final conflict. So I’m not going to spend much time discussing the plot but rather the characters and the execution.
The issues that emerge from these sorts of stories though usually concern lazy writing. Because the story is so familiar and the characters are such well-worn archetypes, writers end up taking short cuts and you kind of feel like you are reading a plot synopsis or a description of a movie rather than being immersed in a story. The other issue that comes along is that the writers themselves are aware that everything they are writing is derivative and so they don’t give anything the extra attention or oomph it needs to make it stand out.
So does Chain Chronicle have these issues?
Yes and no.
The villains do suffer incredibly from poor writing and limited screen time. They are either mindless summoned puppets who can get cut down in droves and just respawn (so zero care factor from the audience) or they are so beyond cliché in their dialogue it is impossible to take them even vaguely seriously as a threat. Plus, there’s the lingering question of even if they succeed in dying the world black, what then? Is there some sort of grand plan beyond make everything black?
Realistically this is my biggest complaint of this series as a whole is the lack of real motive or care put into these villains (that and what is with that female villain’s armour). Also, we see not one but two of the ‘heroes’ of the story get turned into demons through their own inner doubts and losing to their inner darkness.
Yuri, as the main hero, has a whole group of friends continuously rallying behind him and trying to bring him back. His character and back story get quite a lot of exploration to understand why he gave in to the darkness and to really hammer the point that anyone can fall. Also giving the whole love, bonds, and friendship theme a boost in the final episode.
Burkhardt on the other hand turns evil and mostly people spend the rest of the series shouting at him and then the Princess cuts him down declaring that she would take on responsibility for him. Um, Princess, wouldn’t it be better to believe in him and try to get him back like Yuri’s group are doing for him? Aren’t you kind of writing off your own subordinate fairly cheaply? And why is Yuri so much better? Then again, Burkhardt’s character is portrayed as a proud narcissist before he turns, we get no back story, and no development. And it turns out he has no friends so clearly he doesn’t fit with the theme of bonds and friendship and so must get unceremoniously crushed.
It’s fairly contradictory the way these two characters are treated and while I get that we probably don’t have time to explore the back story of every character, why introduce Burkhardt at all and why have him go evil if you aren’t doing anything with that. Or even if they tried to turn him back and his inner self resisted and continued to give in to darkness forcing them to kill him it would have made more sense because it would have shown the moral choice of being evil despite having someone reach out for you.
So yeah, the villains were not great.
In terms of all of the other characters, the biggest issue is the sheer number of them. This story wants to be an epic. It really does with the scale of the threat and the number of alliances and people caught up in the battle. But with 12 episodes instead of grandiose and epic what we end up with is a shallow view of a much deeper world and we don’t really have time to deal with the ins and outs of most the characters.
That said, some of them were really fun. By the half-way point I kind of loved Aram. He was such a cliché character getting picked up by the heroes in a random village and then apparently being excellent at fighting before he learns about hope and bonds and ends up all but being the main hero of the story. Plus, he picked up Furball who was adorable, and then transformed into a dragon (needed a new name, seriously who calls a dragon Furball). Aram was awesome and yes he gave in to the shout your ideals loudly at anyone who disagrees philosophy that so many young, male anime protagonists fall into but due to the sheer number of other characters the effect of this was somewhat diluted making that aspect of his personality tolerable.
The other character I really enjoyed and wished we’d learnt more about was Shuza. He was such an antagonistic character throughout most of the series and I really wish the show had spent a bit more time on him so that we could really appreciate the moral ambiguity he really represented. Everything else in the story was incredibly divided into darkness and light but he managed to be technically on the side of light but had some pretty dark views and really the ending gives us no clue about what now. In my own head I’m seeing him take his army and sweeping across the continent taking advantage of the fact that all the other armies have been significantly weakened. But we don’t actually know what he is doing other than still leading the army because pretty much no time is devoted to him after the battle.
There were other characters that I either liked or didn’t but essentially if you can think of a character who usually appears in these kinds of stories, they are likely to show up somewhere along the way, even if only for a little bit and even if their actions seem pretty inconsequential.
There also some really cool settings and locations, though at times you’ll get sick of them being on yet another road. Also, don’t pay too much attention to travel time. Apparently armies can fast travel (not really but realistically they must have for all of those armies from all of those different locations to be able to arrive in that location at that time). Time and distance mean very little in this story and you kind of just have to go with it.
All and all, as I said at the start I had a lot of fun watching this. There’s definitely issues and at times common sense has to be dismissed just to get through a certain plot point, and I really wish that they’d either trimmed down the scale of the conflict or given this another 12 episodes to actually flesh out the world in a way that made it feel a bit more real, but entertaining nonetheless. I’d really only recommend this to major fantasy fans who are wanting something just to casually watch where they don’t have to think too much and they aren’t wanting anything unexpected. Otherwise, there’s probably better stories out there to spend your time on.
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