Thursday, 08 October 2009 07:02

Valkyria Chronicles (TV, 2009)

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Overview


Yeah, that was my reaction too.I think that I've mentioned a few times in a couple of game reviews that I rather enjoy the whole World War II era story world. I'm a big fan of the classic Call of Duty series – which is not to say that CoD4 didn't kick ass and that MC2 won't kick even more. But I've always found there to just be something better about World War I and II than today's conflicts. Valkyria Chronicles is a Strategy RPG game that was released for the Playstation 3 late last year, and earlier this spring it made the jump to an anime format. It's billed as an alternate universe take on World War II – the European portion of it, at least - but of course this being an anime it's not at all as simple as that.

Fields USA Info Japanese Info Image
Title Valkyria Chronicles Valkyria Chronicles
Alternative Senjō no Valkyria -Gallian Chronicles-
Dates 2009.04.04-2009.09.26
Company A-1 Pictures Inc., Sega
Creator
Director Tasutaka Yamamoto
Genre War, Action, Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Related Valkyria Chronicles (PS3), Valkyria Chronicles (Manga), Valkyria Chronicles 2 (PS3)

Review


All sorts of potential for whiplash here... War has come to the continent of Europa. The two superpowers of the land – the Imperial Alliance of the east and the Atlantic Federation of the west are at war over a mineral called Ragnite, your typical one-stop-shop rock of power source, weaponry, blah blah blah. You've seen this material before in other series, just file it under 'Important Shit' and leave it at that. Anyway, the Empire, running on a string of victories, decides to invade the previously neutral nation of Gallia in order to take control of their rich Ragnite deposits. Their invasion begins with the windmill prairie town of Bruhl, a little town protected only by their local city watch. One of the watch captains is Alicia Melchiott, and while on patrol receives a report of a strange man that's been seen studying things and sketching stuff. Afraid that it's an advance scout, she goes to arrest one Welkin Gunther… a painfully spacey guy that just likes to sketch flora, fauna, and in general study nature. And oh yeah… he also happens to be the son of one of Gallia's greatest war heroes.

Of course, it's not long before the Empire really does attack, and Welkin 'escapes', with Alicia right on his heels, to run home in search of his (adopted) sister Isara, who turns out to be a Darcsen. Darcsen in the Valkyria Chronicles world are seen and treated roughly as well as Jewish people were in Germany in WWII. Things aren't looking great at first for Alicia, until Isara, in standard "Don't Believe What You Hear" fashion, defuses the situation by surrendering her weapon. While all of this is going on, the Empire has advanced on Welkin's house and is now shelling the shit out of it, so what else can our intrepid trio possibly do but get the hell outta there… in Welkin's father's labor-of-love pet retirement project, a heavily armed and armored, yet impossibly nimble and agile tank named the Edelweiss.

Where's Hawkeye Pierce to ignore army chain of command when you need him? Uh, yeah. So, characters. Unfortunately, I wish that I could say Valkyria Chronicles was more than a standard cast, but it just isn't. Normally, I'd have more to say about the main leads, Alicia and Welkin, but frankly? They're generic. There's really nothing that stands out about them. You'll know everything you need to know about their personalities and how they're probably going to end up by the end of the first episode. Not only is the main cast pretty average, it's an anime based on a Strategy RPG, which means that the supporting cast is broader than the Pacific and shallow as a dry season wadi. Squad 7 consists of a pair of twins, a man so gay he could double as a flamethrower, the big tough bear man, the aloof pissed at everything girl, a clone of Alicia with silver hair, the overbearing girl and her hopelessly spineless soon-to-be boy toy… you get the idea. Also making appearances are the piggy scumbag general out to hog all the credit though he's really a coward, the hard as nails because she really really cares about her people commander, and other such memorable generics. That's just on the Gallian army side, folks.

Leading the incurring forces of the empire on the other side is Prince Maximillian, cold, calculating, ruthless… yeah yeah, same old, same old. Serving under him is the silver haired, stacked like a lumberyard Selvaria Bles, standard 'love him in silence because I'm not worthy to wipe his snot after he saved me' ice queen. Then there's Berthold Gregor, the Desert Fox of Valkyria Chronicles, known for being a particularly harsh and calculating general. Last is your standard suave wildcard, Radi Jaeger. He'd actually be a decent guy, if he wasn't serving the Empire.

Do I really need to make this joke?Fortunately for Valkyria Chronicles, while the characters are decidedly blah, it's got a good strong storyline that takes it through most of the tale. It does break up here and there, and honestly, some episodes were too slice-of-life filler for my tastes, but the main storyline is well crafted and well told. It follows Alicia as she, Welkin and Isara are run out of the town of Bruhl by the encroaching Empire. After successfully holding off the Empire long enough for the citizens of Bruhl to evacuate with the help of Welkin and the Edelweiss, Alicia decides to sign on to the Gallian militia. Naturally, the status of Welkin's father as a war hero, alongside the fact that Welkin is highly educated, makes him an (unwilling) officer in the Militia, so no big surprise that he ends up as Alicia's new CO. The majority of the series focuses on the growing fame of their squad, Squad 7, as they complete ever more dirty and suicidal assignments thrown at them by the stuck up backstabbing pig… err, General Damon, commanding officer of the regular army of Gallia, who loathes and despises the militia.

Also in Valkyria Chronicles' favor is it's rather unique animation art style, a cell-shaded style carried over from the game. While it is done in CG, much of the artwork has a sketched, colored pencil effect to it that is actually kind of hard to get used to, though is very impressive in its execution. It does have a tendency to make clothing and especially shading look rather stiff and unrealistic though, so it's not perfect. However, it's a unique effect that I haven't seen before, and overall was carried off surprisingly well. It helps that the character – and perhaps more importantly, the background design – is well done, even for a series based on a military squad, and thus uniforms. There's a variety of design and beautifully done aerial vistas to be found throughout the series that the unique animation style brings to vivid life.

That's one way to make sure the watermellon is well padded.Ah, lessie, sound… eh… well, let's take this on its merits: it's not bad. Unfortunately, it's also not very memorable at all. Typically I like it when a soundtrack does its job and stays in the background, but there is a certain level at which the soundtrack stops being effective. Valkyria Chronicles' soundtrack strays beyond that level, and simply isn't very effective for the majority of the series. The Op and Ed themes are average at best, and there was really only one standout theme where the soundtrack properly supported and deepened the scene like it needed to. This to me was not a very professional performance on the part of the sound director, and it's a shame that the soundtrack went to waste. Things were marginally better on the VA side of the series; for such a broad-but-shallow cast, the actors did a decent job of bringing their roles to life, but, I dunno… Something just seemed off overall for Valkyria Chronicles. It wasn't bad per se… just… not as good as I've come to expect from the average anime series.

I touched on it briefly earlier, but I wanted to come back to the theme of prejudice and racism. One of the few deeper character interactions found in the series is between Rosa and Isara. Rosa, for reasons that are explored throughout the course of the middle of the series, despises Darcsen. That in and of itself is not unusual in the world of Valkyria Chronicles, but Rosa's hatred goes bone deep. In some ways, the exploration of their relationship is actually more climactic and important than the main storyline, and while in most cases I'd have to raise a HUGE red flag on a series that allowed a subplot to become more important than the main plot, I can't complain here in a series with such painfully generic characters… it's one of the few bright spots of character development in the storyline.Unfortunately, a mostly unrelated event at the end of the story almost – ALMOST – undid the depth and importance of Rosa and Isara's relationship. Worse, it was thrown in so casually and carelessly that it almost felt like an intentional attempt to sabotage the series.

Overall


Yes Mistress, may I lick your boots clean now, Mistress?Valkyria Chronicles could have been so much more, it really could have. Now, I haven't played the game. Not only is it on the PS3, which I don't own, but I just plain don't like Strategy RPGs, so I can't draw a proper counterpoint comparison to the events in the game versus the series. The anime isn't horrible – I enjoyed most episodes for what they were, and never quite got to the point where I considered dropping the series, such as I did with Tears to Tiara. The storyline is well crafted and executed, despite characters that are generally shallow and generic. The animation is unique and well done, despite having odd stiffness quirks and shading issues. There's some very good subplot material here too, and a passable attempt at the themes of prejudice and racism that would have been excellent if not for the horribly executed surprise conclusion of them. If you enjoy war stories and don't mind generic characters, it's at least worth taking a look at Valkyria Chronicles, but I don't know that I could honestly recommend the series to anybody that wasn't a fan of the game – and to be fair, I'm not even sure I could recommend it to them. Below average series, despite a few bright spots of storytelling.

Additional Info

  • Format: Television
  • Animation: Groovy (+5)
  • Writing: Groovy (+5)
  • Pacing: Groovy (+5)
  • Voice Acting: Groovy (+5)
  • Soundtrack: Groovy (+5)

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