Today I take on the anime of the game Valkyria Chronicles. The original game developers are upfront and pitch the series as a romance story that just happens to take place in the middle of a war. That's pretty much exactly what it is, no mistake.
My fellow reviewer and reader mdubs took on the original Valkyria Chronicles game and I'm taking on the anime. To get a perspective on the game version, do check out his review. In addition, he'll be taking on the second and third games, so keep an eye out for that! Eventually I'll also be making a pass at the anime adaptation of Valkyria Chronicles 3 (there was no adaptation of #2, don't ask me).
The anime is a loose adaptation of the video game (sometimes very loose), though the overall plot is the same. It stars our two heroes from the game, Welkin Gunther and Alicia Melchiott, in the forefront while Faldio (a character I considered a borderline extra in the game) got the ascended extra treatment and joined them as an integral character.
When it comes down to it, this fantasy world is an exceedingly thinly veiled version of World War 2. In fact, I must say that I'm surprised that my fellow tropers didn't say this to describe the franchise:
While this will be polarizing, I maintain that the anime manages to tread a slightly different path than the game, but it is not inferior to the game in any way. It tells a good story that manages to do a whole lot right.
While the first half did no favors for us, the latter half of the series took the characters that seemed boiled-down and trope-ridden made them better and managed to actually overcome their handicap. It was weird to see. I'll talk about that a bit more in just a second.
Now, the anime got a lot of things wrong removing the depth from some of these characters, but one thing they got right was removing some of the plot elements that were broken. One example was the racism/discrimination plot that the game seemed to continuously lean on (even though it was broken aesop bait) was completely zigzagged and downplayed in the anime. Adapt the good, avoid the bad. That's the best way to do it.
There was a spectacularly weird tonal shift in this show mid-series. The first half of it was lighthearted and forgettable. Many people will write it off because it is inferior to the game in the first part. In the latter half of the series though? The whole thing experienced a shift and the quality skyrocketed in my honest opinion. It won me over in the final episodes with its excellent divergent narrative that portrayed a different but more poignant version of the aftermath of Naggiar.
One of the most jarring things I found in the game was the lack of consistent narrative force. I found that the game tended to rip me out of the story and put me back in with the chapters system. It wasn't good for the narrative because it introduced a distinct disconnect from the story. The anime completely dodges this (as I expected) and the whole thing feels far more cohesive and intimate.
This is helped by the fact that some of the incredibly glaring plot holes that occurred in the game are filled (or written out) in the anime. It improves the cohesion and the storytelling of the whole franchise considerably.
The vastly expanded cast gets a mention to. Previously barely-seen members of the squad actually get some screen time and they make everything more lively. Interestingly, I think that Ramal (an anime-exclusive character) was pretty well done, though he was a walking trope. I think the reason he worked was because of the absolutely adorable thing he had going on with Isara. It added a layer to the anime that felt like an improvement rather than a detriment. The cast's expanded role almost certainly helped with the more cohesive narrative by making everything relatable.
Lastly, this is an anime adaptation that stands well on its own. It doesn't rely on knowledge of the game and vice versa. More to the point though, I actually would recommend the anime if you don't want to play the game. It tells the story well enough that it can stand in for the game.
I said earlier that it filled plot holes that were in the game. Awesome! It also had the tendency to add just as many plot holes back into it (Selvaria and her knew each other? Seriously?). Damn it! You were doing so well too!
The characters do indeed get boiled down to their most basic tropes and then get them accentuated. It does not make for a good change at first. The first half of the series almost certainly bogged down by this drawback. They did not accentuate their redeeming tropes. For example, depending on your point of view, you might be inclined to think that the hilariously exaggerated aristocratic schmucks that make up the regular army are just too stupid to be real. Honestly, they're just a bunch of idiots.
As I said, the first half is forgettable because of its lighthearted antics. The characters are bland and inferior to their game counterparts and the whole thing just isn't that good. The second half fixes this so much, at least in my opinion.
Unfortunately, the second half isn't exactly made of gold either. It is pretty predictable and trope-ridden, right up until the end. It's better, but that doesn't mean that it swung from bad to amazing, it just means that it went from bad to perhaps very good. If you can get past the tropes and just enjoy it for what it is, you'll be able to look past this.
The last major gripe is the shortened time of the anime makes the relationship plot seem rushed and somewhat disappointing compared to the game. The game managed to slip in little things that helped make the romance seem less forced and more natural. The anime doesn't have time, so the romance seems a bit rushed and undeveloped. In the same way, Faldio's upgrade from near-extra all the way to romantic interest wasn't a good idea. It kind of worked, but the whole thing made no sense and Faldio's tendency to flirt at the stupidest moments did not help. That alone made his character borderline unbearable.
I want to note that people whom have played the game might want to change that review card to "Proceed with Caution" due to the polarizing effect the first half will have on people. The anime's treatment of the characters is just bad compared to the game in the first half. It really is.
Generally speaking, the anime keeps the things that made the game good and drops the things that made it bad (and even contradictory). It tells a more cohesive and intimate story than the game managed to do. The anime goes out of its way to fill the plot holes that plagued the game (though it also manages to create new ones in the process, whoops). In the process, the whole story is easier to get behind and enjoy. The narrative is solid and well constructed and it benefits from the cohesive, linear nature of an anime adaptation.
On the other hand, many people who played the game will be poised for a broken base scenario when they watch. Some will enjoy it and others will always say that they changed it and now it sucks. The first half of the anime will definitely make the players of the game mad since it really is inferior in almost every way. Once it gets past the rocky first half, I thought it found its footing and became a whole lot better to be honest. It might even be superior to its source material in some ways.
This is best for anyone that liked Valkyria Chronicles the game but thought that the story seemed a bit underwhelming and plot hole-ridden. It's a romance that just happens to take place in the middle of a war and it should be watched by a fan of that idea. It's surprisingly well done and it has a lot of good moments.
It was hell editing this review down. I had a whole lot to say about this adaptation and I just didn't have time to talk about it all. All things considered, it wasn't a bad anime at all. It suffered a great deal from the first half's lighthearted antics and boiled-down characters, but other than that it was a very good adaptation that manages to stand on its own.
P.S. Maximilian is the scheming prince of an over-the-top evil country ruled by a monarchy whom is secretly also a humble Xanatos Speed Chess playing merchant that once started a revolution in Area 11 using the name Zero with a penchant for fabulousness. This guy isn't typecast at all.
You can watch the full season of Valkyria Chronicles on Crackle (I didn't know they streamed anime either, weird). The OVAs must be acquired through other means.
This is part of Anime Marathon 2014, a continuation of Anime Marathon 2013 by popular demand. I'm on a mission to review every anime I can for the TAY community and anyone else that wants to read. I can never guarantee when these reviews will be posted, but I'll do my best to keep it consistent.