Content Warning: Slavery, physical abuse, blood/violence
What’s it about? Cestvs is an enslaved young man forced to fight in boxing matches for the entertainment of the Roman public. If he can win 100 matches, he’ll be set free—but just one loss means instant death.
On paper, this premiere is heavy stuff: Cestvs is starved and imprisoned, watches his friend killed before his very eyes, and watches other young boys stagger back “victorious” from their fights with their faces practically caved in. Fortunately, it’s all portrayed with such staggering incompetence that the brutality lands with the impact of a discarded tissue. To Your Eternity, it ain’t.
Part of the problem is pacing. If you’ve ever put on a dramatic shonen and accidentally pushed the fast-forward button, you are already prepared for the unique viewing experience that is Cestvs. Or maybe it’s more fair to say that I felt like I’d accidentally clicked into episode three rather than episode one. Cestvs and his Buff Best Friend exchange three or four blushing lines of dialogue before they’re tragically forced to face each other in battle and Cestvs wins, causing BBF to get shot full of arrows.
During said fight Cestvs is urged by his teacher (who?) to remember the secret techniques he’d imparted on doing punches good (when?). Then there’s a training montage before Cestvs has his first big match against a grown man, but not before he meets the goodhearted son of Emperor Nero’s head bodyguard, who has been trained in the mixed martial art of Pankration, which is posited as the oppositional philosophy to Cestvs’ boxing. A woman briefly appears, but she’s a shrieking bloodthirsty matriarch. Nero is presented as a doe-eyed cherub, presumably some time before he took up fiddling. End of episode.
Hold on, I need to catch my breath.
Maybe I should’ve just started with the fact that the show begins with a cold open, shot partially in first-person perspective, where Cestvs has been knocked out so hard that he has no idea where he is or what’s happening; and one can’t say the show doesn’t start as it means to go on.
The bad writing is exceeded only by the worse visuals, which are such low-caliber CGI that when I saw the first trailer I assumed this series would be going straight to Netflix. The main characters look alright when standing still, but the movement…well, it’s minimal. And stiff, which means the traditional long explanations about each fighter’s individual techniques play over animations that are only minimally differentiated and sprinkled with impact smoke hoping to zhuzh things up a little. The models themselves look like they’ve been set on top of pre-rendered backgrounds from the PS1 days. It’s not transcendently hideous like Ex-Arm, but all that really means is that it lacks even the joyful spectacle of incompetence.
This is the worst sort of bad: the type that is, above all else, forgettable.