What’s it about? Childhood friends Kasel, Clause, and Frey are working hard to serve the people of Orvelia (Clause and Kasel as knights and Frey as a priestess), but their lives are thrown into disarray when Clause gets caught up in a demon attack. Kasel and Frey rush to save him—but with nobles and dark elves alike plotting in the city, are they running towards the danger, or away from it?
“Oh boy,” I thought as soon as the dark elf showed up and the townspeople all demanded that the knights kick him out of the city, “Fantasy Racism. What could possibly go wrong?”
The Fantasy Racism in King’s Raid is about as subtle as a sledgehammer, with the townspeople describing the dark elves as “bad omens” and nobles refusing to hire them even if it means their city gets overrun by demons. And okay, sure, the dark elves are a grayish-lavender rather than any real-world human skin tone, but when you keep using the words “Dark” and “Black” to describe their people and organizations and your story’s entire human population is recognizably Caucasian, it’s kind of impossible not to see them as an allegory for BIPOCs.
So when it’s revealed that the dark elves actually are plotting against the humans and the humans were right to distrust and fear them—well, let’s just say I cringed so hard my skeleton fled my body and joined the Spooky Brigade.
Did King’s Raid consciously think about real-world racial parallels to any significant degree (if at all) when crafting this conflict? Oh, almost certainly not. But that’s all the more reason why it’s important to think about things like this when writing fiction, because if you don’t, your Fantasy Racism can accidentally feed into real-world othering and existing racist mentalities, solidifying the status quo instead of overturning it.
Which is a bummer, really, because the dark elves are the most interesting characters in this premiere by far. Survivors of violent oppression, they’ve banded together as mercenaries and now plan to overthrow the nobles of Orvelia. And after the shit we see their leader go through just for walking down a street, I really can’t blame them!
Both the opening and ending theme suggest that the main dark elf duo (one male, one female) are going to be at least sympathetically portrayed, though it’s too early to know if they’ll be framed as heroes or villains when all is said and done. I don’t think King’s Raid is going to make the marginalized group Pure, Unambiguous Evil, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it went the Trauma Makes You Bad route. Which is. You know. Not exactly great, either.
We’ve spent a lot of time on Fantasy Racism here today, kids, but that’s ‘cause there’s very little else to say about King’s Raid beyond that. As far as female characters go, there’s some boob windows and a mysterious lady in a battle bikini, but the camera doesn’t ogle any of them so it’s pretty easy to ignore. Frey isn’t especially interesting, but then neither is Kasel, and she does have a nice moment at the end where Kasel tries to get her to stay home and she refuses, reminding him that her priestess training makes her handy on a battlefield, too.
Really, outside of its elf revolutionaries, King’s Raid is pretty boilerplate Medieval European fantasy, which means it’s about as memorable as a piece of toast. It’s competently made but utterly lacking in charm or originality, with blandly pleasant protagonists doing their best, a vaguely Germanic setting, and flatly directed action scenes.
As someone who adores SF/F but is thoroughly tired of standard Euro-Fantasy, I never found myself hating this episode (even with the Fantasy Racism), but I also never saw anything that surprised or enchanted me, either. If they’d decided to center the dark elves as the protagonists, I’d be worried but at least interested, and might even stick around for a three-episode review to see how it handled its racial metaphors. But with Potato Knight as our lead, it’s hard to find any compelling reason to come back.
King’s Raid almost certainly won’t be the worst anime to air this season, but I also wouldn’t recommend it to anyone except the most die-hard of Euro-Fantasy fans. If you’re not in the “I’ll watch anything that looks vaguely like a DnD Campaign” camp, I doubt there’s anything here for you.