What’s it about? The time is the 13th century. Jinzaburou Kuchii, formerly a general to the shogunate, is being exiled alongside a ship of other prisoners to Tsushima, the southernmost island of Japan. On arrival, the exiles learn that they’re expected to fight off the oncoming invasion by the Mongol Empire.
I’ll level with you, readers: I’m always a little bit on my guard when war anime come across my desk. I’ve reached an age where I personally don’t have much time for Cool War Hero stories, and we’ve reached an age as a species (again) where it’s time to start being very critically aware of how our media paints nations with bloody, imperialist histories (like the United States, Japan, Germany, Russia, Spain, China, England, France…).
Anime doesn’t have the best track record with that either. Witness the downplaying of the importance of the peasantry in favor of lionizing the cool samurai between Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Samurai 7; or the pro-militaristic vibe and imperialist dog whistles of Attack on Titan.
Angolmois has the benefit of telling a historical story of when Japan was unquestionably the embattled party forced to defend itself after diplomatic talks fell through—or so some furious googling tells me. But in spite of a few lip-service lines about how War Is Hell (which are rather hard to take seriously when they follow on the heels of a raucous and overwhelmingly successful rescue scene), it also hasn’t convinced me that it wants to be something beyond a Cool Samurai Story.
It’s definitely striking to look at. The visuals deliberately hearken back to a woodblock style with the thick, brushstroke-like line art, and a filter is placed over the screen to mimic the look of parchment. That filter is very cool for the first part of the episode (and looks very nice in still shots).
Then at some point I noticed that the filter wasn’t moving in time with the characters’ actions, a la the fabric effects in Gankutsuou, but was moving whenever the camera did—so all of a sudden the brownish smudge that had been on the left side of the screen was moving across some stationary characters, and my eyeballs were helpless to do anything but track it as Very Important Tactical Discussions were happening on-screen.
It’s a half-measure that comes from an understandable place—wanting to give the series a unique visual feel but perhaps lacking the time or resources to use it on a more integral design level—but the result is a distraction. And that’s a shame, because there are some beautifully composed shots and fluidly choreographed sword fights underneath the coffee stain somebody left on the upper corner of the cels.
As you might expect from a historical drama (at least until we finally get the Ooku anime we all deserve), the cast is overwhelmingly male, with the exception of Princess Teruhi. She starts out as a fairly basic type—a female ruler who initially puts on a tough face but is sensitive underneath and hates violence—and is kidnapped just in time for Act Three. Much to my relief, though, the scene where Jinzaburou shows up to lecture her about how she needs to step up as a leader is quickly cut off by her being way more determined and level-headed than he’d given her credit for.
If the show continues to take her seriously as a leader and keeps the all-but-inevitable romance between her and Jinzaburou to the somewhat lively back-and-forth we see here, she could be quite a great character to follow. I also have high hopes for Kano, the kunoichi who reports to Teruhi at episode’s end. Friendship? Mutual respect? Maybe?
Less hopeful (in fact, almost certain to cringey at best) is the show’s depiction of the invading forces. At the very least it’s probably not a good sign that the show has decided to throw in a blond foreigner as the one to be Jinzaburou’s talented worthy rival. Anime isn’t always super great at depicting characters from other East Asian nations, and this first episode doesn’t seem to be breaking that trend. I’d welcome readers to comment on this more thoroughly or correct me if I’m missing important info, as obviously I’m not the most knowledgeable or affected source on the subject.
As an underdog story, this is competent and occasionally shows flashes of being something more. Jinzaburou is cut from the standard cloth of a rough-around-the-edges, super-brilliant fighter who’ll lead the ragtag group to victory, and there are glimpses of some stock but effective personalities in the group that’ll be able to play off one another. If something that feels a bit like Anime 300 is your bag, and you’re comfortable with a lot of historical references being dropped in dialogue, it might be worth a look.