[Review] Lord of Vermilion: The Crimson King – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser July 13, 20180 Comments
Two people, a man and woman, stabbing one another through th eguts in front of a red moon

What’s it about? An event called the Great Collapse rendered everyone in Tokyo unconscious; when many awoke a week later, a great plant had grown around the perimeter of the city and a red mist now keeps anyone from entering or leaving. College student Chihiro is the last to wake, five months later, after being plagued with strange dreams and seemingly gifted with strange powers.

This is an anime based on a Square Enix game. I suspect that will tell many of you, very quickly, whether or not to proceed further. Love it or hate it, the company has developed a very specific style of beautiful people struggling against apocalyptic calamities (and their own angsty backstories) while nebulously defined plots are hinted at with a great deal of portentous (and, depending on your feelings, pretentious) dialogue. All of that is here, in anime form.

In Vermilion’s favor is the fact that the original game is an arcade card game, meaning the anime is building on more of a scenario than recreating a finished narrative. That gives it a chance to write for an anime’s pacing rather than trying to crunch down a 30-50 hour story with disastrous effects (hello Devil Survivor 2 The Animation, don’t think I’ve forgotten about you). That speaks in favor of this anime managing to tell a fairly concise story in its one-cour time frame.

Chihiro holding an unconscious Kotetsu on a street full of collapsed people

Weighing heavily against that probability is the enormous number of characters introduced in this first episode. The anime’s cold open shows all of its superpowered fighters killing each other off in mutually assured destruction, with no less than a dozen featured in one-on-one battles. Presumably we’ll be meant to find this tragic in retrospect (this is one of those “history repeats itself” stories that have existed for ages but have been especially popular since Madoka Magica strode onto the stage).

Given that a few of the characters have featured in promotional material for various Vermilion arcade games, I suspect that the goal here is less to make sure every character is well-rounded and more to give a strong visual impression and one or two traits so that fandom can do its thing with the scraps. It’s an effective marketing strategy—idol shows basically run on it—but it’s always struck me as a wee bit cynical, trying to cast the net as wide as possible rather than gambling on a tighter, stronger narrative that might not speak to every possible person with money.

At the very least, this premiere episode spends a fair amount of time establishing the relationship between Chihiro and his friend Kotetsu, doing everything but hang a sign around their necks saying “please ship them, fujoshi.” But, cold hard arm of marketing aside, the dynamic works well enough, mostly based on the extremely game voice actors. If the show actually keeps Kotetsu around rather than murdering him for tragedy points, it could form a workable background for all the punchy-stabby sturm und drang.

Chihiro in a chair, a woman in a mask speaking behind him. caption: Fate, continuously woven from a thread of intertwining good and evil.

The opening hints at quite a few female characters with varied designs, but because this episode is mostly setting up the premise, they’ve not gotten to do much yet beyond snark and deliver cryptic warnings (this show is so proud of its very famous and obvious Shakespeare quotes, y’all). Still, it looks to be headed toward a gender-balanced cast with relatively little fanservice aside of the very type-oriented costuming.

Basically, this looks harmless. It’ll probably be silly, a bit bloody, and completely lose control of its plotting by the end, but if you’re still pining for CLAMP’s still-technically-on-hiatus-but-definitely-cancelled X (the “everyone dies” opening includes people fighting with Tokyo Tower in the background; I get to call them on this one), you could do a lot worse than Lord of Vermilion.

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