What’s it about? Hank and his unit of super soldiers known as Incarnates were key to turning the war in favor of the outnumbered North, but each faces down a ticking time clock until the experimentation that gave them their powers causes them to lose themselves. On the night before the last battle, Hank loses his best friend and the woman he cares for in one fell swoop; when he wakes up two months later, the war is over, and his former comrades have become monsters.
Y’know, once I stopped laughing, this wasn’t really a terrible premiere. It is possible I’ve sustained some serious neck damage from all the whiplash, though. Like most western-inspired fantasy anime, this premiere is a glorified trailer for the rest of the series, but it’s better than most at setting out the feeling of what it wants to be.
By the time the credits roll, we have a lone surviving soldier with ab muscles up to his eyeballs doggedly wandering a world he has no place in to put his former friends out of their now-monstrous misery. Just before it all goes very, very wrong, there’s a shocking betrayal by his best friend (this is the third act twist, but also his bestie’s name is Cain Madhouse, so I don’t really feel too bad), and the love of his life is presumably out of commission if not outright dead. It’s possible the author was influenced by certain other works, is what I’m saying.
It’s no sin to engage with a popular formula, but it remains to be seen whether the show will be able to forge its own identity in addition. This first episode is deeply confused about its own tone: the first two minutes are a downright brutal infantry sequence in the vein of Saving Private Ryan, the effect of which is promptly exploded by the very sleek, aesthetic designs of the monster squad.
It hits some genuinely sweet moments among the squad, but then starts dropping death flags so heavy any breathing room is completely crushed. Throw in some potential “yikes” in the heavy use of the American Civil War as a visual touchstone alongside the patent absurdity of having all the Southerners have cowboy hats as part of their uniforms, and my impression landed at a solid “what.”
It remains to be seen how the show will fare with its female cast. On the one hand the character designs include a mix of both fanservicey outfits and practical outfits, and there’s plenty of shirtless male abs on display too. On the other hand, Elaine, the most developed female character in the episode, gets shot and for all intents and purposes fridged before the episode’s end.
There’s definitely time to come back to and expand on Elaine’s story, but just based on the first episode it’s not a good look. There’s also a scattering of minor annoyances like a peeping joke and the named female characters mainly being talked about with regard to whether they’re wife material among the troops (and do all the women have pretty transformations compared to the men? you bet they do!), but it’s hard to tell if those are one-off eye-rollers or an indication of how the series intends to treat all of its women going forward.
If bloody but not especially gory action series are your thing, this might be one to keep an eye on. There’s enough potential here that it could shape up into something solid, but it’ll be hard to tell before it hits its three-episode stride.