All posts by Lifesong

Alderamin on the Sky: Episodes 3 &4

8

No two ways about it: Ikta just spanked a foolish child. The older Torway brother got beat something bad.

These latest two episodes covered ground fast: Ikta and friends get to school, participate in a mock battle, then show everyone up save the princess from some diabolical revenge scheme. I’ll try not to act like I’m too impressed that this whole story played back into the events that lead to our five heroes joining the military in the first place, but I totally was.

I’m always a bit worried when anime characters go to school; all too often, no matter what they might have been doing beforehand, they get stuck in trope-riddled, silly comedy hell. Not that I have a problem with school comedies, but that isn’t what I want from Alderamin. Ikta quickly laid those fears to rest in these past two episodes. Even if we are stuck in school– sort of– this isn’t the usual oh-so-plucky anime school of my nightmares.

Yatori's smug says more about Ikta's investment in tactical knowledge than he is likely to ever say for himself.
Yatori’s smug look says more about Ikta’s investment in tactical knowledge than he is likely to ever say for himself.

Overall, it’s impressive just how fast these two episodes managed to progress without feeling rushed. One dynamic I’m loving about Alderamin is how the world building is painted by Ikta’s relationship with Yatori; Ikta does something and Yatori follows up. Ikta makes a joke about the Alderamin scriptures banning hot guys from his presence, and Yatori calmly reminds Ikta that he could get hauled off for blasphemy.

“Show, Don’t Tell” is a storytelling concept that early light novel -based episodes tend to fail at. For that reason, it was encouraging to see Ikta put his strategic knowledge to use so viscerally. Sure, we heard about it first in a classroom, but it was promptly demonstrated. There’s no need to question Ikta’s knowledge of tactics after this demonstration of wits. Of course, Yatori showed up exactly when she needed to and was totally okay with being used to teach some brats a lesson. [I think Yatori is totally okay with most things as long as she gets to kick lots of ass.- Karen]

Ikta might enjoy showing off a bit too much for his own good.
Ikta might enjoy showing off a bit too much for his own good.

Ikta and Yatori are both interesting in that they seem to think of themselves as above their political situation…not necessarily in an obnoxious, arrogant way, but more of a looking-into-the-future -with-a-plan kind of way. It’s something that conflicts with Ikta’s lazy persona. Taken at face value, laziness isn’t exactly the most admirable quality, but no matter what Ikta says, I can’t see him as entirely unmotivated. He’s clearly willing to put in the effort when it’s needed and when it will accomplish his goals.

Put another way, he is willing to earn his laziness.

In case you missed what this episode was doing, this is an example of what happens when you are not lazy.
In case you missed what this episode was doing, this is an example of what happens when you are not lazy.

Really, the most interesting thing about the show (besides the Ikta/Yatori dynamic in general) is Ikta’s spin on laziness as a thing to be valued. I’m reminded of the T-shirt I commonly see at anime conventions: “I’m not lazy, I’m energy efficient.” It’s hilariously out of place as a military slogan, but then I guess that’s the point.

I feel like I should hate Ikta, but I don’t. A big part of what’s selling me on Ikta’s character is how sarcastic he is. When he gives his ridiculous speech on laziness he is serious to a point, but he’s also putting on a show for his own amusement. He never wastes an opportunity to get a hit in on the popular ideology of his nation. In fact, most of what we know about the setting has been painted by his sarcasm.

Yatori and Ikta are strong, but they aren't the only ones who are.
Yatori and Ikta are strong, but they aren’t the only ones who are.

So far we’ve seen Itka put up a strong argument for science and logical thinking.  It feels a bit cheesy when Ikta talks about science all the time, but in a world where science has little value, his strong feelings make sense. After all, there’s nothing cheesy about losing loved ones to a war fought with outdated ways of thinking.

Or that lead to a bloodbath like this.
Or that lead to a bloodbath like this.

If there’s one moral point Ikta deserves credit for it’s that he always speaks his mind. I feel like he’s usually putting on an act, but that act is a genuine reflection of what he wants to say. I came away feeling like he may have seriously considered joining the rebels if they had tried to include him in their plot.

The fight at the end of episode four deserves some special attention. Yatori’s adrenaline high was scary. In general I find the combat in Alderamin inspires a level of terror unfamiliar to most anime. Part of that terror is inspired by how coldly enemies are treated when push comes to shove; part of it from how neutral Ikta is about the morality of it all.

I wonder if Yatori would point her blade at Ikta so easily if had joined these rebels.
I wonder if Yatori would point her blade at Ikta so easily if had joined these rebels.

As for the fight itself I was impressed by how it played out; it felt real. Sure, it was an incredibly one-sided massacre once Yatori freed herself, but looking at the encounter as a whole? It had me on the edge of my seat. I wonder if this is the first time Yatori has come so close to getting herself killed?

I want to see the story of how Ikta and Yatori grew close in the first place. I have a hard time imagining either of them had a kind childhood; Yatori kills without hesitation and Ikta doesn’t seem bothered by that in the least. They have the type of relationship that you only really see in people who have overcome huge obstacles together.

More backstory please!
More backstory please!

Yatori’s post-bloodbath scene did a number on me: The heavy breathing, the sound of Yatori’s own voice amplified by her adrenaline high, the way she couldn’t release her grip on the swords…it had a mesmerizing weight to it. I had to watch it a few times to fully process it.

I’m not sure where the story will go from here, but as long as it continues to focus on Ikta and Yatori’s relationship I’ve little doubt it will keep my attention. [That’s all well and good, but I want more of the mini Care Bears.-Karen] For now, I think Yatori needs some proper chill time in a hammock– and maybe I do too! That closing scene was downright exhausting.

I find myself just a bit overwhelmed by how tragic this is.
I find myself just a bit overwhelmed by how tragic this is.

Fun fact: Alderamin is the name of a star. According to Wikipedia the Arabic meaning is “the right arm”. That seems fitting after Ikta tells Yatori that he is her left hand.

Alderamin on the Sky: Episodes 1 &2

1

“Every hero dies from overwork.”

Alderamin on the Sky starts off by making it clear that its protagonist has little desire to get himself involved with the military. Yet somehow, Ikta finds himself front and center in a dangerous situation– protecting an imperial princess, no less– and that’s only the beginning of his troubles.

I find myself drawn in by how straightforward and honest these first two episodes were. We’re told by the end of the first episode that Ikta will become a famous general; this may sound like a boring way to introduce the story (and on paper, maybe it is), but the magic was in the details. I came away from episode two feeling like I knew exactly what kind of story this anime wants to tell.

Ikta knows why you lost your chest match without viewing the board and looks down on you for thinking chess is a valuable skill.
Ikta knows why you lost your chess match without viewing the board and looks down on you for thinking chess is a valuable skill.

Look Elsewhere For Simple Wish Fulfillment

Competence is a double-edged sword with any fictional character. I was a bit worried that Ikta would play too far into the typical wish-fulfillment nonsense that many light novel protagonists fall into, but so far, I like the way he’s presented here. Ikta is competent, but politically powerless. Yattori, the series heroine, keeps him grounded while coming across as a strong character in her own right.

Ikta has a long bucket list of reasons to want to light the world on fire and watch it burn, and yet, that isn’t what he’s all about. Even this early on, there’s a lot I could say about his personality and attitude, both positive and the negative. For now I’ll stick with the most important thing: I can buy it. Ikta makes sense to me and seems believable inside his universe.

Shouldn't be taken seriously, or doesn't want to be taken seriously by design? Yattori knows better.
Shouldn’t be taken seriously, or doesn’t want to be taken seriously by design? Yattori knows better.

Alderamin introduced itself, it’s world and characters in a masterful way. Ikta is a lazy womanizer and cynical defeatist, while Yattori is an honorable noble from a prestigious family with a military background. What makes them interesting is that neither of them have much talent at acting their assigned roles.

I already find myself loving the relationship dynamic between Ikta and Yattori; their mutual respect for each other says a lot about both of them. In Ikta’s case, it demonstrates that his defeatist attitude is fueled both by a hatred for his kingdom’s political system and knowledge of how it works. Ikta helps demonstrates Yattori’s position on nobility when she asks his opinion on political issues. It’s also worth mentioning that her original purpose for dragging Ikta into the this whole dilemma was to cheat her ranking on a test for elite officer school…naive, she is not.

Someone has to keep this fool in order and save him from himself.
Someone has to keep this fool in order and save him from himself.

The Quotable Ikta

Now, cynical attitudes are something I feel are a dime a dozen in light novel stories. Maybe I should be worried about how this could play out down the line, but so far I can’t find much fault with the way Alderamin presents itself. In fact, I find myself agreeing with much of the attitude we’ve seen so far, even jotting down favorite Ikta quotes for future reference.

That feeling when your princess is almost as dumb as a war college graduate.
That feeling when your princess is almost as dumb as a war college graduate.

“Every hero dies from overwork.” manages to express the core of Ikta’s personality, and the use of that line in ep. 2 felt downright tragic. I wonder what the princess hoped to gain by dragging out his past the way she did; it almost seemed like she wanted him to snap. The way she mentioned his parents and mentor was miserable to say the least.

When the princess spoke of her own rotten blood, it left a strong impression: she clearly isn’t much of a fan of the current political system either. I wonder how much she’ll manage to change the status quo before the anime ends– how much power does she really have?

I love the visual storytelling in this scene. Yattori's reflexes are amazing.
I love the visual storytelling in this scene. Yattori’s reflexes are amazing.

Gender Equality…perhaps?

Speaking of the princess, something that stood out is the position of women in this fantasy world, largely due to Yattori: she’s clearly highly trained and competent at fighting. The fact that no one raises an eyebrow at how strong or scary she is while fighting give us a bit of world building, in classic show-don’t-tell fashion. Her character could only exist in a universe where women are accepted in the role of warriors.

At first glance there seems to be an unusual amount of equality within this fantasy kingdom. The military is okay with both knighting women and with training them to be officers. That creates an interesting contrast with Ikta’s mom’s story, where she was given as a gift to his father from some harem, as you would expect in a society where women are considered property. I’m not sure what the story will do with these disparate elements, if anything, but that only adds to my curiosity.

I get the feeling anyone who can relax in a hammock isn't all bad in this universe.
I get the feeling anyone who can relax in a hammock isn’t all bad in this universe.

Another instant favorite of mine is “What a soldier needs is imagination which allows him to use fragmented information to envision the whole.” I liked the way it took the whole “military strategists are good at chess” trope and changed the nuance. The statement was simple, but valuable: Real strategy is about using your imagination to improvise based off the information you have. I think that is wise life advice in a general sense, military or otherwise.

So far my favorite aspect of this anime is easily Ikta’s relationship with Yattori (Who is rapidly becoming a favorite heroine of mine). Their closeness, despite seemingly different life goals, is charming. I loved the final scene of episode two where they both have a nice moment of understanding.

That feeling when you realize you are going to become a war college graduate yourself.
That feeling when you realize you are going to become a war college graduate yourself.

I’m a bit worried to see this show getting caught up in school antics, but hopefully episode three will ease my fears. I expect Ikta’s hatred of the military to be a central part of the story, but I also expect to see him go above and beyond to back up Yattori when push comes to shove– and it’s interesting just how strongly I feel like I know these characters, after only two episodes.

On another note, I have to compliment the show for its ability to change tone effectively. One moment our characters are relaxing and sharing a nice meal, the next they’re slaughtering some enemy soldiers in appropriately serious fashion. Earlier, in episode one, we smoothly transitioned from silly character introductions to survival mode.

I can't bring myself to share the image with guy's poor Care Bear trying to wake him up...
I can’t bring myself to share the image with guy’s poor Care Bear trying to wake him up…

I’ve come to expect anime to be bad at this kind of transition and often enough, I find they don’t even try to make it work. The fact that this anime pulls it off helps make the soldiers in this story feel like proper soldiers; often, even in fairly serious anime, soldiers seem to act more like comedians than warriors, and it can take you out of the story pretty easily.

My New Summer Getaway?

One last thing I want to point out before wrapping up is just how pretty Alderamin is; both the people and the world itself are gorgeous. Ikta’s obsession with relaxing in hammocks fits right into this universe. In fact, instead of pontificating about Alderamin, I find myself wanting to go chill somewhere with a nice breeze. [Okay, but make sure you’re all caught up on anime first–Karen.] Ikta’s obsession with the women in this world, while not exactly commendable, is easy to understand….

Or maybe he just likes getting pushed around...
Or maybe he just likes getting pushed around?

I have a test I like to give fantasy worlds: Would I want to live there? If not, would I at least want to visit? Most fantasy worlds fail both parts of the test and they do so by design. Ultimately the test is entirely for fun and has no real critical value, but when do we ever let that stop us here at Otakusphere?

Let’s see…I’d rather not live under a monarch, so part one of my test is probably a no. If the sense of equality in the military is found in the every day lives of civilians in this society, that is a strong selling point. I’d need to compare what these magical bear creature things are capable of versus real world science. We know they can’t heal a giant hole in someone’s chest… but well, that guy was probably a goner either way.

Apparently, grabbing faces is simply what people do when they are unsettled by stupid.
Apparently, grabbing faces is simply what people do when they are unsettled by stupid.

The verdict is still out on whether or not this universe is a desirable place to live or not, but I have to admit that it looks like a nice place to visit…you know, provided I could avoid locations that are likely to become war zones, or getting myself drafted into the military. I’ll just have to keep watching until I have enough knowledge of Alderamin‘s intriguing world to safely plan my vacation. [No vacations allowed, we need you on the podcast–Karen]