BONES last major premiere of the season weighs in, and it’s another LN adaptation. As if that weren’t enough, it has a brocon imouto in it to boot. Not only should Hitsugi no Chaika be terrible, but it really shouldn’t even have been on my radar. Yet I went into the season expecting this to be pretty good for some reason (in the preview I said I had a better feeling about it than Captain Earth). Why? Well, it’s BONES. It has one of the best animators in the business (Arai Nobuhiro) in charge of the visuals. And the original author (Sakaki Ichirou) also created Outbreak Company, Macademi Wasshoi and Scrapped Princess – none of which are exactly Shakespeare, but all of which have some wit and originality to them.
There’s one more factor too, less obvious but equally important – Coffin Princess Chaika is published in Fujimi Fantasia, which is one of the less generic of the LN publications (as compared to, say, mediocrity factory Dengeki). They publish their share of formulaic LN crap but quite a few interesting works, too, and given the other reasons to suspect this series might be something more than another awful LN adaptation, that was enough to give me hope. And based on the premiere, I’d say it was more or less justified.
Sakaki-sensei’s works all seem to fall in a pretty specific quality band – nothing great, but solidly entertaining with just enough spark of originality to make them interesting. He does as well as any light-novelist at straddling the line between participating in tropes and satirizing them (the O.C. being the most recent and perhaps most obvious example). In Chaika he seems to be playing it pretty straight, going for a magic-fantasy vibe and deriving most of the humor from character comedy and sight gags rather than meta, but the overall result is solidly in his usual solidly pleasing range. And as you’d expect, while obviously not lavishly budgeted it looks really nice.
BONES has chosen to dump us right in the middle of the story – I suspect this is a change, as LNs generally and Sakaki specifically love exposition but BONES loves confusing their audience out of the gate. We meet Chaika (Anzai Chika, straddling the line of being insufferable but never crossing it), a young girl in goth-maid clothing, as she’s being assigned a mission to save the world by a mysterious shadowy figure who may be Antonio Salieri. Next we see Acura Tohru (Majima Junji), as he’s moping about in the woods scrounging for edible plants. He sees what he initially thinks is a rabbit but turns out to be Chaika, now with a large coffin strapped to her back. She speaks in single-word broken Japanese, mistakes Tohru for a bandit and then seems amazed to discover that an actual poor person is standing in front of her.
There’s a lot going on in this premiere that in classic BONES fashion is never really explained. Chaika and Tohru get attacked by a carnivorous unicorn that talks to itself, a bishounen (Hosoya Yoshimasa) asks a nobleman to return an item (later revealed to be a hand) he’s apparently acquired as a war hero, and the nobleman refuses, the bishounen turns out to have an entourage that includes a catboy and an owl, and was responsible for the killer unicorn (which was after Chaika). Chaika reveals herself to be a wizard; Tohru to be an ex-soldier who has some sort of “iron blood” transformation sequence he initiates before he goes into battle. Later, after Chaika kills the unicorn (even writing that sounds wrong) we meet Tohru’s sister Akari (Hara Yuuko), as she tries to kill him in an inn, and it’s later revealed that she has the same power he does. Chaika eventually hires the siblings to help her steal the hand from the nobleman, who recognizes her on-sight and reacts with horror.
I don’t know what to make of all that, really, but that’s BONES to a “T” – it’ll be explained soon enough, except the parts that aren’t. For now I like the atmosphere and world-building, the dialogue is pretty crisp, and the characters are more interesting than average. Akari does indeed hint at having brocon feelings, but that fact that she’s a badass who looks the same age as her brother softens the blow a bit. I was pretty hesitant about Chaika’s general act and speech patterns, but they sort of grew on me. As for Tohru the notion of an ex-soldier who’s a failure in peacetime is always a potentially interesting dynamic, and he projects a world-weary competence that marks him as unusual for LN male leads. There’s nothing in Hitsugi no Chaika that really blows you away (though the art and animation is above-average) but compared to, say Black Bullet it’s practically a masterpiece – this really feels as if it could just as easily be a manga adaptation as a light-novel. I like it so far – we’ll see how it holds up as the plot unfolds, but Sakaki series tend to age pretty well so I’m cautiously optimistic.