I’m certainly not seeing brilliance in Hitsugi no Chaika after two episodes, but it is a pretty interesting series. This is not a glamour production for BONES – it seems pretty clear that it and Soul Eater Not are working with the budget constraints and Captain Earth is the headliner. But there are still some nice visual touches – nice choreography balancing out the frame rates in the action scenes, pretty backdrops, subtle visual gags (like Chaika’s reaction when she bumps her coffin on the door frame – speaking of which, if you were one of the ones complaining that she was carrying a coffin just for effect…). More importantly, there’s enough substance here to keep me engaged, at least for now.
It seems as if there are manga adaptations that feel like light-novels when you watch them – Witch Craft Works comes to mind. If so there must be LN adaptations that play like manga, and this is one of them (Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi is another). The setup here is positively quaint, like something out of a fantasy novel (or manga) or RPG from 20 years ago. But it makes an interesting counterpoint in a season where three of the shows making the biggest noise are LN adaptations that suffer from the ills that plague the medium – Mahouka, Black Bullet and No Game No Life. The path to commercial success in LNs seems to be to substitute a complex “system” and pretentious dialogue for actual plot and character development. Those shows are not all equal – I find Black Bullet to be offensively stupid and pandering and Mahouka to be a flat-out bore, while NGNL at least has the merit of being flashy and stylish, even if it’s utterly soulless.
In contrast to that, Hitsugi no Chaika – while not free of cliche by any means – does at least offer a genuine premise and characters with a real story behind them. I confess I didn’t make the connection until my memory was triggered when it went viral in discussions of this episode, but there are strong echoes of the “Vecna” (just hearing the name brings flashbacks of my friend David’s coffee table, Tombstone pizza and 20-sided die) story from Dungeons and Dragons – yes, the original old-school one, “Greyhawk” for you hard-core geeks. Here we have a 500-year ruling wizard-emperor named Gaz, feared, worshiped and reviled by millions, who was finally deposed and dismembered five years before this story’s present. Of course it’s his hand in the Count’s magical safe, and Chaika is after it because she’s his daughter. She says she just wants to give it a proper burial, but the bishie Gilette’s group – after both the hand and the daughter – say that putting the two together is a major threat to world peace.
Maybe my expectations are too low, but I like the fact that we have an actual story here and it’s one that’s not buried in reams of rules and statistics, but one you can easily wrap your head around. An evil wizard influencing things from beyond the grave, the daughter who may or may not be a tool of evil, and a disillusioned ex-soldier who’s given up on making it in peacetime caught in the middle. Hitsugi no Chaika is just a straightforward, unpretentious fantasy being adapted in straightforward and unpretentious fashion. I don’t see any hope for greatness here, but it’s certainly refreshing, and it shows signs that it could be spinning a pretty good yarn.