I haven’t had great luck with my main sleeper picks this season – apart from this series only Hitsugi no Chaika still has a pulse in that department – but I’m pretty confident Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii has it locked down. The premiere was very good, but this episode was an order of magnitude better – one of the best episodes of any new series this season, one that picked up on all the promise the first episode showed and brought it to fruition. It’s a good argument for why good shoujo – especially good shoujo fantasy – deserves a bigger place at the table when it comes to anime adaptations.
After all the falsehood, pretense and gimmickry of Mekaku City Actors, I literally felt as if Soredemo was a cleansing rain washing over me metaphorically just as it did literally in the episode. There are no gimmicks to this show – it’s a clever and uncomplicated premise, with archetypal characters brought off in an interesting and likeable way, presented with straightforward old-school animation and music. Rather than a product of desperately trying to exploit the flavor of the week Soredemo Sekai is no more or less at home on an anime schedule in 2014 than it would have been in 2004, or 1994. It may not be brilliant (well, it may just be – we’ll see) but is sure is damn refreshing.
There’s a very interesting dynamic among the main cast here, with Livius looking so much like Ciel Phantomhive and acting a bit like him too and Sugita Tomokazu on hand very much in Chamber-mode with Neil, the manservant. Livius is arrogant and calculating, but at no time here is he mocked or dismissed. It’s clear from the beginning that he’s also brilliant, capable and concerned with the welfare of his nation as a whole. Pains are also taken to show the underlying emotions that drive him – via the dreams Nike sees, apparently a product of her ability to call the wind. The fact that she starts seeing them while a prisoner in his dungeon after refusing to call the rain is no small point, but it was an interesting way to make a connection between the two of them.
Nike is no less interesting than Livius, and her powers are interesting as well. Yeah, she’s the spunky tomboy princess we’ve seen before – but that’s not all she is. Being from a small backwater Duchy she doesn’t have the sense of entitlement that Livius does, and she has both a vigorous curiosity and an empathy for others, even those who are doing ill by her as Livius initially is. I liked the way her rain-calling power was conceived – it depends on her connection with the person requesting the rain, and on the emotions of that person. It conveniently gives her a reason to connect with Livius, but it also meshes perfectly with her own personality.
I think a lot can be said about Nike’s nature by her reaction to Livius’ “flowers are flowers” comment – “What a waste.” Her concern is with the untapped potential in Livius, and in his emotionally closed-off nature. She has every reason to be angry and she initially is, but her dominant emotion is sadness over what he’s become. Being who she is, though, she doesn’t mope over it but tries to forcefully drag him out of himself. And this seems to be going pretty well until an assassination attempt (politics in the Sun Kingdom are obviously a very dangerous game) prompts her to throw herself in front of the arrow intended for him – and prompts Livius to order her sent back to the Rain Country for her own protection.
I like both these people a lot (Neil too), and the situation as well. Livius is brilliant and responsible, but with a strong daredevil side and more than a little ruthlessness. Nike is reckless and impetuous, but both smart and determined. There’s enormous potential in their relationship, even if she initially sees him as a “little brother” – I’m an enormous fan of the central relationship in Otoyomegatari and the innocent sort of romance it portrays, but the gap is not so wide here – I can see love developing between these two people in fairly short order, and not just sibling love at that. They’re good for each other an complement each other, which I suspect Neil already knows and will therefore do his best to help the growth of that love along.
Insert Song: “Ame Furashi no Uta~Beautiful Rain~ (アメフラシの歌～Beautiful Rain～;The Song of Falling Rain)” by Rena
I think the climactic scene of the episode pretty much speaks for itself. The soundtrack by Yamashita Kousuke – who did the music for Chihayafuru among other series – is excellent top to bottom, and the insert song “Ame Furashi no Uta” is a great addition. It’s integrated perfectly into the episode and lovely (as performed by Maeda Rena) in its own right. I could hardly think of a better payoff than the inspiration Nike finds to call the rain – Livius’ feelings for the mother who was assassinated herself, who longed to see the rain and never did. This isn’t going to be a miracle than transforms Livius into a different person – and I wouldn’t want it to be. His qualities don’t just make him interesting as a character – they make him a good ruler. What this will do is start he and Nike down the road towards a life together, and that’s a journey I’m very much looking forward to.