Unpopular Opinion: Hitsugi no Chaika

I consider Hitsugi no Chaika to a pretty special show, which is remarkable because almost everything it does is just decent. Hitsugi no Chaika is a show I personally like a lot but struggle to recommend to everyone the way I would normally gladly recommend the shows I like.  There will be spoilers ahead, you have been warned.

Just to set the stage in case you haven’t seen the show, Hitsugi no Chaika takes places in a pretty generic fantasy world five years after a gigantic war.  The story follows the tale of Chaika, Tooru and Akari.  Chaika is this weird girl who refuses to speak in complete sentences, carries a big coffin, has huge eyebrows, has white hair, wears white clothes, and she claims to be the daughter of the big evil emperor that was killed in aforementioned big war.  She wants to hire Tooru and Akari as bodyguards, because she’s trying to retrieve her father’s remains, he was carved up into 6 pieces or so and each one is powerful source of magic because the emperor was the strongest mage of all time, and many obstacles stand in her way.  Tooru and Akari are saboteurs, specialists who are great at infiltration and fighting in small scale battles, who have been struggling to put food on the table in this time of peace.  So the two agree and they set out with Chaika to retrieve her father’s remains.  To do this they must fight the, I want to say the Six Heroes but that may just be some Blazblue lore leaking in, as well as the Kleeman Agency, who is responsible for making sure the post-war reconstruction goes smoothly and therefore hunts down people who could spark a conflict, and Chaika is basically at the top of their hit list.  That about sums up the show.

The thing you have to understand with Hitsugi no Chaika is that save for one thing I’ll talk about later, nothing in the show is great.  Everything in the show is decent, it’s pretty solid and it’s put together pretty well, but nothing is really note worthy.  The magic is just fired from guns or makes castles fly, which is a pretty basic way to combine magic and technology.  As someone who loves it when magic and technology exist in the same setting I found Hitsugi no Chaika’s take on tech and magic to be pretty dull, it was fine but it didn’t really excite me.  Likewise the action in the show is good but not great.  The fight choreography can get pretty interesting and a lot of cool weapons get used, I especially liked the Red Chaika’s Ivy-from-Soul-Caliber-style sword and Akari’s very compact warhammer.  The only truly great thing about the action is that because our main characters are often weaker than whatever hero they have to fight, they have to use a lot of tactics to win instead of just overpowering their opponents.  Likewise the Kleeman Agency is competent enough that they make a good match for Tooru and Akari so tactics, planning and a little luck usually win the day and raw power fails.  The only character that ever feels vaguely unbeatable is Fredrika the Dragoon, not sure why they didn’t just call her a dragon because that’s what she is, but she rarely plays a large role in any battle and her most memorable scene is where she apparently dies before a mini-me of her bursts out of her torso.  The biggest issue with the battles is that while they are well put together they never had the same kind of tension or impact that really great battles bring to the table.

Likewise the story is good but not great.  The problem with the story is that it gets much more limited and less interesting when the Blue Chaika explains that all the Chaika’s are fakes and just exist to resurrect the evil emperor.  Before this reveal Chaika’s story was very much an adventure story with a light emphasis on plot, and a lot more effort was put into fleshing out the world and characters of the story.  And I thought that was some of the best parts of the show, because I’m a huge fan of world building especially when it comes to fantasy.  The parts where we first meet the Red Chaika were also quite good, because the Red Chaika is just as in the dark about the plot to resurrect the emperor as we are.  Her first appearance comes out of nowhere and it’s actually pretty awesome, because that’s the first real sign that this story is about more than Chaika wanting to give her dad a proper burial while dealing with the Kleeman Agency.  It was also an interesting idea to see how the different Chaika’s reacted to their “father’s” death, Chaika just wanted a proper burial but Red Chaika wanted revenge and I feel this aspect of the story could have been a lot better if Blue Chaika never revealed the end game.  Because after we understand why there are different Chaikas, what their purpose is, why all of them think they are the emperor’s daughter and so on, the only new Chaika we meet is Black Chaika who just plays a master manipulator role similar to Blue Chaika’s character.  It would’ve been more interesting if Hitsugi no Chaika ended up more like that one episode of Teen Titans where Beast Boy and Star Fire end up in Raven’s mirror and meet all the different aspects of Raven’s personality, and the story had to deal with a multitude of different Chaikas.  Instead Black Chaika kills all of the other Chaikas except Chaika, Red Chaika and Blue Chaika, who dies at the end of season 1.  The only other really interesting part of the story with regards to the Chaikas is how Vivi, one of the members of the Kleeman Agency, starts to turn into a Chaika when her boss, whom she loves, is presumed dead at the end of season 1.

The final hurdle to overcome is the pacing.  Chaika season 1 is paced just fine, it had no problems whatsoever and it crammed in a respectable amount of world building, character development, plot progression and action scenes in it’s twelve episode run.  Season two however is slightly different story.  Season two feels a bit more uneven because it only has 10 episodes when it really needed a full twelve.  The transition from the final arc to the final battle is too fast, hell even the final arc seems a little too fast, it’s a battle tournament but there’s not enough noteworthy battles to make it feel fully fleshed out.  That said, I think the show did a fantastic job given it’s ten episode limit.  To the best of my memory every ten episode show I’ve seen besides Chaika season 2, ended way too abruptly in way that left me wanting more but also being pretty frustrated.  The show didn’t have to be all that good for this me to feel this way, Noucome was a decent enough comedy but it wasn’t a show I really cared about, and it’s tenth episode finale was so abrupt and off-putting that it totally turned me off to the idea of ten episode seasons period, and Blood Lad did nothing to help that impression.  Chaika season 2 did a much better job, it felt a little rushed and the final battle did not have enough tension because they had to resolve it so fast, but it was not abrupt and did not leave me feeling lost and annoyed.  I still wish we got two or three more episodes to pace the second season properly but I do tip my figurative hat to the creative staff for doing the best job with a ten episode season I’ve seen to date.

But if Chaika is just good why do I think it’s special and why do I like it?  Well for starters shows don’t have to be great in order for me to like them.  The number one golden rule of anime is that you like any show you want.  You want to like the classics like Cowboy Bebop, or one of the big 2007 hits like Black Lagoon?  Go right ahead.  You want to like SAO, well I think it sucks, but I’m a random dude on the internet, who the hell cares what I think?  You like what you like.  You want to like something fucking stupid like Beelzebub?  More power to you.  So I like Hitsugi no Chaika.  Also I think it’s worth pointing out that Hitsugi no Chaika would be my ideal for what average anime should be.  Because if you read comments, look at MAL scores, and so on, you’ll see that a lot of people have low standards, that shows that look cool or pander to them specifically are the average no matter what kind of problems they have.  But Hitsugi no Chaika is good at everything it does, even if nothing is great, everything is good, and that should be the standard, because that’s a good standard, it’s a better standard than the one the anime community has now.  But to answer the question above more specifically, the setting is amazing.  To clarify I’m not talking about the fantasy monsters or the magic-tech combo, I’m talking about when the show takes place within the universe of the story.  Because the show takes during a transition period in the in-universe history.

Remember the events of the show occur five years after a massive war ended.  Many adults in this world have either only known war or have spent their life preparing for/fighting in war.  Tooru and Akari make great characters because that’s how they fit into this story, they spent their whole lives training to fight and fighting in the war, and now that it’s gone they are left adrift.  They have no profession they can lean on now, they aren’t craftsmen or farmers, they have no education that might net them a valuable position, like working for the Kleeman Agency, at best they can do odd jobs and provide manual labor but that will only help them scrape by, if it even nets them that much.  Tooru and Akari belong in war and even if they are upstanding enough to be law abiding citizens in this time of peace, it’s hard to imagine that they like it.  I find this setting appealing for three reasons. 1, I don’t think I’ve seen it before in anime, and if I have it certainly isn’t often.  2, I am a student of history, and seeing how people create a fictional history and watching how they create and interpret changes in their fictional history is something I find fascinating and potentially a powerful dramatic tool.  In Hitsugi no Chaika’s case I was particularly interested by how the creators tried to simulate the chaos of the aftermath of major historical events and how people and society struggle to adapt and reach stability.  3, I an just enamored by the idea of characters who feel adrift, especially in this kind of scenario when the characters are elite warriors struggling to find a purpose after the war is over.  Barring the experience in war, I feel like these characters speak to me and my experience somewhat, as a dude who feels like an outsider all the time and can’t talk to a lot of people about anime where he lives because otaku are seen as huge weirdos and not in any kind of positive or playful way.  It probably helps that I’m in a transition stage of my life as well, I landed my first full time job a few months ago and have to consider where I go from here, what kind of direction my life will take going forward, and all that kind of adult stuff.

Put simply I think the idea of when the story takes place and the kinds of characters who inhabit it, especially the differences between those with opportunity to prosper in stability like the Kleeman Agency (I actually like most of the members as individuals and I’m a big fan of the concept of the agency as a whole) and those who struggle to find a purpose in stability like Tooru and Akari, is fucking awesome.  Hitsugi no Chaika hit a niche I didn’t fully realize I had before I watched the show, that’s something special, powerful even.  And while Hitsugi no Chaika is not a great show, it did something awesome, and it gives me hope that someone will follow in Chaika’s footsteps and someday makes a great show in the same tradition, and fuck me, what I wouldn’t give to see that.  Not a lot of shows bring that out of me, no matter how great they are.  So forget what I said at the top, I can nay do recommend Hitsugi no Chaika to everyone.  Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

 

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5 thoughts on “Unpopular Opinion: Hitsugi no Chaika

  1. You’re right inthat it is hard to explain why Chaika works when all its parts are very ordinary, but I also quite loved watching this anime. Season one at least. I found season two to be quite messy and it lost a lot of the charm from season 1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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    • I’m glad to see that someone feels the same way I do. It is a shame that season two wasn’t as good, though I think that was mostly the battle tournament and the bit where the evil emperor comes back, I think the episodes with the hero who runs the vineyard and the monster island were much better. Thanks for reading.

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