Unpopular Opinion: Shuumatsu no Izetta

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Shuumatsu no Izetta is for my money one of the top two shows of Fall 2016.  The other contender for top two being Keijo of course, because I haven’t seen Yuri on Ice and so long as the internet continues to suck its dick I don’t think I will since I’m a shallow, vindictive contrarian.  And because I just don’t care about anything yaoi regardless of how good it may be.  Most people do not and will not agree with my stance and I get that, for the most part Shuumatsu no Izetta isn’t good enough to be a top show of the season.  I don’t think any of the characters are spectacular.  The setting is interesting but it’s not explored in much depth.  The tactics employed in the fight scenes are pretty predictable, and the rate at which Germania pumps out new tech is ludicrous, a problem I had with the later parts of Code Geass.  And the narrative is pretty predictable as well.  However, much like the infamous Akame ga Kill, what makes Shuumatsu no Izetta so good to me is the ending, because that was incredible.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Right from the get-go I was pretty on board with the setting of the show.  The country of Eylstadt itself was unremarkable, however the way Shuumatsu no Izetta’s setting married the tech and initial overwhelming dominance of Germany in WWII with the Old World royalty, etiquette and diplomacy of WWI was pretty fascinating.  Even the names of the countries had some fun little historical references like how France was called the Republic of Thermidor in reference to France’s failed attempt to make a metric-esque 10 day week calendar during the French Revolution called the Thermidian Calendar.  Or how Italy was renamed Romulus, in reference to the legendary founder of Rome.  However the setting wasn’t really used for much beyond setting the basic rules of combat and the balance of power in the war.  The only episode that really did anything extra to make the setting interesting was the one that focused on Rickert, Berkman’s subordinate, which itself was a generally more interesting episode.  It took a break from the big action and political maneuvering to change pace to a slower episode about a dude doing some spy work.  In that episode Rickert comes to the realization that he’s fighting against some really good, compassionate people, and he even starts to fall for Bianca before she finds out who is he is and is forced to kill him.  It was a great episode for character development because despite how fast it went everything felt very genuine and very human, for lack of a better word.  It was a pleasant surprise and I think it demonstrates one of the biggest strengths of Shuumatsu no Izetta, which was that it was able to capture that apply that human feel to wide range of characters with all kinds of points of view.

I don’t think any of the characters had much in the way of a good or interesting character arc, but the characters were nonetheless fantastic because of how true to life they felt.  The arrogance of German commanders in WWI and WWII is well documented and it was there.  We had fighters who gave more than could ever be asked of them like Izetta, we had patriots who did things they hated for their country like Sieg, a lot people who were fighting for their side despite not really knowing much about what was going on, people set on vengeance like Sophie, and people who would throw patriotism out the window if it increased their chances of survival, like Berkman.  We had incompetent losers on both sides as well as highly capable soldiers and intelligence officers.  We had diplomats that could follow the principles of Realism, in the international political sense, to the T like how the Atalantan,i.e. American, ambassador advised the President to take out both Germania and Elystadt.  And we had diplomats that could look past the Izetta’s capabilities as a weapon and be concerned for the girl herself even when it wasn’t in their interests to do so.  Both sides even had dedicated propaganda departments.  There was not much in the way of character development but there was a startling level of attention to detail put into to making the conflict feel as true to life as it could be, and I think that attention to detail paid off in spades because I was hooked.  I didn’t care that most of the characters ended up being predictable, nobody felt at all inconsistent, let alone like inhuman chunks of cardboard as so many characters in other shows do.  It all felt human, true to life, and I think that attention to detail is the key.  None of individual characters were that good, but taken as a whole the characters and wide range of ideas they embodied was fantastic and it helped bring realism and a human feel to a crazy story about witches fucking up tech.

On that note, Shuumatsu no Izetta was refreshing break from bullshit like Gate where tech always win, and more importantly where Japan always wins thanks to the Patriotism Problem.  Izetta’s first fight demonstrated her power as she killed planes with ice spears, but it also showed that she had limits because she couldn’t finish off everyone.  And later in the show Germania develops various tactics and weapons specifically to shut her down, like how they baited her with the battleship up near what would be Norway in our world.  I think Germania developed too many new weapons too quickly but the fact that Izetta’s battles became more difficult as time went on was a good thing.  Even when the tech became a stretch, like with the clone of Sophie the White Witch, I feel that on the whole it generally served a good dramatic purpose and never really intruded on the experience too much, like how it did for me in Code Geass.  Now let’s talk about Izetta herself and the ending.

I think Izetta is a fairly boring character in terms of her general archetype and construction, not an unrealistic character just a bland one.  The biggest thing she had going for her was her sincerity and the lengths she would go to win for the princess.  As it turns out that was enough.  I didn’t really get interested in the show until episode 3 and that was all Izetta.  Granted part of what made that episode great was watching Izetta shoot planes out the sky with medieval lances and toss tanks around like toys, because that was awesome.  But more so than the actions themselves were how they inspired the soldiers and by extension me.  If the rest of the characters felt exceedingly human then Izetta was able to capture the rare feel of being both human and something out of legend.  Watching Izetta fuck up the Germanian army was cool, watching her actions inspire an entire army of strangers to start singing  as she’s proclaimed a national hero is something far more emotionally striking than cool.  This is the other big strength of Shuumatsu no Izetta, the big emotional moments, and Izetta gets basically all the credit on that front.

This is where the final episode is important.  The emotional impact of the final episode was earth shattering, it made me tear up and had all my hairs standing on end like how I get whenever I rewatch the Lord of the Rings and see Rohan charging into the Mordor army besieging Minas Tirith.  To use a horribly over-used and misused term, epic is the best way I have to describe that scene, and the ending of Shuumatsu no Izetta.  It’s not even the final episode really, it’s a cut from about 16:00 to about 21:00, the part where Izetta starts gathering an absurd amount of magic while Fine explains her suicidal scheme tears streaming down her face to the part when the magic explodes so violently it can be seen from what would be Germany and Switzerland despite happening off the Atlantic coast of what would be France and Fine starts just bawling on the balcony.  It’s just five minutes.  Granted those five minutes only have the impact they do because of everything that came before them, but those five minutes are what catapulted this show from good to potential-top-of-the-season good.  In that five minutes Izetta changes the course of her world’s history forever, her insane level of devotion ushers in not only the beginning of Germania’s defeat, but the passing of an age.  She rewrites what up to that point had been a rule of the world Madoka Magica-style and effectively ends the existence of the fantastic forever.  I describe this scene with words like earth shattering and epic not just because I hope they convey how strongly I feel about this scene, but because Izetta actions are on such a grandiose scale that anything less would be grossly underselling what’s going on here.

More so than in any other medium I feel that a good ending is something to be treasured in anime.  So many shows either don’t have an ending at all or have one hastily thrown together on the fly that sometimes it’s hard to even be disappointed when you don’t get a good ending.  And Shuumatsu no Izetta has the kind of ending that sets the fucking bar for anime endings, for me at least.  Seeing someone go so far for what they believe in and for the people they care about, without the friendship is power baggage of a shounen fight, has a sort of timeless purity to me, it’s something I can just stare at forever without it ever losing its luster, or something I can tear up just thinking about regardless of when and where I think about it.  Those five minutes and other scenes of a similar caliber strike me such a way that I feel no amount of words will ever get my feeling across right, which is bad because I’m supposed to be good with words.  The best analogy I can make is that my emotional core is a diamond and these scenes are the hammer blows that hit the diamond in just the right way as to make it shatter.  I’m completely floored by those five minutes, and I always will be.

Ultimately I think if you view it from a “objective” lens and try to judge all the construction of all the pieces of Shuumatsu no Izetta then it’s probably just good.  Fortunately objectivity is bullshit so I can say with complete certainty that the emotions this show inspires in me make it far better than good.  Most of Shuumatsu no Izetta’s fault are less about it being bad or fucking up so much just not being really good, for the most part it’s perfectly passable without taking into account the incredible ending.  But that ending is the game changer, it makes the passable journey worth every fucking second because the destination is just that good.  And it colors the entire experience.  I never really got into Fine or Izetta as characters because they are pretty basic, but the ending and how those two drive forward both in their actions and in how the scene is presented by being split between the two of them, makes me sort of love the both of them.  It’s not that I suddenly find them more attractive or interesting so as I sit back and nurse a quiet respect for the both of them.  Ok I think I’ve done gushing for one day, Shuumatsu no Izetta was great, go watch it, and I hope you enjoyed this post.

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