Judge Adam Arseneau only sword fights when dressed up as a lady.
Psalms of Vengeance.
Loosely based on the life of Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée Éon de Beaumont (deep breath) otherwise known as the Chevalier d'Eon, comes a stylish new anime from Production I.G. (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Blood: The Last Vampire).
Make way for Le Chevalier d'Eon: Volume 1, the best French zombie sword-fighting anime you will see all year. Also, the only French zombie sword-fighting anime you'll see all year.
Facts of the Case
Lia de Beaumont, a beautiful young courtesan, has been murdered and left in the streets of Paris in a coffin with the enigmatic words "Psalms" written across the top. D'Eon, her brother, is horrified to hear of her death and eschews his duties as an officer of Versailles to travel to Paris to investigate the cause of her death.
D'Eon meets up with like-minded individuals and begins his search. As a member of King Louis XV's secret police, his group investigates corruption, pursuing clandestine missions of espionage and torture to benefit the King. They see themselves as the last in a series of knights truly loyal to the throne, willing to be forsworn if captured or caught. His investigations soon lead him into a mysterious web of magic and mysticism ending directly on the doorstep of the Duc d'Orleans, a high-ranking royal subject who stands in line for the throne, should something happen to the King.
Meanwhile, something strange is happening to d'Eon. Though dead, Lia's soul calls out to d'Eon for vengeance, and when he is in danger, his body suddenly manifests itself with the wrath of his departed sister. In life, she was a magnificent swordfighter; in death, she bestows the same ability upon her brother, transforming him into a fierce destructive force. Also, a woman.
D'Eon is soon contacted by Le Secret du Roi, a secret society that his sister Lia was a member of. The King's secret society of spies and saboteurs is sent around the world to punish revolutionary elements which conflict with the King's interests and negotiate in secret with foreign countries and elements that cannot be acknowledged openly. Taking her place in the organization, he makes allegiances with the mysterious Durand, his young assistant Robin and his old sword-fighting instructor to unravel a complex web of magic and political conspiracies that threaten to undermine the entire country!
Plus, there are lots of zombies to be dealt with. Pesky zombies.
Genre-hopping between historical drama, supernatural horror, mystery, and political intrigue, Le Chevalier d'Eon brings something unique to an overcrowded anime market. And that is saying something. Equal parts Witch Hunter Robin and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex set in the French Revolution, the show combines sword fighting, zombies, political conspiracy, elegant animation, CGI, magic—hold on, I think I just wet my pants here. You name it and it's here somewhere. This is like a nerd orgasm.
Based on Tow Ubukata's historical fantasy novel, the buzz surrounding this anime has been intense. ADV Films picked up distribution for Le Chevalier d'Eon fast, and I mean fast. As of the writing of this review, the 24-episode series is still airing its last few installments on Japanese television. When a studio wastes no time snatching up a property like this, you know it has to be good.
It is easy to forget—what, with all the zombies—that the story is based, however loosely, on actual people and events. The real-life Chevalier d'Eon is noted in history for being one of the earlier recorded historical examples of trans-gender and/or cross-dressing behavior. D'Eon lived the latter part of his life as a female, to great public scrutiny. The anime Le Chevalier d'Eon takes this historical oddity and builds around the individual a complex tale of political intrigue, espionage, magic, secret societies, French revolutionist drama, and, yes, zombies, twisting the gender fact into an interesting plot device. D'Eon's gender-swapping is incorporated into a magical corporeal possession, with the spirit of his departed sister taking over his body (and increasing his swordsmanship ten fold). A clever interpretation of historical fact, wouldn't you say?
With ever-shifting loyalties, political allegiances, and innuendos, it is difficult to surmise where each character's motivations truly lie—or, to put it another way, which characters are lying about their motivations. D'Eon finds allies early on in these first introductory episodes, but it seems reasonable to assume these allegiances are like gusts of winds across a turbulent political landscape of pre-Revolutionary France. With talk of secret societies, back-room deals, and corruption, the complex moral ambiguity sets up an interesting landscape for an anime series to develop in.
D'Eon is guided by two overpowering forces—desire to see vengeance for his sister's murder, and his loyalty to France. These two have been fairly interchangeable thus far, but it is easy to imagine a time when they may come into conflict with one another or, more accurately, in conflict with the spirit of his sister taking over his body. D'Eon is mindful of his sister's uncontrollable rage and aims to keep his sword sheathed, but what fun would that be? I like this show for focusing on the notion of revenge within the context of restoring the proper order to the world, a righteous undoing of grievances for motives greater than the individual. Ah, for the elaborate court life of French aristocrat.
In terms of humor, Le Chevalier D'Eon is as straight and somber as they come. There are flashes of wit on occasion, but the show firmly rooted in the realm of simulated reality—no distorted anime features, excessive sight gags, or fan service to be found. The writing is straightforward and simple, with the complexity of the story being driven by mystery and political intrigue. We still do not understand the relationships between the characters nor understand where the loyalties lay, but the groundwork has been laid.
Visually, this DVD looks and sounds splendid. Colors are vibrant, detail is sharp, and the picture is near-flawless. The top-notch animation styling of Production I.G. (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Blood: The Last Vampire) create a fantastic backdrop to the series. The CGI-generated backgrounds of Paris and Versailles look detailed and authentic, with stylish and expressive animation in character design and movement. Director Kazuhiro Furuhashi (Rurouni Kenshin) knows his sword fighting, so the action sequences are fierce and furious, captured with excellent precision and heavy doses of style. I noticed some slightly sharp edges, but overall, this is an extremely well-presented program.
The surround presentation is quite atmospheric and rich, with excellent use of rear channels and detail. Unfortunately, the 5.1 Japanese track gets shafted somewhat. Both English and Japanese are presented, and while the original language track sounds decent, the English track is far superior in comparison: loud, low, and vibrant, with fantastic resonance and detail. It seems that in translation, the English track got the preferential treatment, which is a shame to anime purists like me.
Normally on the bench, we rarely bother commenting on packaging or insert material, but in this case, the surprisingly thick booklet accompanying Volume 1 is worth mentioning. The 20-page booklet gives detailed biographies, a character relationship chart, interviews, design sketches, dialogue transcripts, storyboard comparisons, and mise-en-scène commentary. Color me impressed! If only more anime series did this kind of thing, we'd live in a happier world.
We also get production commentary with David Matranga (D'Eon de Beaumont) & Steven Foster (ADR Director), as well as a historical commentary with Janice Williams and translator Amy Forsyth, which is a nice touch. In this case, the historical commentary is of particular interest; it's not often you get something like this on an anime disc. The standard filler content rounds out the content, with some promo videos, trailers, and clean opening/closings. Not bad.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Expectations are troubling things. On the one hand, I totally was into seeing this anime, hearing naught but positive reviews. On the other, it couldn't possibly live up to my vast expectations. Guess what? It didn't. It was good, but it wasn't the second coming of Anime Jeebus or anything.
In fairness, it was my own fault for buying into the hype. Now that my expectations are properly grounded, I think I'll enjoy Volume 2 a bit more.
Le Chevalier d'Eon is off to an interesting start. A compelling blend of historical drama, religious iconography, magic, political espionage, and sword fighting have come together to create a stylish and unique anime experience. Where the show goes from here remains to be seen, but for now, big ups.
Non coupable, mon ami.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
• Historical Notes
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