Judge Adam Arseneau cuts down trees, and wears high heels, suspenders, and a bra.
Le Chevalier D'Eon, the new anime series from ADV Films, has buzz about it nearly as big as the name of its protagonist: Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée Éon de Beaumont, otherwise known as the Chevalier D'Eon. Set in revolutionary France during the reign of King Louis XV, the show combines a tantalizing blend of historic drama, political intrigue, and supernatural mysticism.
We left Le Chevalier D'Eon: Volume 1 with D'Eon joining up with Le Secret Du Roi, King Louis XV's secret society of spies, in an effort to determine the cause of his sister Lia's mysterious death. Volume 2 has D'Eon and his companions stunned with the realization there may be a traitor in their midst. The Russian Vorontsov has stolen the Royal Psalms, a mysterious set of poems that prophesize the future of France and has taken them back to Russia. It is said that those who recite these poems can control tremendous, evil power. D'Eon believes the same traitor who betrayed Le Secret du Roi also killed his sister, Lia. Together, the four set out for St. Petersburg in search of answers, but are pursued along the way by evil assailants.
Volume 2 also lays out the connection between the show's possible villainous architects—a relationship between Madame Pompadour and the enigmatic Saint-Germain. Now, Saint-Germain is an interesting fellow. He is put forth as the villain in Le Chevalier d'Eon, the possible leader of the mysterious Revolutionary Brethren looking to undermine the King, in possession of many magical powers and alchemistical skills. The historic figure on which the character is based, believe it or not, is even stranger. The Count of St. Germain was a cult figure rumored to be hundreds of years old, having influenced political events the world over and been an alchemist of supernatural prodigy. Cults exist today that still praise his name, putting him up with the big-league spiritual visionaries like Jesus and Buddha. In the footnotes of history, his name is definitely worth checking up on.
It seems Saint-Germain is either part of, or leader of, the Revolutionary Brethren, an order charged with the systematic destruction and reconstruction of France in its image, returning the country to greatness and steering it from its current "path of destruction." He is a Poet, a magic user of sorts, who dispatches fellow members from Cologne to Russia to deal with D'Eon and his companions. Volume 2 is laying the groundwork for some very interesting plots in Russia, interweaving real-life historical figures like the House of Vorontsov, Ekaterina Dashkova, and Catherine the Great into a zombie-fighting anime. The effort works surprisingly well, though admittedly it can be confusing to keep track of all the names and faces.
But what's up with the weird preoccupation with wearing dresses? Sure, D'Eon as a historical figure is a well-known cross-dresser and spent a large portion of his life passing as a woman. In Le Chevalier d'Eon, dressing up as a woman often takes on a level of reverence and worship that borders on fetish, which can get…kind of peculiar. D'Eon travels with a trunk with his dead sister's dress in it, routinely visits his sister's perfectly preserved corpse to kiss it on the lips, then don her dead dress and put on a wig—you know, to "get in touch" with his sister. The metaphor is taken literally, as D'Eon is able to summon his sister almost at will, but nevertheless…weird. Then in a later episode, the Four Musketeers (so to speak) must attend a Russian masquerade ball—in drag, of course, so all the other characters can get in on the dress-wearing action.
Not that there's anything wrong with any of this, mind you! But let's be honest here. This is less than mainstream stuff. I've never seen an anime head in this direction. Hopefully it sells with the masses. The tormented D'Eon gets more and more in touch with his inner woman (the vengeful spirit of his dead sister), so to speak, and begins to learn to control his newfound gender-bending abilities. As character twists go, it is unique. Err, unless you count Ranma ½, which played up for romantic comedy and awkward laughs.
I'm digging Volume 2 a great deal more than the previous installment. Volume 1 left me a bit underwhelmed, asking myself what the big flipping deal was with this hot-buzzing anime. I'm beginning to see a larger picture to the affair now, as all the names and faces and places begin to cement into my consciousness. There's a bit of a steep curve with Le Chevalier D'Eon, and appreciation does not come quickly or without some small amount of brain activity. So far, it seems to be paying out its dividends. Fans of shows like Witch Hunter Robin or The Rose of Versailles should find Le Chevalier D'Eon immediately appealing.
If the show has a flaw, it is in its merciless attention to places, faces, and details that muddle the pacing down to a snail's crawl (or should it be an escargot's crawl?). I am in for the long haul, but I often feel that my determination hangs by a tether hook, threatened by boredom and painfully slow pacing. If things don't pick up soon, it is conceivable I may drop this show for something more stimulating.
As with Volume 1, the technical presentation is masterful. With stylish production and CGI from Production I.G. (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Blood: The Last Vampire) creates a fantastic backdrop, full of artfully rendered Parisian historical backdrops and fluid animation. The action sequences are fast, furious, and incredibly realistic. Colors are vibrant, edges are perhaps a bit too sharp, and black levels are solid. All in all, a fine-looking anime!
As for the audio, both English and Japanese 5.1 channels are included, with the English getting the nicer treatment—loud, low, and vibrant with great detail and resonance. The Japanese track is okay, but less impressive. They obviously tweaked the English track when dubbing it over. Shame both tracks didn't receive the same treatment. The dub is moderate in my view—not too corny, but not very impressive. Stick with the subtitles, if you ask me.
Extras this time around are also solid. As with Volume 1, we get a very hearty 20-page booklet with detailed biographies, a character relationship chart, interviews, design sketches, dialogue transcripts, storyboard comparisons, and mise-en-scène commentary. I wish all anime took the time to include such solid inserts. In addition, we get a cast photo portfolio, footage from a Japanese promo event, clean opening and closing animations, and two commentary tracks, one with Stephen Foster, ADR director, and John Swasey, voice actor; the other with Stephen Foster and Donna Hannah, voice actress. Not bad!
Le Chevalier D'Eon: Volume 2 sets the series off in a nice direction. Once you get over the initial confusion, that is. I'm hoping that big things come from this series, but as with all anime, you'll never know the final verdict until the last disc hits the streets.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
• Booklet with Character Info and Relationships, Interviews, and More
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