Was I just in the mood for this after watching a number of style over substance titles, or is this just really good? You can never really be sure, but anything that makes me compulsively watch one episode after another, 18 episodes in basically a single sitting, has to have something going for it.
Our story begins with a small group driving the wagon in which they live. One of them is a master swordsman, one a military level mage, and one is a young 15 year old girl with blond hair, blue eyes and no powers whatsoever. She can't fight, can't use magic, can't cook and is no genius or wise sage. She does, however, have a prophecy associated with her, one pronounced by the holy oracle of the Mauser faith, the worlds dominant religion, which have always proven to be true in the thousands of years in which they have been given.
Of course prophecies are nothing new in fantasy. The seemingly average person has the promise of achieving something special, of doing good, of conquering evil. But this young girl, Pacifica Casull, has a rather unusual prophecy concerning her. She has been declared the poison of the world, one who will bring unimaginable death and destruction on a global scale should she ever turn 16. Her royal parents, the church, and all right thinking people knew their duty well and ordered her killed immediately. But something went wrong, she survived in anonymity for 15 years and is even now protected by her adopted siblings who travel with her. A fact the horrified Church and state, in addition to a host of other forces both human and not, have just become aware of.
I don't want to give too much of the story away, because the strength of this title is that it does have a very strong story that binds every episode tightly together. Partly the reason I just couldn't bear to stop watching. What starts out as small, unclear and in the hands of just a few individuals grows into a very impressive story arc with many interesting revelations along the way and an impressive conclusion. It draws you in, drags you along, and might well have you going "wow" by the end.
The base plot, as revealed in the synopsis, already gives a very interesting environment. This is a young girl, not the brightest or most mannerly, who has discovered that she has this immensely negative prophecy about her. She doesn't feel evil within her, doesn't seem to have any powers that could cause such a thing, but the oracle is never wrong. But how can one live knowing that? What's more living in a world where every person, even people you have never met, knows that it would be a good, virtuous and ethical act to kill you. Where only the protection of others, who are themselves at terrible risk, keeps you alive as the days tick down.
The world itself is the other half of the plot. The story begins as a very classical fantasy, swords, magic and the trappings of some medieval variant land. However as the story develops we begin to realise that this world has a long history of its own, that old technology and old wars still linger out of sight of normal people. But these factors are themselves drawn into the prophecy of the scrapped princess, awakening from long slumber to once again exert their influence on the world. And the power level at which some of these forces operate is at a godlike level compared to the power of a mortal.
Along the way there are discoveries, diversions and dangers to be overcome. But there are also characters who become greater and lesser parts of the story. And by and large these characters are great, each of them being interesting in their own right, having their own challenges to meet and dangers to face. There are many who do not get the time to grow fully, many we never know their full story, but each of them is intriguing. Balancing this many characters, that each is both interesting and believable, is in itself an impressive undertaking. Some of the characters are naggingly familiar, but I can't tell if they actually do copy from other titles or they're just tapping deep into the archetypes that anime has built. I don't really care either, I cannot think of a character in this series who did not earn their space on their own merits. And that includes the "enemy" forces, who have personalities and reasons of their own for their actions.
Weaknesses? Well, it is not flawless. They must cut a very fine line between exploring the princesses predicament and becoming melodramatic about it. At times they come very close, but in all it's well balanced and the power of some of the scenes makes it worth it. It might be nice if Pacifica was a bit less stupid, have to admire someone who falls asleep while her own plot is being explained, and Shannon a bit less bull-headed, but really their weaknesses do add to the intensity of the story. There's also a rather excessive amount of buxom going around, and a lot of bathing, but I can find it within myself to live with that.
And really, who cares? It's a great story, strong and well balanced, populated by a number of excellent characters in an interesting world. What more could you really want? It's got action, danger, betrayal, monstrous people and empathic monsters, sword fights, word fights and the expression of immense power as needed to drive the story. There's a very real sense of threat, of darkness, of the clock ticking down to a unknown conclusion. And when something goes bad, and this title is far from sweetness and light, the story only grows stronger for it. The conclusion was impressive, satisfying and memorable. It sounds corny, but it even made me think about how I live my own life.
The production, pleasantly, is also fantastic. It can't quite match the scale of some of the events, sadly, because some of the events just cry out for cinematic level production but it's great animation. The characters have both visual charm and personality, very expressive and very well voiced (the dialogue in this show is good). The action is impressive in scale, in design and animated well so that it can be followed and is exciting to watch. Backgrounds are rich, well populated and again well designed. Basically it is both attractive on the surface and has skill and depth to back it up. Indeed the magic and monsters of this land are very interesting in their appearance and powers but in a way that ties strongly into the story. The music is catchy and pleasant with an echo of folk tunes about it, atmospheric sound is well done.