And so Summer 2019 begins.
Given that we just had Fairy Gone (I can’t believe that show is getting a second season), it is a little amusing to see yet another anime set in the 1800s and centered around beastly supersoldiers. Coincidence? Most likely. To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts existed before Fairy Gone as a manga and while it’s generally fun to assume there’s an exec plotting something, I kind of doubt someone really wants to chase that Fairy Gone money.
But let’s judge To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts on its own merits. How is it? It’s fine…on paper.
The show starts off in the middle of a conflict akin to the American Civil War (right down to the North being called the Union and the South being called the Confederation). To the win the war, the North deployed the Incarnates, a group of supersoldiers who can transform into beastly, superpowered creatures. As the war comes to an end it becomes clear that the Incarnates would have no place in peacetime and their creator, Elaine (Mamiko Noto), plans to have them killed as an act of mercy. Things go awry when the second in command, Cain (Yuichi Nakamura), betrays Elaine and flees with the Incarnates, leading the group down a path of a terrorism. Hank (Katsuyuki Konishi), the former leader of the group, then takes it upon himself to hunt down his former comrades. All things considered, it’s not a bad premise. It certainly errs on familiarity, Berserk particularly comes into mind during comparisons, but it’s still a decent idea nonetheless.
There’s just one problem: everything I just described is all that happens in the premiere. For just half an hour, you see the entire civil war go by with the storyboard making use of montages and frequent time skips, only stopping at certain key scenes that lead to the Incarnates going astray. I’m curious how this all plays out in the manga because it really felt like one entire arc crammed into one episode.
Aside from feeling incredibly rushed, this burning of material really robs the premiere of any emotional impact. Threads such as the Incarnates dealing with discrimination and Hank and Elaine’s romantic chemistry is largely conveyed through exposition. You don’t feel the sting of Cain’s betrayal as the show does very little to establish his personality, let alone his friendship with Hank and Elaine. For that matter, you barely get to know any of the other Incarnates by name so finding out that Hank now has to kill them doesn’t come at any level of shock. I’m not saying this entire prologue needed to be a whole cour but half an hour does not cut it. Maybe if this was two episodes or a double-length premiere, this episode could stick the landing.
Maybe the pacing will iron out in subsequent episodes but it’s still really important to make a strong first impression. Damage has been done and that’s going to make it harder for the whole show to garner an audience. Plus, given studio MAPPA’s track record, who’s to say they won’t burn through source material. I hope to be proven wrong by next episode but right now, the premiere really strikes out as a bit of a bad omen.
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