Friday, 19 March 2010

Anime REVIEW: Saint Knight's Tale

The Tenchi Muyo franchise will always hold a special place in my heart. Aside from the obvious Pokemon/Digimon/Dragonball Z I watched as a child, it was the first anime series I watched entirely and gained a significant love for. So after many years since the last instalment of canon OVA series Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki and only the less than impressive spin off series Sasami Magical Girls Club (reviewed earlier in this blog) to fill the void in that time, it’s nice to see a new iteration in the franchise that’s canon at long last, even if it doesn’t involve any of the characters from the series.

Saint Knight’s Tale (or Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari if you prefer) takes place 15 years after the events of OVA 3 of Ryo-Ohki, and centers around Kenshi Masaki, half brother to Tenchi Masaki (the child of Rea, whom Noboyuki married at the end of OVA 3). Kenshi is somehow transported to the magical world of Geminar, and is deceived by a mysterious organization to participate in an attempt to assassinate Lashara Aasu XXVIII, the young princess of the Shitoreiyu Empire. After failing this attempt and being captured Lasara and her servants take pity on Kenshi and offer him aid. Disguised as Lashara's servant, Kenshi moves with her to the "Holy Land", a virtually impregnable fortress that serves as an academy to train Seikijin (humanoid mecha style weapons. Think EVAs, but less ugly) pilots selected from around the world. However, the same organization who deceived Kenshi is secretly working behind the shadows inside the academy, and a wide scale conflict which will engulf the entire world of Geminar is about to begin.

If you were to watch the series and not realise it was related to Tenchi Muyo, I wouldn’t blame you. Episode 1 throws the viewer in straight at the deep end, with Kenshi having already arrived in Geminar and under control of the series antagonists. No mention is made of his mysterious arrival there until much later in the episode, and glimpses of Kenshi’s home world are not shown until several episodes later, finally adding some relation to the Tenchi Muyo series, even if very briefly.

This is not the only problem with the series, as most of the characters seem to have carbon copy personalities of the Tenchi Muyo cast (switched around of course – but they’re all still there), making it seem like something we’ve all seen before, only better. If you thought Tenchi was overpowered, Kenshi takes this to extreme – in both physical attributes and Seikijin piloting skills. The female characters aren’t particularly memorable either, with the most of my laughs going to the money hungry Lashara, who I’ve deemed the most likeable character of the series.

Much like earlier spin off series Tenchi Muyo! GXP the sex factor is highly overplayed, and since Saint Knight’s Tale is an OVA series, it’s painfully apparent that they could get away with much more. From the female Seikijin pilots to wearing barely anything to a whole episode dedicated to Kenshi’s “massage skills”, this takes Tenchi Muyo!’s ecchi factor to new levels. And do you know what the biggest problem with this is? It just isn’t funny. While GXP had some wonderful comedy moments with the rather forward Amane (and later Ryoko) in contrast with the more reserved Kiriko, Saint Knight’s Tale just feels like it’s trying too hard for the sake of pleasing its male audience.

This isn’t to say Saint Knight’s Tale is a COMPLETE failure. Its animation is fluid and beautiful, with some great character designs (the Seikijin are especially impressive). The latter episodes are also a step up from the earlier ones in terms of plot and characterisation, it’s just a shame you have to sit through eight or nine 45-minute episodes to get there. And finally, what little it does relate back to Tenchi Muyo does also raise some interesting questions as to what to expect from OVA 4 (should it ever be made).

If Saint Knight’s Tale was a standalone series, MAYBE I’d rank it a little higher, but then it would get lost among the other (better) magical/mecha animes that are out there. Its position as a canon Tenchi spin off is what brought the series to my attention, and as a spin off it just misses the mark. Not as badly as Sasami did admittedly, but GXP still vastly superior to this, and that was the one creator Masaki Kajishima was unhappy with. Most curious…

N.B: Currently I have only watched 10 out of 13 episodes of the series. Episodes 11 and 12 are yet to be dubbed, and 13 isn’t out yet. This entry will be updated as soon as the episodes are available. And maybe, just maybe it’ll go up in my estimations following it.

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