By Hugh David.
It’s taken over a decade to see any sort of boom in fantasy film and TV (outside of those set in the present) following the worldwide financial and critical success of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of JRR Tolkien’s seminal work The Lord of the Rings. This has been because, despite great advances in special effects technology and software, the essential production design of a fantasy show is an expensive undertaking in the live-action field, with only HBO taking the risk and breaking new ground in their adaptation of George Martin’s novels as Game of Thrones. As in previous decades it fell to animation to pick up the slack, and hard on the heels of Berserk and Arslan comes Lord Marksman and Vanadis.
Bearing the hallmarks of both Western and Eastern tradition, LM&V offers an alternative medieval Europe as the setting, complete with magic-wielding warrior maidens, dragons, full plate armour and broadswords, although the lead is an archer with leather armour (to begin with). The castles, palaces, mansions, villages, hills and forests resemble those found across Middle Europe from France to the Baltic. Character designs are at the more western end of the typical manga and anime parameters. Battle scenes are not afraid to go noticeably bloody with selected wounds fountaining the red stuff in close-up. Nifty CG chess-like interludes keep the battle tactics and moves clear for the viewer. Political intrigue is opened up and explained at a careful pace so as not to get bogged down. Yes, there’s no doubt but that Game of Thrones’ influence has spread to Japan… and did we mention it’s also a harem show?
The latest show from writer/director Tatsuo Sato of Martian Successor Nadesico, Stellvia and Bodacious Space Pirates fame manages to take the “musical chairs” sex comedy format and infuse it with some of the seriousness, magic and action that modern fantasy is capable of. The fan-service is not nearly as outrageous as some modern shows, often embedded within traditional sight gags or character interactions. Even the War Maiden outfits, in that grand tradition of being utterly impractical for battle, are justified by the magical capabilities that protect them; they see no need for the full armour like their subordinates around them, who switch between light clothing in everyday situations but full plate armour in battle. In other words, there’s more to this series than initially meets the eye.
Much of this is down to Sato and his team’s decision to confer greater sanctity on the text of the novels than the accompanying illustrations, which he saw as more military and serious. “The difficult thing was that there was a difference between the descriptions in the novels and the illustrations that accompanied them,” he says in an interview included in the new release. “Pictures were typical for a light novel, but the novels were more serious and military. A good example is the armour – the novel says ‘a suit of armour’, but then the illustration shows the character in scanty clothes. It’s up to the reader to decide which carries the more weight, but when creating a visual image, we needed to rule on the direction. For us, we decided that the text would win out, but at the same time, we needed to respect the image of the Vanadises that had been published.”
In addition, their design brief was for what looked cool rather than cute, while extensive research on medieval Europe was undertaken for clothing, utensils, elements of daily life that could be woven in. Place names were drawn from France, Germany and Russia. The series manages to cram in stories from the first five books, which lends it a breathless, exciting pace. All in all, this is just the kind of show fantasy fans need after the heavyweight Berserk and Claymore, a bright and fun palate cleanser before the next dark and dour hack-and-slash series breaks down the door.
Lord Marksman and Vanadis is released in the UK by Anime Limited.