Management: This is a comprehensive review of own devising, where I go over a pro and con analysis of the material in an attempt to convince people to watch the show-in-review. Hopefully, in encouraging people in general to watch things I think are interesting, they’ll at least somewhat know what to expect while watching. For clarity’s sake, I should mention… the review isn’t meant to be so much holistic as it is coverage of what I believe is of core importance to the show.
One morning, a man is out in the woods, gathering nuts and berries and things from the ground that are edible and not poisonous, minding his own business. Then one evening, he’s surrounded by the governmental equivalent of peace officers, renouncing peace, by the way, and declaring he would bring war to this peaceful earth, if it comes to it.
An irresponsible statement to make, perhaps, but it’s doubly irresponsible to simply deride him as simply villainous if all he was doing earlier was minding his own business. So what compels him then to risk himself and risk war?
Chaika: The Coffin Princess is a show in a medieval, magical… generally fantastical era with a generally fun, idyllic face that, while not wholly inappropriate, masks viewers from realizing its heavier and more violent core. The story goes that not so long ago, between a decade and two, a great war took place. In the ensuing conflagration, the Gaz Empire was destroyed, its royalty put to the sword by the champions of the six nation alliance that opposed Gaz. Heroes, in other words. The specter of a supposedly evil empire despoiled of its power, the evil empire’s personal spoils divided amongst the six nations, and the Heroes that slew the supposedly evil emperor being handsomely rewarded with gold, glory, and a personal memento of their heroic act… the continent of Verbist came to have peace in its time.
A relief, no doubt, for Verbist’s commonfolk, perhaps outside the previous denizens of Gaz, but for the soldiers previously employed to fight it and the would-be soldiers bred and slated to join them, many of them were out of a job, and many were at a loss. How would they provide for themselves? How would they live?
Toru Acura is one of the latter, though less out of an existential crisis of the physical as it is of the metaphysical. Trained since his youth to be a certain kind of soldier, a saboteur, whose tenets center themselves to be tools at the disposal of a master, the war ended before he could make his debut.
Without war and without a master, he finds it offering himself for hire to Chaika Trabant, the self-proclaimed daughter of the deceased emperor, proclaiming that he would bring the fires of torched hell to earth if he had to in order to protect her and fulfill her wish, involving the retrieval, coerced, if it came down to it, of each Hero’s personal memento, a severed limb of the supposedly evil emperor, which also doubles as an artifact of significant magical potential. It is speculated that the unification of each of these parts would resurrect the dead emperor to full health and physical and magical strength, and, well… war.
Except Chaika’s wish isn’t war. It’s a simple burial of her deceased father. It is the kindly character attached to this kindly wish that, who, before, may have told himself that he pledged himself to her as tool for the sake of some war or any master or the saboteur code, gradually becomes a pledge to her as a person specifically because it’s her, because it’s Chaika, and Chaika alone.
Which is interesting, because Chaika herself comes face to face with the idea that she might not be what she think she is, nor is going to cause or further something she’s possibly being manipulated into doing.
And so Chaika, Toru, and company undertake a journey, as light-hearted and humorous as it is action-packed and, sometimes, serious, as they travel to fulfill Chaika’s wish, all the while, in the case of the party and the audience, learning slowly and gradually overtime about the characters and the world.
Outside of Toru and Chaika, many of the Heroes they encounter seem to have been dealt a heavy hand in the aftermath of war, being rendered egotistical, or dead, or insane. New antagonists appear effected by war, either because of grief from the last one or longing for a new one. The group of peace officers that pursue Chaika, Toru, and company are a bunch characterized, in part, by the skills they learned from their previous occupations as armed combatants in the previous war. Giant levitating fortresses equipped magical death beams made from the past war are mobilized to duel war against each other. If not war itself, the consequences of war’s end echoes itself throughout the series.
Consequences in the form of existentialism. Springs here and there, but in an age where soldiers who lived for war are faced with an age without one, they need to find a new lease on life bereft of its previous purpose. Many of the Heroes fail to and fall into despair, which leads to death or neuoticism. Vengeful, opportunistic, and sadistic spirits wish to ignite conflict to score on revenge, opportunity, or sadistic pleasure. Soldiers turned peace officers co-opt their skills toward policing, all the while shifting their lives’ meanings to a leader, or a love interest, or an eccentric pseudo-family unit. Even the old massive floating super weapons are dredged from their hollows after being rendered inactive since the last war to service.
The fog of war is addressed in a peculiar form in the series, an emphasis pointed towards the Gaz Empire, the Gaz Emperor, and Chaika in which speculation is made questioning the prevalent belief that the former deceased ruler was truly evil, given further fuel by the fact his existence is shrouded in mystery, naturally intimidating and easily warped into something more politically advantageous, and that Chaika is professedly not seeking any retribution for her father’s killing or the restoration of her former homeland.
The show’s blessed with some wonderfully fighting choreography. Too often in anime, fight scenes are designed between a lot of screaming and pounding and a lot of cheap power ups or convenient secret aces. Chaika’s is smart in the sense that it feels every move is a calculation that the characters would do as opposed to something the animators designed, refreshing in the sense that there’s always something new about each fight scene, a new hidden implement, a new impromptu tactic, that invokes the grandeur of spectacle without breaking suspension of disbelief, and, even more importantly, feels decisive and, consequently, weighty.
What might seem less smart, to some, is the show’s pacing. Chaika takes the journey approach of each episode or arc being its own self-contained adventure that introduces new overarching character and plot development bit by bit. I emphasize bit by bit, because the show’s otherwise dedicated to leisurely indulging in details of the particular adventure, the chemical interactions between the recurring cast members, and action. It a problem for people who enjoy leisurely pacing, but it is for people who want the plot to go somewhere soon, and I can at least sympathize with them for wanting sooner revelations on characterization, which discourage attachment to the characters outside of their quirks.
Which gets me to their quirks, which is often a love them or hate them sort of deal. The show may have some great comedic timing during downtime moments between action or drama to ground pacing, but comedy’s only comedy if one finds the comedic material something to laugh at, and laughing at them may mean being generally accepting or at least tolerant of certain anime tropes. There’s hammily delivered incest jokes, for one, and cute, broken speech in another, which is played up for its cuteness (and also works surprisingly well, in my opinion, for gags), for two. And not all characters are really characterized evenly.
A gradual, slow, and leisurely journey tale punctuated by moments of adrenaline and even some existentialism, Chaika is an endearing tale of old soldiers trying to find their place in the new world. Some perish and go mad, unable to adopt. Others seek to drag the continent back to war to revel or seek payback, to be appreciated or find pay to get fed. Others lend their services to other causes, like policing, or families, or that special someone you look up to or care about.