Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 01 (First Impressions) – The Desperate Pursuit of Balance

In the Kingdom of Darkness, an unnamed young lad (Kaji Yuki) flees from his village with younger children when monsters attack. Neither the villagers nor the children survive, leaving the lad alone. Not knowing what else to do, he digs a huge hole for the dead, but also for himself, because he comes to like how the sun pours in, coating everything in the hole equally.

He encounters an old but stout knight named Skears, who urges the kid to come out of the hole and direct his energies elsewhere. He manages to inspire the kid into having a little duel with him, and he shows a bit of skill. That’s apparently enough for Skears, who by the way is dying, to name the kid his successor as well as the next Prince and future King of Darkness, a title Skears himself failed to gain.

Meanwhile, high above the clouds in the Kingdom of Light, Queen Iris (Horie Yui) leads an attack on an encroaching darkness that is expanding in both size and density, making each battle tougher. Shironeko Project takes pains to accentuate the stark contrast between the kingdoms of darkness in light.

Obviously, there’s more light, but more saturation, richer hues, and an ethereal vividness. It’s as squeaky clean and gleaming up here as it is muddy and brooding down there. And just as important as the visuals are the sounds, and Iwasaki Taku’s lavish orchestral score is excellent, featuring distinct leitmotifs for the two kingdoms: more orchestral and soaring in the sky; more grungy and metal down below.

The Lad makes it to the capital where he’ll become stronger and challenge the current King, but he’ll need allies. He gains his first in Valas, a knight friendly with Skears (and possibly his former student). Valas presumes the kid is a thief, but after flashing some skill and more importantly Skears’ words, Valas changes his tune, pledges his loyalty to the kid’s claim, and takes him to Skears’ mansion.

This all happens rather fast, but as the Bard said, “brevity is the soul of wit.” If you’re using my viewing time wisely and efficiently I’m rarely going to be mad, as long as you don’t run out of story or worse, the speed hurts my ability to get engaged with the material. Neither is the case here…at least not yet.

Back in the Lightdom, we get to know Queen Iris’ top officers, like the knight Faios and mage Sima. They know their queen is more concerned with maintaining balance than achieving a total victory. Interestingly, Sima was once a candidate for Queen but lost to her best friend. Refreshingly, she seems to hold no hard feelings, and wants only to serve her queen as best she can.

Iris’ commitment to minimizing fighting and death is noble, but the expanding darkness is forcing her hand, and a report comes that the Western capital is under attack, she must immediately head back into battle. Even so, she sees this latest incursion as a sign it’s time for the King of Darkness to be replaced. She’s confident his successor will work with her to maintain the balance.

I first approached SPZC with skepticism—with so many fantasy anime out there (isekai or no) any newcomer would have to make quite the impression. I wasn’t encouraged by the breakneck speed and simplicity of the early scene of the kid and Skears, but once I saw both sides of this dark-light coin, and heard more of that sweet, sweet Iwasaki sound, this gradually grew into something I’d tentatively recommend.

I’m also a sucker for star-crossed love stories in the midst of warring nations, and a big fan of both Horie and Kaji, so the inevitable meeting of Prince and Iris is a built-in reason to keep watching. SPZC is telling a very old story with very basic elements, but telling it reasonably well. We’ll see if it can elevate that material.

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 02 – Marking Time

As befits a show shows central message is balance, this episode is evenly split between White and Black. First the White: elemental spirit-summoning Elf mage Alantia leads the defense of Metis against a Bahamut-style dark boss named Bahl. Queen Iris eventually shows up and puts on quite a light show, but isn’t really able to put a scratch on Bahl, which is concerning to say the least. She’s worried the Progenitor Rune is being taxed to its limit, and her kingdom can’t afford to lose it.

The would-be Prince of Darkness’s story is progressing at a much faster clip. This makes sense, as Iris is already Queen of Light so he has some catching up to do. Still, the difference in the pacing of the light and dark halves is noticeable…and not necessarily complementary. Valas impresses upon the young prince that becoming king is about more than just being good with a sword. It means learning how to govern and pitching in when needed (as presented in a montaaaage).

This “king of the people” angle is seemingly at odds with the present King of Darkness, who is little more than a smoke monster with a Sauron-like “cover everything in darkness” policy. He considers future generations like the prince to be unnecessary. Where “Egoism of the world” Bahl fits into this isn’t quite clear yet.

One assumes from the OP and ED that the prince and queen will meet someday, but for now, the prince settles for meeting Princess of Black Groza, AKA the “Gray-Green Demoness.” She’s a bit spoiled what with her squad of loyal troops, but when the Prince rescues her from a stray monster, she proves quite amiable to the lad, and tells him of the official competition with other potential successors in which he must participate in order to become an official Prince of Darkness.

After two episodes Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE remains perfectly watchable, if unexceptional and a bit sluggish. I continue to be driven to watch by the simple premise, Iwasaki Taku score, and promise of the eventual meeting of Iris and the Prince. Mainly I’m neither turned-off nor busy enough to drop it!

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 03 – What a King (and Queen) Need

Well, SPZC has one thing going for it for sure: the story ain’t hard to follow! As with last week, a lot less happens on the light side that has to be stretched out. Queen Iris is troubled by the recent violence, but looks back to the time when she and Cima were still candidates.

Back then she managed to dispel a cloud of darkness on her own when the Rune answered her call. The look back reminds her of her duty not just to protect her people, but maintain the balance of Black and White, even if no one else understands that bit.

Indeed, the only person she can probably relate with on the matter of balance (as opposed to simply eliminating one’s enemy completely) is the Dark Prince. As I said, more happens to him, as he has yet to succeed the present King. However, this week eliminates the obstacle of competition for his spot as successor.

Like Iris, the prince’s commitment to balance causes him to act in a way the other candidates fight inexplicable, like helping one of them rather than letting them die. But the prince remembers the horrors that befell his village and has determined he’ll be a king who doesn’t just look after himself and his own power.

The competition is quick and efficient: after the larger group is whittled down in a beast battle, the last two standing duel each other, with the Prince beating Adel, who like Cima takes the loss very well and is willing to befriend the winner.

Groza bestows upon the Prince the symbol of his right of succession—the unimaginatively named Greatsword of Black—and his first mission: for him and Adel to go to the Kingdom of White as official envoys and deliver the news of their succession to the Queen of Light.

It looks like the fourth episode will be the one when Iris and Prince (God I wish he had a name) finally meet. I wish these first three episodes had delved a little deeper into who these two characters are besides their very simplified archetypes and shared ideals, but this isn’t that kind of show.

Instead, Iris and Prince are more symbols of hope in the idea that a lasting peace beneficial to all could be struck if they can come together. The stage is now set for that encounter. Will Cima and Adel stand by their friends throughout these efforts, or undermine them, more confident in the strength of their side than with the prospects of balance?

P.S. Here’s the poppy ED. It rips!

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 04 – The Bodyguard

When the Prince and Adel arrive at the Kingdom of Light, the show isn’t quite sure what to do with them, so an interminable amount of time is spent in a standoff with Faios. While en route Adel decides he’ll play the role of envoy while the Prince plays his bodyguard, concerned that if the spotlight is on the air to the Black Throne he’ll be the first one cut down.

Adel may be a better talker, but shunting the Prince off to the side was misguided, in my view. We’ve seen him go through a lot in a short time, but now that he’s aligned with the snail’s pace of the Kingdom of Light, I’d hoped he and Iris would have some things to say. Instead, Adel takes the lead. There’s an increased sense of occasion when they finally meet, yet it almost immediately fizzles out when they go their separate ways.

More maddeningly, time that could have been spent with, say, the Prince and Iris conversing over a meal or some such, is instead utterly wasted on pointless side characters: a quartet of identical brothers goofing off in the hold of the skyship that ferried the Prince to the Kingdom of Light. I honestly don’t know what the point of this was other than some comic relief, but I would have preferred more A-plot for this comedy to relieve.

The Prince asks Faios about Iris only to be shot down, as his stated status as a mere commoner bodyguard makes him unworthy of even speaking the Queen’s name, in Faios’ eyes. The night passes, and the next morning Iris asks the Prince directly about the regular people of Black. The Prince’s response is barely an answer, but repeats Adel’s initial entreaties: this is about establishing a united front against Bahl, who is destruction incarnate.

In other words, this felt like a wasted opportunity, not helped by a host of iffy production values that are increasingly hard to overlook. The ending in which the Prince and Iris are so lovey-dovey almost felt mocking in the wave of such inconsequential first impressions. Iris has very little to go on other than the Prince seems to be reasonable. But they could have interacted a little more.