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.

Sousei no Onmyouji – 23

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Since Rokuro and Benio are the only ones who have been proven to be able to close dragon spots, they quickly find their services are in high demand. Hopping aboard a Mini-based Kinao-possessed RV, they head to Shinshuchuoshi, the next town choked by miasma and threatened by a spot.

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There, they meet the upbeat casual commander Kiyomi (who seems way too young to have such big kids, but whatevs) and Kumashiro, who has never met nor knows anything about Benio, but instantly condemns her as the sister of a traitor.

One of the high points of this episode is Benio assuring an angered Rokuro that as long as he knows the truth, she’ll be just fine. Sae is also around, the mystery about who or what she is continuing to be dangled around us like a cat toy.

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Shinshuchuoshi’s Dragon Spot has also resulted in a Basara showing up to start some shit; unlike Suzu, Moro doesn’t merely punish a guy who richly deserves it but gives scores of townsfolk a petrifying kiss of death.

Moro almost gets Kumashiro too, but Benio saves him, because she doesn’t need a reason to save lives. Maybe be a little nicer to her from now on, yeah Kuma-chan?

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Since she’s apparently safest by Rokuro and Benio’s side, Sae…spends a good deal of time away from said sides, but doesn’t come to any harm. In fact, the worst thing that happens to her is that she gets upset when Benio yells at her when she shows up in the battle zone.

The thing is, Sae has a backup talisman with her that helps them close the Dragon Spot, just before Moro retreats, so Sae is the heroine of the day. Benio later apologize and thanks Sae, but we’re no closer to learning what Sae’s freakin’ deal is, which is getting a bit frustrating.

That building frustration, the lack of any thrills or surprises, and animation that seemed a bit worse than usual, results in an overall MEH outing. On to the next Dragon Spot-afflicted town, I suppose.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 22

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This episode still had that zany fun factor that made it watchable, and it certainly seems to be (very gradually) setting up the next threats and opponents Roku, Benio & Co. will be up against.

But between the miasma, news of a “Dragon Spot” appearing, checking in on Arima and the 12 Guardians for a hot second, the appearance of two more bad guys—one of whom doesn’t speak and the other who’s just…bizarre—and the continued, but now less urgent mystery of who (or what) Sae is, this episode was also, at times, a bit of a disorganized mess.

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We meet our second Basara, Suzu, when she confronts a guy who shoved his lover into a group of kegare so he could get away. Man of the Year over here! We get it, SnO, the norms of this show are assholes. But Suzu, like Kamui, show’s she’s not just straight-up evil, so much as ravenously curious and unhinged, starting all of her lines in a measured, proper manner, then finishing them with a “wilder” dialect.

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But then…what is with all the theatricality? Was she once a human idol who turned into a Basara, I wonder? Whatever the case, she’s committed expressing herself; I admire that. Just as I continue to admire Mayura and her white hot pants participating in the battle instead of just cowering and waiting for rescue, which…aw dammit, she just cowered and waited for rescue…which comes not from Roku or Benio but Suzu.

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Upon experiencing Suzu’s strong, unique personality, Rokuro and Benio wear priceless expressions of bewilderment. Fortunately for them, Suzu isn’t interested in killing them or stirring up any trouble, only to observe and learn about them. Then yes, probably kill them.

After Suzu’s odd “hi!…bye!” encounter, the exorcists (wait, I thought Seigen couldn’t be an exorcist anymore. Which is it?) get to the matter at hand: sealing the “Dragon Spot” that’s basically a festering hole between this world and Magano.

Once Roku and Benio use Resonance, sealing the hole is a breeze, but the point is, it’s not the last one, and who knows where the next one(s) will show up, or when. Probably soon, and in the vicinity of innocent people. Plus some jerks, like that girlfriend-pushing guy.

Also, Sae was in the episode! Hi Sae! She’s cute…but yeah, still don’t know what’s up with her.

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