This anime has a rather ungainly title, and the premise is hardly more elegant – but it was still interesting to watch. It appears that (for reasons that remain obscure) the Holy Grail makes itself available once every few years to seven young mages from a select few families, and the one who is able to win it gains world-wobbling powers. Inevitably, most of the mages are attending the same Japanese high school, and their battle is conducted under the oblivious noses of their classmates.
So far, so unremarkable. This is the kind of thing one expects in Japanese high schools, from my observation (which has admittedly been conducted almost entirely via the medium of anime). What makes this affair different is that each of the mages is assigned a servant who does a lot of the fighting on their behalf, each of whom specializes in a different form of combat. These servants are avatars of mythical heroes and heroines from throughout past and future history the world over, and much of the fun of the show (for me anyway) came from trying to guess who they were. I was first alerted to this in Episode 1, when Lancer (the spear specialist) referred to his spear as Gáe Bolg – rather an arcane tip-off that he was actually Cúchulainn, I thought. Addressing Caster, a servant with hypnotic and other magical powers, as “Princess of Colchis” was another fairly oblique clue. Not for the first time, I was impressed at the level of Western mythological knowledge assumed in Japanese viewers: I doubt that very many British teenagers would have recognised Medea from that.
Most surprising to me was the revelation that the blond, arrogant youth who holds back from much of the fighting until its final stages, but then reveals himself as the series’ chief antagonist, is none other than Gilgamesh. (Hercules and a female King Arthur also made appearances, with Sasaki Kojirou being the only Japanese representative.)
The main characters were a boy and girl, two of the mages, who end up forming an unlikely alliance. After the war is won they continue as romantic partners, and move to England to enrol in the magic school that (as we know) is situated under the clock tower in the Houses of Parliament. A happy ending indeed.
Terror in Resonance
A couple of disaffected, super-bright boys are giving Japan a fright with a series of terrorist explosions – and although so far they have been careful to ensure that no one is killed, the authorities know they were also responsible for stealing nuclear fuel a few months earlier. What is their deal? Can they be caught?
The first half of this series is very good. Like Death Note and Psycho Pass, it has clever cops and crooks engaged in a series of elaborate tricks and mindgames, a trope I enjoy, and the gradual revelation of the boys’ history and motives (as seen through the bland eyes of a girl they become mixed up with) is intriguing. But the ending is a mess. A third super-clever child (female this time) is brought in by the overbearing American authorities, who muscle the native Japanese more or less off the case, and once she turns up the tight plotting disintegrates, motives become implausible or unclear, and the final tragic ending feels all too much like the writers sweeping their pieces off the board because they couldn’t find a better way to end the game.
“Why are there no magical boy series?” I sometimes hear people lament on Youtube. Well, it seems to me that Bleach is just that. Just as magical girls are generally inducted into the magical girl life by an injured cat (Sailor Moon), weasel (Nanoha) or Lovecraftian eldritch horror (Madoka), Ichigo is recruited by an injured Shinigami (death god) to act as her replacement, psychopomping the recently deceased and (more importantly) fighting the evil Hollows, who prey on both living and dead souls. To do this he has to transform, keep his special powers secret from his family, use magical objects, etc. etc. And of course it turns out that he has huge talent for the job.
I quite enjoyed it, but am afraid I didn’t get through all sixty odd episodes, bailing after around a dozen. I may well come back to it, though.
Heidi, Girl of the Alps
This seventies anime is a straight adaptation of Spyri’s novel, and very charming too. I remember watching a BBC live-action adaptation in the same decade - clearly a big time for Heidi’s worldwide dissemination. In the anime she has a penchant for leaping barefoot around the Alpine meadows in knickers and vest, heated only by the warmth of her good nature and sunny disposition. Again, I’ve still got a way to go, but it’s a fun and rather beautiful piece. It didn’t surprise me to learn that one of the people who worked on it was Hayao Miyazaki.