Anime Review: Valkyria Chronicles

Anime Review: Valkyria Chronicles

When war breaks out in Europa, the small nation of Gallia is targeted by the East Europa Imperial Alliance for its large reserves of Ragnite. Despite the superior industrial and military capabilities of the Empire, Gallian citizens take up arms to fight off the coming invasion. Welkin Gunther and Alicia Melchiott are two such citizens, whose hometown of Bruhl was an early casualty of the war. As Welkin secures a series of victories for Gallia, the Empire turns to more and more drastic means to defeat him, eventually seeking out the power of a legendary race of superhumans known as the Valkyrur.

Plot

The story for Valkyria Chronicles deserves commendation for its breadth and choice of topics. Yes, this series is a thinly veiled metaphor for World War II, but it also chooses to delve into themes that most mainstream anime avoids. I think it’s a better show for it – for taking the standard tropes about war, and looking a little beyond.

Let’s think seriously here. What other anime tackles the persecution of Jews during WWII? Valkyria Chronicles alludes to this with the Darcsen race, social pariahs blamed for a calamity that happened long ago. It shows their persecution exactly for what it is: unfair, cruel, and tragic. Yet it doesn’t take the easy way out by pointing a finger at a bad guy. This persecution has deep roots in all parts of the continent, and even the good guys share a bit of the prejudice and responsibility. It is an allegory for anti-semitism that refrains from oversimplifying the situation into a good vs. evil conflict.

Valkyria Chronicles also examines (in lesser detail) the ethical issues behind using weapons of mass destruction. The Valkyria (feminine of Valkyrur) are symbolic of atomic weapons, as their destructive power is indiscriminate. To harness such power, the Valkyria would have to sacrifice part of her humanity. The series questions whether it’s right for an army to ask that of its soldiers, even if such a move leads to a huge tactical advantage. This is a particularly tricky issue if you consider the Japanese perspective. Decrying the usage of the Valkyria as absolutely wrong would have been the easy way out. Indeed, it’s impressive that a Japanese work would even try to look past this point of national tragedy. The decision to harness the power of the Valkyria serves as a turning point in the war, and realistically it probably saved lives. So is the decision ethical? The answer that the series gives is rather ambiguous.

The majority of the show depicts the effect of the war on Gallia’s citizens. I have some problems with this part, as it concentrates too heavily on interpersonal drama that probably wouldn’t exist in a real army at war. And while some developments are truly affecting, many of the ligher moments feel like concessions made because of the anime format. Thus you have comedy episodes, R&R episodes, and even a love triangle that seems out of place. This tends to muddy the pacing of the first few episodes, but eventually the series gets darker as we see the uglier side of war.

Characters

Valkyria Chronicles features a large cast who all embody a facet of the story. Welkin and Alicia, the main protagonists, serve as the viewer’s entry point into the fiction. As they fight in the war, we can see through them what tolls it takes. In particular, I took a liking to Welkin, who is atypical for an anime protagonist. He studies nature, and uses his scientific knowledge as part of his combat tactics. That leads to an unconventional form of warfare, giving him an edge against Imperial troops. He is also socially awkward, not particularly idealistic, and fairly naive.

Alicia is spunky and more down to earth, which causes Welkin’s aloof personality to grate on her initially. She takes part in a love triangle with Welkin and their friend Faldio Landzaat, a development which feels forced and unnecessarily prolonged. To me, Alicia embodies the idea of sacrifice, as she gives up on her own ambitions in order to protect those around her.

Welkin’s younger adopted sister, Isara Gunther, portrays one side of the Darcsen persecution. Rosie Stark, one of Squad 7’s shocktroopers, plays the prejudiced side. The fact that Rosie, a Gallian, hates the Darcsens helps to show that prejudice against them isn’t just limited to the Empire. As Rosie and Isara’s relationship develops, we see how prejudice begins and how it can be overcome. Though this story can be ham-fisted at times, it’s a good way of playing up one of the central themes of the story.

The series also offers several points of view on the enemy’s side. General Gregor embodies ruthlessness and a lust for battle; he acts as probably the show’s one source of true evil. Selvaria Bles is a capable Imperial commander who symbolizes absolute devotion to the cause. She is a more sympathetic character, as her participation in the war is an act of faithfulness and servitude, not one of malice. General Jaeger rounds out the trio of Imperial commanders, participating in the conflict out of a noble desire to free his homeland from the Empire (since he struck a deal).

The attention given to the enemy forces makes it difficult to sit too contently on a single side of the conflict. We sympathize with the Gallians as their homeland is being destroyed, but they are imperfect. We also sympathize with some of the Imperial forces, because they are also humans with their own lives and dreams. On both sides there is evil (although this is downplayed for the Gallians), but there is also nobility and even chivalry. The overall effect is that you don’t necessarily cheer for one side; rather you feel a loss from the two sides having to fight at all.

Technical

I recognized much of the score as having been lifted from the game, with a few original compositions thrown in. Though the orchestral score added a lot to the intensity of the game, it oddly doesn’t match the mood here. To me it feels too muted and sedate. I’m also disappointed that the game’s excellent theme did not find its way to the anime. You get a few bland J-Pop themes instead for the opening and ending.

The anime preserves the character, environment, and mechanical designs of the original but not the pencil/watercolor style of the art. The European visual motifs are still quite unique, and overall the art direction is good. If I had to complain, I would say that sometimes the characters’ faces look misproportioned.

Marina Inoue and Susumu Chiba lend their voices to Alicia and Welkin, respectively. Their voices do as much to animate the characters as the visuals, though some of Chiba’s screaming can sound a little overblown. Other voice actors of note include Akio Ohtsuka, who gives his legendary gruffness to Radi Jaeger, and Atsuko Tanaka, who brings her no-nonsense sternness to Welkin’s commanding officer Captain Varrot.