FIRST LOOK: ALDERAMIN ON THE SKY
So before I start let me just say that I'm not sure if this will be the start of a series of first look pieces or just a one off. I basically just started writing this because I really wanted to talk about Alderamin. It's my favourite show this season and it deserves a bigger audience than it currently has if you ask me
Now it's not hard to see why this show isn't very popular at the moment. On the surface there's simply nothing that will make you think this is going to be a good anime. For starters it's yet another light novel adaptation set in a fantasy world, the character designs, at least in the early episodes, are very fanservice-y and the premise doesn't exactly sound like storytelling gold: a slacker and womanizer who doesn't want to be in the military but eventually becomes a great military commander. Also the rather dime a dozen Akeboshi Rockets OP doesn't help things much either. The only thing that might clue you in to the actual quality of the show is that it's animated by Studio Madhouse though to be fair their more recent output hasn't quite impressed me as much as their earlier works. (not a fan of OPM or Hunter x Hunter sorry) Honestly I thought this show was going to be quite shit when I went into it and even though the first episode wasn't exactly amazing it piqued my interest due to a number of minor things it ha. So I continued watching and boy am I ever glad I did!
What makes this show as good as it is can't be boiled down to a single thing. It doesn't have a big twist nor is it a deconstruction of light novel tropes. It's not as in your face with it's "don't judge a book by it cover" attitude as say Re-Zero is. Rather what makes this show truely stand out is how much thought has been put into it in comparisson to so many other anime including ones airing this season. Nothing in this show happen just because or just because it's cool. Every event will have consequences and that can be in the very next scene or several episodes down the line. And even if there aren't any major consequences from a narative standpoint at least it will have lasting consequences in the way that the characters view themselves and their views on the ongoing conflict that underlies the core narative of the show.
And there is no aspect in which this is more apparent than the show's least prominent aspect: the action. There have only been two genuine action sequences so far but both were brief but violent affairs with lots of blood. What's interesting about these sequences though is the profoud impact they have on the characters. In a genre dominated by badasses cutting their way through swaths of heavily armed enemies it feels like a breath of fresh air to see a show where the characters are left emotionally devestated after having killed three people. This show makes you fel like with every slash and every bullet fired the characters are selling a piece of their soul. Also while these sequences are certainly gory and violent they are not excessively so which in a way makes them even more disturbing. There is nothing fun or entertaining about the action in this show because actual violence isn't fun and entertaining and the show really hammers that point home.
What's perhaps even more surprising and what really elevates this show even further is that the people our main characters are fighting aren't exactly generic evil doers either. The show makes it very clear early on that these are also just regular people with hopes, dreams and ideals of their own and that the only thing that makes tehm enemies is that they are fighting on the opposite side of the conflict or certain decissions that they made which unfortunately places their goals in direct opposite to that of the empire that our main characters are serving. But nevertheless they are people deserving respect and their death is just as tragic as any on the empire's side. Not to mention that the Empire itself isn't quite the ideal state either. This is not a good guys vs bad guys story but rather a chronicle of two nations during wartime in which sometimes honorable people die for no good reason and rotten apples get to live.
Another thng that this show does really well and the reason it did originally got my attention is worldbuilding. The world of Alderamin seems very fleshed out and alive, like a world that exists outside the narrow confines of the narative. It's a world with it's own take on politics, societal issues, every day life and even philosophical debate. For instance the process of scientific research and logical reasoning does exist in this world yet is outlawed in a similar manner to the way that the great thinkers of the renaisance such as Galileo Galilei were persecuted for what at the time seemed "heretical beliefs". Again this is stuff you just don't see much in most fantasy stories and it's going to be very interesting to see how this scientifc revolution that seems to be spearheaded by our protganoist Ikta Solork is going to shape the history of this world.
Speaking of Ikta Solork, the characters in this show seem to be a far cry from your average generic LN characters as well with Ikta being one of the most complex and multi facteed characters to have graced our screens in a while. Because while he is certainly a slacker and womanizer his actual reason for not wanting to be a part of the military runs much deeper than that and is heavily engrained in the political and philosophical conflict that the empire is currently facing. Also while he appears to have no further interests in life than doing as little as possible he actually has a very intimate knowledge of the history of the world and a clear understanding of the societal and political issues that bely the great tragedy that is war. I won't say he's the most complex character ever to come out of anime but let's just say I think he and Yang Wen Li would get allong pretty well.
Simlarly the dynamic he shares with the female lead of the show Yatori Igsem is much more complex than is at first apparent. While in the first episode Ikta and Yatori seem to embody the age old tropes of the pervert and the tsundere it soon turns into something much more compelling. Ikta has the tendency to speak his mind and overstep his bounds and he actually depends on yatori to keep him in check while doing so. Also the writers make it very clear early on that Yatori is decidedly not Ikta's love interest which put a much more intersting spin on their relationship. Yatori seems to embody all the things that Ikta hates, being a patriot who wants to serve her country yet at the same time they both seem to share a mutual understanding for one another's standpoints.
Now as far as bad points go there are certainly a few flaws to be found even in these early episodes. The art, while a huge improvement on the horrid artwork for the source material is still quite bland and far too fanservice-y for my taste. Also while the show does a great job with it's lead duo the other characters need quite a bit more work. The princess seems to have gotten the most development so far and certainly has the potential to be a great character and Torway the pretty boy of the cast has gotten a bit more fleshed out lately as well thanks to the appearance of a rather unpleasant new character that seems to be closely connected to him. But then there's Matthew who doesn't seem to have any personality beyond liking food, a lot and the cute girl of the group who's name I can't even recall.It's quite possible that this issue will be fixed later on in the show though as we're only a third into it.
It's hard to tell whether this show will continue to be this good or not. Personally I can't really see it going downhill anywhere in the near future though the possibility of that always exists. Though that also brings me to the only real problem I have with this show and the only reason why I would understand someone not wanting to get into it. As far as I know this is a one cour show and there ten volumes in the original light novel series so there is no way that they're going to be able to adapt the entire series meaning it's very likely that it'll end on an unsatisfactory conclussion. Making this even worse is the fact that the original light novels are at this point unlicensed and since they have notoriously difficult prose the chances of them being ever translated aren't terribly good either unless this show turns out to be a smash hit which so far it isn't.
That being said though despite all that I still highly recommend checking this show out. Mostly because it's the kind of series that you just don't see very often. A grand epic harkening back to the glory days of light novel adaptations with stuff like Legend of the Galactic Heroes and Crest of the Stars. Alderamin has turned out to be a surprisingly smart and thought provoking piece of fantasy fiction so unless the words "light novel adaptation" really make every hair on your back stand up I highly urge you to seek this show out. Cause it deserves a lot more hype than it's currenty getting.
Alderamin on the Sky can be streamed legally on Crunchyroll with simulcasts every friday. For those trophy seekers among us, doing so comes with a special "quick on the draw" achievement so that might be worth doing at least once. Hell I do it every friday but that's just cause I usually can't wait to watch the latest episode of this show.
So what's your guys take on this? Are you watching it? Are you planning on watching it? Lemme know and let's see if we can create some more buzz for this show.