Madan no Ou to Vanadis Review

This is review number four hundred and thirty nine. This anime is part of the Fall 2014 lineup and it’s called Madan no ou to Vanadis or Lord Marksman and Vanadis. It’s a thirteen episode anime about a dude and some chicks. I honestly fell asleep three times watching this show. It’s a good show, I think. Let’s just read on.

Story

The show follows a nobleman named Vorn trying to protect his territory. When the news of the king is said to be grief-stricken losing his son, two noblemen decided to start their campaign to be the next king. One of them decided to invade Vorn’s territory and Vorn didn’t want that to happen. With the help of warriors from a neighboring country, Vorn not only defended his region but he soon starts a campaign to be the third nobleman seeking the throne and unite his country under one banner.

Taking the Pants Off

I can sum up this anime in two easy words: rushed adaptation. I honestly don’t get it. I don’t understand why most LN adaptations would cram five volumes of the original source in a twelve or thirteen episode anime. You could’ve covered two volumes in that length and the result will still be the same, really. Fans would get the adaptation of their favorite series while people that haven’t heard the series would see firsthand the beauty of the story. It’s a really great story, by the way. The world building is interesting, and I’m getting some cool flashback of Suikoden 2 while I watch the show. Basically, it nailed the war elements down but it botched a whole lot of other things. I’ll talk about those in detail below, so there’s no hurry. I will admit though, I miss watching a light novel anime. The tropes I used to hate, the crammed pacing I despise and the unwelcomed fan service I loathed, gawd damn it all to hell, I still do not like every single aspect of these adaptations. I still miss it though. I miss experiencing the awfulness of it all, and gawd I’m not even halfway into my 1000 journey. I’ll give a fair warning to anyone that wants to pick up this series. This is your standard light novel anime experience, and I think I’ll just circle around this point several times in my review.

The Archer

So what’s this show about? Well, it opens with a guy trying to shoot down a girl riding a horse. Enter our protagonist, Tigrevurmud Vorn, who becomes the girl’s captive. He is an excellent marksman though, and the girl soon took fancy to him. This is basically how a lot of LN protagonists function. Stuff is really just given to them, or they have it by default. Ability to snipe a guy’s foot? Yup, Vorn has that skill and hey-o the girl is now interested in him. It turns out she’s a war maiden from a neighboring country, and she just wants Vorn to herself. Upon learning of his territory is about to be invaded though, Vorn gets the ball rolling wherein he soon becomes a candidate to rule the entire country of Brune. Story-wise, you can tell the anime has something good to present. A bowman leading the charge to take down an invasion sounds fun, and the anime would take time coming up with strategies to fight enemies. I love war anime by default, because there are a lot of fun things to enjoy here. Seeing an army clash with another army always looks cool, and seeing the main characters move around chess pieces to outwit each other is always inviting to watch. It makes me want to press the start button so I can join in on the carnage as well. There is one big problem though. The story moves too damn fast.

A Rushed Adaptation

If you’ve ever read a volume of a light novel, you’d realize it is stuffed with a lot of prose. It’s often small details about characters, exposition about important stuff, and a ton of narration about how the protagonist gropes a girl’s bare chest. I know from experience that you can cut out a decent chunk out of the story and fit five volumes in a thirteen episode anime. I personally wouldn’t do that though, because the light novel had those asinine paragraphs for a reason. I don’t care if it’s a long ass explanation about a territory controlled by a new character. Get that information adapted, because it’s part of the story. This anime functions differently, or rather it behaves like most LN adaptations. It condenses a big chunky volume into three episodes. You don’t really have time to breathe. It’s one battle after another. Its new characters popping like daisies left and right. It’s a new story to focus on just right after the last one is settled. There are scenes where the characters would say “hey, let’s send a messenger to reason with the enemy commander”, and the scene ends with a random narrator saying “the enemy did not listen to the messenger”. There was this beautiful tactic in one battle where the good guys used the river to their advantage, and it was barely mentioned or setup properly by the story. I bet you the light novel had a long ass paragraph describing that river so it can do a setup and pay off down the line. Sadly, rushed adaptations don’t really bother with detail, nuance and even proper character introduction. It has five different stories to cram in one anime series, so it needs to work fast. This eventually dull out the best part of the story: the beautiful world building.

An Alternate Europe

Yeah, according to Wikipedia, this was set in an alternate version of Europe and a bunch of the places in the show are actually real. Alsace, Vorn’s hometown, is actually a real place nestled in the east of France. The anime never bothered to point this out. It really just moved in its own pace asking the audience to keep up. The anime moved location a lot, and I was always in awe at the different battlefields the characters fight in. The fight in the snow was particularly great since it featured an enemy that can conjure up ice. The desert battle is unique since the characters used the landscape to gain an advantage on the enemy. In terms of world building, there is really a healthy amount of detail injected in this world. The color aesthetics of each battlefield, the different banners the soldiers carry and even the formations they use in battle all seem wonderfully crafted as it gives us a view of an alternate Europe. Unfortunately the show never really bothers to stop and smell the flowers. It was always just hurriedly moving from one area to another. You know there is a reason the author bothered to give us an alternate Europe and I bet one of the reason is to highlight the rich tapestry of each region. It’s an element of the show that is just completely numb as much as the character introductions and the story itself. See, again, if it only focused on two volumes then we’d have time to soak up the region, appreciate the characters and eventually get hyped when they battle in the landscape we are already familiar with.

To be fair, I think the animation also did a disservice to the world building of the anime. Since the regions are pleasantly crafted, the animation could never really deliver the beauty of the original source. Alsace is a beautiful laidback place with a lot of fancy building, and the anime never really conveyed that. This aspect of the anime can really be salvaged by the animation and the different stills it provides, but, yeah, the animation just wasn’t up to snuff. I’m not saying the animation is outright bad, but you can tell Satelight just doesn’t know how to do backgrounds and nuance. They aren’t really a studio that’d take time to make marshmallow shows. They are a gritty studio that loves their mecha, so they do feel unfit to actually present this story. I’m not really sure any studio can do any better though, since they would’ve crammed five volumes in thirteen episodes as well. I guess you can just tell when a light novel adaptation is doomed when you hear four or five volumes are going to be consumed. Since we’re talking about light novels though, how about we take a stroll down tropes lane?

Between the Corner of Fan service Drive and Stale Main Character Avenue

Light novel is known for its tropes. I guess even manga has their annoying traits, but light novels behave in a pattern. The most annoying trope I encounter in them is the undying accidental harem where the cast is composed of just girls interacting with our main character. This show is a bit perplexing, since there are male characters but they don’t ALL get naked when they meet the main character. They also don’t linger and cling onto the main character. Some of them just outright die while the scantily clad girls are sporting plot armors. The anime really took its time to make sure every war maiden have time to flirt with Vorn, get naked in front of him and eventually be part of his harem. Seriously, they grow in numbers as the story progress. The “dead” prince in the story even shows up to reveal he’s actually a girl and she’s now part of his harem too. I really hate this trope. I don’t mind big breasted girls in stories, but light novel girls often throw themselves onto the main character with very little purpose. I mean, the story is currently being crushed by the pacing and the option to adapt too many volumes, but we still have time to get them girls naked, fight over the main character and eventually crowd him for no good reason. Granted the story did give some of the girls a purpose, but still it wouldn’t hurt to have more than one sausage in this party. I actually don’t know what makes a harem appealing, but light novels love them. If we don’t feature different girls in the cover jacket then you might as well just call us manga or whatever.

Characters

Despite the hurried pacing, the characters are still pretty good. The rushed pacing still ruins their beauty but they still standout in the cluster storm of this show. Vorn is a good example. He started out as the typical LN protagonist being given things instead of actually working towards them, but he eventually grows a backbone to get things done on his own. There was a chapter in the show where he soon takes charge of his own army, made decisions of his own and actually did great things without his overpowered harem. He still have an overpowered bow though, but some of his victories are entirely his own. While the male characters do die early in the show, they are nicely conceived as well. The dueling contenders of the throne, Thenardier and Ganelon, are also presented wonderfully. Thenardier is this overambitious ruler with a gawd complex while Ganelon is a schemer who prefers to work in the shadows. It’s a shame the show doesn’t give them proper time to really develop, but these characters still standout despite their limited screen time. I actually remember the dudes more than the girls in this anime. He only appeared for, like, two episodes but the King’s strongest knight still made his mark. There was another one that appeared in just one episode fighting in a cave and he also stood out nicely. I guess they work since they aren’t recurring characters whose development spans more than the volume they debut in.

The war maidens are interesting, but they really feel like just fan service in the show. The way they cling onto Vorn is a big disservice to them. They can kill dragons and command armies, but they just feel so out of place in the story. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen a light novel anime where a loli commands an army because the story sold me on it. This anime didn’t really do the leg work. You see CG people being led by a colorful girl in little armor, and it just looks ridiculous. They do fight and strategize though, right? Yeah, except they don’t really function outside what Vorn would do. Even if they do get their awesome dragon killing scene, it just feels underserved and out of place. Their presence also makes battles pretty shallow, since you don’t really feel the soldiers fight for their cause. Characters would say “we have two thousand and we’re up against four thousand” but the scale of the battle is never really established. I think its because of the war maidens making battles a bit pointless and making strategies shallows. Soldiers are really only just numbers for this show. I know its weird blaming all the weak aspects of the show on the war maidens, but I think the story could’ve been more streamlined if they didn’t exist. I mean, as I try to remember things in this anime, I actually don’t recall the war maidens doing anything significant. Yeah, they fight and kill and get naked, but it doesn’t really matter. They really just don’t matter in this battle-centric anime.

Shallow Tactics

There is a lot of planning and talking in this anime. They are all important meetings too, but they often just feel dragged out in this show. Again, I know these meetings are part of each story and they setup the battle that’ll come. Sadly, the rushed pacing kills the beauty of these meetings as well. The story is often really good with a proper introduction of the region, a conflict naturally occurring and the characters meeting to solve the conflict before the big battle. All of these things happen in just three episodes though, so they just don’t develop nicely. They’re clunky at best, and the planning stage just doesn’t seem as good as it could be. Along with the hurried character introduction, the misplaced war maidens and the lack of stakes in the battles, there is really very little to enjoy in this show. The elements are all decently presented, but it could’ve been so much better for sure.

Satou and Satelight

Tatsuo Satou directed, written and series composed the anime. That is a lot of work for one guy, but I guess he feels really passionate about the light novel’s story. Unfortunately, he is also the reason why the anime feels so lackluster. Actually, this show could’ve gone worse and I’m impressed there’s still a lot of decent stuff presented in this crammed adaptation. Satou really knows what he’s doing, but certain areas could still be improved. Character introduction is a big problem, and improving the battle scenes could’ve honestly made this show better. I can forgive fast storytelling and LN tropes, but there are elements of this show that a director or a writer could’ve improved on. One person doing both jobs for a convoluted light novel didn’t do this adaptation justice. Satelight picking this anime is also a weird one. In 2014, this studio is known for putting a Japanese idol group in a mecha. They also made Symphogear, so doing a war story is just a strange decision. Oh, sh*t, these bastards also did M3 The Dark Metal, one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen, so maybe they kinda realized they want to do more than mecha moving forward. I can appreciate the effort and I hope this fantasy adventure anime won’t be a weird standout for a studio that mostly does mecha anime. We’ll find out soon enough when I dive into the succeeding seasons, I guess.

Sight and Sound

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For some reason, three people are credited for the character design of the light novel. Despite that though, the design is really just your typical LN fare. Girls are scantily clad with their shoulders and stomach exposed while their breasts are given emphasis. I think the LN illustrations are much better, but they also look decent in the anime. I’m not a fan of Satelight’s color palette in general because it’s a bit too strong. I do love the frills and the small details in the designs. It’s very fan service centric, but it does compliment the characters themselves. I also love the designs of the different soldiers. Every region has a different style of armor and banner, and I find that really cool. It makes the world building so engaging, and gives you an idea how big the world of this anime really is. It’s not much, but I also love the dragons in the show. I especially love the fire breathing one, since it has a gas-like barrel in its mouth. It looks really cool.

Animation is inconsistent. Some episodes are good, some are bad, some are recycled and some are decent. It’s not good. I don’t think Satelight does good animation. They often make clunky animation with a lot of CG and it doesn’t really look good. There are some scenes, like a travelling bow hitting a forehead, that looks impressive but the following scene is the arrow landing on a head. The impact looks dull and the face of the guy that got shot is just….stupid. But again, it’s decent. The animation is good enough to convey the story but not enough to really elevate it. I particularly don’t like the battles since the scale and the stakes aren’t really there. The scenes look flat, the CG is jarring and the soldiers don’t really connect and clash their weapons. Often times you’ll see a cavalry charge, but you won’t see them strike down opponents. If they do, then it just looks dull. Gawd bless Satou for taking on too much, but he could’ve at least helped the episode directors incorporate better cinematography to make the battles look smoother. I dunno. I’m just not a fan of what I saw.

The anime’s OP is “Ginsen no Kaze” by Konomi Suzuki. This is a pretty great song, and it really hypes you up for the anime. It really brings out the fantasy element of the show, and the accompanying visuals combine to make a strong impression. It’s a generic song about fighting for what you believe in or some sh*t, but Konomi’s voice really elevate it and it just instantly grabs your attention. The OP sequence is even better actually highlighting things that the show doesn’t do like the beauty of each region, better animation and even proper character introduction. The OP does misleading hype you up though, especially if you read the LN, since the war maidens are all in the OP but only four or so actually did things in the story.  The anime’s ED is “Schwarzer Bogen” by Hitomi Harada. It’s another great song about not giving up, and Hitomi’s voice is really great as well. I can’t really say much here that I haven’t already said in the OP, since they both feel the same. The ED sequence is not as good though. It introduced some war maidens and then featured some weak ass animation involving Eleonora. It’s not as good as the OP sequence, for sure.

Overall Score

6/10 “It’s a decent story about war and battles, but it’s not really that memorable of an experience”

This anime had a lot of faults that weaken the experience, but you can also tell the original source is good enough to thrive even in a bad adaptation. The animation could be better, the characters are shallow at best and the story is rushed so much that it makes the great narrative look flat and lifeless. I know other people could enjoy this show and I am just strangely biased to it. If you enjoy fantasy adventure shows, light novels with fan service and harem in it, and a lot of battles and strategizing in your anime then there is something here for you. Is the experience worth it though? I personally don’t think so. I don’t recommend it.

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17 thoughts on “Madan no Ou to Vanadis Review

  1. World building is something that I’m so weak-at-the-knees for and to see it being overshadowed by the rushed execution makes me sad. I feel like some creators don’t understand the importance of world-building and that it’s not just background noise, so to speak. It’s like the foundation for a good narrative if given the proper attention. The story does sound interesting to me as someone who’s never heard anything about this before. I feel like it might be better to read the original material than see the anime though. Thanks for sharing it! I’ll have to add it to my list of things to check out.

  2. I actually enjoyed it. It’s one of my faves. But yeah some faults I do agree with, the jarring cgi. The scantily clad design, I got used to though. Good review TP!!

  3. You wan’t to know why they rushed it? Because they wan’t to make a profit out of the whole shabang. Nothing like it like a quick buck to milk the franchise out of its system.

    • I can’t wait when LN adaptations gets the careful respect manga adaptation gets now where different seasons are dedicated to the stories, like in Attack on Titan or My Hero Academia. I hope we get a revival like Card Captor or Fruit Basket for great LNs like this one.

  4. I really enjoyed this anime, even if I agree with the fact that it felt pretty fast (among some of your other criticisms). And yet, I still wish I could’ve had more. Who knows, anything is possible these days!

    Great comprehensive review of this fun fantasy watch.

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