Imagine there was a director who read the original Slayers novels and said,”This is good. A really good fantasy adventure. I just wish there was not so much goofy comedy.” Then he went and took out all the breast jokes and the eating gags. Then he just makes the whole plot about Lina and her companion’s quest to save the world from Ruby-Eye Shabranigdo and his horde of demon warriors. Then he took all the characters and did not totally rewrite them but he made them all serious business. That is basically what they did with the Violinist of Hameln. It does not make the Violinist of Hameln a bad anime in the least. It just makes it based on the original work but not a direct adaption. The anime reveals itself early to be a dark fantasy epic that hits the ground running. I suppose it is also one of the only ways to tell a 37 book story in 26 episodes.
Sometimes veering from the original is a horrible mistake and sometimes you get two interesting pieces of work that are individually good. As soon as I read more of the manga I can make my call on that one. I became interested in this show a good number of years ago now. I was looking for something in the fantasy realm. And as most fans know, good anime sword and sorcery epics are few and far between. This is one of those obscure shows with a cult following. It has a quirky gimmick with a very serious and dark plot. Although, in the anime the quirks quickly fade as the story progresses.
Hamel and Flute both grew up in the idyllic little village of Staccato. Hamel is an introverted boy man who carries around a rather large violin and has a talking crow, Oboe, for a pet. Flute is his upbeat and cute friend. One day, Flute stumbles upon an injured knight and tries to nurse him back to health. Eventually the Knight brings major trouble to the village and Hamel is forced to protect Flute on her journey to the capital city to meet Queen Horn and where she can be safe. Along the way they are joined by a pianist, Raiel, who seems to know Hamel and a young Prince, Trom, of the Sword Kingdom. We slowly learn that there is more to everyone in this little adventuring party and that they all play a role in much larger events that will shape the future of everyone in the kingdom.
As you can see, many characters and most places have musical names and the ones that don’t use magical music. I really love the character designs, very extreme costuming and a use of bright colors. This is where a lot of its quirkiness lives. It’s a real contrast to the world surrounding them because everything is dark and mysterious. I think the series constantly juxtaposed things this way. Even the way the story is told, it starts off seeming like a simple story about demons and a kingdom and turns into being a look at moral ambiguity.
I still find that fact that Raiel has a huge R on his hat and carries around a mini piano rather hysterical. I really liked Sizer’s character design although her scythe also has a huge S on it and doubles as a flute.
Hamel wakes up one day to find he has sprouted a horn. Odd. He is a very silent and aloof kind of guy, I know hard to believe in a shonen series. His original objective is to protect Flute but as the series progresses it really becomes a discovery of who and what he is and where he fits into the fate of this world.
Not to give too much away, but I will say that no character is exactly what they appear to be at the beginning at the anime. Things that seem like unexplained plot holes or odd character decision are often explained later in the series and actually make sense in retrospect. Okay, maybe Cornet is not hiding dark secrets but that is mostly because she is sort of annoying so no one wants to include her in sinister plans. I also feel that one of the main themes of Hamel is an examination of love in the romantic sense, the platonic sense, and the familial sense. How much can you love someone despite what they have done in the past and might do in the future? How much are you willing to sacrifice to please the one you love? How much are you willing to sacrifice the happiness of another to make the one you love happy? How much are you willing to sacrifice another person to make yourself happy? Everyone in this series has to answer these questions at some point in the story.
The supporting cast is strong and that is where my favorite characters, in all series, frequently come from. Raiel, who we meet is a childhood friend of Hamel’s and a traveling musician. So he actually uses his magical music for more than fighting foes. I think Raiel is a good character stemming from his constant turmoil from loving and hating Hamel. This becomes more prominent as the series progress and creates moments where you really don’t know how he will react. Then you have mostly useless Flute, the female love interest; all knowing Obo, the crusty badass crow; Trom, the high-spirited, sword-swinger; and Clarinet, the one everyone thinks is annoying but I didn’t really find her so. Also you have have Clairi(net) who is a powerful wizard! I LOVE HIM! He works for Queen Horn who protects the kingdom at all costs. Everyone contributes something at some point and therefore makes for a well-rounded cast.
I seem to remember us joking that Mohinder tended to drop the ball less than Flute who mostly seems to wander around with the party and be nothing more than a plot point for quite a good deal of the story. When she is not being useless she is actively making things worse. She does contribute at several key points in the story so she is not a totally useless character. Raiel is an oddly conflicted character and makes him a wild card in the series. I feel that several of his changes of heart that seem to come rather suddenly and at times a tad bit unexplained. I think most of them in part are related to shifts in dispositions of Raiel in the manga. And I wish we had seen a little more of Trom. He was very important when he was introduced and then somewhere near the middle he seems to appear in every episode but does next to nothing other than at the climax. I’m curious if once again he was supposed to be more important but due to the problems that seemed to plague Hameln’s production. Oboe is just made of manly voice and encyclopedic knowledge. The only huge plot hole in the series is that one even bats an eye about Oboe’s existence as a talking crow. You you think he had the same convenient plot invisibility that Andre does in Rose of Versailles. You liked Clairi? Unpossible. It is not like there are legions of fan girls (and quite a few fan boys) for him. I think you summed it up best with, “The most popular doujinshi pairing is not Clairi and a specific character, it’s Clairi and anyone and everything.” As a side note, I felt that Ocarina was thrown into the anime just because she was a rather prominent character in manga. She could have been easily removed from the anime and it would have had no real effect on the plot.
So, what the hell is everyone fighting against in this series? Well, we really don’t get to know too much about them except they are demons and they want to revive their demonking because he is their demonking! Some of our villains have intricate pasts that weave them into the relationships with the characters and some are just plain evil.
Music is of course a huge part of what makes this series unique and a joy to listen to. Like we mentioned there is magical music and that music is classical pieces played by either the violin or piano. Oboe jumps in to tell you the name of the piece and why it is significant to use at that point in the story. So if you know nothing about classical music, which I don’t, then is both entertaining and educational.
I remember the President of the anime club at college loved Hameln because of all of the classical music. The only sad things is as the series progress I feel that the music becomes less integral as it is in the beginning. Anime needs more series with classical music soundtracks other than Legend of the Galactic Heroes.
I think we have to talk about everyone’s biggest complaint with this show. It is a rather unfortunate thing, but it must be addressed. This series is about 50% (maybe even less) animated, the rest being filled in with still and pan shots. I remember people having a similar complaint of Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight, too. Let me tell you, that has nothing on Hameln! I at least take heart that it isn’t poorly animated, it just isn’t animated a lot of the time, haha. While this doesn’t bother me too much, I can see the annoyance. There are times even I am cracking up from the lack of it. Sometimes you wonder, “why did they animate that! Couldn’t you have animated that fight scene more?” So it watches more like an illustrated storybook with limited movement.
Hameln is fine if you go into it with the right expectations. You have to realize that watching Hameln is more like watching a slightly animated manga rather than watching an anime. If you this, you can give in more of a fair shake. There are clearly going to be people who just can’t watch this show. In many scenes they don’t even animate the characters talking; or even try to hide the fact the characters are not moving their mouth’s like in later episodes of Evangelion. This show was obviously not given a real budget but for some reason could not or would not prune down the number of episodes to accommodate this.
This series had me guessing and asking questions from the get go. And I feel a number of things were not fleshed out enough and left me with many more questions but I tend to obsess over minor things that I notice. The over arcing plot and ideas that it was trying to get across were wrapped up with finality but certainly not with the “happy ending.” The play between what is truly good and evil is really explored with compassion. I enjoyed the overall heavy tone of the series that is lightened by its character designs. It somehow made it a little more bearable and less pessimistic. I really do think this series has a lot to offer as a story but as a animated piece it clearly lacks any really luster. So you really have to choose which is more important.
Hameln definitely helps fill in the lack of serious European fantasy anime. Fantasy fans cannot live on Record of Lodoss War alone. I feel the ending would be considered the True Ending or Normal Ending if it were a video game. You finished the game but not everyone got the ending they were hoping for. It was not a BAD END path but not the Good Ending or Happy Ending. All in all I feel that you should at least give the show a shot and see if you can deal with it’s problems and accept it’s original and engaging story.
Oh, and be forewarned that the fan-sub of this show was mediocre and becomes worse as the series goes along. There are even times whole sentences aren’t translated and they use really poor grammar. But it is not UNWATCHEDABLE just laughable at times.