Having a historical setting with a cast of mostly real people is always tempting for me. This series also happens to be during one of my favorite periods and in a country with a fascinating, rich history. Now mix in a great studio, Production I.G., and a cast of complex characters and by my standards you have a winner. So I went into this series with a lot of expectations.
I tend to give any show that tries something different a chance to impress me. Also historical anime, even when it throws in wacky magical conspiracy theory, tends to be very good. After playing enough Mage: Sorcerers Crusade I might have been sold harder by the wacky magical conspiracy theory. I admit the Japanese have been obsessed with pre-revolutionary France since Rose of Versailles if not earlier. We also get to revisit the evilest man who was ever evil (or at least according to select anime), the Duke du Orléans. Maybe one day we will get an American Revolution anime. I think that could be hysterical and quite possibly really good.
Can we just talk about the packaging for this series a minute? From the slipcases to the box art to the booklets chockful of information, it seems like no stone went unturned with this (though the boxes change a bit as the series goes on). The booklets certainly being a highlight. I always like seeing conceptual art and the last book has some cute chibi art (which is rather far from the feeling of this series) just for fun. Each one also had an interview with someone working on the production such as the director and voice actors. All of these treats were really a welcome surprise to see on a series that seems to still go unnoticed here in the U.S.
I had a good laugh when they referenced Wikipedia as a source in the liner notes but they also have good references as well. I have no solid evidence but I think ADV had a feeling this was going to be the next big thing. I would go as far as to say they where think it was going to be the next Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. It was an anime from Production I.G. that had a very western setting, a dark tone with intrigue, good animation and fight sequences, and a healthy amount of cool. Le Chevalier D’Eon is one of those shows where if you argue certain points it seems like a guaranteed success and if you argue other points it seems doomed for failure. Alas it never really caught on. It seems to have good reviews from people who saw it but it never got that broader appeal outside of critics. It is a shame too because this is a really well made anime.
Like many a good mystery we start with a murder. Lia de Beaumont’s body floats down the river in a coffin with the words Psalms scrawled on it. Her brother D’Eon de Beaumont vows to find out who killed her and is soon entangled in a continent spanning conspiracy involving a magical book called the Royal Psalms and a cabal of sorcerers called the Poets. King Louis XV has D’Eon along with three other royal agents investigate these revolutionaries and how they are tied into Lia’s murder. There investigation gets them involved with the royalty of Russia and England as well. D’Eon soon finds that as he investigates his sister’s murder that Lia has the ability to posses his body in order to enact her revenge against those who killed her. Lia’s ability to posses her brother is useful but D’Eon worries if he is losing himself and going down the wrong path.
The complexity of court politics is well portrayed here. While we do spend the most time with bigger names, it becomes clear that everything that is going on involves multitudes of people and planning. Just as in history, it takes a lot of people to form alliances and conspiracies. Trust and betrayal go hand in hand as we are taken through this story. Le Chavelier does a great job of creating a mist around everything. There is plenty of mystery to be unraveled because once one part is solved it opens the door to another and the secrets just get deeper and deeper. No one is as they seem and even those that appear the most straightforward will surprise you by the end.
Le Chevalier D’Eon draws us in on a seemingly simple murder mystery and slowly builds the complexity of the conspiracy that surrounds it. The problem with many series with mysteries and conspiracies is that they dole out answers painfully slow. This can lead to frustration especially when we only get answers at the very end. Le Chevalier is constantly giving us answers it is just that those answers lead us to new questions and greater questions as we slowly see the greater picture unfold. The mysteries are set up like a Matryoshka doll inside each other. The best part is that any twists and betrayals are clearly set up before hand. There are no surprises that come out of nowhere. There are some red herrings to keep things from being too easy to figure out. Oh and the Duke du Orléans being a bad guy is no surprise. Japan cannot and will not allow anything else.
The real D’Eon du Beaumont is a fascinating historical spy. His life and the many secrets involved it in make him a prime candidate to make some great stories around. In our story here he is already a knight and informant of Louis the XV’s court. His loyalty and sense of duty certainly define him but they also blind him. With the addition of his sister’s spirit he seems to age a little as he realizes the world is anything but simple. Even his own sister had many secrets. While we are supposed to reconcile these two souls as one by the end, throughout the beginning D’Eon is sometimes quite incompetent in his abilities to spy and fight. Lia awakens often to make up for it. However, D’Eon continues to move forward in the series after misstep and betrayal at every turn. In the end he loses just about everything he believed in but he is able to make a life for himself despite it.
D’Eon is a real life cross-dressing spy so he is a good choice for a historically set anime. All of the places that the fictional D’Eon goes are actually places that the real life D’Eon served as a spy. Our fictional D’Eon starts off as a naive but determined young solider who wishes to solve his sister’s murder and work the betterment of his beloved France. Although D’Eon is a very skilled soldier his lack of experience in a world of intrigue holds him back. As the series goes on D’Eon becomes more skillful in his espionage but slowly finds that his fervent patriotism is often tested.
I love this little group of the “Four Musketeers.” Besides D’Eon, the members are all fictional but they contribute big things to this story. The camaraderie along with the varying degrees of knowledge about the world make it a great mix and keeps the relationships spry and intriguing. Everyone is learning, for better or for worse, from each other. Since the alliance is based on trust it is also a great way to throw mysteries and secrets at us and keep us guessing who is loyal. Robin was my favorite (he got an extra 10 points just for being named Robin) I found him fascinating to watch as his youth was chipped away at. He also has three grown men with very different ideas around him which makes things confusing for him.
The Four Musketeers cater to any sort of fan girl fantasy you might have. We have the soft and pretty D’Eon, they we have the charming rouge Durant, then the spunky boy Robin, and the distinguished gentleman Teillagory. Although each of the Musketeers is working together for the betterment of France each of them has their own agendas, alliances, and secrets that are constantly pulling them together and apart. Robin without a doubt grows the most out of all the characters. I guess that is understandable being that he is the youngest character. He has the most room to grow but it’s still an interesting and well-plotted transformation. Durant and Teillagory don’t change, instead we learn who they truly are over the course of the series.
Since we mentioned him in the title I suppose we should devote a little time to one of the more interesting characters. Maximilien Robespierre appears a little out of his actual historical context to good effect as one of the more enigmatic characters in the series. When he first appears he seems like an oh-so-evil villain but as we get to see him more we find he is certainly not strictly on the side of the devil. He has much more complex motivations and plans than it would first appear. And he does play the role of morally ambiguous pretty boy to fan-girl squealing perfection. Where is all the Robespierre yaoi doujinshi Japan?
Oh Robespierre, only Japan could take a historically blood-thirsty, devious revolutionary and make you root for him. He is handsome, look at that face and blond locks! He is also magical which is a nice way of side-stepping anyone’s analysis of historical fact. I also liked the way the characters was animated and directed, because he really speaks very little throughout the show. This also keeps him in a thick cloud of mystery. But indeed for a character that starts off as our seemingly baddie of the bad he becomes very gray and full of surprises by the end. I also like how he shapes and influences events yet to come at the end of the series.
We have an interesting mix of villains. The Poets range from well fleshed out antagonists to evil spell-caster of the week. Most of the antagonists are just as historical as the heroes with villains like Madame de Pompadour and the Comte de Saint-Germain. Come on what other anime is going to have the inventor of the sandwich, one of the leaders of the French Revolution, and the Count of Cagliostro (sans his castle) as antagonists. I enjoyed the fact that when they go to England they encounter Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hellfire Club as an antagonist but they never mention it by name.
The supernatural aspects of this series is what kept me on the fence in the beginning and to be truthful I never fully liked it. It wasn’t quite interwoven enough. The bulk of the story, the major mysteries, and the relationships could have been told using the superstitions of the time without making them real. However, as the story unfolds I came to accept this as part of this director’s vision. It keeps the series from being true historical fiction and perhaps that is what he wanted to prevent. If you push something this far no one can really cry foul at historical inaccuracies that they might otherwise. And was it just me who got a few good chuckles out of women coming out of the woodwork branded with the letters HO?
I actually liked the supernatural elements but I suppose that comes from my fascination with historical magical beliefs. I feel many of the elements of the story could have been told without them but it gives the series a certain flavor as if it were an alternate history or a secret shadow history. It’s mostly a matter of taste. I though it was reasonably well integrated with many of people’s powers and mysteries being based on rumors, conspiracy theories, and actual facts of their real life historical counterparts. It’s more than French historical fiction with mercury zombies and spell casting historical characters but you are going to have to accept those things if your going to get any enjoyment out of Le Chevalier D’Eon.
Production I.G. did a wonderful job of bringing this story to life. From the sword fights, to the outfits, to the backgrounds, the animation was well done and was able to capture the period. I would also be remiss to not mention how much I loved the opening and the song that came along with it. At the beginning I was often saying, “Wait, wait! Don’t skip it.” By the end Hisui didn’t even bother asking.
As you know, here at Reverse Thieves, we love a good mystery. Le Chevalier served us one gourmet batch of it that was thoroughly filling. I have to admit that it has been a long time since an ending genuinely surprised me in almost every revelation. This series was engrossing from beginning to end. And while you might not be able to grab up these beautiful DVDs very easily, a complete collection was just released at a very reasonable price!