I have been catching up on series that had some promise from SWAT reviews but I never finished for one reason or another. There are some shows we watched as a group thanks to SWAT Reviews and others that we stayed away from like the plague after seeing a single episode. But there are a few anime that were in a decent middle ground where they looked promising but due to time we just could not fit them into our schedule. Alderamin on the Sky was one such show.
Let me be up front. Alderamin on the Sky is not a MUST SEE HIDDEN GEM THAT ALL THE SMART PEOPLE ACCIDENTALLY MISSED. It more a surprisingly strong show that is easy to dismiss because of its flaws. A fairly brief if a little minimizing summary of the show is “A very simplified fantasy light novel version of Legend of the Galactic Heroes.” It was a show that Kate and I saw a good deal of potential within but also saw some major warning signs that could easily sink the whole concept. While the flaws of the show never go away they also never grow in a way to ruin the strong points. Also, Alderamin on the Sky actually goes to some interesting places that you might not guess from the start.
So what I’m saying is let me make my case on why this show is pretty good but not excellent.
Five military students from the Katvarna Empire are on a ship taking them to their entrance exam when they see a girl go overboard during a storm. They wash up ashore in the middle of enemy territory but thankfully Ikta Solork is a lazy but brilliant strategist who is able to use the group’s skills to get home safely. It turns out the girl they saved is Chamille Kitra Katjvanmaninik the third princess of the Katvarna Empire. The Empire is rotting within from corruption, decadence, and apathy. Chamille hopes these five might be the key to reforming the nation before it collapses in on itself.
So the Legend of the Galactic Heroes parallels are not unwarranted. Ikta Solork is a brilliant but lazy tactical genius who is more interested in a scholarly life of peace than of martial fame. Ikta is part of the military of a corrupt nation who is fighting a prolonged war against another nation who has a different political structure but is just as broken. There is a long draw out war between the two great powers that is prolonged by incompetence and corruption on both sides. Also, the stalemate is disrupted by brilliant young tacticians with very different philosophies shaking things up on both sides. A lot of the show is the political and social build up to conflicts and then an examination of the costs for military and civilians due to the fighting. So the comparisons between the shows are hardly unwarranted.
But as I hinted Alderamin on the Sky is not exactly fantasy Legend of the Galactic Heroes. At times the show wears its light novel origins on its sleeve. The main fact is Ikta feels really like a light novel protagonist at times. He is as thirsty as a man who is in the middle of the Sahara and often gives off harem protagonist vibes. Yang Wen-li was an awkward dork who falls into two romantic relationships but they always felt like the sort of relationships you would find in your standard science fiction series. Alderamin on the Sky’s relationships feel more at home in an isekai series. The harem like elements never overwhelms the series. In fact, they wisely mostly exist on the down low but they never go away. You can’t fully ignore that part of the story but it also never suffocates the real meat of the story. It almost feels like the Ataru Moroboshi antics are just part of the milieu of modern light novels and something an editor demanded they be in the story. At the same time, I do feel that might be giving Bokuto Uno a bit too much credit as a TRUE ARTIST!
Now Alderamin on the Sky is not just some Infinite Stratos with some oddly complex backdrop. The first major good move is after saving Chamille the show seems ready to fall into the “cool initial premise that gets bogged down in school antics” pitfall. Since all the main characters start off as military school candidates it is easy to assume the rest of the series will just be school center dramedy where the more interesting plot elements only make guest appearances in the overall story structure. Thankfully after they get into military school and the series immediately jumps to their final exam. The exam itself is a quick episode that shows the general dynamic of the group that has developed during the time skip and then the crew immediately get an assignment up north. A smart show can have interesting stories, ethical dilemmas, and politics and still be set at a school but they flow much more powerfully from soldiers in the field. This avoids the potentially bland but safe setting of a school for something that actually stands out.
The first story arc actually touches on unexpected ideas. Since this is a story about soldiers you are going to have themes of loss, sacrifice, bureaucracy, and the mental and physical costs of a war on combatants and civilians. Any decent series about war will at least touch upon all of these ideas. The real question is how well they delve into them. Even some great shows will get ham-fisted or annoyingly preachy about these ideas. Overall the series does a decent job looking at these ideas. I think Alderamin on the Sky does its best work when it has a soft touch. I don’t want to go into too many details but there is a storyline about Ikta a solider that befriends named Kanna. Parts of it are a bit obvious and other parts are a bit more subtle. The show does its best when it plays ideas softly as opposed to going for the jugular. It is never laughably clumsy but it does its best work when chooses to be silent as opposed to loud.
But the most interesting parts of the show are the ideas that Alderamin on the Sky plays with that are related to the military and conquest but don’t come up in every war story. The assignment Ikta gets posted to is in a backwater border fort of the empire that has a series of nearly impassable mountains separating it from a neighboring theocracy. He quickly realizes that while they are ostensibly there to protect the nation from invasion their real job is keeping the native population in check. The population of the area is an ethnic minority that has been part of the country long enough that they are generally considered citizens but distinct enough that they are also always outsiders. This creates a strange tension and racism that is a powder keg of tension in the region that the current commander is both suffering from and taking advantage of. This gets even more complex and dangerous when outside forces take advantage of the situation.
This story delves into colonialism, religious tensions, the effects of technology on war, racism, classism, and corruption in some fascinating ways. Like anything else in the show, it can be heavy-handed and clumsy at times but I have to give it credit for trying in the first place. But I have to say two things in Alderamin on the Sky’s defense. The first is that overall it succeeds in tacking these topics in a mature manner more often than not. The second is it is never so over the top that it burns any goodwill that it built up before that point. It is a show that could easily provoke such an exchange:
Person 1: You know what other show tackled colonialism fairly well? Alderamin on the Sky.
Person 2: Really? The light novel show?
Person 1: Actually, yes. I was as shocked as you are.
It is worth mentioning that this TV series is mostly just set up for the actual story. After the incident in the north shows how the country is slowly rotting Ikta and Chamille actually come up with a plan that is the crux of the show. So there is a complete story but it is clearly just a prelude to a larger and more complex tale. As far as I can tell this series sort of came and went so I would not hold my breath for the second season and there is no news about an English release of the light novels. I mostly mention this because this fact alone is a hard deal breaker for some people.
So Alderamin on the Sky is a show I recommend with some reservations. Its strengths center around the fact that the show actually tells a fair intresting war story filled with fairly complex issues and themes. On the downside, it still has the feel of a very standard light novel at times. It is an easy show to dismiss because of the visual vibe which is not unfounded but obscures a deeper story for those who can pierce that layer. It is not a show for everyone but if what I said sparked your interest you might want to give Alderamin on the Sky a chance.