For sure, this is a pretty action-packed episode. Our trio goes from defeating Count Abarth, to escaping his estate, to escaping Alberic Gillete through the streets of some town, and finally, this all comes to a head in a duel between Toru and Nikolai, one of Gillette’s henchmen. In terms of a climax to the just the action itself, the confrontation between Toru and Nikolai is definitely impressive. Bones knows its way around the choreography of a fight, which is something we could even see in an anime like Noragami if only in the last couple of episodes. More specifically, the studio does a good job of making the episode’s climactic fight visually comprehensible. In lazier anime, two characters will go to battle and then eventually one of them will get the upper hand and win. You can’t really tell how this actually happens though. The good guy just tends to get his ass kicked around until the moment of truth comes. Then out of nowhere, he turns the fight around completely and wins.
In the duel between Toru and Nikolai, however, you can see clearly that our two combatants have very different fighting styles. Toru uses his quickness and agility whereas Nikolai relies on his brute strength. This isn’t just visually conveyed through their sizes differences, though. The actual choreography of the fight itself does its part in getting this information across to the audience. Unlike in lazier shows, both characters aren’t fast and both characters aren’t strong. In other shows, you can never really tell who’s faster or stronger than the other person without the anime flat out telling us. In this duel, however, the audience can come to their own conclusion by watching the way Toru jumps and flips around the bigger opponent or how Nikolai uses his strength advantage to fling our hero across the bridge with one grab. In essence, our fighters aren’t just visually distinctive in their character designs, but their moves are visually distinctive. That, to me, is the one impressive thing about Hitsugi no Chaika.
What brings the episode down is when the characters pause to talk. The story itself still isn’t very exciting. The way the action built up to the confrontation between Toru and Alberic, you’d think that the latter would have something mind-blowing to tell the audience. Like finally, someone’s going to give all of this action some context so that we can understand our characters’ motivations! Don’t get me wrong. I like action. I’m more than happy to not sit through a bunch of boring, world-building episodes in which the characters drone on and on about the boring details of distant people and distant places. But nevertheless, you still need a bit of context to grease the wheel, so to speak. Action for action sake doesn’t work unless we’re talking about some Crank level of stupid exhilaration. But unfortunately, Alberic doesn’t really tell us anything that we either didn’t really know or couldn’t have guessed beforehand.
Case in point, Alberic makes a big deal out of the fact that Chaika is the daughter of the late Emperor Gaz, a.k.a. “the taboo emperor.” Sure, this is technically new information to our hero, but it’s hardly new information for the audience. We already knew this to be the case right from the very start of the series. Alberic goes on to say that there are still supporters of the late taboo emperor, and they might want to use Chaika to revive the old regime. This, on the other hand, is technically new information for both the audience and Toru, but as I’ve said above, it’s not exactly something we couldn’t have guessed at. Emperor Gaz’s severed hand is a source of great magical power? Well, sure, I’d imagine that such an artifact could and would potentially disturb the peace. After more than fifteen minutes of straight action, I guess I just expected the story to build up to something major.
Still, I think the biggest problem currently for the anime is our characters’ lack of compelling motivations. After being told that war may come about as a result of him aiding Chaika, Toru’s only words are “That suits me fine. Bring war again, huh? That sounds good.” Sure, the guy hasn’t had a job in a while. Sure, he probably wants to side with the cute, pale loli over a bunch of hostile strangers. But then again, he hardly knows Chaika all that well either. So for a guy to just embroil himself in the middle of a serious conflict like this — a conflict that may bring about war, no less — I don’t know, his simple motivations seem like a head-scratcher to me. I can’t imagine our hero is serious in wanting to bring war back, so like Chaika, he’s continuing to play things close to the chest. But where does he intend to go with this? What does he intend to accomplish? What exactly are his goals?
Akari’s motivations are even less fathomable. Since Toru will help Chaika out indefinitely, she’ll tag along with him too for no other reason than that they’re related. I guess it’s just hard for me to imagine that two supposed individuals would have nothing more to their lives that they can just drop it all like a rock one day in order to help out a strange girl they’ve only just met. In fact, the level of trust that they have in Chaika in such a short amount of time is so remarkable that it may as well border on naivete. Maybe we can’t trust Alberic and the Kliemann Organization, but why would we able trust Chaika either? After all, she was rather mum about the fact that she’s related to the late taboo emperor. And c’mon, who just accepts the idea that the girl only wants to give her father a proper burial?
To make things clear, I’m not saying that Chaika is for sure lying, but there’s no reason to be this trustful with the girl. We’ve even seen from the first episode that she is somehow “the one who will decide fate.” I would not believe the girl’s words at face value. Even if I imagine myself to be in Toru’s shoes, I’d still think the girl is playing things rather close to her chest, and as a result, I’d be quite wary about being under her employ. Unless, of course, she has promised the siblings riches, but we don’t see any such agreement being made. In fact, all Chaika ever carries around on her is a small pouch of money. Compared to Toru and Akari, I’m sure she’s quite well off, but I can’t imagine that a wandering deposed princess has a lot of capital to burn here.
I think the show is a decent time waster for now; the visuals and the fight scenes are worth a second look. But like with the first episode, I’m still not too terribly excited to watch Hitsugi no Chaika every week. After two viewings, it just hasn’t quite hit the mark. I’ll grant that we haven’t hit the 3-episode smell test, but hey, we’re fast approaching it.