Friday, 23 December 2016

Five Anime Shows For Fans of the Black River Chronicles

Anyone who's visited my blog will probably have noticed that I'm a big fan of anime, and that enthusiasm was a small but meaningful element that went into crafting The Black River Chronicles: Level One.  After all, Dungeons & Dragons has made its way to Japan just as it has to pretty much everywhere, and Japan has been feeding its own interpretations of D&D-styled fantasy back to the West ever since.  So if you're someone who's enjoyed both Level One and anime, or if you like the former and have been thinking about dipping a toe into the latter, then I'm confident in recommending any or all of the following:

Little Witch Academia

If you thought Black River had an irresponsible attitude to sending students into potentially fatal situations then you haven't seen anything yet: welcome to Luna Nova Magical Academy, where the teachers apparently think nothing of having a dungeon in the basement full of actual monsters, up to and including the occasional dragon.

Little Witch Academia definitely follows in the tradition of works like Harry Potter and The Worst Witch, but with a greater emphasis on humour and a more D&D-style approach to its zany world, making it perfect for fans of Level One.  The characters are instantly adorable, the plots are witty and clever, and the animation and design work are flat-out gorgeous.  So far, all that exists is the original half hour episode and a slightly longer sequel, The Enchanted Parade, both of which you can find on Netflix - though apparently there's a series on the way, which is good news indeed.

Sword Art Online

Despite huge popularity, Sword Art Online has proved something of a love-it-or-hate-it show.  Personally, I tend to find myself both loving and hating it at different points, and even sometimes within the same episode.  Still, there's no doubt that when this action-filled drama about players trapped in the worlds of elaborate multiplayer video games works, it really does work; after all, what better excuse could there be to indulge in some old-style fantasy than to trap your characters in an MMORPG?

It's true that Sword Art Online tends to veer between the ridiculous and the sublime, but it's picked up a massive following for a reason.  The first story arc in particular is excellent, and the recent Mother's Rosarium mini-arc was perhaps the show's finest moment.  What I enjoy most, and what was something of an influence on Level One, is how it finds that perfect balance of treating its characters as sometimes clumsy teenagers and treating them as people on the verge of adulthood.  So if that appeals then you could definitely do worse than to give SAO a try.


A bit of a cheat this one: Mushishi isn't much like Level One at all, but it's also the only show here that had a direct influence.  All I'll say is that I happened to be watching Mushishi when Mike and I were discussing how magic might work in the world of The Black River Chronicles - and I'd be lying if I said that one particular element didn't work its way into the Unbalance, much as the show's attitude to the supernatural helped me figure out how to tackle magic in a way that felt true to the setting we were building.

Anyway, Mushishi is nothing like the other shows on this list: it's meditative, cerebral fantasy, and quite adult, if only in its openness about admitting that sometimes awful things happen to good people for no particular reason.  Nevertheless, if I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as something you'll enjoy if you liked Level One, I'm happy to recommend it to anyone with broad tastes in fantasy: if you're after something a little weird, sometimes a little scary, but deeply heartfelt and imaginative, then Mushishi might be for you.


The oldest show here, as well as the longest running, Slayers is quite a bit further up the comic spectrum than Level One, to say the least.  Following wonderfully-named sorceress Lina Inverse and her companion (and frequent adversary) Naga the Serpent, Slayers is the definition of irreverent: no fantasy cliche is remotely safe here.

On the other hand, it's a show made with clear affection for the stereotypes it spends so much time and humour exploding, and, like all the best parodies, it even manages to work really well as the thing that it's parodying: however silly Lina and Naga's adventures get, they're still rousing stories jam-packed with outrageous spells and monsters.  If you love classic fantasy but don't mind seeing it laughed at mercilessly, and can cope with some slightly dated animation, then Slayers just might be what you've been waiting for.

Chaika the Coffin Princess

The most recent show on the list, Chaika's probably the one that hits the most perfect balance between delivering classic fantasy and affectionately spoofing that selfsame classic fantasy.  I mean, not even a single episode passes before a unicorn gets exploded!

There seems to be a bit of a renaissance in anime fantasy shows right now and, of all the ones I've seen, Chaika is my current favourite.  It's a somewhat old-fashioned plot told with enough of a twist to feel very fresh, and incorporates broader influences in an appealing way; the fact that the main character is a reference to my favourite Western hero was enough to make me fall in love basically from the first minute.  Also, it occurs to me that the titular Chaika is a lot like what the result would be if you somehow crossed Tia and Arein, and male hero Toru isn't a million miles away from Durren, either.  Basically, Chaika is a ton of fun, and a near-perfect blend of humour and original-yet-nostalgic high fantasy.

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