Magatsu Wahrheit -Zuerst- was never destined to be a real winner of a series, but I was rooting for it all the same. It’s a prequel to a smartphone game I’d never heard of, and was only released internationally a month after the start of the anime’s run. There wasn’t too much about it that made it stand out or seem remarkable, but I found it interesting enough to keep watching and see where it was going. But by the end of twelve episodes of so-so storytelling and increasingly terrible animation, much of my goodwill had dissipated. It seems that it didn’t do much to advertise the game, either, since only two weeks after the show finished airing, KLab announced they’d be ending service for the game in Japan.
The setting is a low-magic fantasy world that resembles a mishmash of late-19th/early-20th century Europe, with hints of a post-apocalyptic connection to the real world. The main source of energy for this world is something called “cold fire,” a not-so-subtle allegory to nuclear power with an eerie golden glow that can cause luminosis, a terminal illness, with more than a couple hours’ exposure. The people are governed by the Diet, a representative legislative body, plus an Emperor. It’s functional for the kind of story they were looking to tell, and nothing more or less.
The word “functional” would aptly apply to the story as well. The first half is plagued by jargon world-building details that make little sense without context, but are hard to keep in your head long enough to remember. I’m still not sure if certain things explained in the first few episodes ever really became relevant, or if they were part of a big infodump due to poor scripting.
Plus, none of it really matters in the end. This is a prequel, after all, and the game’s story isn’t about luminosis or the Diet being shady or weapon-smuggling; it’s about the Lights, and the disasters they wrought, and so by the end of the last episode, the first eight episodes or so felt almost entirely extraneous other than providing backstory for Innumael and Leocadio. What once felt like several simultaneous plotlines coming together in a mostly succesful way gets tossed aside, and none of the suffering and character deaths matters in any real way.
The characters are where Magatsu Wahrheit -Zuerst- really shines. At first, it seems like the hero will be Leocadio, the sweet boy who joined the military because he wants to help his family out. Innumael gets pulled into the conflict due to Leocadio’s mistake, and the two end up on opposite sides of the conflict between Headkeeper and the government. Although Leocadio initially seems more protagonist material, as the conventionally attractive, idealistic kid facing the realities of war, most of the time the story focuses on Innumael and Headkeeper.
Innumael, on the other hand, is the epitome of the fish-out-of-water protagonist. Although we don’t know much about his life before he inadvertently smuggled weapons other than that he has a little sister, he’s clearly not emotionally equipped to be part of a secret organization. He’s a bit of a coward and a whiner, not so much to be an active hindrance, but enough to really give the sense that he’d rather be anywhere else; as such, when he starts being proactive, it really feels like growth. Atsushi Abe turns in a standout performance, portraying Innumael with a persistent nasally whine, and yet somehow never obnoxious.
Nor does Leocadio remain the sweet-natured naif. Turns out, having your brother killed right in front of your eyes in your first battle does a number on you, and Leocadio spends most of the series depressed and struggling with his anger at what happened, and reconciling his ideals and his complicity in the atrocities the military commits against the populace.
It’s not just the character writing that’s strong; their designs are great too. There’s a huge amount of variety in features, skin tone, and body type, so every character has a distinct appearance. The contrast between Leocadio’s classic anime protagonist looks and Innumael’s Roman nose and rubbery face further communicates their unusual positions in the narrative.
However, no amount of good design work can stand up to poor art direction, and halfway through the series, the already-middling animation starts to melt. In motion, it’s often stiff and lifeless, lacking in the sense of weight that is absolutely necessary for the action/horror story that emerges. The characters go from being occasionally off-model to their limbs deforming and their features sliding off their faces more often than not. The sketchy linework that once appeared to be a deliberate stylistic choice starts to look unfinished. It is a complete disaster.
I’ve been asking myself whether I would consider Magatsu Wahrheit -Zuerst- a bad show or not. It’s certainly not good, and falls just short even of average, but I still hesitate to call it “bad” exactly. I suspect there was a disconnect or lack of coherent vision in the production process; there’s a sense that it wanted to be one thing, but was eventually forced to be another. Unfortunately, as entertaining as it may have been at times, the deteriorating production and odd story choices make it a frustrating, unfulfilling experience.
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