Unlike most of the internet, I went into Chaika: The Coffin Princess with high expectations, because every Internet person who even saw it mentioned launched into an explosion of how it was the best anime they’d ever seen whilst posting random gifs and videos which seemed to set it up to be fairly comical and interesting (Exhibit A, Exhibit B). And of course these expectations were met, I was absolutely floored by every second of Chaika. Little minute touches in the setting and the great characterisation helped convey the message of what does it mean to be ‘real?’
Here’s the setup for the series: Five years ago the Eight Heroes of Six nations killed Arthur Gaz, the Emperor of the Gaz empire and the most powerful wizard to exist. By doing this they ended a war that had lasted 300 years, but they also left a lot of people who’s lives depended on the war without a job. Like twenty-year-old Toru Acura, a Saboteur, an assassin trained from childhood with a little bit of kung-fu wizardry thrown in to make him stand out from the crowd. In this post-war world, Toru finds little to do with his life, until one day while foraging for food in the woods he comes across a young girl elaborately dressed, carrying a coffin on her back, who speaks in halting tones like she’s struggling to get the most important words out. And you’ve guessed it, she’s Chaika, the Coffin Princess.
Whilst trying to explain to Chaika that he is not a bandit, Toru and Chaika are attacked by one of the most macabre looking unicorns I have ever seen. And in this moment, it is revealed that Chaika isn’t just carrying around a massive coffin for the sake of it. Inside the coffin is a giant sniper rifle which doubles as her wizard staff and also… a number of body parts. To no one’s surprise, it is revealed that Chaika is the daughter of Gaz, but all she wants to do is retrieve her father’s scattered body parts and give Gaz a proper funeral. Toru, desperately needing work sets out with Chaika and his saboteur sister Akari to retrieve the body parts and give Gaz the funeral his daughter wants.
Of course, such a thing does not fly well with the government which is where the main ‘antagonist’ of the show, the Gillette corps, come in. The Gillette corps, a group of skilled mercenaries and soldiers working for the arm of the government attempting to restore the world after the war. Of course, given the setting these people are infact the good guys, and their perfect characterisation shows this. Through them, we learn that there are many Chaika’s, each purporting to be the real daughter of Emperor Gaz, and each having the same goal: reclaim all of the Emperors body parts.
And here is where the shows true charm shines, Chaika: The Coffin Princess shows even-handedness to both the development of nearly every character in the show, from the main group to the Gillette corps and even the shapeshifting dragon girl introcuded in the third episode. Each and every character is well fleshed out. The bond between Toru and Akari to Chaika is originally simply an employer/contractor relationship but eventually evolves into a genuine friendship between the characters. Even the Gillette Corps is given enough exposure and character to not make them feel like second class citizens.
You may notice I said nearly every character above. This is because in the main antagonists of both seasons fall very short in becoming anything more than 2D. Although as the show spends little time on these characters, something that works against it, it’s not that big a contributing factor against the series.
The one bit of charactarisation I felt was odd was Akari’s pseudo-incestuous thoughs for Toru. The deadpan delivery of how she thinks Toru is lusting after her, along with her constant thoughts of having Toru stuffed if he dies, always seemed odd in their placement, particularly because they’re reused a heck of a lot. I didn’t particularly dislike it, but it just felt odd at certain instances. Although it did make for some great no-context images.
And every setting and scene is never just there to be there, every single one has a purpose. Even something as seemingly mundane as two characters shopping helps elaborate some part of the worldbuilding or characters. While I never thought the music was decent enough for the vast grandness of the scenes, it was ignorable enough to have it accompany what was going on on screen without being grating.
And never before have I seen a show that shows us the struggle of being feeling real. As we learn early there are many Chaika’s, each purporting to be the real daughter of Emperor Gaz and combined with the shows Chaika Toru is traveling with giving us the revelation that she lacks memories, the show leaves this message purposely ambiguous for us to try and piece them together, which is something I always prefer in a show. Give us enough to tease us on and on and on but no cliffhangers are always something I really like.
Unfortunately as this is more a review rather than a full essay I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but I will most likely write an essay about Chaika later this year. But for now I shall simply leave you with this: Chaika is one of the finest animes I’ve ever seen, a rare gem in its stylistic and story department.
Originally published at valiantghost.com.