I ran a site called I Hate Bee Train for a bunch of months last year, but haven’t posted on it since November out of laziness. It’s a site wherein I episodically blog Bee Train shows for the purpose of insulting them, because Bee Train is the worst studio ever. As part of my effort to migrate all content here, I’ve imported its posts to this blog under the eponymous category. I won’t be closing the original site because it’s still awesome, but I will post all of its content here.
Moving along: Arc the Lad. I’ve been aware of this show via ADV previews for an eternity, and was interested in the games before, but never got to play them.
Arc the Lad was Bee Train’s second production (after PoPoLoCrois Monogatari), made when the studio did nothing but video game adaptations. (Wild Arms: Twilight Venom and Medabots soon followed). These shows differ greatly from what has come to be the Bee Train norm.
One huge difference is that Wild Arms and Arc the Lad were directed by Kawasaki Itsuro (who did a little work on Noir and then presumably left the studio), as opposed to studio head/chief director Mashimo Kouichi. More noticeably, Arc the Lad doesn’t feature a Kajiura Yuki soundtrack, but one by Oshima Michiru (who hadn’t made music for the game that the anime was based on, but would work on the soundtracks for later games in the series.)
I could make the case (but I won’t) that Mashimo Kouichi is a somewhat competent director; and Kajiura Yuki is certainly excellent. These aren’t the elements that make Bee Train shows bad, and changing them isn’t the magic that turns things around. Every Bee Train show’s biggest weakness is its art and animation, and that’s where Arc the Lad has me doing a double-take.
It actually looks nice! Episode one was consistently good-looking—there were even moments that honestly impressed me. My standards may be low right now because the last few things I watched were embarrassingly shitty 1997 OVAs, but I’m pretty sure a Bee Train show has never visually impressed me before. It reminds me that they started off as a subsidiary of Production I.G.
The episode is an in media res introduction to major plot elements by way of a one-off action operation. The main character, Elk, is a fire-controlling, spear-wielding “hunter” (i.e. mercenary). He and a partner infiltrate a hijacked airship with the goal of rescuing its passengers and taking out the hijacker. A mysterious girl who can apparently control beasts and has a big cat with her is part of the cargo. When things come to a head, we learn that the bad guy is a mutant Chimera, which clues Elk in to his involvement with an organization called White House (lol). An airship, presumably sent by White House, takes out the bad guy and grabs up the mysterious girl, while Elk escapes to the ship he flew in on minus a partner.
None of this is terrifically interesting, but it’s portrayed well by the directing and script to create intrigue. Everything happens quickly (this is really Bee Train?!). Elk’s partner is killed without fanfare; little is said by any character that isn’t out of urgency; and Elk shares less than two sentences with the mystery girl before she’s taken away. He doesn’t even have time to fall in love with her!
I’m curious about a lot of things. I learned nothing about the world from this episode, except that it has airships. I assume it’s a fantasy world, presumably some kind of desert planet going by the OP, yet the opening narration brings up the Arc of the Covenant, which would be a weird thing to have in a fantasy world! That “arc,” by the way, is not, “Arc the Lad,” as I understand it—there’s also a character named Arc who hasn’t shown up yet. Presumably he’s the protagonist of the first game, and this anime primarily adapts the second one.
It’s amazing to me that I walked out of a Bee Train show curious about its mysteries instead of rolling my eyes and screaming, “get on with it!” However, I won’t be getting my hopes up. After all, I enjoyed the first episodes of .hack//SIGN, and that show proceeded to shit all over my hopes. With any luck, Arc the Lad won’t be such an asshole. The fact that it’s never been well-reviewed and is, in fact, a Bee Train show, still worries me.