Hitsugi no Chaika (The Coffin Princess) 1-4
Rounding out Studio Bones’s trio of shows this spring season, Hitsugi no Chaika (The Coffin Princess) is an fantasy adventure with some rather appealing elements surrounding the storyline and its mildly intriguing characters as a whole.
With so many shows this season being either about sports, giant robots, or typical high school hijinks, I’m pleased to see an anime that begins with a soldier named Tooru, having trouble adjusting to a peaceful civilian life. All that changes when he is out gathering herbs in the forest and comes across a fourteen-year old girl who introduced herself as Chaika, carrying a coffin on her back. It turns out that she is a wizard who is able channel magic into the sniper rifle that she carries in the coffin and she recruits Tooru and his sister, Akari, on her quest to gather the remains of her father, which is held by the eight heroes who defeated him. Hot on their heels is the mysterious group lead by Alberic Gillette, who seems to be adamantly opposed to Chaika’s quest and with good reason as well. It turns out that Chaika’s father was a demon emperor of sorts and his remains are still powerful sources of magic which could lead the world back into war once again. What follows is a series of heists carries out at these former hero’s homes in which Chaika manages to get a quarter of her father’s remain and having a dragoon joins her team.
At this certain point in the show, the lines are quite blurry as to who the bad and good guys are. The viewers assumes that Tooru, Akari and Chaika are the good guys since it’s their viewpoint and journey that we are watching but Gillette’s revelation and hints of Chaika’s hidden goals for her father’s remains casts doubt on that assumption. The magic that is still contained within her father’s remains that can be used as a fuel source is an intriguing concept. This extends to the technological side of things with automobiles being fueled with magic instead of fossil fuels and having only magicians able to drive them. Chaika’s sniper rifle and ability as a mechanic is an interesting take on the blending of magic and metal as she scampers around repairing broken down vehicles.
Fanservice seems to be kept to minimum, unlike the other fantasy show this season of Blade and Soul, and has a few things going for it even when it does happen. The bath scene in episode four begins with Chaika using her magic railgun to heat up the water at point-black range was a little cute in its own way. We also find out two pieces of information that only adds to the mystery of Chaika’s past of which she mentions a suicide pact and Akari noticing a scar encircling her entire neck, suggesting that a decapitation occurred.
One of the themes that seems to be recurring so far is finding utility in a world that no longer requires the services that a person can offer. Tooru was destined to rot away for the rest of his and never putting to use the skills that he spend his life learning until Chaika offered salvation from that fate. I would have like to see more insight into his struggles after he is released from his military service as some soldiers in real life do have psychological and emotional barriers when comes to living in peacetime. Perhaps the show could have spent a few minutes in the beginning to give better context and reasoning for him to continue willingly serve Chaika, even though Gillette explains the severe repercussions of helping her. For a person to come to such a decision, it warrants a deeper look into finding meaning and belonging in one’s life over the that of the greater good.
The entirety of episode four is a example of this in which weapons are being unable to let go of their past and function beginning with Dominica dying in a bed because of a illness rather than on the battlefield where she belong. Her dragoon, Fredrika, takes it upon herself to take the form of her deceased master and surrounds the mansion with images of Dominica in their glory days. When Chaika’s team comes along on their quest, she relishes the opportunity to once more engage in battle
She even goes as far as giving up information on her weak spots so that the fight would be more of a challenge after all the years of experiencing idleness. It would make logical sense that after Fredrika is defeated, she would join our cast as they would more than likely encounter more fights but I’m not too sure about her taking the form of another loli. One railgun-wielding little girl is enough.
Chaika has an odd way of communicating with people by speaking in sharp broken sentences, which gets straight to the point and often, with humorous effect. She seems to be clumsy and inexperienced especially when it comes to her cooking skills. By cooking, I mean aiming her sniper rifle at bread dough and having it backfire severely. Her second attempt is marginally more successful resulting is shattered charred chicken and having Tooru remarked that “it exploded nicely”. Her speech pattern, firepower, gothic dress and quirky efforts make her one of the more memorable loli this season.
Aside from Chaika, the other characters of Tooru and Akari do not stand out as much as she does. Tooru is rather competent in what he does by fighting a standoff battle using decoys and traps against a superior opponent, rather than typically charging in like a shonuen hero. His skills extends outside of combat by being able to deduce that Dominica was an imposter and turning Fredrika’s vanity into a tactical advantage. However, his limited range of emotion expressed so far makes it difficult for viewers to get emotionally attached to his character. Akari doesn’t flair any better than her brother, having less screen-time and giving off an aura of a watchful older sister. Their attraction as characters doesn’t comes from their personality or growth but rather, from their combat skills and ability to get results.
On the flip side, much like the sibling pair in No Game No Life, it is refreshing to see that incestuous feelings kept on the low end with Tooru and Akari. Their relationship between each other seems to be one of companionship which is further confirmed later as they are not blood-related, only having grown up with each other. It even makes a point of this tiresome trope by using forbidden incestuous love as an excuse when explaining to Fredrika about their journey through the forest. Every other interactions is filled with verbal jabs and deadpan humor so their relationship between each other makes up a little for what they lack as a character on their own.
This show does not mess around with its fights, showing off blood explosions and body parts being ejected through the air. There is even a scene where Chaika is cradling her father’s eyeballs which is unsettling being juxaposed Its creatures and wild animals designs shows their no-nonsense nature by having a demonic chanting unicorn show up in the first ten minutes before being blown up in a spectacular fashion. Another encounter in forest involves a pack of wolf giving chase to our protagonists during their search for Dominica’s home. These wolfs have lightning cannons attached to their heads. Lightning Cannons. Kinda like lazer-sharks but less Austin Powers and more brutality.
Another aspect of the battle scenes that I’m really digging is the amount of teamwork that is involved when squaring off with other enemies. From the first fight onwards, Chaika is an immobile, vulnerable, high damage ranged caster who requires help from the sibling duo to fend off attackers while she sets up her magic sniper rifle for the kill shot. Tooru and Akari do not disappoint in the fighting and combat tactics department by being innovative and playing to their strengths. They both have this ability called the “Iron Blood Transformation” to grow a certain color and tap into the abilities from it but I’m not too sure where its origins comes from or the exact mechanics behind it. It is known that both of them were not common soldiers but specialize in their roles as saboteurs, wrecking havoc behind enemy lines. As for people saying that Akari is useless as a character on the whole, I disagree with that view. She acts as the close protection force for Chaika and works in tandem with Tooru when their foe holds multiple inherent advantages over their Iron Blood ability. She also is the much needed muscle that Chaika can’t provide such as carrying the coffin on the first heist to steal the former emperor’s hand. Her fighting style differs from Tooru, in that she uses a hammer-type weapon that can strike less often than her brother’s dual blades, but hits harder with every blow. As of episode four, with the addition of Fredrika to the team, Chaika’s team seems more well-rounded by having two close-ranged fighters, one ranged caster and a dragoon acting as a damage sponge.
Out of the three shows being produced by Studio Bones this season, Hitsugi no Chaika is easily the weakest in terms of visuals, standing in stark contrast to the gorgeous production values of Captain Earth and the obviously very moe Soul Eater Not!. Its color scheme is of on the darker side and it lacks the shading, reflective flair, and light bloom that modern anime seems to be fond of, making it looks like it was made several years ago. On the upside, the animation is fluid enough and the actions scene are decently exciting though I can’t help but think how much more it would have benefited if more budget was allotted for Hitsugi no Chaika. Surprisingly, the music is fairly decent with particular mention towards the end of episode three for amping up the intensity at just the right moment.
At the this point, the Coffin Princess is one of my more enjoyable shows of this season having fights, a little of darkness, ambiguous goals and competent characters. I just hope we get more explosions and less loli harems.