*Major Spoiler Warnings
Blending action, drama and romance, Lord of Vermilion is an exciting, action-packed addition to the 2018 anime Fall lineup!
Based on a popular Japanese video game series, Lord of Vermilion follows the story of Chihiro Kamina (Jap: Yūki Kaji; Eng: Orion Pitts), a 19 year old university student who one day collapses after hearing a strange sound. 5 months later, Chihiro awakens to find the city surrounded by an ominous red fog barrier and strange thorn-like plants growing out of the buildings.
After his adoptive father suddenly turns into a monster, Chihiro discovers that he has a mysterious power – the ‘Heroic Bloodline.’ which allows a user to create armaments powered by the user’s blood. Chihiro then gets pulled into a three -way war between the Mardious Church, the Guardian State and the AVAL Science Research Institute which he tries to resolve with his friend and adoptive brother, Kotetsu Dōmyōji (Jap: Satoshi Hino; Eng: Justin Briner) and his ‘Familiar Defender,’ Eiko Morizono (Jap: Tomoko Nakamura; Eng: Skyler McIntosh).
Lord of Vermilion is one of those series that will either be a hit or miss with viewers. On the plus side, it has a top-notch casting, amazing visuals, music and dramatization. but, it’s writing, pacing and characterizations are a complete mess. But, I’ll focus on the positive aspects of this show first.
Narration techniques is one of the first positive aspects of this show. The writers are really clever in using it to create twists and misdirection so you don’t know where the story is going. In the first episode, viewers are made to believe that this story is a tragic tale set in a post apocalyptic Tokyo. The whole purpose of the anime then is to explain the backstory to this tragedy through flashbacks. But let’s go through the first scene first.
The first scene begins with a desert covered Tokyo where all the characters are trying to kill each other – with everyone naturally dying. We then have our Romeo and Juliet couple, Chihiro and Yuri Shiraki (Jap: Misato Fukuen; Eng: Amber Lee Connors), discussing the nature of fate just before striking each other down. The two die as they embrace. The next scene then changes, and we are shown what we believe to be Chihiro’s past.
From episode 2, the story progresses normally until around episode 6; when in a sudden turn of fate, Inuki Akaya (Jap: Toshiyuki Morikawa; Eng: Eric Vale) sacrifices his life to save Chihiro’s. This sets off a drastic change as contrary to the first scene where Inuki dies by Jun Aoi (Jap: Junichi Suwabe; Eng: Ian Sinclair)’s hands, Inuki’s final fate is different.
From episode 7, the sequence of events change even more as more characters start dying unexpectedly, new alliances get forged and characters who once considered each other enemies become friends or even lovers (in Kotetsu’s and Tsubaki’s case) by the end of the show.
Chihiro’s hard efforts does pay off though and he manages to obtain a happy yet bittersweet ending (ala The Tempest) at the cost of his life. The bittersweet part of this ending is that although the world is saved, Van Drail (Jap: Nobuyuki Hiyama) is still alive; plotting another plan using Suruga Jūmonji (Jap: Akira Ishida; Eng: Howard Wang) as his new patsy. Personally, I don’t like these endings. It’s depressingly sad when a protagonist you have gotten attached to dies. I would have preferred seeing the backstory to the first scenario rather than the open ending. But I’m satisfied with how it ended.
Another great part of this show is how the illustrators create the dark, tragic atmosphere of the show using the animation. The show uses a lot of dark colours such as deep reds and blacks to show that this is not going to be one of those happy anime shows. Action sequences are exciting too. With fast-paced music backing it up, there is a lot of high speed action and flying around. So viewers get the serious intense nature of the main characters fights. The scene transitions are smooth and consistent, so there aren’t any issues on that part.
Theme-wise, a lot of symbolism goes into this show. There are a lot of gothic symbols such as crosses, colours and butterflies which signify death and serve to show that this is going to be a dark show. The colour red also represents blood and the fate that comes from family and blood ties; which I feel the show did well in exploring.
Dux’s design is also the prime example of Gothic symbolism as Dux (Jap: Sayuri Inoue; Eng: Dani Chambers) is this mysterious blonde girl who regularly wears Gothic black armour, black nail polish and makeup. She is also the head of the Mardious church and is hinted many times to being not human. Compared to Van Drail, Dux’s clothes are more structured than Van Drail’s clothes which has a punk rocker feel to it. While also being covered in tattoos and piercings.
Shakespeare’s plays are another symbol that is quoted on a lot in the show. In the first episode, Macbeth’s “Life’s but a walking shadow” is used in the opening theme song and Chihiro later borrows it to argue how fate is elusive just like a person’s shadow.
They also use Hamlet a lot initially because Hamlet is also a tragedy where everyone dies. In the first episode, Chihiro quotes Hamlet’s “To be or not to be,” when he is talking with Kotetsu, suggesting that he is uncertain about his own future. Later on, he starts quoting from ‘The Tempest’ to show his changing views on how it might be possible to change fate. The show also ends similarly to the Tempest with Chihiro finding redemption at last and everyone moving on with their lives, making it similar to Zetsuen no Tempest.
Eiko Morizono is also a clear metaphor for Hamlet’s Ophelia. Not only is her costume filled with flower imagery; she also uses plants as her main weapons. She also develops feelings for the main protagonist over time. By the end of the show, Eiko naturally grows more concerned about the amount of time Chihiro spends with Yuri. She starts fearing that Chihiro’s feelings for Yuri could possibly lead to his death someday. When Yuri attempts to stop Chihiro from going to the site of the final battle, Eiko uses the opportunity to attack Yuri and ends up dying with her feelings unrequited just like Ophelia.
Lord of Vermilion’s music is incredible! The ost soundtrack does a great job in emphasizing the sad tragic nature of the show and really brings certain scenes to life. The ambiance of the music is similar to X/1999. But, the more dramatic music promotes the heroic nature of the protagonists better as each group seeks to protect Tokyo in their own way. It really creates a wonderful balance between hope and despair.
May’n’s ‘Tenshi yo, Kokyou wo Kike’ (Angels, Listen to your Hometown) is also an incredible theme song! It is dark and edgy yet the lyrics cheer you on. While Junna’s ‘Akaku, Zetsubou no Hana,’ (Crimson Flower of Despair) is hardcore gothic rock at its best! Although it does speak of despair, it definitely promotes the darker aspects of the show quite well.
Getting back to the topic of characters. With an excellent cast both sub and dub wise, every one of the main characters all have relatable personalities for the most part. Chihiro’s past is especially so; having lost both of his parents to tragedies in the past. First, he lost his mother to an accident when he was younger and then Chihiro’s father killed himself. As he grew up, Kakihara constantly harassed him, accusing him of murdering his father which Chihiro believes to be true. His story is one of guilt and redemption which he finally obtains in the final episode.
Then there is the main love interest, Yuri Shiraki. Yuri was a childhood friend of Chihiro’s back when they were young. She was separated from him following the accident that killed his mother and was forced to grow up with her distant father, Aldo Grumman Shiraki (Jap: Sho Hayami; Eng: Kent Williams), who raised her to be a vessel of Heroic Blood rather than his daughter.
Isshin Kakihara (Jap: Hiroki Touchi; Eng: Robert McCollum), a journalist who is one of Chihiro’s tougher allies is also a tragic figure in this tale. His parents abandoned him when he was young by tossing him out of a speeding car just as they were about to drive off a cliff to commit suicide. Feeling left behind, Kakihara takes out his rage on Chihiro who he feels that he should have joined his father in death.
Lastly, we have our main trio of Inuki Akaya, Jun Aoi and Koume Sakiyama (Jap: Aoi Yūki; Eng: Monica Rial). These three were all orphans who were raised in an orphanage that used its orphans as test subjects for gruesome experiments. All of these characters are really sympathetic and you can really feel the sense of tragedy coming off these characters, Even I cried a little when some of them died.
However, one of the better done aspects of this series was the relationship between Chihiro Kamina and Yuri Shiraki (our Romeo and Juliet of the series). Despite having a slow progression in terms of romantic build-up, it is not at all annoying. Rather it is nice and relaxing and shows to the viewer how much at peace both of them are when they are together. Overall, the voice actors did a great job at evoking their characters well. Except Eiko’s dub actor takes some getting used to.
With 13 episodes, the main downside to this series is that it has too many characters crammed into its plot. Most of them are poorly handled by the writers with some not even getting decent exposure or a proper explanation as to why they are the way they are. Furthermore, some deaths are so fast and ridiculous that viewers don’t know what to feel by the end of it. Though to be fair, this show mainly focuses on Chihiro’s faction.
One example is the main antagonist, Aldo Grumman Shiraki who dies in the last episode after being kicked off of a floating rock by Van Drail after being rejected by Chiyu. He is fairly well done in terms of character, but his death leaves much to be desired for. Then there is Chihiro’s mother who doesn’t have a speaking part despite being mostly responsible for the Great Collapse and is just mentioned in passing. It would have helped if we had a flashback exposition episode on her relationship with Aldo.
Julia Ichijō (Jap: Yui Horie; Eng:) and Suruga Jūmonji, two elite members of the Guardian Faction are also two characters who do not get any decent exposition at all. Despite the both of them looking like really cool characters, neither their lives or backgrounds get explored at all. The both of them are maybe in a couple of scenes at best and don’t contribute much to the story besides being sidekicks.
Characterization of Main Characters
Then there’s Shōko Hanashima (Jap: Ai Kayano; Eng: Lindsay Seidel). Oh Shoko, Shoko Shoko. Shoko is easily one of the most annoying characters in this show. As a nun for the Mardious Church, Shoko works alongside Chihiro as one of his allies. But she spends more time insulting them and sowing doubt rather than being helpful. Shoko wants to be recognized by Dux and she starts desiring to become the Lord of Vermilion as a result. She grows insanely jealous by the amount of attention Chihiro receives, but right before she is about to shine as an antagonist and betray everyone, her time is cut short by Kark Kaburagi (Jap: Shinichiro Miki; Eng: Daman Mills) who walks straight into the church and beheads her.
My main issue with Shoko is how terribly presented she is by the writers. She has absolutely no redeemable qualities whatsoever and spends more time acting selfish than being useful. Even her death leaves the viewer feeling unsatisfied as she doesn’t even get her chance to shine as a villain. Some have even stated that they would have preferred it if she had gotten killed off right after she had gone down the dark villain path first.
Honestly, Lord of Vermilion could have done better as an 26 episode anime. Having 26 episodes would have allowed better exploration of the characters, as well as, equal coverage of all three factions. The show’s pacing also wouldn’t have been as rushed. Without being able to see the Guardian State’s side of things a lot more, Lord of Vermilion honestly feels like an half-told story.
However, this flaw doesn’t badly affect the overall enjoyable entertainment value of this show.
So to sum up, despite having its share in problems, Lord of Vermilion is actually a great anime series. With awesome music, high paced action and drama, viewers are sure to enjoy it. If you love anime like Zetsuen no Tempest or X/1999, then Lord of Vermilion is definitely the show for you!