Another season, another magical academy anime to analyse. I’ve not had much luck with these types of shows since starting this website; Magical Warfare and Dragonar Academy spring to mind as being series which fail to inspire, interest or even engage remotely. I understand that magic is a pretty exciting narrative tool as you can explain away a lot of plot holes or break free from the laws of physics. However, it shouldn’t mean that you skimp on the actual plot or even bothering with character development for the most part. Does Bladedance of the Elementalers buck this growing trend I see before me? My answer is a resounding “ehhhhhh.”.
The story is about a guy named Kamito who has been charged by the principal of a spirit princess academy [talk about pretentious] to take part in the world’s traditional Bladedance tournament. A Bladedance tournament is essentially like Pokémon; people [known as elementalers] with monsters [spirits the user has formed a contract with] fight other peoples’ monsters and the winner’s country receives prosperity from the gods until the next tournament. Kamito is an elementaler [through nefarious means though which are explained later] and so he’s enrolled in the school so he can take part; slight problem though, he’s a guy and in this world only women can be elementalers. So he sticks out like a sore thumb. That doesn’t matter though because when Kamito meets the leading lady, Claire, for the first time it’s when she’s naked and having a shower and she reacts in the usual anime way – beating the living tar out of him. Oh anime, you never change. Claire then proceeds to punish him constantly as they make their way to the academy; not before she tries to ‘catch’ another spirit to control. Naturally this backfires and Kamito gets the spirit, which is in the form of a sword and then later a girl [well this IS an anime we’re talking about here!]. Claire is pissed and proclaims that he is now her contracted spirit…right. The rest of the plot is geared around Kamito forming a team of elementalers to fight alongside him for the upcoming tournament all nestled for in the incoming big bad from his past which is about to come back to haunt him.
Hmmmm, where to start. Well, this show isn’t terrible that’s for sure. I know! I was shocked; especially when I found out that TNK produced the animation. It was fairly decent and somewhat nice to look at. The plot though…oh dear. If you got out a join the dots drawing and then joined all the dots, Bladedance of the Elementalers would appear – it’s that formulaic. You got your magical academy, the wandering prodigy and his troubled past, the hot-headed lead female character, tons of spells and lore to remember which don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, mythical monsters, tons of awkward fanservice [mostly aimed at skirts and legs] and not forgetting a big celebration of some kind which goes south…oh and spirit contracts! Can’t forget those, although sometimes the rules and terms of the contract get muddled up. Sometimes it requires long spiels of dialogue and other times all you need to do is telling the spirit that “You’re mine.” with no sense of accomplishment. The spirit seems to just take it. Huh. When the plot isn’t being generic, it’s muddled; like it doesn’t know what to do and ends up achieving nothing. Another grievance is that Kamito is despised by most of the student body because he’s a guy. I understand in this world the only other male elementaler existed a thousand years ago and was a manic tyrant but Kamito is hardly [or seems not to be] an evil douche. This prejudice is too heavy handed, but then I would say that because I am a man. Looking at it from an objective standpoint, the misandry is understandable but it’s carried out in a brash and overly harsh manner.
That being said, the show does do some things right. I’m interested in how Kamito’s past will manifest itself; it’s clear it’s not going to beneficial for the main cast. He used to have a contract spirit before his current one [a sword spirit, Est, who also takes human form] named Restia whom he was really close with. However, Restia is evil and her return is not good and he realises that pretty early on. Oooh, conflict of interests. Then there’s the world outside of the academy. There are other dimensions where students can go train without fear of physical injury which are established as alien and surreal in an elegant fashion which was pleasing to see, I just wish it was carried over to the overworld at large. Then there’s Est, Kamito’s new spirit. She is incredibly powerful and chooses to walk among humans instead of being shackled inside a sword all the time. I also like that she can subdue other spirits just by staring them down instead of initiating a drawn out fight. It’s pretty fierce stuff. She is close to Kamito; in fact sometimes being extrasocial with him by stripping down to just leggings in bed because it pleases him. That’s where she falls down in my book. The first time I saw that I was annoyed but not surprised. Of course Est is going to be naked, it makes for awkward fanservice and slapstick comedy involving the other female characters [yay], as well as pandering to the audience who want a cute mascot that isn’t a total witch. Yeah, I said it. Claire, despite her tragic past, is totally unlikeable in my eyes. She uses her whip to subdue Kamito all the time, treat him like a slave and then makes up for it by being nice to him once or twice. She may seem like she’s lonely but some of her interactions with him are so jerky and mean I can’t really empathise with her. She constantly threatens to burn him to cinders and that is a threat which she does act out at any trace of insubordination or ‘perverse’ actions. Finally there’s the fact that she’s a greedy and power-hungry madam who can’t settle for having an already powerful firecat spirit and chooses to grab others not matter the cost to her sanity; no other main character does that! I can’t stand her!
What I also can’t stand is the fanservice which is incredibly awkward and out of place. We have the usual suspects of impromptu breast groping, a cameraman who can’t seem to focus on anything other than ladies’ crotches most of the time, talk about panties which has nothing to do with the scene the characters are in and so on. It feels forced and there to appease the otaku masses. Honestly! Est is the worst case of this; she’s clearly in the body of a little girl and she’s naked and in bed with Kamito because she thinks “he would happier if she were like that.”. What? It’s awkward as hell. The only consolation for me is that you don’t see panties despite the lingering crotch shots; your imagination is left to deduce the rest and that is surprisingly restrained for a production that is willing to show naked girls yet not underwear. Strange.
Bladedance of the Elementalers is one of those shows which could’ve been good if it chose to take what little bits of originality it has and expand on them instead of relying on tired old clichés and unnecessary tropes which add nothing to the overall plot. If you’re a tenacious viewer and hang in there until the end you might find something good here but for most it’s not worth the stock characters, blinding misandry [hatred of men] which is rife throughout the school and then the disappointingly annoying Claire which ruined the show for me despite the flickers of intrigue. It’s not for me, but I won’t write it off entirely. Try it for yourself and see whether you can stomach it.
Bladedance of the Elementalers is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
RATING: CAUTION [There’s some potential in there but you have to dig through a lot of derivative content in order to get to it.]
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