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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Review: The Sacred Blacksmith

Facts:

Shojo adventure romance in a quasi-medieval setting. Aired in 2009, 12 episodes on Hulu.

Bottom Line:

I am fairly conflicted about this show. On one hand, the characters who are not Cecily Campbell are uniformly enjoyable and the plot itself is inoffensively unexceptional. The best part of the show is the middle episodes where we are allowed to just spend time with the characters enjoying their minor challenges and watching their relationships grow. The big cloud hanging over it, at least for me, was the main character Cecily who is unapologetically entitled and able to neither play her role effectively nor find happiness in another role. Overall this is clearly a shojo (targeted towards young women) show and anyone going in expecting anything less than lots of emotions and relationships will be disappointed. There is enough violence to keep a boyfriend from complaining, and much of it is designed to bring out the sexy, protective parts of otherwise broody Luke for the sake of those without a boyfriend to watch with. If you are looking for romance and friendship with a strong side of good natured adventure, and the first episode doesn't sour you on Miss Campbell, then you are likely to enjoy the Sacred Blacksmith.

Cecily Campbell:

I am really having a very hard time figuring out the protagonist. In your usual show, you either have super-powerful protagonists in the mold of Layfon from last week's Chrome Shelled Regios, or you have the less powerful but indefatigably persistent hero in the mold of Naruto, or you have the morally ambiguous, more realistic hero in the mold of Texhnolyze's Ichise. Cecily is not the latter, because she is neither realistic nor morally ambiguous, but instead a knight of justice with all the associated convictions. She is not super powerful, accomplishing very little without the demon sword, and not a whole lot with it. And at no point is she terribly persistent, near the end acquiring just enough resolution to not completely botch things up and at the beginning lacking even that.

The best word I can find for Cecily is entitled. She is a knight only through heredity, and yet despite expecting and apparently desiring to become a knight she has done what looks like only a bare minimum of training even after her first month of knighthood. She talks big, and is then completely unable to back up any of her claims, and would have died from her on hubristic folly a dozen times in the show if not for Luke saving her at the last minute. She has wealth, position and respect, all based on her family name, and when people deign to notice anything about her, it is the size of her breasts (not drawn disproportionate to the rest of her body, thankfully enough). 

Now, I am not making the claim that a hero must be physically strong to be a good hero or a good character. One of the great things about anime is the proliferation of heroes and sidekicks who are either weak or largely pacifistic, but what makes those characters work is that they have something to contribute to the show and those around them. Cecily has nothing to contribute. She is sort of nice, but when that gets tested she abandons her friends until someone else can convince her to do the right thing. Her fighting improves slightly, but mostly because of the power and experience of the demon sword, who she works to exhaustion in the final battle while barely breathing heavily herself. She has no domestic skills, she has no hobbies, she has no magic, she knows no lore, she is politically naive, and she isn't very bright.

Cecily Campbell gets by in the world because other people give her things, and at no point is she either aware of this or ashamed of it. There are comically inept characters, but with few exceptions her failures are not played for slapstick. There are women (unfathomable to me, but they really do exist) who are happy in a passive, domestic role, but Cecily explicitly pushes against that in favor of knighthood. Her "secret weapon" that she pulls out at the international council meeting is to embarrass her boyfriend in front of everyone in a scene so terribly shameful that I found myself wincing throughout. If not for the overwhelming power of plot to make everything work out, this would not have been a happy anime. 

Recommendations:

I am pretty well out of my genre with this one, so all I can think of at the moment is Full Metal Panic!. The heroine is more explicitly passive, and yet would still kick Cecily's ass in anything but a "being a whiny child" contest. In a more action paradigm, there are a number of shows such as Kazo no Stigma, Buso Renkin and the ever popular Inuyasha that focus more on the primary relationship at the expense of somewhat weaker relationships with secondary characters. Expect a lot of blushing and "what do you mean, boyfriend?" in those sorts of shows.

Final Note:

This is another show where there really isn't much to say. Sacred Blacksmith hews pretty closely to genre tropes and if you don't actively hate the main character as I did you will probably have a good time. The group of friends is pretty adorable and most of the show exudes a life affirming positivity. Still, if you don't like Cecily after the first episode, know that she isn't going away and isn't going to improve a whole lot. She gets tolerable when she isn't actively being a terrible human being, but that is perhaps six of the twelve episodes.

Based on how much I personally enjoyed this show, I give Sacred Blacksmith a 5/10.

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