In my first episode review, I called this 'a Kajiura anime', but it is not. It is not in the same league as Noir or MADLAX -- if only because it is set in the past, and the music is not by Kajiura.
The action focusses on the European kingdom of 'Kuchen' ('pie' in German...), which is a large island just off the Atlantic coast of France. The setting is the time just before the second world war. The kingdom of Kuchen is governed by a king (obviously) who still holds absolute monarchic power. He is aided by a council made up of influential nobles, the so-called 'Strahl' ('beam' [as in: 'beam of light'] in German). All members of the Strahl have studied on the prestigious Rosenstolz Academy ('rose pride' in German) as 'Strahl candidates'.
The series focusses on five students who are the current crop of Strahl candidates. The main character, Orpherus, still tries to cope with the death of his sister two years ago in an insurgent attack. He is soft-hearted, for which he is endlessly mocked by Ludwig, who is more in the camp of 'might makes right'. Then there's Eduard, Orpherus' henchmen, the Japanese exchange student Naoji and the sensitive Camus.
There are some superficial similarities with Revolutionary Girl Utena -- swordfights, roses cared for by a passive character, and the way the happenings at the academy are blown way out of proportion. You see, the Strahl candidates seem to have a rather inflated opinion about their own competency and importance. I mean, you're a sixteen-year old student. Sure, you're talented and from nobility, but that doesn't mean that you have to stick your nose into everything you encounter -- ranging from 'the atmosphere of the academy' to national politics.
And yet they do it. And most of the time, they get away with it too. And if they don't, they can rely on the headmaster (who has wonderful hair!) or a foreign agent called Isaac to bail them out. Most of the scenes show the characters talking, so it's not really that exciting.
Curiously enough, females are almost completely absent from their world. Sure, there are evil stepmothers and deceased sisters that get a few lines, but the world of Kuchen is certainly a man's world.
There is a main plot, which involves one of the teachers (icy cold Beruze) aiding the younger brother of the King setting up a plot to assassinate the King! Luckily, our five heroes discover the plot! Instead of going to the proper authorities to ensure the king is properly protected, they keep that information all to themselves. Only by luck do they manage to save the king from an early retirement... Meddling kids!
The animation is decent, but quite understated. Most of the 'action' shows various Strahl candidates chatting about the latest 'catastrophe' to befall the academy. The backgrounds are quite detailed though -- the palaces and sitting rooms, the rose gardens and the city mansions are all given lots of attention, which gives the whole series a richness that is not unpleasant. There are some action-scenes, and those are adequately animated.
The voice acting is quite nice. There is one odd thing going on, though: whenever a character is shown, he has to make himself heard. I don't know where the voice director got that idea, but it didn't work out to well -- there are quite a few shots where none of the characters on screen have any speaking lines (lots of meaningful glances!), and then they let out some sort of half-grunt. While that in itself isn't too bad, it gets kind of ridiculous when you get five consecutive shots of the five heroes with five consecutive grunts.
Also, the music is pretty bad. Some of it sounded like they were strangling a gregorian monk...
- Decent animation;
- Detailed backgrounds;
- Good voice acting.
- Gets a bit boring at times;
All in all, not really much special, but not bad either. A 6.5