Angolmois: Genkou Kassenki – Mid Season Anime Review
Synopsis: In the 13th century, the Mongolian Empire rapidly expands across the globe. Later historians who studied the prophecies of Nostradamus would say that Mongolia was the birthplace of the “Great King of Terror”, Angolmois. And at last, the force of the Mongolian Empire would turn their attention toward Japan… 1274: The Bun’ei Invasion. This story is a fresh look at the great battle that rocked all of medieval Japan: the Mongol Invasion. It shows how the people of Tsushima panicked, struggled, and eventually rose up against the overwhelming forces of their enemy. (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Mid Season (6 Episodes) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Angolmois reminds me of Spring’s Golden Kamuy, or the most recent Berserk anime. Series that adapted widely praised manga, but whose production fails to live up to the standards of the original material. Angolmois, like those others, rarely looks compelling. It’s art is often shoddy, lacking detail and fluid animation to depict the action sequences with the sheer weight they should wield. It’s a near death sentence to an action series when the showcase moments fall limp and lack dynamic imagery. Characters themselves, outside of a handful of lead individuals, often boast forgettable designs, frequently looking so dull, so plain that even certain reoccurring support characters will always feel like fresh new faces, because few of these side characters stick in your mind. It’s become clear why the series is blanketed in this gritty, dirt filter over every single shot– to give the production visual detail when the art gets too basic and forgettable. It doesn’t work, the disappointing visuals shining through a filter that ultimately does little more than make you question just how dirty your TV is.
But what Angolmois lacks in compelling visuals it tries to make up for with character and plot. Namely Angolmois presents us with a lead, one Kuchii Jinzaburo. Kuchii feels a lot like Sugimoto from Golden Kamuy, or Guts from Berserk: He’s a man built upon a troubled past, his soul hardened by immense hardship and loss, thought to have abandoned his humanity and compassion for others. But like these other characters Jinzaburo comes to realize he isn’t done caring, still capable of finding passion for the people in need. The series isn’t too focused on that journey, but Jinzaburo’s kill or be killed nature, and his inability to give up the just fight, make him a compelling lead. Unfortunately the same can’t really be said for the rest of the cast.
Angolmois boasts only a handful of characters with memorable designs. On the Japanese side of this invasion, we have Jinzaburo himself, Princess Teruhi, and a small number of additional individuals exiled much as Jinzaburo was, forced into service for combating the invading Mongolian armies. Princess Teruhi herself is a frustrating character. Initially she’s introduced as a woman prepared to do whatever necessary to save her people. Later she falls victim to a number of grating female character tropes, periodically portrayed as succumbing to her overly emotional nature. At other times she’s crafty, with a deadly smirk that points to using those around her for own gains. These shifts in personality aren’t entirely at odds with each other. Her more emotional nature could simply be a false persona, used to get people to do as she likes or what have you. But the series has a hard time justifying these varying personas, and more often than not it feels less like she’s a multi-layered character and more like she’s exceptionally inconsistent. That Princess Teruhi’s character shifts and leaps in whatever direction the narrative demands, giving us the scheming princess one minute, the strong, but heartfelt commander the next, and the damsel when we need emotion in the story.
The other exiles that are introduced alongside Jinzaburo by and large disappear for long stretches, only to crop up in a scene or two meant to produce comedic relief. This makes it imperative that audiences latch onto Jinzaburo, as he’s really the only character to become emotionally invested in. While the series offers some potentially intriguing villains, they often get no more than a sequence or two of focus, before it’s onto the next villain we’re to be introduced to.
The action remains a disappointing facet, but the series isn’t without merit. The planning, the scheming, and the ancient battle tactics used often provide an intriguing sequence of events, and keep the story moving episode to episode, allowing audiences to soak up the atmosphere of this historic and violent period in Japanese history.
While Angolmois is by and large a historical action/drama, things start to occur during the mid season that take it in a less truthful direction. A twist is introduced that speaks more to rumor, hearsay and legend than fact, taking the series farther away from its roots in history. It’s not an outright bad choice, but it remains to be seen in the second half of the season just what that will mean going forward. I suspect it means we’ll see Angolmois go the direction of Golden Kamuy, where the period and some greater details come from historical fact, but otherwise we start to delve into truly fictional territory, where major historical figures play greater and greater fictitious roles.
I want to be able to recommend Angolmois. Jinzaburo is the kind of lead, painted with a darker brush than most, that anime doesn’t play with too often. The plot is interesting, the battle tactics fun, and the period of history it focuses on compelling. I’m even intrigued by this mid-season twist that offers to send the series down a different path. But the art remains a major disappointment, and a lack of additional characters to latch onto, and become invested in, constrains Angolmois with increasingly limited appeal. It’s a series I hope to follow to the end, and am crossing my fingers that perhaps, in the back half of its run, it’ll improve. Or, maybe someone will bring the original manga over for Western release. That actually feels far more likely an outcome.
Angolmois: Genkou Kassenki is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.