[Oh, this is a “spoilers but who cares” style post. But who cares, Assassin’s Pride has nothing surprising to spoil.]
I often feel that much of the online English-language anime commentariat – including myself — have miscalibrated target-demographic detectors, even despite the prevalence of descriptive age-gender labels like “shounen — boy” and “shoujo — girl” across the industry. Why apply adult standards to a series for six-year olds? I don’t know, but a lot of people do.
Ah, but with Assassin’s Pride from this fall 2019 anime season, there can be no doubt: this series is a tweeny delight. I am twelve and want more like this.
Assassin’s Pride cries out for the creation of a wave of teenage fanfiction full of cosplay-in-writing anti-heroes to express the darkness in every youth’s ultimately good soul, if only society would accept their oppressed status as a half-lancanthrope. That is to say, if Assassin’s Pride isn’t fanfiction itself — I mean, check it:
Assassin’s Pride is perhaps the most juvenile anime I have ever seen – and I do seek them out with great zeal every season. Let’s skip the plot and character summaries here because if you’ve seen any other shounen adventure series in the past decade or so, you’ve seen Assassin’s Pride; it uses every oldest trick in the inoffensive teenage edge-appeal book. I don’t know how better to structure this sarcastic trope accounting though, so let’s make an arbitrary checklist:
Shouting attack moves before using them?
Deflecting bullets with a sword?
White hair when powered up?
Hero bullied in school? Check ✓.
Hero tries really, really, really hard to defeat bully? Check ✓.
Bully becomes friend after immediately after defeat? Another check ✓.
Exposition dumps in bulk? Yep, check ✓ check ✓ check ✓. See this monologue from the first episode explaining mana:
A power that grants various unusual talents to its users and elevates their physical abilities beyond those of ordinary humans… “mana.” It is a gift that has been granted to only the chosen noble class. Generally speaking, this power awakens around the age of seven. [Aside] Oh… She has beautiful form [End aside]. While she was born into the House of Angel, with its title of “Paladin” as one of the three big aristocratic Houses… she has been unable to manifest any mana whatsoever up through this very day. An incompetent talented girl. That is the limitation of the mana-less Melida Angel.
Tournament Arc? Check ✓, if we can call one episode an arc.
Battle Royale Arc? Check ✓, this time with two episodes!
Terrible pacing? Check ✓. If those previous few checks ✓ didn’t make clear, the series moves almost too fast for comprehension. But that’s fine, it’s so laden with generic features that the audience doesn’t need to understand anyway since near-nothing in the show is new. For example:
School setting? Check ✓.
Guilds? Check ✓.
Mana or an otherwise depletable magical power source? Check ✓.
Character stat cards? Check ✓. Via the light novel prologue, see the card for the female lead Melida:
Ranking characters by fixed power classes?
Yeah, as Kufa explains in another exposition dump we have seven + 1 classes* – Fencer, Gladiator, Samurai, Maiden, Gunner, Wizard, Cleric and the superclass Clown – to make arguments about character power-rankings on fan forums easy. Could Kufa defeat Rose in a ceteris paribus duel to the death? Well, he’s a Samurai and she’s a Maiden so… Rock, Paper, Scissors… Check ✓.
* [Is there an inconsistency in the subtitles here? Kufa says that there are seven classes plus Clown but he does not list Paladin in his expository dialogue on the issue. So are there eight or..? Translation error? I’m too lazy to go back and check]
Comical awkwardness in the series’ prestige English?
Look no farther than the line “My little lady” from the first episode (pronounced with drop-dead seriousness: mai littaru leidi). Check ✓.
Comical awkwardness in the subtitle translation?
Yeah, I’m an equal-opportunity language snob. Check it:
The series uses the term “無能才女 – munou saijo” over and over again ad nauseum to describe Melida. The English subtitles translate it with dictionary-in-mouth directness: “incompetent talented girl” every single time. Sure, slap 無能才女 into an online dictionary and it’ll spit back “incompetent person” for 無能 and “talented woman” for 才女. Stick’em together and that’s very literally “incompetent talented girl.” But doesn’t that sound awful in English, especially when repeated so often? And more importantly when considering the meaning, isn’t it a bit of an oxymoron? Melida isn’t incompetent, she just has no talent!
There might be a trick in the Japanese though, brought to me courtesy of a native-speaker friend. Why not read it like “無(能才)女 – mu nousai jo” – literally, “no ability girl,” you know, taking into account Melida’s actual status as a warrior that can’t use mana powers? Regardless of correctness though, “incompetent talented girl” is hilariously awkward. Check ✓!
Kufa Vampir is a vampire. Do I need to say more? Check ✓. Maybe Melida Angel will become an angel. Or her cousin Eli Angel instead? Try this though: Melida – M’lida – M’lady. They say “My lady” so often I wonder if the author intended it.
Made-up English-ish nonsense words? Yeah, what’s a “lancanthrope?” Check ✓!
I have two favorite names here: first, we have a maid named “Nietzsche” – I’m sure only the dankest teenage nihilist who understands the angst afflicting today’s wokest youth would catch the reference (sarcasm). And second, not a philosopher, but we have another maid named Othello. Does she bear any relation to Othello the Moor, noble captain of Venice though? Nahhh, she’s just a crotchety old white lady. But man, I sure did feel smarter when I recognized that sick reference ~~~. Check ✓.
Implausibly young protagonists?
Check ✓. Melida is 13 years old. Kufa, her supposedly adult tutor, is only four years her senior. A different tutor, Rose Prickett, is only 16, three years older than her ward!
Oh, but did a miss the most important part? Assassain’s Pride begins by teasing a suicide plot! With those children! My favorite! Alas, no, not a delicious love suicide – Kufa has made the secret pact on his own, keeping the truth hidden from his lady Melida so that she would continue to struggle against the insurmountable reality that she has no true talent. If her father discovers that Kufa helped her cheat, Kufa will need to kill Melida and then himself. I’m convinced that he only decided to “help” her by sharing his mana out of a sadistic desire to see her suffer through increasingly impossible challenges until she collapses in exhaustion. Thus:
An implausible shounen power-escalation plot? Check ✓. Remember, Kufa reattaches his own severed arm.
That’s enough. Stop, it’s too perfect. I can only laugh so hard. I don’t deserve Assassin’s Pride.
But Assassin’s Pride is just so overwhelmingly juvenile that I no longer feel like a valid viewer. When I watch it, I instead feel like I’m intruding on a harmless, awkward pre-teenage romance between two children learning to develop their first personalities independent of their parents and peers. I can observe it. But no matter how silly it may become in its mopey excess — anymore — I can’t mock it. Let the kids have their fun. Like I wrote a couple weeks ago about Assassin’s Pride’s seasonal partner Noukin: why criticize when you could just stare in disbelief, then laugh?
Assassin’s Pride is hilarious.