I didn’t think much of this novel when I picked it up to give it a try. I thought it wasn’t all that popular and it didn’t seem to be popular in Taiwan, where I temporarily reside. But the trailer indicates that 570,000 copies has been sold in Japan, its home market. I picked it up only because of my interest in swords and stabbing weapons. It is my believe that in order to win over the audience the animation will need great visuals, great character/team chemistry and some fairly interesting/intriguing plots, perhaps even like plots from the heyday of Slayers. After reading 3 volumes (I did not know this was going to be made into an anime), I wasn’t strongly impressed by it but it makes a descent read with good character chemistry. The plot…well, which shows/novels today have truly revolutionary plots anyway? Do keep in mind I’m writing this article as someone who has seen 300+ anime in my life time and a great many other stories from other media.
Cecily Cambell is a member of the guardian militia in the only non-imperial/authoritarian governed city in the story and it’s called the Free Trade City (sorry, not sure of the name of it). The system of the militia is modeled after knighthood but in reality, its members are ordinary citizens without clan heritages and whatnot. However, Cecily is the sole exception, as her family used to be part of the noble class. However, her family’s wealth dwindled in part of her father’s wish to help build the city and now she lives like any ordinary city peasants, except she has a maid, who’s more like her stepmother/step sister.
The city and the continent it stood on went through a major war where people were transformed into beasts with destructive powers utilizing elements such as cold (ice) or heat (fire) and others in different ways. It is the Devil’s Contract (probably the Akuma Keiyaku in the original Japanese terminology) that people sign and when they chant a certain lines, they transform. In addition, there are wild beasts, the Outsider/outside of humanity (not sure what the Japanese is because I read the official Chinese translation), which were used in the war but in recent years, have been staying outside of cities away from people.
The story starts when one of those Outsiders attacks the City and Cecily comes to defend the people with her teammates. But the beast is insanely strong and people fall one by one and Cecily fails to hold it back. That’s when she encounters the man related to the title’s sake – Luke Ainsworth, AKA the Sacred Blacksmith. Luke slays the beast with a sword vastly different from the standard bladed weaponry and Cecily is fascinated with it. The story spins around Cecily, Luke, Luke’s assistant Lisa, and a cast of other colorful people.
Being a veteran of anime-esque stories, this was nothing new to me but I kept reading, perhaps only for the sake of being proud of finding a possible gem previously undiscovered. Because I’m not trained in literature analysis, I can only give you my reflections.
The idea of having a story on a distant continent in some fantasy-European times is nothing new. Perhaps it is because the average Japanese lacks a sense of living in a global village or the fact most of them can’t think in terms of being multinational on the account of having no celebrated diversity domestically, he or she tend to create stories in a limited area. That said, most fantasy novels from any nation works much of the same way. After all, it’s much easier to write about a large piece of land far away from our ordinary understanding and fill it with complex cultures, political plots and so on. Having intercontinental plots is probably overtly ambitious.
As you can see, my thoughts show how little I know about the right way of writing fantasy stories.
In any case, Cecily is your strong heroine but sadly without much of the mental toughness we can see in characters like Lina Inverse. Cecily is idealistic and she will stand up to protect people due to her believes and a distant sense as a noblewoman. But her strength never matches her ideals and her will wanes from time to time. She doesn’t whine, fortunately, just wonders often if she can truly attain greater power and protect her ideal.
Luke is a Squall Lionheart-like character with teenage sullenness and a love for giving the cold shoulder. He has an artificial eye that serves as a memento left over from a painful event in the past. This plot plays a big part in his relationship with Cecily as well as Lisa, his assistant, as the story progresses.
The magic system in this story involves utilizing Tamahagane and spiritual bodies – Tamahagane is the billet made from iron sands and trace minerals and other things that Japanese sword smiths know, and spiritual bodies are supernatural resources for things from making fire in the oven to lighting up a room, with Tamahagane as the medium for channeling the power of the spiritual bodies. The origin of the spiritual bodies is a frightening one, but I won’t spoil the plot here.
Something keeps me going and I go out and pick up the next translated volume as it comes out but I can’t say I’m ecstatic over the purchase every time. The novels keep me entertained enough but not all that intrigued. Now it’s being made into an anime. Like I said, if the voice acting is superb and the character chemistry pans out exceptionally well, I may get on board, otherwise, from reading the novels, I’d say don’t expect anything like Shana or Haruhi or Slayer like caliber. The historical/cultural/magic system/whatever else background do not seem to be as deep and rich as Slayer and the action may be comparable with Shana. The character chemistry…well, yeah, it’s unfair to compare with Haruhi but hey, I only know those popular light novels, OK? In any case, this doesn’t look like the best possible candidate destined to become a classic fantasy story.
Let’s see what happens when the anime comes out.
Additional notes: If I explain who Aria (the 4th character introduced in the trailer) I’d spoil the plot. Let’s just say her character is a very colorful one with a great deal of sexiness and yet strong sentimentality.
The “Tamahagane” in the anime trailer indicates something else other than the traditional billet for Japanese swords, but the Chinese translation uses the kanji for the billet.