“It’s like the sword’s going inside me!” – Still one of my favourite out of context quotes from an anime.
What’s the Story?
150 years ago the demonic Kishin descended on humanity. Only powerful swordsmen known as Bushi stood against them, but even their skill wasn’t enough to vanquish these monsters. Now, while there are still roaming bands of Bushi who oppose the Kishin out there, the majority of humanity actually worships these demons. Bushi on the other hand are feared and despised, forced to walk around with their katanas chained to themselves. Despite this, Musashi and Kojiro have talked about forming their own Bushi band ever since they were kids, but as graduation day approaches it’s time for a decision. Despite all his big talk and bigger dreams, Musashi has never actually stood up for the Bushi in public. Meanwhile Kojiro is the known descendant of a Bushi and is ostracised by the community. How far will Musashi go to prove he really means what they’ve talked about all this time? And can an ordinary human really stand up to monsters like the Kishin?
I’m always going to be more lenient with shonen series, even when they haven’t really earned that right from me. I can’t help it, I just really like this genre. Even when a shonen series isn’t particularly good I can sit and watch one for hours on end and not get bored. It’s popcorn entertainment for me and, let’s be honest here, I may have aged out of the target demographic a while back, but there’s always going to be a part of my brain that’s fifteen years old. So, how does the newest shonen stack up against the rest? Well, for that I need to talk a little about just how lenient I am with shonen series.
I take it you’ve all heard of the ‘three episode rule’, right? The unofficial length of time that most anime fans give to a series to see whether it’s actually for them or not? Well, most of the time I stick to that rule, but when it comes to shonen series I abide by the ‘six arc rule’, let’s be frank here, no shonen series gives you their very best in the opening couple of arcs. There’s background to lay out, characters to introduction and some series setting up to do before a shonen series can really show you what it’s made of. Don’t believe me? One Piece, my favourite shonen, makes you wait until you get to ‘Arlong Park’ before it starts giving you even a glimpse of how emotional and epic it’s going to be. My Hero Academia doesn’t start firing on all cylinders in my opinion until you get to the ‘U.A. Sports Festival’. Bleach – ‘Soul Society’. Naruto – ‘Chunin Exams’. I can go on and on like this all day, but you get the idea. Orient, with the twelve episodes that make up this first season, I feel is on the cusp of showing what it’s really made of.
I know my bias is showing entirely here, because with any other type of series I’d be complaining about this show spinning it’s wheels for far too long. It’s not that this is a bad series, it’s just not anything spectacular either. The animation is serviceable at best, the characters are mostly fine and, in truth, it was the rocking music score and the weird creature designs that kept me around through the first six or so episodes. Then you get to episode 7 and the third arc of this series and that’s where the potential started to show itself. We got introduced to an ominous antagonist with a unique ability, learnt a bunch about how this world works and even got a few tantalising mysteries for later. We also dug deep into what made our main protagonist tick. The main character with a tragic back story is nothing new for any series, but there’s something about this one that felt genuinely heartbreaking for me. Just seeing Musashi so broken and ground down into nothing. I started rooting for the guy there and then.
I can’t in good conscience recommend this series. In this day and age, with our overwhelming glut of entertainment options, asking someone to sit through twelve episodes on the promise that good things might come later feels like too much. That being said, when this series returns in the summer I’m probably going to check it out. I’m rooting for Musashi now and all the possible plot threads hinted at in the final episode was enough to get my attention. It could just be more wheel-spinning and lacklustre animation, but it could also be the start of a new favourite. We’ll see.
In the end, Orient is a series with a lot of promise, even if that promise has only been hinted at so far. The animation is serviceable, but nothing spectacular. The characters are all fine, except for our main protagonist whose tragic back story is really heartbreaking, once the show finally decides to get to the point of exploring it. There is a lot of wheel-spinning in these first twelve episodes, but they’ve set up a really intriguing world that is ripe for exploration. With all the pieces now in place though this could become something truly great, or maybe it’ll just be more of the same in its next season. Whether you want to invest the time to find out is entirely up to you, I can’t really recommend it, but I’m going to be sticking around for the next season at least. See you then.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.