Boy did they screw this show up.
It had a somewhat shaky start, but was looking pretty good around the midpoint, during the liberation of Fouzen. Different from the game’s plot, but the ways in which it fleshed out things with Zakka and Rosie was a strong point. Turns out that was pretty much the strong point. Everything from there until the final two episodes is a rapid slide downhill into angst-overkill, uncomfortably slow pacing, overblown histrionics, and weak characterization for pretty much everybody but Faldio. Oh, and a complete lack of action outside the wicked (yet wickedly spoiler-riffic) second-season intro. The last two episodes do finally pull it together somewhat on all fronts, but it’s too little too late.
It’s telling—and saddening—that there are exactly four specific things that the anime did better, or at least as well as, the game’s plot sections. It’s tragic that the game is between somewhat and vastly superior in pretty much every other detail and general metric of quality storytelling—narrative flow, pacing, dramatic tension, character development, action, logic, emotional impact, twists, and “big” scenes around which a plot is built. When you take into account that the game is, by definition, broken up by hour-long strategy/action gameplay portions and much of the plot consists of dialogue with character headshots, nothing more, it’s both impressive how good the game’s story was and how badly the anime flubbed an adaptation of it. Really, when an illustrated radio drama of the same material is kicking your butt in terms of dramatic quality, you’re doing something very, very wrong.
The good areas were: The final denouement of Maximillian and fate of Faldio were cleaner and more logical in the anime (that was really the only flaw in the game’s last few chapters—it worked dramatically in concept, but felt contrived). There was some cool stuff with the tank in the very early episodes. Faldio’s character, and the romantic angle with Alicia, is more fleshed out. And the liberation of Fouzen had some interesting additional angles between Zakka and Rosie.
I suppose if you want to be generous you could also say that Jager and Selveria get some additional fleshing out, though both of their characters stopped making much sense late in the story and of course Jager never actually does anything but look cool in the anime (also, what’s with the random shot of Jager wandering by in the epilogue?).
Everything else is a laundry list of what not to do, particularly since there’s such a clear example of how the exact same material should have been done. There’s the whole Alicia/Welkin romantic tension thing—it spends way too long dragging the angst out (nearly the entire second season), and when things finally do come together for them it’s got nowhere near the impact of some of the beautifully romantic—and emotionally potent, not to mention visually beautiful to boot—scenes late in the game.
Character-wise, there’s Welkin, who goes from a quirky but capable commander who pulls miracles out of dark situations with a combination of clever strategy and crazy plans in the game (and early part of the anime) to a bland foil for Faldio who really doesn’t do much of anything for half the series, nor give any indication why people would be so willing to follow him unwaveringly. Alicia is better, but also sort of a slave to the plot late in the anime, in comparison to the much less overblown, but also more engaging, treatment of her newfound abilities in the game’s story. Adding in that the game is hamstrung somewhat by the need to keep her at a reasonable power level for gameplay purposes and it’s particularly glaring how much worse the anime feels in contrast. Selvaria is better, but even her characterization sort of falls apart, in comparison to the much more sharp construction of the tragedy of her fate in the game.
Or how about the failure to build drama. By not taking the time to elaborate on the history of Gallia and the Darksen Calamity, the eventual reveal relative to reality-versus-history-books doesn’t have anywhere near the impact it could have. Same for the reveal with Alicia—it was already hinting blatantly at that early on and the second-season intro completely blows it, whereas the game did a very good job of keeping its cards close to its chest, in particular putting the revealing bits out-of-sequence so you only saw them after the reveal. From “Ooh, surprising.” and “Clever way of laying out the story segments.” to complete dramatic giveaway.
Same goes for the aftermath of her transformation—the angst is drawn out so long you stop caring. In fact, despite you only hearing about it in the game, there’s more impact when she talks about how some people are worshipping her as a god and others are afraid of her than the anime manages in several episodes of hammering it in. (Of course, since they almost completely failed to set up the quasi-religion surrounding the Valkyria in the anime, they didn’t exactly have the option…)
Even the handling of Isara’s sudden death seemed less abrupt and wrenching, though I’ll admit that might have been because I knew it was coming. The aftermath initially started out looking like an interesting version of coping for Welkin, but went on too long and then stumbled at the end with unnecessary histrionics. (Honestly—crumpling in a heap sobbing is more dramatically effective than slightly-overacted screaming.) Worse was that it had set up Welkin’s deadness as a contrast to his usual cheerful demeanor, except after that point he continues to act rather similar—which is to say boring—for the remainder of the series.
Then there’s the total lack of action for the entire second season. Yes, it’s drama, but it’s also a war. Frankly, after the first half-dozen episodes (where there’s some nifty tank combat), there’s almost nothing at all until very late when there’s some superpowered Valkyrian fighting and one bit with Faldio doing some actual battle strategy. “War” sequences consist of people crouching behind cover talking, and occasionally firing some shots at inspecific targets… and there are barely any of those. Honestly, it’s based on a strategy game—you could at least make the effort to have the tiny amounts of combat in a war story look a bit more realistic. There’s a serious lack of any sense of competence in the battles, and way too much emphasis on anime-cliche screaming. The last couple episodes finally equip people with some more appropriate weapons and let them do a little real combat, but even there it’s on the awkward side. No tanks to be found anywhere, either, which was sad since the animators obviously knew how to do that right.
Most glaring on the action front was the big fight between the two Valkyrians—the game’s short cinematic was flat-out spectacular (heck, it’s what would be a boss fight, except you’re just watching instead of playing… and it’s so cool I didn’t mind), particularly the character animation of the barely-conscious Alicia staggering out onto the battlefield. That was a fantastic moment in the game, from the sense that Alicia really is just barely able to stay on her feet to the short-but-awesome fight that follows. The anime tries to do something similar, and while it’s not bad, it’s also not anywhere near as memorable. Well, that, and that the second-season intro was by far the best action scene in the entire series—it goes and gets you primed for something it never even considers delivering on (nor does anything even close to the scene depicted ever happen).
And if you want singular images, everything from the drawbridge battle, to the big kiss, to the bittersweet romantic moment shared in Bruhl, to the spectacular rescue at the end tying Isara back into things was just plain far better in the game’s version. The only one the anime didn’t flub was the attack of the Marmota on the Gallian capital, which they had the good sense to pull almost directly from the game. Oh, and the epilogue was drastically better in the game.
Other frustrations: They picked an odd set of specific characters to be the core Squad 7 members—Edy and Homer, I understand, but what is 12-year-old shock trooper Aisha—one of the few borderline-silly characters in the game, and the closest thing it even has to a “moe”-type— doing in there? Not to mention the background buzz-cut guy who’s so forgettable I can’t even remember his name. But what really doesn’t make sense is that, despite having 26 episodes with plenty of extra time—the whole second season seemed to drag—they offer essentially zero backstory or side-stories for any of them. Heck, you learn more about their personalities and backstory from the single page of descriptive text and their random comments during battles that the game provides than the anime bothers with. Even an episode of 5-minute vignettes about how each got into the militia would have been an improvement. (I’m also moderately enraged that Jane never shows up—heck, even in-joke character Vyse gets a cameo.)
The bottom line is you could take the major plot sequences of the game, string them together and edit it down to 26 half-hour episodes, and it’d have been better in almost every way but amount (not quality) of character animation than a medium-budget 2-season anime adaptation. Disappointing to put it mildly.