Back in… when was it… 2003-ish (??) I started reading a comic book called Rex Mundi, described as, “a quest for the Holy Grail told as a murder mystery. It is set in the year 1933, in an alternate history Europe, where magic is real, feudalism persisted, and the Protestant Reformation was crushed by a still politically powerful Catholic Church.” Yeah, there was a lot to it. And it was bloody great.
When I picked up Le Chevalier D’Eon in a DVD sale some years ago, I wasn’t thinking of the Rex Mundi comics at all, however, when I finally began watching this month, the French setting, the use of magic, and the alternate history feel (keeping in mind Le Chevalier D’Eon is set in the 1700s, not 1930s), made me think occasionally of the reasons why I loved the comic series at the time (and still do).
Now that I’ve completely broken the intro by mentioning a comic series about the Holy Grail, when Le Chevalier D’Eon has nothing to do with the Holy Grail, let me try and get this piece back on track. This anime stood out to me because it has an historical setting; albeit an alternate history where many characters were absolutely real, but are given backstories that are, of course, pure fantasy. The titular Chevalier d’Éon, or to give his full name, Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont, was indeed a French diplomat, spy, and soldier. He was well-known for his androgynous qualities, often acting as a woman and indeed spending several decades towards the end of his life as a women. Keep in mind this is the 1700s and into the 1800s. He was pretty progressive for the era!
The anime, however, takes this a step further and it’s no spoiler (as it’s introduced very early in the story), that he can actually transform between himself and his dead sister. But how? Why? Ah, that would be telling and forms a mystery that isn’t fully unraveled until the end of this 24-part series.
Joining Chevalier d’Éon are historical characters like King Louis XV and Maximilien Robespierre, although not in ways that are always recognisable. This is alternate history you must always keep in mind, which I generally appreciated, although once in awhile I would have liked the historical types to be a bit more… well… historical. But perhaps that’s just my own preference of wanting to feel on solid ground whenever certain characters were around, given there are also a ton of made-up characters who can literally go anywhere in the narrative, and I like to have something familiar to latch onto.
The story is quite sprawling, beginning in France, moving to Russia, then England, and then back to France again. There’s plenty of characters to keep in your head, as well as unraveling what the “Royal Psalms” are all about, and how their power is used which is basically the central theme of the piece. To be completely honest, there were some episodes where I lost track of what was going on. Perhaps the result of Japanese writers taking Catholic iconography and passages from the Bible and sprinkling them through the dialogue “because they sound good” rather than mean something. Or perhaps just the result of powering through one too many episodes late at night after a busy working day.
In the end what we have here is a series that’s largely about “four Musketeers” on a quest; one of them is still a boy, one of them is an old man; and two are young-ish men. It’s an adventure with loads of sword play, some magic, and a bit of horror and general weirdness. Does that sound up your alley?
To be honest, it would work pretty well at half its length, although maybe that would feel slightly rushed when all is said and done. Maybe 18 episodes at best because the 24 episode length just feels too long. I was taken in by the first half-a-dozen episodes, but didn’t really feel an exciting upswing until the final six episodes. There were many times when what I was watching didn’t feel important.
As always, I try and steer clear of anything too spoilerish in these reviews so I will try and condense down everything I just said. This is 1700s France (so it looks gorgeous), with a dose of realism, and a dose of absolute fantasy. It’s four guys having an adventure. It’s sword fighting. It’s zombie like creatures at times. It’s politics and intrigue. It’s some hammy dialogue at times and, to be honest, the English dub isn’t all that great in terms of the acting at hand. Plus, as mentioned, it’s a bit padded and bloated in places, but that’s largely true of any 24-part (or longer) series, so take that point with a grain of salt. All told, I quite liked it, although it goes nowhere near my Top 10 (or even 20) animes.
This is the kind of anime that might work for you if (a) You’ve just watched two-dozen anime about 100 feet high mecha beating the tripe out of each other and want a “palate cleanser” for want of a better word. Because, yes, it’s still anime but it’s way different to most anime out there. Or perhaps (b) You’re not much of an anime viewer, but you sometimes think about watching it and you also have an interest in historical settings (but still have an open enough mind that if someone’s killed before their time and/or becomes a zombie, you won’t be coming back to shout at me in the comments).