Valkyria Chronicles impresses with a very pleasing and unique art direction. It continues to deliver on that front throughout, however on the story, characterization and pacing fronts it is wanting. The producers certainly knew what buttered their bread though. They made sure that the first half dozen episodes had enough action to draw you in.
Those early action oriented episodes were intelligent and hearkened back to the Strategy RPG video game upon which the show is based. Additionally the setting was such that small scale squad maneuvers with a single tank could be very entertaining. At this point the producers needed to decide upon which road they would take Valkyria Chronicles.
They could continue to go the strategy/action route; defining characters uniquely along the way. Or they could go the standard anime stereotype route where the squads are filled with anime stereotype characters and anime stereotype issues. Sadly they took the latter route. It is a tribute to Valkyria Chronicles’ quality that it was still a good show despite this poor choice.
26 episodes in one sentence? In a pastoral world reminiscent of World War I a misguided empire militarily moves against a weak kingdom bringing our group of unlikely civilian soldiers into battle and a mystery about the mythical power of the valkyria which the empire’s nut-job prince is using to further his own agenda but in the end that power will also be used against him and a valkyria will rise on the side of the kingdom bringing all the series stereotypical plots together with a valkyria technology versus valkyria power showdown in which our heroes will learn about life, sacrifice, and the power of love (bleh…).
You will notice right away the interesting shading approach Valkyria Chronicles adopted. It was kind of a gritty, canvas-like texture that actually worked quite well with the setting. To match the uniforms were “real” feeling with heavy cloth and buckles (if not totally practical. …Skirts?) The character designs while not revolutionary were visually fitting for the world.
The vehicles and technology were one of Valkyria Chronicles greatest strengths. They devised a unique engine technology signified by glowing blue radiators. Onto this they designed a variety of early 20th century civilian and war vehicles that reflected the uniqueness of the show and technological setting.
The guns were decidedly low-tech, which did work to bring a level of realism and danger to the conflicts. That set up should have led to unique plots rather than the usual anime stereotypes. You know, the hard bitter woman who eventually has her heart softened through the losses of war. The reluctant but powerful warrior girl who just wants to live a normal life. The absent minded intellectual type that takes nearly the entire series to realize he is in love.
Not ignored was a top anime stereotype gem, the suave and handsome womanizer type (who is also best friend to the lead guy). You know, the one that all the girls like except the lead girl. The one that seems selfish but in the end through sacrifice shows he really has an chivalrous heart-of-gold.
The pacing of Valkyria Chronicles was a problem. After the initial action episodes it really bogs down in heavy-handed, action-less sentimentality filled episodes. It is not until almost the end that the producers seemed to suddenly realize they were running out of episodes. The last three episodes feel like a desperate attempt to make up for all the cliched melodrama.
Valkyria Chronicles is a reasonably entertaining show worth watching. However most of its originality takes place on the art direction side and not in the story, characterizations, or writing.