Valkyria Chronicles is not only one of my favorite games for PS3, but one of my favorite games of all time! So how does this anime live up to its video game inspiration? Well...it certainly isn't bad, but it also could have been a lot better. Give me just a few paragraphs and I will try to explain my thoughts.
As you are well aware, unless you have been living under a rock, there is a genre of fiction called “alternate history”. Alternate history is basically imagining a separate timeline if one or 2 major events went differently. It is widely used across all forms of media from novels to anime to video games. A common sub-genre of alternate history is fantasy alternate history in which magic and different laws of physics exist, so we have to imagine how that would impact the events of history and shape the world. Both Fullmetal Alchemist and Code Geass are within this sub-genre, with FMA taking place in an alternate Nazi Germany and Code Geass also taking place in an alternate WW2 with Japan fighting against the Britannian (American) invaders. Valkyria Chronicles at first just looks like yet another WW2 fantasy alternate history, but it actually does many things quite differently and still feels rather unique.
The next 3 paragraphs are talking about the game Valkyria Chronicles on which this anime was based. If you are already a fan of the game and only wish to read about the anime adaptation, you can just skip these paragraphs and start reading at the Story Section.
Firstly, the alternate technology is powered by a fuel source called "ragnite", which has its own constraints and drawbacks. These realistic technological limitations prevent limitless asspulls, so it doesn't get as absolutely ridiculous as some other examples of alternate tech... like the original alternate WW2 story, "The Man in the High Castle" by Philip K Dick. A novel where by 1950 the Nazis have completely terraformed and colonized Venus and by 1960 have colonized every planet in the Solar System! It is fortunate for us Americans and our national pride that the SS Sturmbannführer, Wernher von Braun never saw a copy of High Castle. He would have died laughing and we would have lost the moon race as a result! Thanks a lot Philip K Dick!
Secondly, the writers of the game really did some history research and managed to fit a bunch of obscure and interesting WW2 facts into the game’s story. Here are just a few examples. Remember the absurdly giant tank during the last battle that used naval artillery and was like a battleship on treads? That was based on real blueprints for a German tank called the Landkreuzer P-1000 that ThyssenKrupp pitched to Hitler, who actually greenlit the project! The project was cancelled though in 1943 because the Nazi architect and weapons designer Albert Speer realized that it would be insanely vulnerable to aerial bombardment and suffer the same fate as other absurdly large “wunderwaffen” like the Schwerer Gustav Railway Cannon (which also appears in the game). In the world of Valkyria Chronicles, airpower doesn’t exist so the plan went ahead. The Valkyria in the game’s story are an extremely powerful, ancient race of warriors that came from a now sunken island in the farthest north. Their mystical powers are the result of a special energy that only their race can use, but it is believed they lost their abilities by intermixing with the physically weaker southern races. This backstory was actually taken from the insane beliefs of Nazi occultism espoused by Heinrich Himmler. On a less fun and far more tragic note, The genocidal campaign carried out by the Eastern Europan Empire to exterminate the “Darcsen” race actually follows sequence of the Holocaust fairly accurately with massive propaganda first, then forced labor camps and ghettos, then extermination squads that closely follow and collaborate with the invading Imperial Army to exterminate any Darcsen villages in newly conquered areas, and finally fully operational death camps. Interestingly, in America our experience learning about Nazi genocide consists of reading “Night”, “The Diary of Anne Frank”, “Number the Stars”, and maybe watching “Schindler’s List”. Our school history textbooks only focus on the Western Front, so most Americans believe that the Holocaust was the murder of 6 million Western European Jews who almost entirely died in extermination camps. In reality only 60% of the victims ever saw a camp, with 30% killed by death squads and ghettos making up the remaining 10% of deaths. However, these paramilitary “einsatzgruppen” only operated on the Eastern Front where 5.5 million of the 6 million Jewish deaths occurred, so they have been erased from America’s popular history and collective memory. If you actually visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC or talk to history scholars you will learn about them of course, but in American movies, Television, books, comics, games, you will almost never hear a word about them. Yet in this somewhat obscure JRPG they actually get this detail right! As I said earlier, these are just a few examples.
Lastly, Valkyria Chronicles avoids 2 common mistakes that are often made by lesser quality historical fiction. Valkyria Chronicles always remembers to show war principally as suffering, death, and loss. Many civilians and at least 1 of your main characters will die no matter which actions you choose in the game, or how skilled you become at it. By portraying war as fundamentally inglorious by its very nature, it manages to avoid the jingoistic bullshit that convinces a new generation that war is about an awesome display of patriotism and manliness. War is not something to embrace and look forward to! Valkyria Chronicles also has a diverse cast of characters displaying the good and bad on all sides. Real war is never a simple matter of good vs. evil with an army of noble elves vs. bloodthirsty orcs. In terms of nation, your side has plenty of bastards on it, and the East Europan Empire is given some sympathetic characters. In terms of ethnicity, the main villains are ethnic Germans, but so are many of the heroes including the main hero. Basically, it is a very good game and one I would highly recommend playing, even if you aren’t really into strategy RPGs.
Valkyria Chronicles takes place as previously mentioned in an alternate timeline during a period that roughly corresponds to our timeline’s World War 2.The main story of Valkyria Chronicles is that war has broken out between 2 massive factions over control of a vital mineral resource called “ragnite”. The East Europan Empire decides to invade the small, neutral country of Gallia for its resources and because they believe it wouldn’t really be able to fight back. However, Gallia is home to an extremely brilliant tactical commander named Welkin Gunther, whose father was a revered tank commander from the First Europan War. Welkin’s father was also close friends with a Darcsen engineer that built him a revolutionary new tank model called the Edelweiss. After the famous tank engineer was killed in a car accident, the Gunther family adopted his young daughter Isara, who clearly inherited her father’s brilliance for engineering and revolutionary designs. Welkin teams up with his adopted sister Isara along with a local town watch member in order to escape his hometown with the Edelweiss. Since he brought his own tank and was the son of a national hero, Welkin is given command of a small squadron that soon becomes the absolute bane of the Empire’s existence.
The first half of the anime very closely followed the game’s story, but later a number of really head-scratching changes are made. Every time the anime changed a plot point from the game, they came up with something that wasn’t as good. Why bother changing something if you are just going to make it worse, especially when you have all the time and resources on your side?! The game was complete, so they weren’t forced to go their own route. Basically they changed some things for absolutely no reason and ended up making it worse. The anime also decided to censor itself and really tone down the brutality, which badly undercut important elements of the presentation and themes that the game had. The racial ideology of the Empire and their hatred for the “sub-human” Darcsen race is extremely downplayed in the anime. For example, the labor camp that squad 7 tries to liberate is in far more humane condition in the anime and the Empire only fires artillery at the camp when squad 7 refuses to halt an attack after several warnings. In the game, the Darcsen in the labor camp are herded into a building and set on fire regardless of Squad 7’s actions because the Empire absolutely refused to risk the possibility that Squad 7 succeeds in freeing the Darcsen prisoners. The mobile killing squads (einsatzgruppen) that in the game collaborated with the Imperial Army to exterminate Darcsen villages were completely left out of the anime. No explicit mention of genocide is ever even made in the anime! What is most puzzling of all is that the game was only rated T, so it wasn’t as if the anime needed to make changes to avoid a high rating and release to a wider audience. Basically, the anime self-censored in a way that damaged the product for reasons that don’t even make financial sense! Maybe the marketing team for the anime thought that Neo-Nazis would be the core demographic and they needed to avoid offending them?!
The main character is Welkin Gunther, who is an extremely gifted battle strategist, but detests war and actually just wants to be a teacher. He continues to command only to protect the live’s of his squad. He is extremely quirky and socially awkward, but has a very high standard of morality and leadership. Basically just picture Yang Wenli from Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It’s the same damn character! There is also the shy and brilliant engineer Isara and the fiery love interest Alicia, who has many “tsundere” traits but isn’t constantly punching Welkin for perceived perversion and isn’t extremely obnoxious…unlike most tsundere characters. In the game, Squad 7 has 56 characters that are each given at least 3 paragraphs of backstory, a dozen unique lines of dialogue, and the game actually contains some interesting minor characters. The anime had 26 full episodes and a LOT more time to flesh out the characters, so that’s what they did right? WRONG! The anime actually scraps the vast majority of Squad 7 and decides to focus solely on the main few characters, however it doesn’t even do that well! It would have been at least acceptable if the main 7 characters were given more interesting development and better dialogue, but that doesn’t happen either. In most adaptations like Game of Thrones, there are characters that were more developed and better in the source material (Asha) and characters that were better in the adaptation (Rob Stark). In Valkyria Chronicles, I can’t think of a single character that was better in the anime, despite the massive advantage in time and resources that the anime had over the game. They really fucked up here! There is just no getting around that fact!
The music in the anime is almost entirely music from the game. Why is this a problem? If this was an adaptation of a Final Fantasy game with an amazing soundtrack, it would be perfectly acceptable to use symphonic adaptations of the game’s OST. However, Valkyria Chronicles was NOT a very high quality soundtrack. Although video game soundtracks have come a long way from a 30 second repeating loop being acceptable, an entirely different standard exists for TV shows and movies. What was at least an acceptable soundtrack for an early, sleeper hit PS3 game is a very lackluster soundtrack for a fairly large budget anime. This anime had the money, so why not get better music? You changed the plot and characters for no reason and made them worse, so why bother keeping the 1 thing that could have easily been improved??! Anime director - “Nope, we must keep completely faithful to the original game soundtrack! People love that soundtrack so much that they would never forgive us if we changed it!”
The art is good. If I had to say 1 nice thing about this anime and figure out what the hell happened to all the budget, the answer is the art and animation.
Is Valkyria Chronicles ultimately a bad anime? No. It still has plenty of positive elements and although it is a very watered down adaptation it still manages to be average or slightly better than average compared with the quality of other anime of its year. What frustrates me so much about this anime is that it was a large budget adaptation of an absolutely phenomenal game and SHOULD have been amazing! Instead it was just…meh. So does it fail as an adaptation relative to expectations and budget? You bet your ass it does! I was divided on whether to give it a 6 or a 5 out of 10, but I ultimately went with a very generous 6.