Background: How often do you hear that "all anime is the same" from friends that don't understand the appeal of the genre? If you're anything like me, you hear it all the time and it gets annoying since the fact of the matter is, there are scores of different sub-genres that can provide young and old alike with a lot of entertainment value. Such was the case with Le Chevalier D'Eon: Livre 1 and Le Chevalier D'Eon: Livre 2: Agent Provocateur; a historical drama unlike virtually any anime on the market today and a very appealing show if you can stomach a Frenchman as the hero. Today's review is on the third volume of the series; Le Chevalier D'Eon: Livre 3: Danse Macabre where our small team of heroes faces some of their toughest challenges yet, marking a turning point in the lives of the characters in this historical fiction anime. To bring new folks up to speed, here's a look at the past before going into the specifics of this release:
Series: Le Chevalier D'Eon: follows the life and times of an infamous cross dresser from hundreds of years ago, D'Eon de Beaumont; an aristocratic fellow that served as a spy and secret agent for King Louis XV. The times were simple back when this was set; there were three kinds of people, Royalty (the first estate with all the rights and privileges of rank), the clergy (the second estate with some protections by the church against the nobles' whims), and the peasants (who had no rights at all). D'Eon was lucky to be one of the royalty and a servant of the King's Court, at a time when it meant something special. France was poor from a series of failed wars and to help maintain order, a group of secret police are in place to serve the country. D'Eon is one of them and finds that his sister Lia has become the latest victim of a serial killer. The word "psalms" is written in blood on a floating coffin containing her body, a body filled with mercury so that its spirit can't continue on to Heaven, and D'Eon becomes obsessed with finding her, especially since moments before the death he is handed a series of cryptic papers that may very well lead to solving the mystery.
What D'Eon finds out is that his well placed sister was a spy for the crown as well and the trail of blood leads to a well connected Russian that has found favor with many nobles, tentatively due to the quality furs he sells them. Each corpse is marked with a special symbol as well and that trail also leads to the French nobility so D'Eon finds he must tread carefully as his group of fellow agents knows the danger involved in investigating such matters as well as the political intrigue of accusing the privileged class of crimes. In any case, without giving away too many spoilers, D'Eon's personal investigation leads him to become a secret spy for King Louis XV. The king is aware of the matter but due to his station, can't get involved, especially since those with lots of money are more powerful than himself in some ways.
As D'Eon and his friends soon find out, the investigation is not simply about a handful of nobles killing off women but of sorcery and secret societies that may further corrupt French interests around the world; something that D'Eon simply can't tolerate as a loyalist to the crown. In his favor, the spirit of his sister sometimes takes his body over, altering his appearance a bit to look like a woman and giving him extra abilities to combat these foes, albeit at a cost to him. This provides the impetus for the story that is based on a man who many thought was a woman for decades until after his death (in real life, according to historical accounts), blending the realities of history with the fictional story that made me stand up and take notice with the show.
I'm not going to spoil the whole show for you by providing a breakdown of all the action but the "murder mystery with a sense of supernatural" seems like a winner on all fronts to me. The cover said it like this: "Paris, 1742. A coffin floats in the shimmering Seine. On the lid, a word written in blood--Psalms. Inside, the body of a beautiful woman. Lia de Beaumont. Now her brother, D'Eon, seeks the reason for her mysterious murder, and uncovers an evil that shadows both the palaces of kings and the dark alleys of Europe. A power wielded by spell-casting Poets, and manipulated by royalty. A force so powerful it brings Lia's soul back from beyond to seize the only weapon she can possess to avenge her death--her own brother. History meets horror. Fantasy meets mystery. Experience the next revolution in anime with Le Chevalier D'Eon." The second volume brought us: "Searching for clues to her murder, D'Eon discovers his sister's life in the King's court was more than jeweled gowns and priceless perfumes. It involved dark sorcerers, manipulative royals, and a violet-eyed vixen whose dangerous power turns innocent mongrels into slobbering, rabid monsters. D'Eon and his comrades slip from Versailles to Russia, seeking an emperor who appears to control magic-wielding followers. And serving a queen who seems far too pleased to have Lia's spirit possess her brother's body. A tormented beauty's soul that is not resting in peace, but is alive and well--and looking for vengeance."
Le Chevalier D'Eon: Livre 2: Agent Provocateur then set the stage for the confrontation in Russia, with D'Eon facing the empress to find out what relationship she had with his sister, the various subplots of those he was hunting down, and the mystical connection he still had with his now deceased sister. The dreaded sophomore slump was nowhere in evidence as the story matured more than a little, getting slightly cumbersome at times but not so much so that it didn't improve with repeated viewings too. The episodes this time were 9) The Lovers, 10) The Royal Psalms, 11) Rain on Saint Petersburg, and 12) Rest in Peace in the Fatherland. If you've followed the story thus far, you'll know that D'Eon and his friends were now in Russia without any official status; posing as jewel merchants in order to keep their cover secret. Having befriended the Empress, they find that the prey they are looking for is of royal status; making him untouchable unless they are given special dispensation by their new friend. She has worries too in that the various plots against her crown put her life in grave danger, with D'Eon and his band coming to the rescue multiple times, ultimately not succeeding completely but salvaging the evolution of the country into a better place.
Needless to say, that makes them enemies from those who wanted to return to the old ways and/or gain greater status, including someone very close to the Empress, ultimately trying to stage multiple coup de tats with D'Eon serving in a non-combatant role that uses his status as an agent of France to forward the interests of Russia and France; with a surprise offer coming his way as a result when the dust settles. There was substantially more political intrigue this time and fewer battles; only a scant bit of the supernatural element until well into the volume as Lia asserts herself to get revenge while D'Eon attempts to hold her anger inside as he needs the object of her wrath alive to gain information as to the real culprit of her death. Admittedly a slower volume for those of you wanting the fighting and alchemist angle, it showed that aside from some minor issues with the dub, it was still worth a rating of Highly Recommended.
Picture: Le Chevalier D'Eon: Livre 3: Danse Macabre was presented in the original 1.77:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color it was shot in by Japanese director Kazuhiro Furuhashi. The animation used to display movement appeared to be top notch with fluidity and detail surpassing the majority of titles on the market, providing it with a sense of realism rare in anime these days. Due to the nature of the material, much of the action takes place at night and some of it allows a bit of noise to come into the picture but this is the exception rather than the rule so you won't be disappointed in terms of how it looked overall. The DVD master also showed some care that allowed the largely (at night anyway) muted colors to maintain a sense of stability over the brightly colored pastels of the kiddy shows. Watch it for five minutes and you'll immediately notice what I mean when I say that this looks very solid.
Sound: The audio was presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround with the standard choices of Japanese and English for the viewer to pick from. There are English language subtitles too but what struck me as odd was that the vocals in the English language dub sounded more natural than the original vocal tracks did. Neither of them offered up the kind of fake French accents more mainstream projects provide these days so on that score, they succeed and fail (the series is set in France so accents should be present, just not fake ones), but the dub sounded more natural in that regard overall (even if a few of the roles sounded "off" this time). Neither was badly made however so take that as a complement to the dedication of ADV Films director Steven Foster and the local team of voice actors. As far as the eerie music and special effects were concerned, both of the language tracks sounded about even. There may have been more a little bass in the dub but the separation between the tracks and the headspace they both offered was a significant improvement over the usual shows I've been listening too, directionality offered up to take advantage of your home theatres.
Extras: There was a set of historical notes to give a sense of the times the show was set in. You might want to check these out before watching the show, even if they appear a bit detailed and confusing at first. They add some idea of the times better than my review is designed to do and flesh out the historical basis for some of the characters. I can't state enough how I enjoyed the FOUR full audio commentaries here; one with Chris Hutchinson (Bestuzhev) and dub director Steven Foster, one with Lesley Tesh (Lorenza) and Amit Patel (Robespierre); one with Alice Fulks (Elizaveta) and dub director Steven Foster; and the last with Jessica Boone (Ekaterina) and Jose Diaz (Pyotr): as each provided a significant look into the perspectives each group had in terms of the basic themes involved (the gender bending of the main character less prominent this time) and the historical aspects. While everyone did not contribute equally, both commentaries served to put some of the nuances on a spotlighted status, so if you're truly enjoying the show as much as I have been, listen to these well after you've absorbed the episodes a time or two or you may find some spoilers interfering with your viewing pleasure. For me, the director added the most quality material to the two commentaries he was in; largely because he had access to the fullest range of the show. Lastly, the slipcover case was very fetching but the paper booklet was again pretty cool with artwork, interview with Yuki Tai (the voice actor playing the lead role of D'Eon de Beaumont), and more of the screenplay as in the last two volumes.
Final Thoughts: Le Chevalier D'Eon: Livre 3: Danse Macabre seemed to be a volume in a solid series showing the creators not willing to rest on their laurels, pushing some of the concepts even further but thankfully downplaying some of the trans-gender elements in favor of political intrigue. The technical values, the writing, the acting, the extras and pretty much all other aspects of the show were a marked step towards the type shows I have long expected from the company and surpass the generally weak flops that have caused many fans to turn away from the genre in recent years (so many titles are too generic, boring, or rehash old ground rather than show creativity, intelligence, and material we can show our friends as examples of why we like anime). I know it might sound offbeat and/or strange but for those of you wanting something a bit more driven by the mental aspects of the fictional accounts may find this to be well worth your time and money to check out.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, Best of Anime 2005, and Best of Anime 2006 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.