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Le Chevalier d'Eon, Vol. 6: Bete Noire
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. This led to Le Chevalier D'Eon V3 where 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.
This fourth volume contained episodes 13) The Sign, 14) The Briefcase of Robert Wood, 15) The Last Secret Order, and 16) The Whereabouts of Her Soul. As the team chases their prey to England, their situation becomes somewhat more desperate. No longer able to rely on their Russian or French contacts, they find that King George III is in a precarious position of power as Parliament has taken advantage of his relative weakness, thanks in part to his endless series of wars against the powers of the time. D'Eon eventually makes friends with an important power figure attached to the throne but his group is charged with serious crimes as they seek to recover some written Psalms; the impact of which is felt when the mystics use the power to cause a great loss. The combination of political maneuvering and mystic alliances setting out against them proves too much until D'Eon finds a kindred soul in the form of a female bound to a dead soul much like he is with Lia. A pivotal role by both of them sets the stage for the next volume but a thief with influential friends in Parliament that have more wealth and spiritual powers than our heroes could possibly fight alone make for some interesting conflicts that will hopefully play out best next time. That brought us to the fifth volume, Le Chevalier D'Eon: Livre 5: Volte-Face, where the episodes were 17) Medmentham Abbey, 18) The New World, 19) Toward a Bloody Red and 20) Ready to Die for. Since the series started off fairly slowly in terms of establishing the characters, their motivations, and the setting, it has picked up pace substantially and that was even more true here. I wasn't sure at first if this was another case of a series that was planned out for a longer run but cut short or simply the way it was originally structured; perhaps in part due to cultural differences (the dub and the original language track did not vary much in this regard either). That said, the two tier angle that was embraced included the likelihood of war breaking out in Europe and how it would impact the characters as well as the specific events on a smaller scale that pushed them to recover the Psalms from their unholy enemies getting all the more desperate. Unlike so many websites, I hate to spoil the events but the theme that both sides of the struggle were effectively being betrayed struck me as curious and a departure from the normal way anime plays out. When you have a major player convert to the other side or go off on his own willingly, it mixes things up so needless to say when the culmination of events from the last volume stare the heroes in the face; even regaining the book they sought cannot alter the outcome that they wanted to avoid. The dynamic of changing from the hunter to the hunted made things spiral down the path that should be wrapped up in the final volume; though the plots and schemes of kings and queens made it clear that there were those that wanted none of them to come back alive.
A lot of this one dragged for me but it still warranted a rating of Recommended for the overall quality of the show. Having watched a lot of anime in recent years, I've noted that the next to last volume of most series has a way of bringing major plot threads together in a clumsy manner so very often that it is almost a cliché. This one did not completely escape that dynamic but at the same time it provided some answers from earlier volumes that might make it wise to watch the whole series in a sitting or two for all the minor aspects that were overlooked previously. That leads me to this final volume of the show with episodes 21) The Price of Honor, 22) NQM, 23) Beloved, and Therefore, and 24) In the Beginning Was the Word. As expected, the wrapping up of the plotlines, both large and small, was the main goal of this set of episodes and for the most part, that was what happened. D'Eon is faced with so many conflicting ideas that he struggles to keep his original goal in mind, tracking down the one most responsible for the death of his sister, that he maintains a balancing act regarding his love of France. After all, when the nobility let him down, including those in the highest echelons of power, all his breeding and knowledge of the world comes face to face with his concept of the world; making the tenants of the French Revolution all the more poignant. The treachery of those who oppose him feed on themselves too, the resulting body count among the highest of the series in terms of major characters (with some surprises along the way). I maintain that if you've come this far, there will be no turning back; you're going to have either watched this volume or plan to do so, but some of the endings were just a bit too neat for my tastes. This is a problem with a lot of full season series but simpler minds seem to like it this way and contrary to how life really works, it tends to make for better dramatic endings. My rating of Recommended seems fair here too, perhaps a boxed set with all the extras intact will come out at some point in a value priced edition to elevate the value somewhat and achieve a higher rating.
Picture: Le Chevalier D'Eon: Livre 6: Bete Noire 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: The best extra was the lengthy staff interview from Japan that allowed the players in the drama to have their say about a lot of little aspects of the show. There were some spoilers so be forewarned that you'll want to watch the remaining episodes first but don't skip it. There was also a set of historical notes to give a sense of the times the show was set in and some trailers. The slipcover case was again very fetching but the paper booklet was again pretty cool with artwork, interview with the voice actor playing the role of Lia in the Japanese version, and more of the screenplay as in previous volumes, along with a cute deformer art gallery of the characters.
Final Thoughts: Le Chevalier D'Eon: Livre 6: Bete Noire was clearly setting up a grand finale with the characters trying their best to stay ahead of the opposing forces that all wanted differing outcomes. Unlike previous volumes where the leads had some ability to master their own destiny, volume 6 stuck with the predestined endings most of the characters had been written for; mostly playing out on the events that led them to this point. The technical values, the writing, and the acting were all examples of some of the best work done by ADV Films in terms of the translation, augmented by a solid story brought over from Japan that most of you probably wouldn't care for if the gender bending of the lead character were the dominant element as some originally predicted. Historical drama is not the easiest genre of anime to "get right" so I applaud the companies involved in this project from both sides of the Pacific Ocean for digging deeply enough to inspire Tow Ubukata's original story into anime form. It was not my favorite anime of the past since it was essentially a melodrama of the French Revolution with mystical overtones but taken as a whole, I think a lot of people will enjoy it more than I did.
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.