Hitsugi no Chaika — Coffin Princess Chaika is a 2014 anime series based on a light novel series, light novels being short, usually illustrated novels aimed at a youngish public in Japan. Many of those are on the formulaic side, shall we say, but they make good fodder for anime series and a lot of contemporary television anime in Japan is now driven by light novel adaptions. Light novels do have something of a reputation as making lousy animes, not helped by the glut of harem fantasy adaptations, where some bland bloke is trust into some sort of magical situation as the saviour of the world, involving lots and lots of young girls throwing themselves at him for unclear reasons. The unsatiable desire for new series leads to a lot of twelve episode animes with little to distinguish themselves.
Hitsugi no Chaika could at first glance be mistaken for one of those. You got the nominal protagonist Chaika as the innocent abroad just this side of being sickly sweet, the male focus character Toru and his “sister”, Akari, prone to violent outbursts and accusations of lechery against him. All three are fairly stereotypical characters, found in every other anime series, caught up in what seems like an equally stereotypical love triangle.
What saves it is the humour, which is a cut above the usual “hilarious” slapstick or offensive sexist japery, but is actually based in the characters and themselves. It helps that they’re all likeable people as well, including the antagonists. Chaika is a bit too cute at times, naive, innocent, but also stubborn and determined to fulfil her mission. Akari is hotheaded but not obnoxiously so and is toned down somewhat after her introduction; both she and Toru are competent, professional warriors in a world where war has ended five years ago with the defeat of emperor Arthur Gaz.
Chaika is Gaz’s daughter, lugging a coffin around the former emperor to get his remains back from the eight heroes that defeated him, to give him a proper burial. She runs into and hires Toru and Akari after the former saves her from an unicorn, set upon her by a group of agents from the current regime, wanting to stop her, fearing what she might do with the remains. These are not your usual villains, but decent people with some doubt on whether they’re in the right from time to time, especially as the cracks in the new world order start to show. I like the design of the various characters as well, especially this chap, who looks like a Jack Kirby design.
Speaking of character design, what I also found interesting was while all the main characters look pretty much in the style of modern fantasy anime, the background characters look more like they’d wandered in from a lesser studio Ghibli movie. Much less colourful, much more realistic body types. Nowhere near the quality of a Ghibli production of course, but the feel is the same.
All in all Hitsugi no Chaika is an entertaining anime series much better than it needed to be. Watch it.