Title: Egao no Daika
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Sci-fi, action, mecha, drama
Year of release: 2019
I’ve been trying to find a better word than ‘clumsy’ to describe Egao no Daika, but I worry that ‘clumsy’ might be the best fit; from its rocky start, it bumbles along with heavy-handedness until it uncomfortably calls it a day. Clumsy indeed, but I don’t think that’s a particularly good description of how heartfelt it was, nor how heartfelt it came across.
While its first episode tries to divert your attention with some (perhaps too) clever smoke and mirrors, Egao no Daika is a classic war-drama. Other than a brief consideration of the fronts put up to deal with traumas, Egao no Daika’s dry thematic well constantly reminds us that war is very bad. It does so in lots of ways – some of which are extremely commendable, such as the various times it breaks expectations, but some are more corny and blatant, particularly near the end or whenever it touches symbolism. But at these major platitudes, the show came together with its particularly strong soundtrack and clever narrative switch-ups to generally hit these notes with aplomb; at its best, Egao no Daika is powerful anti-war rhetoric.
But it can be a bumpy ride to these apex moments.
Perhaps it was the show’s intentions to describe war as meaningless, but many of the larger political reasonings are just hand-waves, despite the large amount of clunky dialogue explaining them. The final few episodes develop an eye-rollingly convenient solution that reeks of plot hole, and fails to use the same courage that detailed some of its earlier sequences as it safely wraps up.
But, as a war-drama, for the most part, it really is quite successful.
The series switches, almost binarily, between the perspectives of Yuki, the naive, idealistic 12 year old princess of Soleil, and Stella, an orphan who is the most pragmatic of a top spec-ops mech unit in the Grandiga forces. The switch-up is usually eerily effective, as the show dictates that both sides have good people and that both sides have bad people, and that, again, war is very bad. The Grandiga unit occupies the most heartful portion in my opinion, getting away from the convoluted politics and discussing who these people were before and who they will be after the war, and it goes a long way to humanising the dramatic moments. Stella’s ineloquent backstory and rigid character traits sadly meant she wasn’t the best of the unit to follow – however, that honour goes to the unit’s new commander and significant elder, Gale Owens, who makes a much more heartwrenching battle between his conflicting personalities. Then again, a similar thing happens in the Kingdom of Soleil, where the adults are much more convincing in their dichotomy of doing what’s right versus what’s best, getting convinced by Yuki by her sheer determination even when it costs them everything.
But, as an anime production, I’m struggling to really get behind it – especially as Egao no Daika is an anniversary project for an animation studio. Egao no Daika’s art is bland, its consistency low and its animation rigid. While the soundtrack is generally a hard-hitter, and the CGI action sequences are fairly impressive (if you can ignore the low-resolution backgrounds), the series doesn’t rely on these as much as it perhaps should. You’d sadly be wrong to think that this anniversary project would bring out some top notch work.
In the end, Egao no Daika has some very strong moments, but the lack of a strong finisher really reiterates all the difficulties just getting to the finishing line. Clumsy, but impassioned.