Studio: Yokohama Animation Lab
Director: Makoto Tamagawa
Streaming on: Funimation
I’ve got to get something off my chest; my reasons for watching this show were less than noble. I’m currently watching nine other shows this season, and wasn’t going to frivolously add another. Even so, I founded this blog with certain principles and guiding virtues in mind, and I will neither betray those values nor my audience by being untrue to myself.
The only reason I’m watching The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt is because the main girl is voiced by Rie Takahashi and is a dead ringer for Emilia from Re: Zero.
That’s it. Re: Zero is my favorite anime, Emilia is my waifu, and my mind was made up. I usually write reviews with a question or theme in mind, other than simply evaluating a show’s quality, but not today. She’s got purple eyes, white hair, and thigh highs, and I’m not going to pretend I waited until the word “thigh highs” to abandon my integrity as a reviewer.
Now that we’ve established I have the moral backbone of a flaky French pastry, let’s discuss what separates Genius Prince, other than an absurdly long title. It’s actually a pretty neat premise; you might recall I was disappointed by How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom. While it pretends to be a serious exploration of fantasy governance, it’s a half-baked Civics 101 dropout who just read their first light novel. Genius Prince offers a similar concept but with a comedic twist, so it will at least have the benefit of not taking itself too seriously.
But, at the end of the day, I came in expecting a waifu, and that’s what I got. This series receives my highest rating of Entertaining Fantastic, and a 12/10. Wait, you’re saying I actually have to review the show? Ugh, fine.
The king has fallen ill, barbarians clamor for war at the border, and the country is without the money or manpower to defend itself. In the meantime, Crown Prince Wein is currently trying to sell his kingdom to the highest bidder and skip town for a cozy retirement.
The most pressing problem, other than the blatant treason, is that the kingdom is worth pennies. No natural resources, an army of a measly 10,000 soldiers, and warmongering generals eager to throw the last coin in the nation’s coffers towards a war they can’t win. The second problem is that Wein and his advisor Ninym happen to be the only people in the country with two brain cells to rub together.
Wein deploys a trusty strategy; convince the generals that war is futile by suggesting the dumbest ideas that come to mind, so they realize how ridiculous they’re being. Great plan, except these braindead cronies pick up his every suggestion and just run with it. In the first episode alone, they bungle his chances of suing for peace and immediately launch an attack on a gold mine that happens to be the most heavily-guarded locale for hundreds of miles.
Wein would be stuck with his floundering kingdom or on the receiving end of a coup, if not for repeated strokes of extraordinary luck. Every backwards idea he puts forward works out spectacularly, and he’s forced to continue the charade of the wise magnanimous prince as his loyal subjects drive him insane.
That’s actually a pretty good setup for a comedy, and it addresses the problems that left Realist Hero dead in the water. It’s easier to mock bad ways of governing a kingdom and have them work out as a punchline than it is to create functioning country. Heck, the vast majority of people actually running countries don’t know how to do that, much less a two-bit light novel author.
If the anime was as simple as its premise, we’d be done here. Unfortunately, it’s loaded with defects; its pacing is kind of terrible. The first episode is swallowed up by a huge battle that’s all over the place (but more about that later). For now, let’s agree it was a smart decision to place Wein and the enemy commander in their respective tents, studying the map and strategizing with real-time updates from their messengers.
This gives us insight into the strategies of both parties, and if we were allowed to see how it affects the battle, could be an effective narrative device. They don’t capitalize on that potential, though; they spend more time on lackluster shots of the armies clashing, while Wein tells his soldiers to stand their ground in a bland rectangular formation.
It would have been better to see them attempt something similar to Code Geass’ battles, where Lelouch contextualizes conflicts as movements on a chessboard. If Wein was able to order movements and tactics, moving pieces on the board accordingly, it would give us the information to interpret the course of the battle for ourselves, instead of being told so.
As it stands, the portrayal of tacticians at work isn’t outstanding, for better or worse, and there’s not a whole lot else to say about it. There’s actually some decent material here, particularly the comedic chemistry between Wein and Ninym. His dual persona, balancing his righteous ruler act with the petulant child boiling under the surface, is great fodder for Ninym’s straight man act.
It’s rarely laugh-out-loud funny; the only time I did was Wein and Ninym’s despair at learning the army actually managed to capture the gold mine. It’s a quick cut between the anguish of a battle they could never win to a strategic point of revenue they can’t hope to defend, and they really should have made more moments like it. There’s promise here, but there’s room for improvement.
Room for improvement has quickly become a running theme, even as we dive into the visuals. Across the board, the character design is actually impressive. I mean, that’s what grabbed my attention in the first place, but I’m not just talking about Ninym. Even Wein, who’s supposed to have this bland protag look, walks the line between his faux dignity and crafty sliminess quite well.
Genius Prince doesn’t look half-bad in motion, but then in the first five seconds the camera did its darnedest to make me vomit. I appreciate directors spicing up character introductions with interesting angles and shot compositions, but the opening sequence has some positively nauseating 3D camera movements. I wonder why they did it at all, since the CG backgrounds they pan over look terrible.
And now we’ve finally returned to that battle. I’m sending a PSA to all anime; if you don’t have the scheduling or budget wizardry needed for a massive clash between armies, please stop trying to make one. Anime is a medium defined by compromise, and there are plenty of ways to convincingly show a battle without drawing dozens of faceless stick men in the place of soldiers.
Off the top of my head, draw two or three soldiers in detail; use closeups and perspective to avoid animating too many moving parts. For goodness’ sake, it’s a war! You have dust and dirt kicked up, the sun reflecting off armor and swords. It’s supposed to be confusing and chaotic, so use that fog of war to your advantage. You could draw ten soldiers well while convincing the audience you’ve drawn a hundred.
And then back to Wein’s strategizing. The show visualizes this through CG chess pieces weirdly gliding across the map, and it just looks lame. If Wein and the enemy general moved their pieces by hand, deliberating on their past and next moves with their advisors, it’d be so much more engaging without looking nearly as cheap. That would even take up more runtime; you wouldn’t have to spend as much time animating the expensive battle if we were following Wein’s thought process in between short scenes of the conflict.
It’s not the worst-looking anime. Heck, of the shows I’m reviewing, it’s not in the bottom five. Genius Prince has its moments, but it reeks of missed opportunity. I don’t like blaming one person above others for an anime’s faults; it’s a collaborative project, and one person rarely makes the final decision without input from others.
Even so, most of the problems I mentioned are the director’s responsibility. Makoto Tamagawa has a wealth of experience in animation, storyboarding, and episode direction, but this is his first time serving as series director, and it looks like he’s struggling in that capacity.
I’m having a hard time making up my mind here. There’s a serious chance I’ll have to go back and edit this review once I have a few more episodes under my belt. If you’re reading this without an edit note, you can take that to mean my opinion hasn’t changed, for better or worse.
Like I said, anime is collaborative, meaning dozens or hundreds of people have to make decisions, and the quality of those choices will usually determine the quality of the anime. It’s just that A Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt lands squarely in the middle. Mostly decent, sometimes good, occasionally disappointing.
More than anything, it’s disappointing because it is just okay. The production doesn’t seem particularly rushed, there’s no fundamental flaws in the script, so I just have to scratch my head and ask, “Why aren’t you better?”
As my opinion stands now, could be better, but also much worse. If I still gave number reviews, it would get a 6/10. 5 points for being an acceptable use of 25 minutes out of my week, and an extra point because I’m a hopeless Emilia simp. Sue me.
Despite that, I don’t give number reviews, so I’m going to consult my trusty chart and give Genius Prince a soft Neutral Fine, subject to change. I also couldn’t figure out how to fit it in the body of the review, but the OP is weird; it’s kind of put together like an old sitcom. Seriously, put your preferred ’70s or ’80s comedy intro over it and you get the exact same vibe.
Now that I got that out of the way, here’s your chance to tell me your thoughts, or to tell me you’re also watching this because Rie Takahashi is behind half a dozen of the best waifus in anime. You can do that in the comments below, or over on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, where I’m talking about the many, many shows I’m watching right now. Until next time, thanks for reading.
|Pleasing||My Dress-Up Darling||Demon Slayer|