Record of Ragnarok had a very bumpy start but buoyed with fun moments. What worked and what will come next?
Netflix has a mixed track record for its original anime, and its new offering Record Of Ragnarok is no exception. Adapted from the hit manga, the series is a fascinating mess, full of bizarre choices, controversy, and some very fun moments and lots of epic battle.
Record Of Ragnarok is a fantasy action anime, based on the manga of the same name, which centers around a series of battles to the death between thirteen of history’s greatest human beings and thirteen mighty deities of various pantheons. The anime is for better and for worse, a full series length exploration of one of the most time honored aspects of action anime; The Tournament Arc.
The series begins with the threat of humanity’s destruction, with all gods having a debate in a hall sees the deities firmly in agreement on the issue of wiping out mankind to extinction. One voice calls out to stop the apocalypse, the eldest of the Valkyries, Brunhilde. Through an ancient and obscure loophole, Brunhilde proclaims her intention to initiate Ragnarok, a tournament consisting of 13 one on one duels to the death in a massive stadium populated by all of humanity and every being that claims godhood .
Gods from multiple pantheons face off against legendary humans from across history, each of whom is wielding a valkyrie who later has to transformed into a mystic weapon to aid them in battle. The original Record of Ragnarok manga is written by Shinya Umemura and Takumi Fukui, and is illustrated by Ajichika. The Record of Ragnorok anime is directed by Masao Okubo, with animation by Graphnica. It was produced by Warner Brothers and at the time of this writing is currently available exclusively on Netflix.
This season covered three of the thirteen prophesised bouts, while the manga has depicted five and is currently embroiled in the sixth. The three that make it to screens follow similar formats, but represent wildly different experiences. The fights are clearly the main event of the series, and they take up the majority of the screen time.
Tragically, the animation often fails to sell the epic tenor of the combat between legends and gods. Animated sequences like attacks are often repeated over and over, tons of the characters’ powerful techniques are brought across by them standing in place while speed-lines whoosh around them, and the art style occasionally shifts jarringly to looking like a cheap 3D with very little purpose. There are certainly moments when the animation delivers the tension, and those moments feel fantastic, as well as moments in which the framing or dialogue is captivating enough to ignore the unimpressive visuals, but in an anime wholly built around multi-episode fight scenes, the look and feel of the fight is a huge deal.
The three fights depicted so far include Chinese general Lu Bu versus Thor, father of humanity Adam versus Zeus(The god of thunder and the earth), and noted samurai Kojiro Sasaki versus Poseidon(The god of the sea). The series choice of representatives for both sides is fascinating, as it is in-universe. Lu Bu versus Thor is the most straightforward of the match-ups, a legendary warrior against a war god, and for that, it is likely the worst of the matches.
The first match to take place in the anime series may be the new poster child for a classic anime problem, taking forever to get anywhere, even in a high-octane action scene. The Lu Bu vs Thor fight takes around an whole hour of screen time, during which the two exchange two or three mighty blows, often winding up for most of an episode. Hilariously, the fight concludes with a note on screen that informs the audience that the fight took around 16 minutes in-universe. But of course this was mostly a battle of strength not skill.
The Adam versus Zeus fight improves as time went on, Adam is a bizarre choice for a fighting anime as he is not particularly known for violence, i mean this guy is the Father of all humans, where did he learn to fight ?, but he is granted a mystical ability to copy the powers of gods being made to look exactly like the gods, leading to a thrilling battle.But of course this was not never a battle of strength in any way because the gods of gods fighting against the father of all humans was pretty much the best match-up but in the end, endurance was all that matters and Adam lost due to exhaustion , giving the gods a win.
The final bout, Kojiro versus Poseidon, has some pretty solid story telling between its clashes, and really feels triumphant in its conclusion. The fights definitely improve true, like what would one expect from a sword fighter against the second most powerful god, but one would be forgiven for checking out after episode 3 or 4.
The default aesthetic choice of Record Of Ragnarok is comical exaggeration, most of the crowd reaction shots are genuinely hilarious as random eldritch horrors or ancient Egyptian pharaohs make up the audience. Zeus is a withered husk until he’s a grotesque muscle abomination, Lu Bu looks to terrifying that his teeth are a row of razor-sharp fangs, and Aphrodite is so voluptuous she needs assistants to hold her curves for her, that’s really something else, just to name a few. The approach makes some characters look unique and dramatic, while it makes some look outright silly.
The series also teases the fourth match-up for next season, which features Jack The Ripper. While he is very much introduced as a villain, he is still in the role of defender of humanity in this match, a questionable choice for a man famous for murdering women. These complaints have merit: it would be nice for the series to have some women with agency in the upcoming seasons.
Truth be told, Record of Ragnarok is nowhere near as bad as what I was told to expect, yet at the same time it’s clear that the work is simply not to the caliber that the source material (and fans) are so clearly crying out for. It’s not bad enough to revile, nor good enough to recommend. But there is still alot more we are yet to see in the coming seasons for this anime so it would be wrong to judge just yet.