Chrno Crusade is an early 2000s anime based off of a manga by Moriyama Daisuke. The anime version was handled by the folks at Gonzo. Yes, the Bakuretsu Tenshi, Final Fantasy Unlimited & Trinity Blood studio.
We open with representatives of the Magdalene order, a religious order that hunts demons, going into action. These are our main characters, Sister Rosette and her daemonic partner Chrno. We quickly learn that Rosette’s younger brother, Joshua, was taken to a twisted version of Shibuya to play a reaper’s game. I mean, he was kidnapped by a demon named Aion. To search for him, she’s formed a pact with her friend, Chrno. The price being her very life force.
I have to give Moriyama a lot of credit here. The writing is brilliant. It’s one of those series where the premise has potential but only if it’s handled very well. Which it is. The theme of time is a powerful one and it’s handled immaculately. The way the series builds up to big events is superbly done as well. It’s very good at giving escalating hints at what’s coming and of having worthy pay off.
This series is also excellent at mixing some more light-hearted comedic elements with its more serious, dramatic moments. Which is one of those things that most media can’t manage. But this series handles it by making the comedy more subdued and never going too far with its dramatic elements. Even the most serious moments contain a strong spark of hope and even the most comedic moment has some serious undertone playing out. As a consequence, the shifts are a lot more natural.
I can also credit the series with having fantastic world building. It doesn’t just throw back stories and fantastical terms at you. It eases you into them gradually so, when some aspect actually gets explained, you’re able to easily grasp it as part of the world and see where it fits in with the rest. It helps that the visions of heaven, earth and hell in this series are really compelling.
The ending is absolutely perfect. I won’t spoil it, but I will point out that a lesser writer would not have gone with the ending this series has. They would have seen it as too risky or not marketable enough. But it is also the ending that works best with all the build up and events of the series.
This series also deserves some credit in being one of those rare anime that makes me tear up. There are two scenes in particular where I had to dry my eyes. And I don’t cry at that many pieces of media. Especially not after multiple viewings but I re-watched this series for a third time for this review and it still got to me.
My minor complaint here is that Chrno Crusade has one of those comedic dirty old man characters. To its credit, there is more to the elder than you would usually get with that type of character. He does have some complexity. But it’s still a tired and kind of shit archetype to work off of.
That gripe aside, the characters in this are excellent. Rosette starts out seeming like one of those more brash, action girl heroines. But as the story progresses she gains more complexity and you learn that a lot of her more reckless behaviours tie into her wanting to live every day to its utmost due to her more limited time.
Every major character is like that. They start with some, simple archetype and elevate it to something unique, complex and interesting. Which also leads to some superb character dynamics and interactions. Chrno and Rosette in particular have a superb bond. The minor characters may not be as perfectly developed and fleshed out, but they have enough complexity to come across as actual people.
I also have to credit the series for its antagonists. The villains, Aion especially, are complex characters with clear and compelling motivations. Aion makes such an excellent villain because he is very blatantly villainous but he’s also got his own twisted reasons behind everything he does and he excels at manipulating others into doing what he needs them to do. He doesn’t come across as the most physically intimidating but he doesn’t need to because his powers of persuasion and manipulation make him a terrifying opponent.
My minor gripe here is that there are points where Rosette or Satella will have their clothes torn in battle in a fashion that borders on sexualised. To the series’ credit, it never crosses that line but it does come uncomfortably close.
Aside from that, the artwork is very strong. The demon designs are great. The various technical devices the Magdalene order uses have interesting designs. Steeped in religious imagery, obviously, but that just adds to the aesthetic. Gonzo deserves a lot of credit for framing their important scenes very effectively. For instance, there’s a scene towards the end where Rosette is going out and helping people but its framed in such a way that it comes across as very unsettling. And a lot of that comes down to the art since she isn’t moving right and there’s something just a bit off about her face.
The action sequences are fairly strong as well. There’s a lot of creativity behind them and they’re very effectively animated for the tone that the series is going for. The more light-hearted scenes come with more high energy, fun action scenes while the more serious scenes have heavier sequences.
The performances in this are superlative. Ishida Akira, Kawakami Tomoko, Chiba Saeko and Neya Michiko are all excellent. I don’t even care that Neya Michiko’s Deutsch isn’t quite natural. And you can’t fault Inoue Kazuhiko’s performance as Aion. The music is excellent as well. Amazing theme tunes with Tsubasa wa Pleasure Line & Sayonara Solitaire and perfectly fashioned in episode music. Which includes some lovely song performances by Saeko Chiba.
There are moments in Chrno’s shown back story that make it seem like maybe he and Aion were more than friends but it’s not a lot and there’s nothing definitive.
Areas of Improvement:
- Give the elder a different comedic attribute. Yeah, I admit that I just personally can’t stand the dirty old man trope. But even putting that aside, you could definitely do something more unique here.
- Less attire tearing during fights.
- Show a little more of Joshua’s fate in the ending. After the effort put in on his behalf, it would be nice to know a bit more about what happens with him.
This series is excellent. In terms of writing, acting and animation it’s really exemplary. I did struggle a bit with whether to give it a 9 or a 10 since I do have two gripes with it that somewhat affected my enjoyment but given how stellar the whole thing is and how minor they are by comparison to everything it does right, I’m going with a rare 10/10.