Note: Guess despite what MAL and ANN voter ratings claim, this series isn't as horrible as I was expecting. A matter of fact, this is easily the best quality title I've covered on Ani-Crap Review thus far and that is saying something considering the nice amount of trash I've covered thus far. Regardless, I'm tweaking my review format slightly to cover my thoughts on this series instead of ripping it apart. I'll very likely be able to relish in that when I cover Pilot Candidate next week for my final review for Adult Swim Month. Regardless, read on, enjoy my look into Reign the Conqueror and judge for yourself if you agree with me or the voters among both MAL and ANN.
Reign the Conqueror (known as Alexander Senki in Japan) was a 13-episode TV anime series that aired in Japan from September 14 to December 7 of 1999. The series was based on a light novel series written by Hiroshi Aramata from 1998 to 1999. The animated adaptation of the series was animated by Madhouse and had Aeon Flux creator Peter Chung involved in its designs of settings and characters.
The series was licensed by Tokyopop in 2001 for American video distribution as part of their anime line of releases. Originally, there was an attempt by a group of producers led by veteran voice actor Jack Fletcher to direct the series before Tokyopop announced their acquisition of Reign. Tokyopop retained the original dub done by Fletcher for the title's first four episodes done for their video release and had their own voice cast dub the remaining nine episodes of the series. The English dub of Reign was aired on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block from February 10 to March 3 of 2003, where it underwent a great deal of censorship to edit or remove scenes containing intense violence and nudity. Tokyopop has since lost their rights to the series and Reign is now out of print.
Alexander is the young prince of the Macedonian Empire, born to King Philip II and the snake witch Olympias. Fending off assassins and rising to gain the throne of his kingdom, Alexander begins his quest to conquer all lands throughout the known world. Throughout this quest, the prince also comes to question an ancient prophecy that foretells of his quest leading to the destruction of the world.
Being a loose take on portraying the life of famous Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great, Reign adds in supernatural elements, steampunk and influential philosophers of the time period to explore the struggles of Alexander coming to grips with his destiny to conquer the known world. The anime features Alexander gathering allies, conquering various parts of Europe and Asia and trying to make sense of the supposed destiny he has had since birth where he would lead the world to its destruction with his attempts to conquer all known lands.
The major elements that make this series stick out for quality are its excellent integration of metaphysical themes and ancient philosophical figures that were renowned around Alexander's time that influence his conquests throughout the course of the series. Alexander is blessed with a high degree of luck and charisma in his conquests that gets explained as being influenced by the fate bestowed upon him by an ancient artifact capable of algorithmic manipulation of reality that he seeks out in later episodes of the series to find meaning to his supposed destiny. This makes his existence threatening to several cults influenced by differing philosophical schools of thought who attempt to assassinate Alexander throughout the course of the series and influential Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Diogenes serve to either guide or hinder Alexander's quest to conquer countries and come to terms with the supposed destiny he has. The assumptions of Alexander's destiny made by many throughout the course of the series are not what one would assume on the surface, which is hinted to at points earlier in the series and the title's finale. On top of the show's creators shown to have done well in their research of Greek philosophy and supernatural lore for their spin on Alexander's life, they also make their own unique takes to major feats that Alexander accomplishes such as his taming of the wild horse Bucephalus, his encounter with Diogenes and his cutting of the Gordian Knot. These nice touches make the exploits of Alexander's character for this adaptation of the series all the more pleasing to see unfold.
When it comes to other characters in this series though, the series is a mixed bag in their focus on them. Some characters get enough focus to have defined personalities and developments that show what beliefs or loyalties they have that lead them to either be loyal or opposed to Alexander's pursuits. Others that have major roles in the series are either quite underdeveloped or shallow in their characters that make them difficult to connect with. The series also appears to have been left open-ended as Alexander is still alive and well following his journey in the title's finale, yet is still intent on pressing forward with his quest to conquer the known world. However, I think this might have been intentional by the show's creators since the series was more about Alexander trying to come to terms with himself instead of an actual focus of his entire life.
The presentation for this series certainly sticks out from standard anime fare. On the plus side, many character designs are drawn to be quite lifelike with realistic details for muscle tone and facial features, settings that are faithful to their intended historical settings with occasional elements of steampunk tossed in for technologies employed, subdued color tones that make for a nice touch to the dark mood this series gives off and decent use of CG animation for some of the complex animations seen in the series such as a glimpse of the universe seen when Alexander enters the barrel hut of Diogenes, armies marching and the elaborate "world of destruction" seen in the finale of the series.
On the bad end, many of the major characters in this series (mostly the men) sport very revealing attire and silly attire like tight thongs, shirts that expose midriff, exotic masks and formal attire that look like women's bathing suits that give the series somewhat of a homo-erotic feel and are obviously not faithful to Alexander's time period. Plus outside of the CG animation, the hand-drawn animation to this is mostly subpar with animation shortcuts and tricks employed to give off a sense of fluid animation that doesn't look convincing in many instances.
The soundtrack to the series sports tense and dark insert tracks that do their part to compliment the serious mood of this series, though don't particularly stick out. The original opening song for Reign ("Anata no Kiss wo Oshiemasho ~You Were Mine~") sports an upbeat, optimistic mood and lyrics that go against the intended mood this series wishes to give off. Yet in a occasional case where changes done by an American distributor are done for the better with a series, Tokyopop created a new opening song for their English dub of the series ("Worthy of your Soul") that sports a melancholic mood and lyrics that both better accompany the feel of Reign.
Overall, I'm actually fairly surprised with this series. I was expecting a dud thanks to much of the negative reception that this series received from anime fans. But I think this reception was exaggerated thanks to Reign's attempts to be different from the norm. Granted, the homo-erotic attire of the characters will turn away some fans and there are a number of characters I felt could have been better developed. But the series does do well at integrating supernatural lore and unique spins on major elements of Alexander's conquests of the known world. It's not perfect, but I think the reputation of this series as a supposed dud is greatly exaggerated.