#1 Underwhelming world-building
In the mysterious land of Yamatai, the people have long lived under the guidance of a spiritual force called Bokka. When is it one day attacked by a foreign nation, the Bokka use their power to save a single child. This baby, Himiko, is then whisked away to modern-day Japan where she grows up like any normal girl. But when she and her childhood friend Kutani one day return to the place where Himiko was first found, the two of them are transported back to Yamatai.
The setting is loosely based on actual historical records that describe a nation known as Yamatai ruled by a spiritual leader called Himiko. Whether you are familiar with this history or not, Yamatai as it’s depicted in Legend of Himiko isn’t that interesting of a world. Certainly not within the realm of isekai anime.
Much of its culture recycles old-timey tropes of Japan itself. You got shrine maidens and samurai armors, katanas and torii gates. Even much of the architecture mixes traditional Japanese palaces with rural townships. For an isekai, it’s underwhelming when the culture shock of being transported to another world is equivalent to a family vacation out in the boonies.
When Legend of Himiko does introduce more unique ideas, they usually fail to expand on them. You don’t really learn much about the Bokka or the religious views of Yamatai’s people. Nor do you get much insight into why its invaders have such strange technology. At one point the plot introduces a guy who we are immediately told is a demigod. That sure sounds interesting. Would be nice if we actually got to learn more about that. Instead his arc just kinda flies by and we never learn much about him or this world’s Gods.
#2 The Story is Barely About Himiko
Just like how the world feels underdeveloped, so too does Himiko herself suffer from a lack of presence. She may have her name in the title, but she rarely gets to be a proactive part of the story.
It is actually her friend Kutani who takes on a protagonist role. He and Himiko become separated, after which he joins an underground rebellion. He fights against the occupying Kune army, devises plans, and steers most of the plot. Meanwhile, Himiko is more of a prop for people to fight over. She gets captured and rescued a bunch of times. It’s capture the flag with a damsel in distress.
This is particularly disappointing, knowing that the historical Himiko was such an influential person. A woman who united her peoples after decades of war and established foreign relations. She was mystical, imposing, and greatly respected. Here in this anime reduced to a whiny teenage girl whose main contribution is encouraging the real heroes.
Honestly, the story could have worked fine without Kutani or Himiko in it at all. The side-characters who are native to Yamatai are the ones doing most of the actual work. They have established the guerilla army, they do most of the fighting, and they got all sorts of intrigue going. You got all these characters who are way more interesting than the actual protagonist, who are all doing their part to overthrow Kune. Even Kutani just kind of shows up when they have already set everything in motion for him. Just scrap this isekai bullshit and have a cool fantasy story.
#3 Final episode
Throughout its runtime, I was very unsure of what kind of review Legend of Himiko would be. I had issues with it, but it also pleasantly surprises at times. It hovered in that perilous 5/10 to 6/10 territory. Episode 11 had me optimistic that a strong finale could give the show the final push it needed. Until it all came crashing down with episode 12.
Right out of the gate, the final episode takes a nosedive in quality. Everything feels more stilted and awkward. Action shots in particular look way worse than in any prior episode. They even utilize flashing lights in lieu of backgrounds. Look forward to that if you have have photosensitivity issues.
How the story is eventually wrapped-up also left me feeling immensely unsatisfied. You don’t get much closure on the eventual fate of Yamatai or the characters there. It certainly doesn’t feel like a pay off after watching this entire war unfold. Himiko and Kutani fare a little better, but here too some plot threads are left unresolved. They then even have the audacity to tediously spell out the obvious implications of the ending, making for an awkward note to end the series on.
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Escaflowne: Isekai story that mixes traditional fantasy with out-of-place technology.