Some twists on an old formula keeps this interesting throughout.
What They Say:
Things are NOT going well for Felicita. For years, the island of Regalo has been protected by her father’s “organization,” the Arcana Tarocco. The organization’s success is due in no small part to the members’ unusual skills with Tarot Cards, not to mention their more usual guns and knives. But now her father has unexpectedly decided to retire and, while the fact that his position will be filled by the winner of a series of duels doesn’t worry Felicita, the fact that he’s decided to throw HER into the contest as part of the prize certainly does. Especially since some of the contestants are her cousins, which is keeping things in the family WAY too much!
Fortunately, our lady shark has two aces up her sleeve: as the head of the Swords Division, she’s eligible to compete for herself; and with her favored Card, The Lovers, she can snoop into the minds of her would-be suitors-cum-rivals. It’s just too bad they have their own card tricks!
Both language tracks on this release are offered in 2.0; for this viewing, I listened to the English dub. With the amount of action in this series, I would have liked to have had a 5.1 mix, but that’s my only real complaint with the dub (the head cook’s voice was really bad, but as she only had a handful of lines throughout the whole series, I can’t really complain about it). There was some nice directionality in the sound effects and the audio was clean with no dropout along the channels.
The transfer for this release came off clean, too. The colors were bright and the lines solid. I didn’t notice any real technical issues with the transfer other than the occasional scene where it wasn’t quite as crisp as I might have liked. That said, I’m willing to chalk that up to the fact that I’m used to watching things in HD these days. And even those moments were pretty minor.
The three discs for this release come in a single amaray case with a center insert to hold two of the discs. The front cover has a group picture of the main cast standing in their battle poses, while the back has an action pose of Liberta with his sword to the left of the series summary. Some screen shots are arrayed along the top with the technical details on the bottom. It is a simple design, but a nice one.
The menu for this release is fairly basic. Along the left is a picture of some of the characters from the series, while the disc selections are on the right. A sample of the OP theme plays in the background of the main menu in a long enough loop that if you leave the menu up for a bit, it won’t get too repetitive. The selections and cursor stand out well.
The only extras for this release are clean versions of the OP/ED, which are on the second disc.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
La Storia della Arcana Famiglia is based on a visual novel that came out for the PSP in 2011. In a fun twist on the harem idea that most visual novels use, the protagonist is a female surrounded by a large “family” of men who are vying for her attention in varying degrees. When I sat down to watch this, I have to admit that I had mixed feelings about it, but I ended up being fairly surprised at how much it surprised me.
On the island of Regalo, a group of vigilantes known as the Arcana Famiglia keep crime at a minimum. Seen as a boon to the society, Arcana Famiglia are hailed as local heroes and celebrities for everything they do to help the town and its citizens. They are assisted by mystical contracts they all have with tarot cards giving them various Arcana powers, which enables them to get right to the heart of just about any matter. At the head of Arcana Famiglia is a man named Mondo, who runs the group like a family—as a mafia don does with his family, though without all that pesky breaking the law. He is so well respected by the members of the family that everybody refers to him as their “Papa.”
As long as Papa has been at the head of the family, everything has gone well for the members of Arcana Famiglia. However, at a party for his fifty-ninth birthday, Mondo announces that he is considering retirement. In order to provide for the future of the family, he announces a tournament—the Arcana Duello—where the winner will both claim the title of Papa as well as the hand of Mondo’s daughter, Felicita. While saddened by the fact that their popular leader is planning to step down, the vast army of men in the family are excited by the idea of marriage to the well-admired Felicita and look forward to the opportunity to test their skills against their other brothers. However, Felicita is less than impressed with what she views an encroachment on her freedom, and sets out to win the Arcana Duello herself.
When the tournament was announced in the first episode, I just groaned. As I mentioned above, I was already somewhat ambivalent to watching this series before I knew it had a tournament, and I generally dislike tournament fighters. But in the course of the series, I was delighted to discover that the Duello was not the main focus of the plot, and doesn’t even start until the last episode. Instead, the series is more about Felicita and her two best friends, Liberta and Nova (who are both, incidentally, also striving to win her heart), and their coming of age. At the beginning of the series, the three are viewed as children who have a lot of potential but who still have a lot of growing up to do, and over the twelve episodes of the series, we get to see that growing up. It’s a very character driven story, and I can appreciate that.
It helps that all three are very well developed characters. All three of them have had tragedy in their past, and part of their growing up is coming to grips with those tragedies. Liberta is typically a person who just looks on the bright side of everything, and even when confronted with the reality of his past, he is quickly able to accept it and move on with what he needs to do. Nova is on the other end of the spectrum—he understands his past in ways that Liberta doesn’t, and that understanding weighs him down and prevents any real growth. While he is able to shut down his emotions more readily than Liberta, it also means that he had a tendency to suppress them and try to ignore them. Liberta is more open with his emotions, so he is able to confront them better.
In the middle is Felicita; as the series starts, she is really only concerned with the present: how to avoid the demands of her otherwise very benevolent father. But as the series goes along, and she starts to come to better grips with her Arcana powers, she begins to learn the truth of her power and the reality behind the causes of the tournament, each of which puts her in a precarious position. She is more open to her feelings and willing to confront them than Nova, but she also doesn’t quite have the bullheaded confidence to just face them down like Liberta does. When you put the three together, it makes for an interesting dynamic.
But while this has a really fun cast of characters, what made this series for me was its willingness to play with the conventions of the genre. I’ve already mentioned the fact that it’s something of a reverse harem (for lack of a better term). The fact that there’s a single female character who is the object of affection of the largely male cast (even if Liberta and Nova are the only ones taken seriously as romantic possibilities) gives this a bit of a different feel than the typical visual novel/harem title. A lot of the standard gags and situations are in place, but the reversed roles often leads to different outcomes.
And as somebody who has watched a lot of anime in my life, I can generally pinpoint within minutes of a series starting where it is going to go. I know who the bad guy is, what his motives are, how it’s all going to play out, etc. But this series refuses to stick to those conventions, and it was very refreshing. Like the standard harem concepts, the first few episodes make some pains to start putting in place a lot of what you would expect for a series such as this—the stereotypical antagonist, the shadowy mysterious truth behind the family and Arcana, the fact that nothing has ever been as it seems—and then proceeds to go off in a completely unforeseen direction with all of them. Is was a glorious set of twists that sucked me in far more than I ever thought I would be within the first few minutes of the series. That, I can definitely appreciate.
La Storia della Arcana Famiglia is a series that snuck up on me. Going in, I was expecting a series that, even at its best, would only mildly interest me, but thanks to a series of twists and a willingness to defy the conventions of its genre, it ended up a lot better than I anticipated. To be fair, I can’t really decide if it is as good as it is in my head, but just its willingness to be different and not conform to expectations makes it stand out for me. Recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitle, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation.
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: D
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: November 26, 2013
Running Time: 325 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 anamorphic widescreen
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony PS3 w/HDMI Connection, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System