Review for Arcana Famiglia Collection
Another reverse harem? MVM certainly are filling their ‘cute girl surrounded by a bevy of handsome boys’ quota this year, although technically we’ve only really had the one other show so far. But when Hakuoki’s Shogunate era adventures of the Shinsengumi (plus cute girl) ran to three complete series plus OVA episodes, I have to admit that I was reverse-harem-ed out. But, Hakuoki was a girly-squee drama. Arcana Famiglia, or La storia della Arcana Famiglia to give it its full title plays it more for laughs. As you can guess, this is another example of anime’s fascination for all things Italian. We’ve had shows like Gunslinger Girl and Ristorante Paradiso, but Arcana Famiglia isn’t quite in that esteemed company.
La storia della Arcana Famiglia is a tale about the mafia, although the Arcana Famiglia are the nice mafia, a family that serve as vigilante protectors of the island of Regalo in the early years of the 20th Century. They serve as the local police force, keeping the peace and keeping crime in check, as well as protecting the island from invasion and the like. They are helped in this regard by Arcana powers, which the members of the family gain by making contracts with the Tarocco, Tarot cards.
Like all daughters of a mafia family should, Felicitá has joined the ranks of the Arcana Famiglia, although she’s the sole female face in the male ranks of the group. And she gets doted on by everyone, despite her commitment to her duties, even if she hasn’t yet fully gained control of her powers. It was a great life, until her father’s birthday. Mondo used the celebration to announce the Arcana Duello, where all the members of the Arcana Famiglia will fight it out to see who is the strongest. The strongest will then become Papa, the next leader of the Arcana Famiglia, and Mondo will use his Arcana power to grant the winner’s wish. On top of that he will get Felicitá’s hand in marriage! Of course Felicitá doesn’t want to be traded off like a piece of meat. She has one chance. She can train up, gain control of her powers, and win the Arcana Duello herself.
12 episodes of Arcana Famiglia plus an OVA episode are presented across two discs as follows.
1. La notte del compleanno
2. Il Commandante della Squadra Protezione Animali
4. Confessioni di una maschera
5. Amici d’infanzia
6. A bordo! – La battaglia finale
7. Rispettivi Segreti
8. La luna nel buio
9. La ruota della fortuna
10. Arcana Famiglia
11. Arcana triangolo
12. Arcana Duello
OVA. Capriccio – stile Arcana Famiglia
Arcana Famiglia gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer on these discs, native PAL as usual via Australia’s Hanabee Entertainment. Just like Kokoro Connect this month, we miss out on the Blu-ray version of the show, which is restricted to Australia and the US only. Unlike Kokoro Connect, this isn’t a show that will impress in HD. The transfer is clear and sharp for the most part, and it looks pretty good in SD format, with strong colours, and bold character designs. But the level of detail and intricacy of animation isn’t such that extra resolution will add all that much. It’s actually a pretty simplistic looking show, which doesn’t exactly pull out the stops when it comes to animation, design or atmosphere. DVD is good enough for Arcana Famiglia.
There is a problem with a heavily pixellated frame, 7:42 into episode 8 on disc 2, which is followed by a few pulses of pixellation of lesser degree in the subsequent seconds. It’s just like that problem that plagued Inu x Boku SS, but it only happens the once on this disc, not repeatedly.
Arcana Famiglia gets the usual treatment in terms of audio, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a songs and signs track. Once again, I noted that Hanabee encoded the audio at 448kpbs, and once again it made no difference to my viewing. I was pleased enough with the Japanese audio, although I did note that in both language tracks, the effects and music tended to overpower the dialogue in more strident scenes. Other than that it’s a fairly generic effort in terms of voice actor performances and music. I chanced the Sentai dub for half an episode and they still don’t care. Just listen to the dub actor for Luca. I say actor, but there’s less acting and more reading out loud going on here. The subtitles are timed accurately and free of typographical error, and are in a white font.
Arcana Famiglia gets the usual static menu and jacket picture presentation. The sole extras are on disc 2, the usual textless credit sequences (only one of the EDs), and trailers for Little Busters, Kids on the Slope, Bodacious Space Pirates, Kokoro Connect, and RWBY “RED”, some of them licensed by MVM.
Arcana Famiglia is about the most average anime show I have seen in a long time. Everything about it screams mediocrity, from the cookie-cutter characterisations, the tired premise, the lackadaisical plotting, and the predictability of the story. It’s the show that you want to watch if you’ve haven’t really seen a lot of anime before, to offer a mundane taste of the medium, an example that isn’t Cowboy Bebop, Full Metal Alchemist, or Psycho Pass. It’s the kind of show that you come home to, switch on and veg out at, certainly not a show to wax lyrical about. What it does, it does competently enough, as these are shows that creators can make in their sleep, the kind of shows that keep studios ticking over when nothing of value is on the schedule. The more anime that you have seen however, the greater the likelihood is that you’ll actually forget Arcana Famiglia while you’re actually watching it. It’s such a run of the mill production that it induced a goldfish’s attention span in me.
It’s your standard reverse harem set-up. Get a central female character who’s likeable and appealing, but enough of a cipher to allow for audience investment, and introduce her to a harem of elegant males of suitable archetypes. Of course there will be a central, potential love triangle (heaven forbid that actual romance occur), and on one side you have the refined, self controlled, and quietly elegant male, and on the other you have the wild, carefree, brash, freewheeling and loudly elegant male. That’s been the recipe since I first saw Fruits Basket’s triumvirate of Tohru, Kyo, and Yuki. Here we have Felicitá, the female audience proxy, Nova the quiet one, and Libertá the loud one.
To add some extra spice to the recipe, we have a fawning and doting servant for Felicitá in Luca, there’s the happy go lucky glutton in Pace, the suave lady-killer in Debito, the tall strong handsome guy with a penchant for bad puns in Dante, and the mysterious dangerous one in Jolly. The selling point for this series is that they are all part of a mafia family, the Arcana Famiglia, although this is the nice, cuddly, mafia, not the ‘organised crime, horses heads on pillows’ mafia. Then we have recycled anime element #156, the cards. So many shows are based on cards and card games, usually for the sake of tie-in merchandising, although once in a while they use a normal set, or as used here, Tarot cards, which you can’t exactly trademark. But each of the characters in the show corresponds to a card in a Tarot set, and that also signifies what special ability they have.
It turns out that bearing the burden of this pack of cards for the leader is a heavy one, and Mondo, Felicitá’s father wants to pass the burden on. Which is why he arranges a tournament, in which the winner will take over the Arcana Famiglia, and get Felicitá’s hand in marriage, something she’s not too keen on. Premise established, it’s promptly forgotten for the next ten episodes, as we have little vignettes of the characters goofing off, fun and entertainment, and no little drama as we explore Nova and Libertá’s respective pasts. We have lost kittens, ghost stories in a church, delivering a scarf, a pirate attack, a secret herb garden, and a homunculus over the course of the episodes. The main story returns for the three episode finale, where Felicitá learns the truth about her father’s pronouncement, and tries to find another way to help him. It’s all rounded off with my favourite episode of the lot, the OVA episode where a magic potion gets everyone swapping bodies, and then comedy ensues.
There’s nothing wrong with being average. Arcana Famiglia is competently made, and it certainly entertains. But the stories are ephemeral, character development or indeed character itself is token, and the whole thing comes across as an advert for the manga, where you might actually get some depth to the story. Let this be the first or second middle of the road anime that you watch, not the mumblety-mumbleth (says a man who’s watched far too much), as you’ll be able to appreciate it a lot more.