Lord Marksman and Vanadis is a low fantasy anime where various nobles are vying for the throne of a kingdom using political savvy, armies and the occasional dragon. It's kind of like Game of Thrones — only with a lot less in the way of soul-crushing despair.
Set in a fantastical version of medieval Europe, Lord Marksman and Vanadis follows Tigrevurmud "Tigre" Vorn, a young Count in the Kingdom of Brune who has inherited a small but prosperous village and the many miles of fertile farmland surrounding it. Captured in a border dispute with the neighbouring Kingdom of Zhcted, he finds that his prowess with a bow has caught the attention of Eleonora — a tremendously powerful magical warrior and the general responsible for his capture. But when he discovers that a rival count in his own kingdom plans to annex his lands and massacre the population, Tigre brokers a deal with his captor: the use of her army in exchange for himself and all his lands.
Much of Lord Marksman and Vanadis centres around politics in a fantasy world setting. With the King sick and the Prince dead in the battle that saw Tigre captured, Brune is a country tottering on the edge of all out civil war as various nobles plot and scheme to take the throne. It is in the middle of this that Tigre leads a foreign army into Brune.
Now, we, the viewers know why Tigre is doing this: He is a good man — his only concern is to protect the lives and livelihood of the peasants he has been charged with ruling over. As a relatively minor noble with little more than rural lands under his control, Eleonora's army is the only chance he has to save his people — and if that means becoming Eleonora's slave and putting his lands under her protection, so be it.
While many heroic fantasy stories would leave it at that — i.e. Tigre is the noble hero, end of story — Lord Marksman and Vanadis goes deeper by exploring the political repercussions of his actions. To those vying for the throne, Tigre's act has announced his intention to take the throne himself and they act accordingly.
Moreover, Tigre has allied himself with a foreign (and enemy) kingdom, implying he is not only a traitor but also that he wishes to turn Brune into a puppet country to Zhcted — something his opponent are quick to point out to anyone who will listen. This leads to even otherwise just and good people being more than willing to fight Tigre. Ironically, by turning so much of the kingdom against Tigre, those battling for the throne turn him into what they feared him to be; He has no choice but to conquer his own country lest his vassals bear the punishment for his apparent treason.
With such political turmoil, it's no wonder we see so many battles over the course of Lord Marksman and Vanadis — and the anime does a great job in portraying them. Each battle alternates between short CG animations — utilising chess pieces to explain the troop numbers, locations, and battle plans — and scenes focusing on key moments in the battle alongside Tigre and Eleonora. This structure allows us to understand in simple terms what is going on and why and yet still makes sure we get to see each battle's pivotal, emotional moments with our heroes.
Outside of the battles, the story unfolds in a similar structure. The important moments in the plot — i.e. character interactions, plot twists, action sequences, etc — are highlighted and unfold at a natural pace. However, things like lengthy negotiations, troop movements or explanations of enemy motivations are covered in mere seconds through narrator-delivered exposition. This gives the show an uneven pace — it often feels like you are just fast-forwarding to the "good parts".
This turns out to be a double-edged sword. On one hand, you get a complete, epic story in just 13 episodes. On the other, the anime would have likely benefited from double the runtime — allowing for some space to breathe and develop the ancillary characters naturally instead of through quick exposition.
Besides the themes of war and politics, Lord Marksman and Vanadis has one other major focus: a "harem" love story. If a female character is introduced, it is almost a sure thing that she will fall in love with Tigre. As with many such anime, Tigre is largely ignorant of the various women's advances even as he falls into one seemingly romantic situation after another. Because of this, the possible romances predictably go nowhere — except in the case of Tigre and Eleonora.
Eleonora makes no secret that she wants Tigre — first as a subordinate and later as a lover. Over the war, the two grow gradually closer as they gain an implicit trust in one another. They even go on the battlefield equivalent of a date (i.e. stargazing). It is a slow-building and believable relationship between equals that makes both characters more endearing as a result. It's hard not to root for them as a couple — especially in the series' closing moments with the changing situation in Brune making it clear that Tigre may soon be forced into a political marriage to another woman.
Lord Marksman and Vanadis is one of my favourite anime of last season. The medieval politics and low-fantasy warfare are respectively intriguing and exciting. And then there is my whole unconditional love of all things dragon.
But as much as I enjoyed it, Lord Marksman and Vanadis is far from without problems. The anime would have greatly benefited from a longer runtime to flesh out the world and characters with more in the way of "show, not tell." Moreover, while the love story between Eleonora and Tigre is enjoyable, the harem aspect of the show is run-of-the-mill at best. Ultimately, Lord Marksman and Vanadis is a mixed bag, but if you enjoy medieval war stories, there is still a lot to love.
Lord Marksman and Vanadis can be viewed for free and with English subtitles on Funimation.