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La storia della Arcana Famiglia – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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The Arcana Famiglia is a powerful organization that keeps the peace on the trading island of Regalo. The most unique trait of this prestigious “family” is their mastery of the Arcana—mystical powers derived from tarot cards. The current leader of the Arcana Famiglia, Mondo, wishes to choose a successor through a tournament called the Arcana Duello, and as added incentive, the winner will take the hand of Mondo’s daughter, Felicita. However, two young men among the family—impetuous Liberta and serious-minded Nova—are more interested in protecting Felicita’s freedom than letting her be someone’s trophy wife. Together, Liberta, Nova and Felicita get to know each other better…but with Felicita’s ability to read minds, she may discover more than she bargained for in Liberta’s violent past and Nova’s troubled family history. Can the trio remain friends, or will the growing tension between them be too much to bear?

Perhaps one of the most aggravating approaches an anime series can make is to be too expositional in its conveyance of character development and narrative. Such an approach can unnecessarily differ the attention away from establishing meaningful—and needful—plot development, instead allocating much of its time towards asinine filler material. In many respects, this can be an appropriate choice given a series with a substantial amount of episodes or one based on an unfinished manga series, but for an anime series with a dozen or so episodes, this can be an obstruction to an otherwise entertaining narrative. Unfortunately, the latter is such the case in La storia della Arcana Famiglia, a series that sounds relatively interesting on paper—a mysterious tarot card tournament to be held in order to find a successor to a prestigious family lineage—but is executed in such a manner that is frustrating to say the least.

It’s not that La storia della Arcana Famiglia doesn’t have an interesting set of characters or premise, it’s just that it’s entirely too concerned with presenting the proverbial carrot in front of the viewer. For a series that establishes in its first episode—quite heavily I might add—that there is going to be an emphasis on a card tournament that is to commence throughout the remainder of the series, the obvious conclusion for a viewer to arrive at would be to see the card tournament begin to take place soon…like in next episode, right? Not quite. The series takes an incredibly long time to actually get around to advancing the plot in any significant fashion, having the characters of the series performing the most mundane of tasks simply to abide for time, in turn forcing many of its earliest episodes to be riddled with silliness. With the first episode initiating us as viewers into a very intriguing, atmospheric world filled with an abundance of characters, the next episode settles for less that stellar filler material that is as uninteresting as it is extremely irritating to watch. This could stem from the source material being that of an otome game—a visual novel curtailed to a female demographic—with such material often having difficulty making the transition from visual novel to animation, which seems to be the issue here.

Now, this directorial choice would’ve been more appropriate for a series leaning towards the 20+ episode range, in which such filler is more acceptable than not, but for a series that is a mere 12-episodes in length, it becomes incredibly challenging not to view this as simply a missed opportunity. This is disappointing considering that La storia della Arcana Famiglia is a series that offers very appealing characters in which we learn more about as the series progresses—oppressive childhood memories, distraught pasts, and rivalries dominant the narrative—but their development is rather clumsily handled in a vain attempt to prolong the inevitable Arcane Duello—it often takes entirely too to long reach any compelling development both story and character-wise. The assumed protagonist of the series, Felicita, is not given nearly enough time to develop as a character with most of the episodes clearly excluding her importance for reasons unbeknownst to the viewer. Is she really the main character? The series certainly makes her out to be, then oddly decides to focus on other characters, all who are given little time to develop as well.

Despite these setbacks, the series does offer a nice homage towards the Italian lifestyle and it’s many peculiarities. Whether it’s locality or character names, La storia della Arcana Famiglia is a series that is seemingly infatuated with everything Italian, which garners the series some notable creativity. This also branches out the series considerably in enveloping us as viewers into its unique world, but at times seems somewhat forceful, with quirky wordplay and insertion of the odd Italian word for no seemingly viable reason at all. One would’ve liked to see more of a meaningful integration of the environment into the narrative itself, granting an insightful look into the Italian culture instead of superficial veneer that doesn’t really factor into the overall course of events very much.

But La storia della Arcana Famiglia is a series that is still reasonably entertaining—once you can wade through all the unnecessary elements of its sloppy presentation. The huge cast of characters makes the series captivating to a degree; each with their own mysterious pasts unfolding with some very surprising twists and turns along the way. It’s just unfortunate that the series is simply one that will make some viewers question if they should follow through after watching the initial episodes, but even then, the series could’ve done better by simply structuring its narrative in a more concentrated manner—most viewers want to have a captivating story told in the space of 12-episodes, not be unnecessarily led about. There is certainly enough material here to warrant a longer episode count, but with only twelve in hand, we don’t receive nearly as an elaborate plot as hinted at in the beginning. While sadly existing within the realm of mediocrity, La storia della Arcana Famiglia is one series that fails to live up to its true potential.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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