I’ve been on a quest recently to purge my book collection of books I don’t actually care for. This is a bit more difficult than it seems at first glance, as it’s been so long since I’ve read some of them that I have to reread them before I can make a decision. Lately my judgmental gaze fell upon the 2004 series Chrono Crusade, an eight-volume manga series that I first picked up about eight years ago. I remember liking the series at the time, but I can only speculate now as to why that was, as my reread left me headachey and confused in turns.
Spoilers for the series after the jump.
Typically, this is where I would explain the plot, but the plot gets super confusing right away. The basics are these: Sister Rosette Christopher entered into a contract with a demon in order to get the power to find her brother Joshua, who was kidnapped by a different demon when they were children. Now a teenager in the Most Holy Order of Nuns With Guns, Rosette and the demon Chrono battle everyday supernatural threats and work toward tracking down her brother. Things get more complicated as they discover that Aion, the demon who stole her brother, plans to use him to upset the order of the entire demonic world by destroying the mother of demons, Pandaemonium—a move that will destroy the human world as well. Rosette, Chrono, and their allies have to race against time to stop Aion and save Joshua before the contract between Rosette and Chrono drains Rosette of her remaining life force.
I can immediately pinpoint why this series interested me back in the day: I was obsessed with religious-based paranormal fantasy, and this story fit right into that niche. It was one of several anime and manga I’d become interested in based on these themes, and which I would later go on to critique for having literally no understanding of any actual theology. I add to that now a fundamental issue in character development: Rosette is a kind of annoying person, and it’s unclear why she, as a person who did not want to be a nun and who shows no great skill (plus considerable destructive tendencies) when out on missions for the Order, is allowed to carry on the way she does. You’d think a paramilitary religious organization would have a little bit more discipline in the ranks, but I guess that’s subordinate to a quirky teen nun in thigh-highs. I guess in fairness this is also true of most boy heroes in shounen series, but that doesn’t necessarily excuse creator Daisuke Moriyama as much as it spreads the blame to the industry as a whole for building empires around this kind of reckless protagonist.
Rosette isn’t a completely flat character, but she is a stock character: a clumsy, loudmouthed, stubborn protagonist with a hidden store of supernatural power in Chrono. She does have some agency, as she has to decide to open the seal on her bond with Chrono to let him use her spirit for energy, and often strikes out on her own if what she feels is right doesn’t line up with the Order’s idea of the greater good. On the plus side, she is mostly drawn in a respectful way. She doesn’t entirely escape the occasional shower scene or floaty “I’m naked because this is my spirit form” scenes, but the nudity tends more toward sparkly Sailor Moon transformation sequence nudity than anything explicitly meant to titillate.
But Rosette’s characterization is just one issue amongst all of the nonsense going on in this story. For example, the demons might be aliens? There’s like a one-page aside that shows Pandaemonium on a spacecraft crashing into the earth so, like, wtf. If that’s the backstory, okay, but it’s not something you can just toss in in Volume 8 instead of making it a major part of the plot as in Trinity Blood. It’s one glaring example of the fact that the universe Moriyama created was full of way more detail than he could conceivably fit into the story, so instead of dialing it back and making it seem like a well-rounded universe that we were only getting a small slice of, he crammed all sorts of details and allusions into it that just make it confusing. Like, in the last volume we learn that Aion and Chrono were both born from the same human mother? This kind of thing has no bearing on the story because it doesn’t add any stakes or develop the characters more at that point—it just leaves me saying “ohhhkay, and I care, why?”
On top of all that, we are treated to a Return of the King-esque multiple ending extravaganza. First we are led to believe that Rosette dies in the final battle, using up the last bit of her soul to give Chrono power to fight Aion. Then we discover that, no, she’s not actually dead, she’s just astral-projecting. They save the day, but it’s bittersweet: Rosette’s still going to die young, and indeed does after three or four more scenes of flash-forward. (Holy bummer, Batman.) We also find out that a side character, who presumably killed herself in the run-up to the final battle to take out an opponent she couldn’t otherwise beat, didn’t actually die—she just got stuck in an alternate world or something and shows up again in 1999? (Did I mention the series takes place in the 1920s?)
It’s clear right away that the mangaka’s only skill is in nice artwork, and even that’s a stretch at times. While the series is full of spreads that show a solid understanding of the aesthetics typical to this sort of action-shoujo series, it’s also littered with action scenes so crowded and kinetic that you can’t actually tell what is going on.
It also appears that 2004 existed in a period before graphic design quality was a priority for manga publishers in the US. The volumes are littered with inconsistent font changes, with the speech bubble typeface sometimes switching from one page to the next. In places the original Japanese text was just left on the page, with the English just slapped nearby. They also seemed afraid to reshape any of the speech bubbles to fit horizontal writing, leaving us with thin vertical speech bubbles in which any word longer than three letters has to be hyphenated, sometimes more than once. Furthermore, the translated volumes are full of odd translation choices and inconsistencies, such as calling a character Stella after several volumes where her name was romanized Satella, or failing to effectively localize Japanese stock phrases that weren’t directly translatable.
All in all, this was a mess of a series and, although I can understand why teen Saika picked it up, I can’t in good faith recommend it to anyone in this day and age. At least finishing them means space for eight new books on my bookshelves, so there’s a light at the end of every tunnel.
Hear more from Lady Saika on Character Reveal, the podcast she cohosts with BrothaDom!