French historical fiction is getting an odd renaissance in anime, with recent adaptations of “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “Les Miserables,” and now “Le Chevalier D’Eon,” an original work based on a real French spy during the time of King Louis XV. The most notable thing about the real d’Eon Beaumont was the confusion over his sex; there were rumors he was actually a woman (he did disguise himself as Lia de Beaumont during a secret mission to Russia), and he actually claimed he was a woman in the latter part of his life, although anatomically he wasn’t. This behavior becomes a focal point of the show as – it is anime, after all – it’s revealed that the soul of his murdered sister will inhabit his body at times to help him avenge her death and complete her mission. However, the series is so expertly made that it seems as if it was actually adapted from classic literature.
Lia Beaumont belonged to Le Secret du Roi, a spy organization directly controlled by the king, when her body is discovered floating down the river in a casket, with the word “psalms” written conspicuously on the cover in blood. Soon, her brother D’Eon becomes involved in his sister’s case, which involves the powerful Duke d’Orleans. The psalms are revealed as powerful incantations that can give power to ordinary people but places them under hypnotic control as gargoyles, which the Duke d’Orleans’ Poets use to further their secret conspiracy. When faced with a gargoyle, D’Eon begins changing into Lia, a more powerful fighter, although he doesn’t remember what happens. He is soon joined by others to unravel the Duke’s plot and find a way to give his sister peace.
The story might sound too out-of-this-world, but it somehow fits right in with the period setting and serious presentation. The animation is top-notch, with authentic settings and costumes and realistic fencing moves during sword fights. The music is sweeping classical fare, and it fits the tone and look of the show perfectly. The show is also littered with historical figures and events, and notes as well as commentary tracks (English only) explain some of the references and real history, which is a great bonus for those who are intrigued by the details.
“Le Chevalier D’Eon” is also a rare case where even those who like listening to the original Japanese audio might want to opt for the English instead, as the number of French words and the European setting make the Japanese dub a bit awkward and distracting. The English dub doesn’t try to have fake accents or anything, yet the French words and phrases blend in smoothly and sound natural.
Those who like historical intrigue, complex conspiracies and a touch of the supernatural will appreciate the excellent start to this distinctive series.