I really can't figure out why this show isn't near the top of more people's lists. The show has an amazing story, some fascinating characters, terrific voice-acting, and outstanding animation. The only thing missing is fanservice -- unless you count one bare foot and some petticoats.
Watching episode one you might have imagined that this was something like Detective Conan or Lupin III. You won't say that when you see episode six. We're about a quarter of the way through the anime, after giving Chiko a new life and a new "family" of friends. Then suddenly....
The overall look is old-fashioned, but the actual animation certainly isn't. There is a scene in episode two where Chiko is lying in bed and wakes up, then realizes someone is sitting next to her and shifts her eyes to see him: it takes six frames to get her eyes from looking straight ahead to looking sideways. Smoooth.
In this episode, there is a fight on top of a train, and finally the antagonist is blown backwards, tumbling over the cars and away into a blizzard. Not extreme detail, but the motion is beautiful. And so is the motion of Chiko running to call Nijuu-mensou so quickly and lightly, or diving through a window.
In any case, we have two great characters at the very least: Nijuu-mensou himself is so extremely cool and controlled, as well as clever and humane. Chiko is a wonderful work in progress, changing a bit in every episode.
The gang is getting away in their zeppelin. Nijuu-mensou congratulates Chiko on her part in the heist, but she is still down because she feels she has betrayed Angie, her new friend who said she was the daughter of the caretaker of the museum from which the gang stole the ancient stone tablet called "the clock of the Magi."
People run after the zeppelin and seem to shoot it down -- but in fact all they have shot down is a smaller model. Nijuu-mensou is so crafty, lol. The gang is at a railway station, ready to make their getaway. Chiko is still depresses and refuses to board the train, going instead to get NJM.
NJM is in conference with the mayor of the town: it turns out that the mayor is the one who got NJM to rescue the "clock of the Magi," because plans were to sell it into private hands after the exhibition. In return, besides a get-away rail car, the mayor gives NJM some papers. We don't know what they are, but NJM mentions that he wants to create a second him. Outside the door, Chiko hears, and says to herself that she hopes he means her.
As the train eventually pulls out, a dumpy man races up to the train and hauls himself aboard. Then he cowers back when he sees a gang with guns drawn rushing onto the train, too: among them are Tora (the tiger) and Angie, showing herself clearly older than she appeared to Chiko.
The plump member of NJM's gang goes down the train corridor to find Chiko, and finds her looking forlornly out a window. As they turn to head back to the gang in their rail car, suddenly he is pierced by a bullet and dies. Chiko looks up to see Angie with a cruel smile, with Tora and his gang.
Tora lets Angie handle Chiko, as the rest rush back with guns drawn toward NJM's gang. In a small compartment, Angie expresses her disdain for the "daughter of Twenty-faces," and says the reality doesn't live up to the reputation. Then she takes out an axe and swings at Chiko, who somersaults out of the way several times, before plunging out the window, which Angie has broken with a missing swing.
Meanwhile, Tora's gang reaches the rail car and opens fire, killing most of NJM's gang outright. Ken, Muta, and the Skipper get away. But soon the guns catch up to them and the Skipper takes bullets that should have killed him immediately, but he turns on two attackers like a bear, gathers them up in his arms and jumps off the train with them beneath him.
Chiko has made her way from the side of the train, which she was hanging from, onto the roof, and crawls forward to get to her friends. But Angie is back with her axe. Chiko someraults away again, but ends up hanging from the lip of the roof. Angie swings the axe at her hand, but Chiko switches hands. Angie tries to pull the axe out of where it is stuck, but ends up losing her balance and being swept away on the wind. Chiko reaches up to save her, but can't.
Chiko finds the train car where most of her friends lie dead. Then she finds Muta-san, wounded but alive. But a remnant member of Tora's gang shoots at her, and Muta interposes his body and takes the bullet, saying "I've enjoyed knowing you" to her as he dies.
In NJM's compartment, Tora holds a gun on him while he invites him to join with him and take over the world. Eventually, NJM says, "I refuse," as he kicks the gun from Tora's hand and shoots him in the chest.
NJM goes out into the corridor and eventually finds Chiko, who bursts into tears as she embraces him. But Tora has a bomb and sets it off, saying he won't die alone. Flames roar through the car toward NJM and Chiko. NJM hurls Chiko across into the next car but stays there himself and is apparently engulfed in the flames as the coupling separates and the burning car recedes from the train. NJM is saying something inaudible to her as Chiko watches the flames surround him. The end.
It's not often we get an anime that spends several episodes building up a cast of characters -- and then kills almost all of them off in one fell swoop. Ken and Nijuu-mensou are the only two who may still be alive, as far as I can tell. Chiko has been cast back into the world of episode one, where she has no friends, and the person who seemed a friend -- Angie -- turns out to have been an enemy. For all its other virtues, it is this world-view that makes me think of this show as something special. And from the preview, it looks as if Chiko will be back with her evil aunt next week. Chilling -- but a great opportunity to hear Hirano Aya and Touma Yumi together again.
If I had to criticise the show, it would be for its "barely believable" aspects: Chiko's dive through the window that doesn't end up with her lying in the snow, but clinging to the side of the train; the way Angie can conceal her huge axe until needed, etc.
But as of now, this is my favorite show of the season, followed by Kurenai and Macross Frontier. As for my amazement that other people don't like this show as much as I do, I guess it's reasonable, seeing that Soul Eater and Code Geass are two of the most popular shows this season, at least outside Japan, and I have dropped both of them. Everyone has their own taste. Thank goodness.