Thousand and Aegis (henceforth referred to as Senken (千剣)) is a series published by Ichijinsha Bunko, written by Tsukasa Kawaguchi and illustrated by Asio. The first volume saw print on December 20, 2010, and it currently has 13 volumes, with the 14th volume to be released on September 20, 2014, and is expected to finish somewhere around the 15th or 16th volume with the conclusion of its third arc. Though not a direct sequel, it is a spiritual successor of sorts to Tsukasa Kawaguchi’s previous Ichijinsha Bunko series Seizuyomi no Leena (星図詠のリーナ), given that both series takes place in the same world, and Senken explores many locations previously visited in Leena (as well as some hidden character connections).
The story’s premise is as follows: several hundred years ago, the Maou and his demon army appeared out of nowhere and trampled over the an entire continent; unable to stop their unrelenting assault due to the inability of conventional weapons to harm these demons (save for magical swords known as Maken (魔剣) which weren’t discovered until later, and divine weapons bestowed by the gods), the remaining survivors gathered in five capitals and separated them from the now demon-infested continent, biding their time for a counterattack. Fast forward to several years later where, thanks to the efforts of the Hero Sasha (also known as Finistere the Hero) who managed to destroy the Maou’s physical form and seal him in her body with the help of the divine weapon Claimgh Solais, humanity now has a fighting chance in retaking back the continent from the demon horde.
It chronicles the story of two sets of protagonists: Baltuetas, who was the favored student of Sasha the Hero when he was a child, and his companions Nighu and Nigel as they prepare for the eventual campaign against the Maou in order to rescue Finistere; and Amarach and his female companions Elicia, Phil and Nagi, who are all (except for Nagi) students of Baltuetas and friends, as they journey the lands in an attempt to become stronger and accomplish Rach’s dream of defeating the Maou.
The characters are as follows:
- Amarach (or Rach) – Baltuetas’ student, he has a Maken in the form of Horpe which can talk and has a consciousness of its own. Despite being Bal’s student, he has no ambitions or motivations of his own, which is central to his character growth. He is also initially known as a Maken Breaker, much like his Master, as all the Maken he uses ends up breaking – but it turns out that the reason for this is entirely different from Bal.
- Baltuetas – The strongest Maken user, bar none, his singleminded goal in rescuing Sasha has made him completely impervious to Nighu’s advances. He’s so strong that no Maken survives past his first use, and one of the things he needs to accomplish before he goes to defeat the Maou is to search for a Maken strong enough to endure his strength.
- Elicia – Nighu’s niece and pupil, she uses a shield Maken in conjunction with a small sword. Starts off as your typical blonde tsundere main heroine (though not as DV (domestic violence) inclined as other so-called tsundere heroines), and acts as the tank and vanguard of the party. She doesn’t have any idea of what the words “penny pinching” means, however, and tends to burn through whatever money she has faster than she expected.
- Nighu – Elicia’s aunt, and completely smitten with Bal. She was initially the user of the Maken that Elicia uses now, and is the one who taught her the way of shield Maken combat/defense. Cheerful and perky, but dismayed at Bal’s single-target sexuality.
- Phil – Nigel, student, this blue-haired wunderkind who has a bit of a sadistic and snarky streak in her, she plays the role of the party’s Mage as well as other support roles befitting the situation. She tends to poke fun at all the other characters, but doesn’t like it as much when she’s the one caught in inopportune moments. She’s also hiding a very lonely soul despite the deadpan exterior, and is very welcome of the idea of her and Elicia both being Rach’s wives.
- Nigel – Phil’s master, and Bal and Nighu’s friend. Unlike Nighu, he knew Bal and Sasha when he was young, and is supportive of Bal with his master plan of defeating the Maou. A very capable magician, he also acts as Phil’s surrogate father.
The most notable thing about Senken is that it has Kawaguchi’s flair for worldbuilding, just like in Reiter Croise, Leena and Madan, though it’s more abundant in this series considering the plentiful settings that the characters explore – probably on par with Leena, given Leena’s cartography elements. And much like Madan which drew inspiration from Slavic mythology, Senken uses Celtic mythology as its wellspring of inspiration, which also means the story uses native terms that might require a minute or two of searching in Wikipedia. Kawaguchi’s penchant for writing about hearty meal scenes also shows up in this one – which involves talking about what type of food are native to where, and how they’re prepared and arranged in loving, exquisite detail – makes me think of Grandia 2’s dining scenes, though with far more expository detail on the type and quality of food, but with just as much bonding over said meal time moments. I’m quite fond of small moments like these; it helps flesh out the characters and their routines as well as gives a more real feeling to their camaraderie all the more.
Despite the dual male lead split, majority of the narrative focuses on Rach and co.’s adventures; though Bal’s side of the story is of equal importance, most of his heroics usually occur via flashback chapters or off-screen. This is because Bal’s backstory is what gives his character weight, and it isn’t until the floating island recapture or the castle invasion that he begins to take a more active role in the story – the rest is him attending to preparations he made himself in order to make the aforementioned campaigns possible. Bal’s character and goal is singleminded to the point of being simple; he wishes to be strong enough to defeat the Maou and save Sasha, but knows he can’t accomplish it alone. To serve as contrast and to provide the classic hero origin story is Rach. His character is vastly different from Bal in that, unlike his master who has a personal reason for doing what he does, Rach has a very loose connection to Bal’s goal yet he earnestly adopts it all the same. This earns him the scorn and mockery of everyone else around it as it paints his character in an unflatteringly naive and empty light, which is true, and I find this subversion of the classic hero origin story as interesting.
After my reading of Volume 1, I found it interesting because Rach starts off as a character who has no idea as to what he really wants to do, and is trying to find a way around that by merely copying the motions of his master, Baltuetas, right down to adopting Bal’s motivation as his own. This speaks volumes as to Rach’s utter lack of character, so Bal sends him and his companions on a journey to roam the continent, and in doing so they find their own reasons for sticking together as a group as well as the path they must tread. Another notable point was that not only Rach but his companions, Elicia and Phil, were just as guilty of merely going through the motions as much as Rach was; I loved how Volume 1 had Horpe callously but rightfully tearing apart the reasons as to why Elicia and Phil chose to party up with Rach, subverting the usual “we’re friends so we’re in a party!” trope that most fantasy stories play straight yet never bother to question or much less explore. And in doing so, Elicia and Phil are given a more compelling and believable reason when they do choose to stick with Rach out of their own volitions later on, despite Horpe’s earlier arguments.
Currently, I have a myriad of reasons as to why I’m still enjoying the series. For one, it’s very reminiscent of old-school fantasy RPG titles – all the exploration, the whole mythos of the world revolving heavily around the characters’ adventures – and things like that strike a chord with me. Another would be the whole dual protagonist aspect, with Bal’s side of the story revolving around his fight with the Maou, and Rach’s side of the story involving how he is set up to stop the actual origin of all the problems. The characters are all fairly enjoyable, especially the heroines, though I must admit that thanks to Teshima fever, I’m still suffering from Jungfrau withdrawal, which means that I still hold Jungfrau heroines in higher regard than Senken’s. That’s not to say that I don’t like Senken’s heroines; I particularly find myself enamored with Elicia and Phil, especially after their character growths kick in. The third reason would be Horpe, and by association, the connections that can be found between Senken and Leena. It’s fascinating, personally, to see Kawaguchi taking elements from his prematurely-ended series and then spinning them into his new work, weaving them into the continuity of a new sieres and taking them in a new direction while still leaving an impression of what could have been with Leena had he been allowed to continue writing the series.
Now, despite how much I like Kawaguchi’s works, he does have his failings that I can’t help but get annoyed at. In Senken for example, the relationships between Rach and his haremettes are close to textbook examples of how generic harem romance goes; they come off as arbitrary and their reasons for falling for Rach can even come close to trivial, despite how well Kawaguchi tries to justify them. Thankfully, the following character growths for Elicia and Phil do more than enough to not only justify their affections for him but to show just how far they’ve come as characters of their own as well. Unfortunately, Nagi, unlike Elicia and Phil, only goes through the tiniest of character developments, and she has been relegated in recent volumes as the one who mostly strips naked and offers herself up to Rach for the tiniest of reasons. Even in combat, once Nagic acquires the Brionac, she gets reduced to throwing it around like a javelin. It’s a personal downer because I was expecting more from Nagi, as Nagi was pivotal in Elicia’s growth and the realization of her feelings towards Rach; Nagi also played the elder sister role early on pretty well, acting as a much-needed mediator for the entire party, so it saddens me to see her not getting the same development as the other two did.
The fanservice is mild, much like Kawaguchi’s other works (Leena, Reiter Croise; Madan is the only except with its outrageously escalating fanservice, really, but that’s because Madan is an MF Bunko J series), and the touch of comedy in between the combat and exploration moments are more than welcome, though it has certainly diminished in recent volumes due to the third arc’s turn of events. The escalating harem was also something I felt was trivial and tacked on, since the “add-on” heroines save for Fiona were heavily lacking in character and were more typecasted heroines playing roles that were too heavily bound to their archetypes than anything else. Given that Elicia and Phil are the only heroines who really undergo some very noticable character developments, Kawaguchi should have restricted the harem to the both of them, Nagi and Fiona (as a concession more than anything, since Phil and Fiona make for a nice sisterly pair of characters). All the other subheroines. like the Maken user in the desert volume, or Rach’s childhood friend, would have had better off if they weren’t shoehorned into the harem and instead functioned as tertiary support characters. Related to this is how some subcharacters have some interesting roles to play, such as Ferdia or Leanan sidhe, all with their own agendas and scenarios running parallel with Rach’s, but unfortunately receive too little focus to make them stand out more.
Senken can also have some pacing problems, as the transitions between exploration volumes and combat volumes can be rather jarring, and that’s not including the flashback volumes. The most egregious example of this is the development found in volume 11 to volumes 12 and 13, which can be frustrating to some readers given that it’s supposed to culminate in the fight between Bal’s forces versus Maou Balor (and it does happen), but the events that happen afterwards feltl tacked on and reeked of padding. RPG players would feel right at home though, as its akin to the story leading down the true ending route (for those of you who have played Ar tonelico, it’s like the part where you can choose to stop or continue in an attempt to wake up Shurelia). This explanation doesn’t make it any less frustrating, though, especially considering what happened to Elicia.
All in all, though, it’s still an entertaining series for those who are looking for a classic fantasy RPG story in their swords and magic fantasy, and Kawaguchi’s world building definitely makes it worth checking out in case you have an inclination for such. Me, I’m thinking of rereading Senken 1 to 13 myself, once I finish rereading the entirety of Jungfrau, so I can savor it all the more!