On Swords and Plate Armor in Madan no Ou to Vanadis

So far, Madan no Ou to Vanadis stands as my favorite show this season with Shingeki no Bahamut a close second.  It has extremely likable characters and, despite the fantasy elements, the battles feel rather realistic.  In particular, the suits of armor for certain characters seem very well designed, and I love how spears and lances are the soldiers’ primary weapons–as was the case in history.  But, this show still makes the same mistake one sees in most stories featuring knights in plate armor: their secondary weapon is the sword.


By the time plate came into popular use, the sword became more a symbol of knightly status.  For example, only a knight could be armed with a sword in a city.  But, unlike the rogues one might run into while travelling on the road or walking about a city, one is likely to meet an armored foe in battle.  If the foe is covered in plate armor, a sword might be the last weapon you want to hold, especially if you’re on horseback.  You see, swords can’t cut through plate armor!  The only way a sword can defeat someone with plate armor is by piercing a chink in the armor.  That kind of precision is difficult when on foot and about impossible when riding on horseback.

The person on the right has some awesome plate armor, while the guy on the left could use a hauberk.

The person on the right has some awesome plate armor, while the guy on the left could use a hauberk.

And so, mounted knights, after their lance, would move to a mace, an axe, or a war hammer as their secondary weapon.  These weapons can crush plate armor and obviate the need to aim at chinks between the plates.  The French at the Battle of Benevento almost lost because their German foes wore plate armor, which their swords could not penetrate.  Soon someone discovered the opening at the armpits and the cry when up for the French knights to aim for that spot.  And thus, the French knights, who possessed superior numbers, won the day.  But, how much easier would it have been for these knights if they had carried axes and maces with them in addition to their swords?

Engaging an armored opponent like that isn't going to do anything.

Engaging an armored opponent like that isn’t going to do anything.

Pommeling an armored opponent is often better than using the blade.

Pommeling an armored opponent is often better than using the blade. This technique was known as the “Murder Stroke.”

I would love to see an anime where the weapons fitted the armor technology.  If the author wants to create a world where swords were effective against the armor of the day, the characters must be armored in chainmail.  I’d love to watch an anime set in the Viking age or a world with similar technology, like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.  During that time, warriors esteemed swords as a most prized weapon, and a stout blow could shear all but the best double linked mail.  But, I suppose chain mail is harder to draw?  Might that be the reason it is seen in so few anime?

Young Canute

Yes, that coat of mail is too long, but the choice was made to highlight Canute’s effeminate demeanor–effeminate compared to the Vikings surrounding him at any rate.


Armor does not get much cooler than that.

In any case, I shall continue hoping for more realism in fantasy and medieval anime.  Hopefully, some studio will pick up Vinland Saga, which must be animated in a realistic manner if they hope to convey the flavor of the comic.


5 comments on “On Swords and Plate Armor in Madan no Ou to Vanadis

  1. David A says:

    Interesting article, thanks!

    Yes, in Madan no ou to Vanadis the show more realistic battles and armor… except for the war maidens, providers of censored nudity and fanservice.

    The outfit Ellen wears… is that cloth? armor? what?

    How is SnB going? speacially, regarding the immodest religious characters from the cards (have these appeared?), and the syncretist plot.

    What material do you recommend for information about the topic of armors, weapons, sword combat, etc?

    These drawings of Vinland Saga look well done. How is the manga? any warnings regarding nudity, excesive violence, etc? what about anticatholicism? (because the time frame)

    For maintaning a quality similar to these drawings,the animation would need a high budget.


    • The outfit is purely to give an epic fantasy feel to the show and to provide fanservice. I actually even have problems with Lim’s outfit because boob armor is a bad idea. (If a blow lands on the part defining the cleavage, it can actually cause the armor to cave in there. And steel breasts restrict movement.)

      I really have to watch episode five of SnB. I don’t want to give anything away, but I expect that episode will reveal whether I should expect some bad theology. Except for the appearance of the heroine in episode one and the cat eared demon, it’s not that fanservicey.

      There is really a ton of material one could delve into on arms, armor, and sword combat. There’s always the historical manuals…you know, that will be the subject of my next blog: The Many Sources for Studying Medieval Combat.

      Vinland Saga does have scenes of intense violence, usually surrounding battles but occasionally atrocities committed against civilians or slaves. It can get somewhat gory. Vikings were not nice people, and the manga shows it. There is conflict between pagans and Christians, which the author very interestingly makes reminiscent of the conflict between Japanese Christians and Shintoists in feudal Japan. Some of the interpretations of Christian doctrine seem off (not precisely heretical, but off), but it is a nice try and Christianity is shown as better than paganism in general.


      • David A says:

        I forgot to mention Lim’s armor too. yes, I’ve read about how dangerous these type of breast armors are.

        Thanks. So the fanservicey female clerics and nuns from the some cards aren’t appearing. Good.


        I see. So is a more serious work. That means no fanservice either, right?


      • There is no fanservice at all in Vinland Saga–practically no romance to speak of either. But, it offers great art, period accuracy, and a great story.


  2. […] Madan no Ou to Vanadis is doing a lot of things right and is probably the best show currently airing. Nevertheless, there are still mistakes, such as the use of swords in an era of plate armor. […]


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