Case Number 05621: Small Claims Court

FINAL FANTASY: UNLIMITED: PHASE 4

ADV Films // 2003 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // November 18th, 2004

The Charge

The power of soil compels you! The power of soil compels you!

The Case

Ai and Yu (but no dogs named "Boo") return in the fourth collection of Final Fantasy: Unlimited episodes (out of seven) from ADV Films. As before, the two kids journey through the alternate reality of Wonderland in a search for their lost parents, accompanied by the mandatory buxom babe (Lisa Pacifist) and the mandatory silent, mysterious hero (Kaze). Meanwhile, the evil Earl Tyrant and his minions the Lords of Gaudium seek to recreate a powerful entity known as Omega, with whom they can destroy a lot of stuff and "feed" the mysterious and powerful entity called Chaos. You know -- typical stuff.

(As usual, spoilers for the earlier episodes of the series will abound in this mid-stream review. Be warned!)

When last we left our heroes, they faced a now-invincible supersized Fungus, after a portion of Fungus's world had been inserted into Wonderland...

* Episode 13: "Meteor -- Abominable Memory"
Fungus is still large and in charge, at least in his little corner of the world. Neither Kaze nor Lisa can stop him from doing whatever he wants. In this case, that's capturing Ai, Yu, and Chobi. Kumo, AKA Makenshi, shows up to...well, it's not really clear why he shows up. But he attacks Kaze nonetheless. Kaze discovers that he can't completely control the Magun anymore. Fungus learns the hard way that he should never have trusted Earl Tyrant...

* Episode 14: "Omega -- Reunion and Departure"
Zap! The entire series up and resets itself. Suddenly, everyone's explaining everything -- much to the delight of this reviewer. Omega attacks and destroys the subway, but Fabra the prophetess (hey, everyone's getting into the act today) uses her flying oyster house (I'm not making that up) to rescue Lisa and the kids. They wind up in a frigid wasteland, where they're reunited with Cid and the Comodeen troops. Cid does even more explaining, which puts a lot -- and I mean a lot -- of the series into proper context. He also introduces us to Jane, his submarine, and Sylvia, his airship. (Cid has a thing about giving women's names to his inventions, you see.) Everyone goes sailing off into the deep blue sea in search of "living water." A new closing theme, "Romancing Train," debuts as well. Ahoy! Don't forget the acid, dudes!

* Episode 15: "Jane -- The Moving Ocean Puzzle"
To clarify things, Jane is not the moving ocean puzzle. Jane is Cid's submarine. On board Jane, everyone does sailing-type stuff while Cid continues to explain exactly what the hell is going on in this series. Then, they stumble into the titular Moving Ocean Puzzle, a gigantic Rubik's Revenge-like 3-D puzzle in the middle of the ocean designed by Lord Piste. Each sub-cube in the puzzle contains a challenge. Get it right, you move closer to the exit. Get it wrong, you move closer to being gobbled up by Chaos. After the show rips off both Cube and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, we're treated to a firing of Jane's weapon: a multi-person blowgun. Oh, and Kaze lazily floats by, whereupon he's picked up by the crew of the sub. On to the next puzzle challenge...

* Episode 16: "Kigen Dragon -- Behind the Smile"
Jane runs aground in the new puzzle cube. A giant mermaid named Somosan demands three contestants for her own personal riddle contest. Knave, Miles, and Lisa volunteer. The first two have no luck with the riddles -- but Lisa is way too clever for her own good, and saves the day. After an extended flashback to her childhood, of course...

I was less than thrilled with Phase 3 of Final Fantasy: Unlimited, but the show finally seems to be starting to pick up a little here. It's still below the level of excellence I've come to expect from SquareEnix's Final Fantasy video games -- but suddenly, thanks to Episode 14, it's starting to make a little sense to me. The episodes in Phase 4 link together in a way the earlier episodes did not, leading to a more satisfying viewing experience. It's still almost mind-numbingly complex and surreal, but at least it's got an internal consistency about it now.

You'll never be able to accuse this series of lacking creativity in its visuals. The animation combines traditional cel animation with computer-generated images, all of which is fairly well done. There's a nice variety of settings and backgrounds in the series, so things never get stale visually. As with all Square offerings, the background music is exceptionally well done, setting a proper tone for the action and providing audio references to the original Final Fantasy video games.

ADV continues to do a fine job with packaging and presenting this series; the reversible cover and included character booklet are small but pleasant touches. Picture and sound are identical with the previous offerings: you can choose between the original stereo Japanese mix, or a dubbed Dolby 5.1 Surround English track. The English voice actors are competent, with the exception of Ai, who's unbearably screechy.

The offered extras are also identical to previous "Phases." A commentary track with two of the voice actors is provided; it is really more of an audio interview with the actors that happens to be played over one of the episodes. If you're interested in the craft of voice acting, it's interesting stuff. If you want to hear information about the series, it's useless. There are also production sketches and backgrounds, and the usual assortment of trailers and previews for other ADV products.

I'm heartened by this Phase 4 collection. After Phase 3, I had the feeling that the show was drifting aimlessly from one story to the next without any goal or direction. But all of a sudden the show seems to have completely shaken off its lethargy, and is clearly pointed towards an ultimate showdown, the parameters of which are already taking shape.

I'll admit it -- I'm a bit hooked now.

Review content copyright © 2004 David Ryan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile
Studio: ADV Films
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary by Voice Actors (Episode 14)
* Production Gallery
* Key Animation Backgrounds
* "Clean" Opening and Closing
* Reversible Cover
* Phase 4 Booklet
* Trailers/Previews

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0304012/combined

* Review -- Phase 1
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/ffuphase1.php

* Review -- Phase 2
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/ffuphase2.php

* Review -- Phase 3
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/ffuphase3.php