In his free time, Judge Gordon Sullivan is a legendary cosplay champion.
Free Everyone from the Evil of the Shadow Lord!
The Jesuits have a motto, attributed to St. Francis Xavier—"give me the child until seven and I will give you the man." At its best, this line is a call to arms about the importance of the early years of childhood—at its worst, advertisers use the idea to sell products to younger people hoping to create life-long customers. But more than customers, it's possible to create life-long habits in other directions as well, and that's why many people stress reading for kids. Sadly, we can't just hand kids adult books and hope for the best. Instead, we have books aimed at different reading levels, and fantasy books seem especially popular with kids. The Deltora Quest books are aimed at a young demographic and introduce readers to fantasy elements. They've earned a worldwide following, selling millions of copies. Though not quite as popular as the top-tier children's hits (think Harry Potter), the Deltora Quest books have spawned their own media empire, from multiple sequels to a Nintendo DS game. This includes a Japanese anime adaptation gathered here on DVD. It's a so-so show that will appeal to fans of the novels who might have been hungering for an anime adaptation.
Facts of the Case
The lands of Deltora are ruled by the evil Shadow Lord who can only be opposed by someone possessing the mythic Belt of Deltora. The only problem is the Belt, which consists of seven jewels, was sundered after a previous encounter with the Shadow Lord, leaving no one to oppose his dark rule. No one, that is, except Lief, the son of a blacksmith who vows, with his friends Barda and Jasmine, to travel Deltora in search of the seven jewels so that the Belt may be restored and the Shadow Lord vanquished. All 52 episodes are included on eight discs.
Deltora Quest is pitched at a rather strange audience. It's obviously aiming for younger viewers—the individual episodes have the feel of repetitive children's programming that I remember from my youth. The overall arc isn't terribly surprising, character growth isn't extensive, and the basic premise of the show pretty much lays out the narrative trajectory from the beginning. So experienced fans of fantasy narratives are right out. On the other hand, though, the show is pretty visually sophisticated and some of the Shadow Lord's plans might be scary for younger viewers. Which is all a way of saying that Deltora Quest is probably only for viewers in the 8-10 range.
Within the confines of this kind of show, Deltora Quest is surprisingly well made. The individual characters, while obviously fitting into the usual types, are well designed and differ from each other enough to make identification easy. Animation is also surprisingly strong, with plenty of well done motion effects that keep the proceedings from feeling like a cheap cash-in production.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm not sure how much to hold against the Deltora Quest series. It's aimed at younger viewers, so many of its elements are excusable. However, more experienced viewers could find any number of fantasy films and shows—animated or not—to watch instead of Deltora Quest. Fantasy fans will immediately notice the similarities to any number of other quest narratives, with The Lord of the Rings hanging most heavily over Deltora Quest's storyline. All the other elements are familiar as well—we've got the blond hero rising from ignoble roots (he's the son of a blacksmith), taking his burly friend with him on a quest, and meeting the quirky female character along the way. The seven jewels give a basic structure to the plot, but anyone who knows anything about quest narratives will be able to guess exactly where everything is going. It doesn't make for compelling viewing for those familiar with the fantasy genre at all.
Even ignoring the cribbing from better-known fantasy epics, Deltora Quest offers only middling pleasure. The most compelling aspect is definitely the animation, and things go downhill from there. The main problem for me is the lack of development. Because this is aimed at such a young group there just isn't room for the kind of character development that keeps a show interesting for 52 episodes. Even if you know where the plot is going, compelling characters can make the journey more interesting. That doesn't really happen here, as Lief is basically a hero from the start, and stays that way until the end.
This DVD set is a mixed bag as well. On the one hand, the average of seven episodes per disc policy keeps the transfers looking good. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image looks clean and bright, with no significant compression artifacts. Colors and black levels are both consistent—saturation is good, and black levels deep. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo tracks are pretty good too, with dialogue that's clean, clear, and perfectly balanced with the show's music.
On the negative side, we only get the English dub for the show, which was originally produced in Japan. I guess that's not a huge problem for the target demographic here, but for more discerning anime fans, the lack of the original audio will be a problem. The set's only extra is a small gallery of character sketches. That's fine, but given the popularity of the books and how picky author Emily Rodda has been about media adaptations, a few words from her would have been great. Or even a small featurette on the show's impact in Japan. Fifty two episodes is a lot to gather in one place, but a few substantial extras would make this a much more attractive buy, especially as the show isn't likely to age well with most audiences.
If you have a kid in the 8-10 range who enjoys the Deltora Quest books, then there's a good chance he or she will enjoy this animated adaptation of the series. From what I understand it's faithful to the plot and characters. Adults, however, are likely to find the show predictable and familiar. The lack of extras or Japanese audio make it hard to recommend to anime fans, though the target audience likely won't notice.
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