Steve Power has a Blu-ray player +5 vs. Anime.
The sun rises on a thrilling new era of the Dragon Age world!
It's always a challenging prospect when video game developers attempt to bring their properties to other entertainment mediums. More often than not, there's just not enough meat on a character's bones, or enough narrative to fill a comic book or a film without stripping away that which makes it appealing in the first place. In recent years, a few animated tie-ins have popped up to co-incide with big game releases, exercises in cross-promotion, with varying degrees of success. Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker is something of a different beast; based on a series of epic fantasy role-playing games by Canadian developer, Bioware (Mass Effect), there's no shortage of narrative material to draw from. And with top drawer anime studios involved, there's no shortage of creative talent either. More importantly, there's no big Dragon Age release to coincide or advertise, which gives the impression that there's more to this one than marketing. Does Dawn of the Seeker rise above its hackneyed peers?
Facts of the Case
Cassandra Pentaghast (Colleen Clinkenbeard) is a Seeker, one of the elite secret service in the Chantry of Andraste, a sort of medieval fantasy version of the Catholic Church. The Chantry and their knights (The Templars), preserve the order of the divine, and keep the Mages (wielders of powerful magic) in check. When a rogue Blood Mage named Fenic sets events into motion to destroy the Grand Clerics of the Chantry, it's up to Cassandra and her reluctant partner—a Mage named Regalyan—to avert disaster. Can Cassandra overcome her own prejudices to destroy the corruption that lurks both outside and within the Chantry?
Anyone who's ever played one of Bioware's role playing games—be it the hardcore fantasy of Dragon Age or the epic sci-fi of Mass Effect—knows these technical wizards from Alberta, Canada have a distinct gift for weaving epic tales of adventure, love, loss, and morality into meticulously detailed worlds overflowing with a wealth of rich history. Through two games, comic books, novels, and downloadable expansions, Dragon Age has been built into a sprawling fantasy yarn that rivals many a long running series of novels. Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker takes us to a relatively unseen corner of this world, telling us a new story, but never quite so convincingly. Sure, it touches on key themes in the Dragon Age mythos—the strife of the Mages under the oppressive yoke of Chantry law, and our protagonist Cassandra who was featured pretty heavily in Dragon Age II—but there's very little else that harkens back to the games, making everything seem somewhat disconnected. It doesn't help that the key creative forces—game director Mike Laidlaw and Dragon Age Head writer David Gaider—are completely absent from the proceedings, giving the whole affair something of an "offshoot" feel. It's as though the creative team were either denied access to this sandbox, or were otherwise not familiar enough with the source material to truly do the game's setting justice.
Writer Jeffrey Scott (known mainly as a writer of several children's TV shows) has cobbled together some fantasy tropes and used thinly drawn archetypes to weave a CliffsNotes version of a Dragon Age tale. Cassandra's characterization is probably the strongest, but even then her's is the age old tale of putting grudges aside to persevere. Her mentor Byron, and sidekick Regalyan, are just thin cyphers…one the wise master, the other the lovable rogue with a heart of gold. The orphaned Elf girl, Avexis serves as a sort of MacGuffin, with no speaking lines or any sort of real presence, making her final scene in the film all the more awkward. The villains are about as vapid and empty as those you might see in your average episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and narrative push is solely an excuse to get from one fight scene to the next until we hit the epic final showdown.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker works best when characters are neck deep in combat. Director Fumihiko Sori (Vexille) has an experienced hand, and brings a flair-for-the-dramatic combat one might expect from an anime veteran. There's a lot of bloody, well-choreographed combat to be had, and it's almost always fun to watch. The "toon shaded" animation style (reminiscent of Appleseed) is eye-catching, and occasionally beautiful to behold. The animation is served pretty well by some great character designs and lovely artwork. It may not always "feel" like Dragon Age, but it certainly looks like it, and it certainly doesn't look like a cheap cash in.
Funimation does the film a few favors with a fantastic blu-ray effort. The digital animation shines with a vibrant 1.85:1/1080p high definition transfer that looks about as flawless as one could reasonably expect. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is immersive and heavy, kicking the subwoofer and directional effects in when it counts, but never relying on boisterous sound design. Extras are solid, if brief, including a tour through Bioware's Edmonton campus, and a short featurette on the making of the film, as well as a very early look at Production IG's Mass Effect: Paragon Lost feature. There's a second Blu-ray including the Japanese version of the film, and a standard def DVD copy as well.
Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker is a tough recommendation for anyone who isn't already familiar with Bioware's fantasy role-playing video games. The sparse yet convoluted narrative and thin characterization are elevated somewhat by the well-executed action, dramatically epic set pieces, and some uniquely eye catching animation. That said, it never quite congeals into a collective that will appeal to the mainstream, and never quite captures the tone nor the rich texture of the series it's based upon. If you really want a taste of Dragon Age, you'd be better served checking out ubergeek Felicia Day's Dragon Age: Redemption series on the web or on DVD. Even with limited runtime and resources, it manages to be a more faithful representation of the video games.
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