Blind Ambition Meets Its Match.
This latest entry in our anime genre reviews from ADV is a complete movie rather than two episodes of a series, such as Queen Emeraldas, my last review from this distributor. And a pretty decent movie it is, too; a fairly formulaic fantasy genre picture that still managed to entertain me throughout. A fine picture and sound, and again plenty of trailers makes this an interesting disc for the casual anime fan such as myself, but read my caveat first if you are a die hard fan.
It's fair to say I'm a fan of the fantasy genre. I've played fantasy role-playing games at home with old friends and online with new ones, and it's perhaps my favorite genre for games. Movie efforts in this genre have been very uneven; from the excellent Conan the Barbarian to the not-so-excellent Blademaster. Animation does lend itself well to a movie in this genre, as it doesn't cost a hundred million bucks to get some fantastical scene to look right. There are plenty of such fantastic scenes in Legend of Crystania; with characters who shapeshift into animals, flying characters, and plenty of otherworldly looking monsters. In this area the animation and drawing do this type of story justice; and a cheap live action movie would not have.
The story of a young would-be hero thrown in the midst of larger-than-life events is not new to the genre, but can make for a satisfying "Heroes Journey" archetypal story. In this case the young lad is Redon, the son of the benevolent and wise ruler Lord Haven, who is now struggling with an attempted coup from the evil Deputy. When Haven's own royal guards turn on him, the young prince and his friends flee the castle when it becomes apparent staying to fight is futile.
Here is where the unique world Redon lives in comes into play. This was perhaps my favorite part of the film; the intriguing concept for the world. The kingdom of Da'Nan that Redon is from is part of an island that is totally cut off from the rest of the world. The island is Crystania, and various gods who lost in a series of wars called The Lodoss Wars were exiled here. A wall separates the island from the rest of the world, and divides the island itself into two parts; human and well…non-human. This god-built wall has for 300 years divided off Da'Nan from the rest of Crystania, and none have been able to break through. But in Redon's rage and desire for revenge against the traitorous guards and the deputy, an evil god hears him. In front of their eyes, Redon, his companions, and a few likewise fleeing folks see the wall open. Well, of course they have to go to the other side. I know I would.
On the other side they find strange magics and people. Shamanic and totemic magic abounds here; as the gods who were exiled were sent without bodies, they took up the bodies of animals and became totems for their worshippers, who can take either human or the animal form of their god. War rages on this side of the god-wall as well; with the tigers fighting the lions (I see an "oh my!" joke in here somewhere) and such. But one god has managed to acquire a human form, and has become the "God's King," more powerful than the rest. This is Barbas, who was the one who heard Redon's call and opened the wall. He seeks to destroy the other gods and their followers, and extend his sway across the wall as well by giving his "force" to Redon. Redon's companions have magic of their own, among them the ultra powerful priestess Aderishia whose magic is used to promote peace and heal the injured. So in "heroes journey" format Redon must learn about himself, see his abilities and maturity grow, amidst a war involving the gods themselves. Done well, this is a satisfying tale.
This may be a motion picture but it was drawn for television, and is therefore full frame. Colors are rich and well saturated without bleeding. Dark colors and blacks abound and are excellent. There is very little problem with artifact or source print defects, making for a sharply detailed picture that does the format proud.
The soundtrack is fine, but that is on my "anime scale" rather than competing with major motion pictures. The audio is a basic stereo mix with only slight use for the rear speakers during some of the action scenes. Dialogue for both the English and Japanese language tracks are clean and clear with no distortion. Dialogue is heavily anchored to the center channel but the front soundstage has a good presence and spaciousness.
There is a decent collection of extras with the disc, especially if you like trailers. Several pages of character bios cover all the main characters and clue you in on who is who. Trailers for the film and Crystania video series are next, followed by a slide show of movie stills. Hope you like trailers, because there are again twelve previews of other ADV discs; including Tekken Sensation Mix, Slayers, Legend of Crystania, Sonic the Hedgehog, Queen Emeraldas, Sakura Wars, Battle Angel, Bubblegum Crisis, Burn Up W, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ninja Resurrection, and Those Who Hunt Elves.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are a number of die-hard anime fans (called otakus) who are really upset about this movie. As even a casual fan I had heard of the Lodoss Wars, a popular series of novels, films, and videos. Apparently this was an offshoot to that worldset, and included two characters from that story into this one. What people seem to be upset at is firstly that the characters have been used cheaply to get fans of one popular series to like this one, and secondly that the characters are greatly changed from the original, both in look and personality. I wasn't laboring under the preconception of just who this character was or was supposed to be so it didn't effect me. The two characters are in smaller but pivotal roles to the story, and I can understand fans of those characters not liking them being trifled with.
My biggest complaint with the disc itself is the dichotomy between the English dubbed track and the subtitles. There is a fierce debate among anime fans about "sub or dub," meaning whether the "proper" way to watch anime is with the original Japanese track and subtitles, or listening to the dubbed English. I suppose the ultimate purist would say simply to learn to speak Japanese. At any rate, when I do reviews I listen to the English language track since I'm an English speaker. I haven't the time to learn to appreciate the original language track, though I will give it a shot at some point. But with any review, even mainstream pictures, there comes a time when you want to see the subtitles or simply need them to understand a line that you can't understand from the soundtrack. But in this case the lines of the subtitles match up very poorly with the voice-acted English. It seems the subtitle team and the English dubbed track team didn't know the others extension number or something. The English track sounds like natural English; the subtitles read like some literal translation that comes off stilted and almost haiku-like. The subtitles were absolutely no help when I was trying to understand a line that may have contained some word I couldn't comprehend. In this attempt to use subtitles I found the movie nearly incomprehensible. So, at risk of getting more letters from people who know a lot more about this genre than I do, stick to the English track.
I found Legend of Crystania to be an interesting foray into the fantasy genre. I especially liked the world that was created; it did not have many of the typical trappings of the heavily D and D-weighted genre. The story flowed well, and I was very satisfied with it. It translates pretty well to the newcomer, but fans of Lodoss Wars will possibly be too incensed about their favorite characters to enjoy it.
ADV and the makers of the film get an acquittal for me. I liked the movie, the characters, and the disc; but I'm sure it helped that I didn't have any preconceptions about the characters from or the tie in to Lodoss Wars.
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