Judge Roman Martel assures you the Millennium Dragon is not related to Falkor of The Neverending Story fame.
What do we have here? A plot summary that includes a 15 year old boy declared the savior of the world? Must be anime or Harry Potter.
Legend of the Millennium Dragon opens in medieval Japan, with a full-blown battle between samurai, monks, and foot-soldiers against a whole force of demonic Oni. At first, the human forces are able to take some ground, but soon the Oni unleash powerful monsters and magic that force the humans back. It's only the skills of the monk Gen'un (Shido Nakamura, Red Cliff) that saves the day.
Fast forward to present day where Jun Tendo (Kensho Ono, Ghost Hound), your typical shy middle school kid, is heading home. Along the way, he is attacked by an Oni, seeking refuge in a mysterious temple where he meets Gen'un. After some exposition (and a hallucination or two), Jun finds himself back in the Heian period of Japanese history in the city of Kyoto. Gen'un is convinced Jun has the power to unleash the dragon spirit that can destroy the Oni and end a raging war.
Loathe to jump into battle, Jun is not a fighter, but doesn't have a choice as Oni invade Kyoto. Jun tries his best but is captured by the Oni, who reveal their true intentions. The more Jun learns about both sides in this war, the more he comes to believe that peace is possible. He must get the two sides to understand each other and work together, but Gen'un may have other reasons for wanting to unleash the dragon spirit…and Jun is the key.
Legend of the Millennium Dragon is one of those anime movies that is really pretty to look at but lacking in the substance department. If you are familiar with the whole "insecure young man is declared a savior and must overcome his fears to save the world" storyline, the plot holds no surprises. Once Jun is introduced, you know how the whole thing is going to play out. Luckily, the movie does have something else going for it.
The animation is impressive, specifically the backgrounds and battle scenes. The opening sequence with Gen'un and his men facing down the army of Oni is a perfect example. There is depth and detail in the surrounding countryside, the small village from which the Oni emerge, and the enormous statue of Buddha that forms the climax of the scene. The action is full of motion, from the rampaging Oni to the spear wielding foot soldiers. And the magic looks great; when Gen'un unleashes his powers, it's quite a sight.
Legend of the Millennium Dragon has several excellent action set pieces, including the siege on Kyoto and Jun's journey on the flying dragon spirit. But the film saves the best for last, as a full-blown army of monsters and magic collide in a mess of color, explosions, and fury.
Now keep in mind, this is all Star Wars-style violence, where we see hundreds of people killed, but nothing too gruesome or bloody. Monsters and living statues are graphically destroyed, but people are killed with the least amount of anime blood I've seen in quite a long time. Which leads me to believe Legend of the Millennium Dragon is targeted toward the pre-teen boy crowd.
What's odd is that, as vibrant and impressive as those battle scenes are, and as detailed and gorgeous as the backgrounds can be, the character design is amazingly simplistic. It all ends up becoming distracting; since the surroundings are so rich, the characters look out of place.
In some ways, the visuals reminded me of Miyazaki's classic Princess Mononoke. However, compared to that film, Legend of the Millennium Dragon lacks the many textures and themes of a Studio Ghibli picture. I like that Jun doesn't just pick sides right away, but really attempts to get both sides of the story before deciding. And it does manage to work an ecological message too. Hmmm, maybe that comparison to Mononoke is more apt than I thought.
Sony's release is solid. We get a lovely picture 2.35:1/1080p high def image, showing off all the detail of the backgrounds, as well as colorful magic effects. The audio tracks comes in multiple flavors. I viewed the film with the Japanese DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and it sounded excellent, balancing sound effects, dialogue, and music perfectly. The subtitles were easy to read and flowed well. A quick sample of the English dub was just as good. The lone extra is a concept art gallery which shows off much of the detail work that went into the backgrounds. We also get a standard def DVD copy of the film.
For most anime fans, Legend of the Millennium Dragon makes a fine rental. Younger viewers might find the story a bit more compelling than us old timers, but the visuals are worth checking out.
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