Fantasy Animeby Zac Bertschy,
Fantasy Anime for All
Okay, so you bought the soundtrack, picked up the tee-shirts, have your line costume ready and are prepared for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring on the 19th. Unfortunately, we've still got a month to go. Luckily, you're an otaku; there's a wealth of fantasy-themed anime out there to keep you busy until Peter Jackson's magnum opus is released. Here's a guide to help you wade through the myriad anime titles out there and cut straight to the good stuff.
The Record of Lodoss War
Available from Central Park Media on DVD and VHS.
Synopses: Lodoss, the cursed island, was created centuries ago in a battle between the goddesses of good and evil. Karla, an evil witch, plans on resurrecting an evil force and taking over Lodoss Island. Parn, a warrior from a small village, is joined by a band of intrepid heroes: Deedlit, an elf, Slayn, a magic user, Etoh, a cleric, and Woodchuck, a thief. They take on Karla and the armies of Marmo, lead by the fearsome and power-hungry Ashram.
Review: Record of Lodoss War is the granddaddy of all Fantasy anime. It's taken literally from the pages of a fantasy roleplaying game setting. This really comes out in the storytelling; it's about as typical as you can get. That doesn't mean it's bad, though. The animation, specifically in the first episode, is gorgeous and detailed to no end. The series is filled with classic characters and is beloved by the anime community; if you haven't seen this yet, see it. It's a real treasure.
Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight
Available from Central Park Media on DVD and VHS.
Synopses: Six years have passed since the events in Record of Lodoss War, and evil is brewing once again on the island of Lodoss. Ashram has returned, and is causing trouble again. This series chronicles both the adventures of Parn and Deedlit as well as the knight Spark, following two separate continuities.
Review: Well, the fan community just about had a fit when they saw this. It was clearly inferior to the original OVA series in terms of storytelling and animation; there are moments in this series where the animation is so bad it makes you want to shut off the television. If you can get past that, though, the storyline is fairly good and it's worth watching if you've seen the original OVA series. Not a complete waste of time, but it isn't worth comparing this to the OVA; this series is clearly the loser in that competition.
Available from Central Park Media on DVD and VHS
Synopses: Taishakuten, a power-hungry general, has slain the mighty Tentei and declared himself the ruler of the land. A prophecy dictates that a "six-pointed star" will defeat him, each point representing a warrior. There are only five warriors, though, lead by the noble Yasha. Can they defeat the brutal Taishakiuten?
Review: This OVA series desperately tries to cram 10 volumes worth of beautiful CLAMP-manga into an hour and a half and fails, miserably. It's CLAMP's first animated work, and by today's standards, the animation is a bit on the crude side. Character designs are lovely, though, and if you're a fan of the manga, there might be something here for you. Otherwise, there are better fantasy titles out there.
Tales of Eternia
Fansubs available; No US Licensee yet
Synopses: Rid and his plucky band of adventurers are the land's only hope. Two continents may collide; can they stop the evil forces behind it all before it's too late?
Review: Based on the latest video game in the "Tales" series for the Playstation console (beginning on the Super Nintendo with Tales of Phantasia) Tales of Eternia (renamed Tales of Destiny II for the US release of the game it's based on) is so typical and so cliché you probably don't need to watch it. Picture this scene: The group summoner just summoned the water elemental to attack a bunch of crab things. Here's some sample dialogue:
Water elemental: "Oh no! My water attack only does half it's normal damage, since these crabs are water-based!"
Oh, come on. We know it's based on a video game, but they could at least TRY to write convincing dialogue. The animation is pretty good, and the backgrounds are beautiful; but if you've ever played a console RPG before, there's nothing new here.
TV series available from Central Park Media; Movies and OVAs available from ADV Films.
TV Synopses: Flat-chested, quick-tempered Lina Inverse chases after items of power, gold and food, accompanied by a rag-tag band of adventurers. They inevitably run across some gigantic evil power and wind up having to bring it down themselves.
Movie/OVA Synopses: Flat-chested, quick-tempered Lina Inverse is accompanied by Buxom, empty-headed Naga the Serpent in her quest for money and food. Invariably, they come across two warring factions. The girls choose up sides and fight, destroying both factions in the end and making off with a huge amount of cash and/or food.
Review: Slayers is the venerable workhorse of the fantasy genre. Everyone's seen it, most people like it. If it's a TV series you're after, do yourself a favor and skip the first season. It's not nearly as good as the second or particularly the third season, which is miles beyond any of the other Slayers incarnations. As for the movies, watch the second one and the first OVA series; you'll get the best of these releases and get the general idea behind every other movie or OVA. In all, Slayers is a classic series; they just ran it in to the ground.
Rune Soldier Louie
Licensed by ADV; DVDs available soon
Synopses: A thief, Mirel, and her partners, a priestess and an amazon, need a sorcerer to complete their adventuring party. What they find is Louie; an immensely powerful but utterly inept womanizing drunk.
Review: Beautiful animation, engaging characters, hilarious writing and a surprisingly original storyline make Rune Solider Louie one of the best fantasy series to come out of Japan in a long while. The animation here is just beautiful; a joy to watch. It may sound a lot like Slayers but it never resorts to using the same tired plot formula that Slayers used in nearly every one of its many incarnations. The fan service content here is a little high and may turn some people off; other than that, this series is a definite must-watch for any fantasy fan.
Available on VHS and DVD from ADV Films.
Synopses: Fam and Ihrie have taken a quest to retrieve a mass weapon of unimaginable power. Of course, it's the bounty they're after, not the weapon. They may not live long enough to get the bounty, though.
Review: Another fairly typical fantasy series, Ruin Explorers doesn't try very hard to be original and it shows. Although far more entertaining than Tales of Eternia, Ruin Explorers (Originally titled Fam and Ihrie) is another of the highly predictable brand of fantasy series; you can call everything before it happens and you're rarely, if ever, wrong. This show has a fairly small but devoted fanbase. People don't usually flock to low-quality series, so I'm tempted to admit that I may be missing something, but Ruin Explorers just seems too by-the-numbers to be truly enjoyable.
Sorcerous Stabber Orphen
Available on DVD and VHS from ADV Films
Synopses: Orphen, an incredibly powerful wizard, has a serious vendetta against Bloody August, a terrifying dragon. Together with two pint-sized brats and a princess with a serious attitude problem, Orphen must battle both Bloody August and the instructors from his magic school.
Review: Sorcerous Stabber Orphen gets a big plus in my book just for originality. The series has very nice animation and a seriously engaging plot, one that I haven't seen done and redone over the years. I found myself riveted by this show, despite some of the obnoxious supporting characters. I haven't seen anything like this in a while; the storyline is well put-together and keeps the viewer guessing right up through the end of the series. Put this one at the top of your to-watch list; this and Rune Soldier Louie are truly the cream of the fantasy crop.
Available soon from Media Blasters on DVD
Synopses: Gatts, a rogue warrior with a massive sword, joins up with Griffith, the beautiful and charismatic leader of the Hawks, a mercenary band. Griffith has a pendant called the Egg of the King; he is destined for greatness, but not the kind of greatness you'd expect. As the relationship between Griffith and Gatts grows, the evil welling inside Griffith grows as well; in the end, it's like nothing you've ever seen before.
Review: Berserk is in a class all its own. Far from the repetitive wasteland populated by Slayers and its ilk, Berserk is dark fantasy at its absolute best. No cute and fuzzy sidekicks, no obnoxious supporting characters. Just character development, storyline and gripping drama from episode to episode. The characters here are very well written and endlessly engaging; you watch them rise to victory and fall from grace, every heartbreaking moment stirring serious emotions. The ending is a real cliffhanger (not to mention unbelievably disturbing) so make sure you pick up the stellar manga series to accompany the TV show. Simply put, you need to watch Berserk. Don't wait. Go get it. Right now.
The Violinist of Hamelin
Fansubs available; No US Licensee yet
Synopses: Hamelin has a horn growing out of his head. His little bird friend, Oboe, has no clue why it's there. Hamelin hears a mysterious voice telling him that he has two separate destinations, two paths he can follow. Joining up with his friend Flute, they discover that an old man with horrible magic power has started to destroy their village. Hamelin whips out his giant novelty-size violin and plays the evil away. Thus, Hamelin's destiny has begun.
Review: Remember those film strips you used to watch in kindergarten that had a tape playing along to a series of stills? Watching Violinist of Hamelin is a lot like watching those filmstrips. They made this show for a ridiculously small amount of money and boy, does it show; it's hard to call this an anime series because "anime" indicates that there may be some "animation" somewhere in the show. This is not the case. Basically you watch a series of stills set to music and dialogue with a few random interspersed moments of animation. What animation is there is pretty and well-done, but there just isn't enough of that. The storyline is somewhat convoluted, and isn't engaging enough to put up with the low production values. Pleasant character designs aside, Violinist of Hamelin is probably best left on the shelf.
So, with only two weeks left until The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring hits theaters, you've got your work cut out for you. If anyone can devour this much dungeon-hacking, spell-casting, monster-destroying goodness inside a fortnight, I'd be impressed. Better get started!