Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 1st 2013
Arata The Legend
episodes 1-12 streaming
In the real world, Arata Hinohara (who will hereafter be referred to as Hinohara to prevent name confusion) is a high school student suffering from bullying led by Masato Kadowaki, a former friend who has come to hate Hinohara because of something that happened years earlier. In the fantasy world of Amawakuni, Arata is a young man who, as the sole member of his clan from his generation, must go to the capital to fulfill the clan's duty to take over the role of the Princess who maintains balance in the world – even though he's a boy. An even bigger shock awaits, however: the Twelve Sho who are supposed to serve and support the Princess betray her, try to kill her, and use Arata as a convenient scapegoat, one which almost everyone believes since he was, indeed, disguising his true gender. In Arata's flight into a mystical forest he accidentally invokes a cross-dimensional transfer which switches him and his like-named counterpart in the modern world, who was looking to disappear and should have been careful what he's wished for. Each Arata finds himself mistaken for the proper one of that world and finds himself having to fill out the role of the other one in his new world. For Hinohara, that means taking up Arata's clan's sacred Hayagami to defend himself, going on the run as a fugitive (along with Arata's loyal friend/healer/girlfriend wannabe Kotoha), and trying to work out some way to stay alive and fulfill the wish of the mortally-wounded Princess to be restored. That inevitably brings him into conflict with other Sho and their Hayagami, and as he eventually learns, Masato isn't out of the picture, either.
The manga on which Arata the Legend is based represents the first foray into the shonen realm by Yuu Watase, the female manga-ka renowned for her creation of shoujo staples like Absolute Boyfriend, Ceres: Celestial Legend, and Fushigi Yugi. That probably explains why this does not quite have the look or feel of a typical shonen action series. While that does not appear to have hindered the manga version in having a successful run in Weekly Shonen Sunday since 2008, it may be one of the big factors contributing to the tepid reception to the anime version. The other is that its ambitious attempt to appeal equally to both genders, and infuse a greater-than-normal quotient of character development into a fairly basic shonen structure, results in a tale that does not fully succeed at anything.
The concept is essentially the old “individual from the modern world is transported to a fantasy realm where he/she becomes a powerful hero” stand-by premise with a “role reversal” gimmick added in for good measure. As is common in such stories, the protagonist is a person with great troubles in the modern world who falls into an entirely different set of perils in the new setting, ones that may be more directly deadly but become more manageable because of the powers and/or destiny that the protagonist gains in the new setting. Even the concept of the protagonist's main antagonist from the modern world eventually also crossing the dimensional boundary and becoming an empowered foe in the new setting is hardly original; see El Hazard, and to a lesser extent The Twelve Kingdoms among possibly others. The one fresh twist the concept offers is the potential to see the much more lively and confident Arata doing his thing in the real world, but the anime stumbles on that front by giving Arata very limited screen time compared to Hinohara. Granted, the Amawakuni side of the story is much more involved, but completely hedging out Arata for lengthy parts of the series does the premise a disservice.
Another stumbling block is the handling of Masato. At first his presence seems like a plus, as his bullying is very effective at explaining why Hinohara is a nervous wreck for much of the series. However, once one learns the reason why he has such a mad-on hate for former friend Hinohara, all respect for him as a character evaporates. That his reason is stupid and petty is not the problem, as that is definitely not a barrier to hating someone in the real world; that his degree of anger is all out of proportion with the offense is, unless he actually is supposed to have genuine mental issues. Ultimately he becomes a laughable annoyance and fails miserably in his role of helping the Hinohara discover himself and overcome his weaknesses. (For a vastly more satisfying handling of a somewhat similar situation, see the first story arc of The Twelve Kingdoms.)
The rest of the cast does a bit better, if still giving off a generic feel. Hinohara naturally picks up companions beginning with the cute, sexy Kotoha (Masato also gets his own cute/sexy right-hand-girl when he comes to Amawakuni, though he appreciates her less) and an enthusiastic duo of action-oriented boys heavily reminiscent of the Condors in The Story of Saiunkoku. Another more spoilerish companion, who is arguably the series' most interesting character, also eventually joins in. The behavior of Hinohara's family towards the radically-behaviorally-different Arata in the modern world is good for a few laughs, too, while Hinohara's conflicted “friend” Suguru offers a more serious counterpoint. The opposing Sho are pretty much a standard collection of villain-types who each have their own peculiar quirk, but only one or two of them ever become interesting.
While the plot follows a fairly typical shonen progression of the hero confronting various foes to gain additional powers in pursuing his quest, the look of the series has a more shoujo flavor. The Satelight team creates several very pretty, lushly colored settings and a set of equally attractive character designs which are typically clothed in elaborate, stylish apparel. The cute girl quotient is easily matched, and perhaps even exceeded, by the number of bishonen, and an almost complete lack of male-oriented fan service furthers the lean in a more female audience-friendly direction. Power displays are flashy enough, and use CG enhancements well enough, to give the series an appealing look overall, though the look of the series is not always as sharp and refined as it could be and the animation quality leaves a bit to be desired in the action scenes. It does have some significant graphic violence but this element is not even close to pervasive.
The musical score uses a variety of suitably dramatic sounds, with a mix of orchestration and even some pieces that sound like they were performed on an organ. Although it can be effective, it is typically not a consequential factor in the series' overall quality. Neither the opener nor the closer, which remain constant for the series' run, is remarkable. Japanese vocal performances are solid but likewise unremarkable.
At a mere 12 episodes the series is much too short to tell its whole story, so it does not even try; the end has more the feel of a temporary stopping point than a true ending. As of the time of this writing, though, there has been no indication that further content will be animated. Unless an announcement comes in the near future, that can be taken as further evidence that this adaptation has missed its mark.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Attractive character designs for both genders, solid first episode, interesting blending of premises.
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