Reviewby Maral Agnerian, Mar 21st 2002
Arc the Lad
DVD 1 - Hunters and Monsters
Elk is the youngest member of the Hunters' Guild, an organization that tracks down and captures criminals for pay. During a regular rescue/capture job, Elk finds himself propelled into an epic odyssey across an apocalyptic world in search of the enigmatic outlaw known as Arc the Lad. Together with the mysterious Lieza and the powerful warrior Shu, Elk must defeat a sinister organization that's creating half-human monsters and find his way to Arc, whom Elk believes responsible for the destruction of his village.
'Based on a Playstation game'...uh-oh. That's usually a signal of pain to come, but thankfully with Arc the Lad it isn't *too* bad.
This show underwhelms right from the beginning, with the very simplistic and boring menus on the DVD, and no extras aside from a few trailers. It continues in this vein with the truly lame opening song and its synthesized trumpets. I can't express how lame the opening song is... It sounds like it came straight off a video game from 10 years ago. As for the music during the show, it's average fantasy orchestral stuff and doesn't really make much of an impression. The ending song is a slight improvement, but the efforts to sing in English are only half-intelligible at best. The dub, on the other hand, is surprisingly decent. There's only a trace of the stilted delivery that plagues so many anime dubs, and many characters are quite well done.
The art is nice and clean, although there's a prevalence for dark, muted colours that makes it sometimes difficult to distinguish scenes and elements and doesn't really engage the eye. The animation is about average, delving occasionally into cheap still-shots and pans. The character designs are fairly nice, but again tend towards dark and muted colours (with the marked exception of Lieza and her pastel yellow dress). The monsters can be rather grotesque, and add to the 'dark' atmosphere.
As for the story itself, it's a bit confusing at first as we're dropped into the middle of the action, but it gets mostly sorted out by the end of the first episode. It's somewhat misleading, as from the box art and the opening sequence one gets the impression that this is an action-packed series, but in reality it's more story and drama-oriented. The story takes time to develop and a great deal of time is devoted to character instrospection and establishing mood, which does cause it to drag from time to time. The pacing is also a bit disjointed, but on the whole it's okay.
It does have its problems, though (besides lame music). One problem is that Arc is said to be the bad guy, but it's obvious right from our first glimpse of him that it's going to turn out to be some kind of misunderstanding--in anime, character designs are quite codified, and he's just not drawn like a 'villain'--this destroys any real tension, since we know to some degree what's going to happen.
There are also some bizarre things going on here--they mention the Arc of the Covenant briefly at the beginning and then don't mention it again...is Indiana Jones supposed to show up in this anime? It doesn't seem to have any relevance with the plot so far. Then there's how the evil mutants (which look like Men In Black who eat Chiclets in order to turn into monsters) are supposedly being created by the 'White House'...which brings up images of Dubya and/or Clinton breeding aliens in the basement (which is pretty funny, and not too hard to envision, but undoubtedly not what the creators intended).
On the upside, Shu (Elk's bounty hunter mentor) is a pretty cool character and actually gets some offscreen nookie in the 3rd ep, which was a nice surprise. Most anime characters (outside of a hentai, that is) don't seem to have personal lives, much less adult relationships and/or libidos. The characters in general are somewhat stereotypical, such as Elk with his strong moral code and mysterious past, and Lieza the sweet, helpless heroine with her big beast-dog protector, but it's not overdone. The main problem with this show is that it's a bit *underdone*. They could have pushed it a bit more, made more of it. If it were a bit brighter, a bit stronger, a bit more exciting, it might grab the viewer more effectively.
The first DVD of Arc the Lad presents a fairly interesting fantasy-adventure series that entertains despite its flaws but is by no means spectacular. It may improve as the story progresses, but for the time being I'd put it in the 'rental' category.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : D
+ Interesting story and characters
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