Reviewby Allen Divers, Dec 8th 2003
Final Fantasy: Unlimited
DVD 1: Phase 1 + Artbox
Twelve years ago, two monsters appeared from a pillar of darkness only to destroy each other in a fantastic blast. Now, young Ai and Yu make their way to that pillar to search for their missing parents. Taking the ghost subway, the two children meet up with Lisa, who is also searching for someone. Soon they find themselves searching through the many strange worlds of Wonderland in search of what they are missing. Along the way, they meet Kaze, a mysterious stranger who is also looking for something. Together, can they discover what they've lost and survive against the evil Earl and his minions?
Many feel that any series that's based on the world of Final Fantasy has to be good, so it should be no surprise that ADV's release of Final Fantasy: Unlimited receives the star treatment, featuring two flavors of the first disc. The Final Fantasy franchise is a well-established name for anime and video game fans in both North America and Japan. In fact, when Final Fantasy: Unlimited originally appeared in Japan, it was scheduled to run longer than the standard twenty-six episodes; unfortunately, its popularity didn't really explode, and the show ended up clocking in at only twenty-five. So with little fanfare and a nice shiny box, Final Fantasy: Unlimited makes its North American debut thanks to ADV. Featuring the first four episodes of the series, Final Fantasy: Unlimited: Phase 1 quietly enters the crowded anime scene.
ADV's release of Final Fantasy: Unlimited comes in two versions, the standalone first disc, Phase 1, and that same disc with a box for the entire set along with a card redeemable for a t-shirt. (ADV went to the card for the shirt to allow fans to choose their size.) Final Fantasy is a big name in North America as well, and the series may just find a lot more success than it saw in Japan. At this point, ADV may be going a bit overboard with the whole limited edition box set, but that's simply what the fans want. The disc itself contains a lot of nice extras including the textless versions of the opening and closing credits, production sketches, key animation backgrounds, preliminary illustrations, a reversible cover and English voice actor commentary. The production sketches and illustrations give the viewer a nice idea of the inspiration for the series, but the animation itself seems to be trapped between the past and present animation techniques.
Gonzo, who have managed to make quite a name for themselves by blending CGI animation with traditional animation, prematurely set the bar high for themselves by working with a series that viewers expect a lot from visually. It seems like they went out of their way to set this series apart from the rest of the Final Fantasy franchise and break ground on a unique visual style. Present are Gonzo's staple techniques: rich textures and tight CGI effects, as well as a smooth blending of CGI elements into standard animation. From there, things get a little funky as the characters themselves are designed in a very retro style. These days, anime characters are enhanced with cel-shading to make them look three-dimensional. Striving for a unique visual feel, Gonzo eschewed this technique in favor of a more archaic look.The coloring of the characters is done in a very flat style, setting them apart from the visually rich world they inhabit. At times, the animation feels like it's from an earlier generation, which creates an interesting retro feel. Final Fantasy fans may find a few familiar elements in the overall look and feel of the show, but Final Fantasy: Unlimited stands on its own.
Working from a well-established template left behind by the Japanese language version, the English cast steps up to create a solid interpretation. While the dialogue only flirts with the original script, it stays true to the basic intent of the Japanese. Some of the casting choices for the English dub seem a bit strange at first, but as the actors settle into their roles, the whole soundtrack comes together. ADV went with their Austin studio, Monster Island, to handle the acting chores. The English voice pool lends some depth to the characters for the opening of this series. Of course, the original Japanese cast does a fine job establishing the right mood for the series and the English cast builds on that foundation.
The series itself has a lot to live up to. Many fans don't take the name of Final Fantasy lightly, so it's important for any series bearing the name to meet a lot of expectations. Staying true to the spirit of the games, the storyline follows a quest. In this case, the quest comes in the form of Ai and Yu looking for their missing parents in the strange world of Wonderland. To help balance the potentially bad mix of two kids being the main characters, they are joined by an older woman named LiSA and a mysterious man called the Black Wind. As the first few episodes play out, a formula quickly emerges. Ai and Yu move to new area, a monster appears, mystery man helps out, protagonists move on. Luckily, just when the series starts getting predictable, things move very quickly to shake up the series. The characters are developed just enough to reveal that they're a bit more than your average anime archetypes, which prevents the series from getting stale too quickly. For the first disc, the emphasis is on the kids and their journey, so they receive the most character development. There are also a handful of comedic moments thrown in featuring the Chocobos, one of the few elements from the games that made it in to the series. Overall, the series is a light-hearted romp, staying away from some of the darker aspects explored by the other properties in the Final Fantasy franchise. Phase 1 hints at a more dramatic storyline, but so far, it remains shrouded in mystery.
Despite its somewhat formulaic plot, Final Fantasy is an ambitious series and manages to be visually engaging. Retro-looking character designs and Gonzo's spectacular CGI give the show a very unique look and feel. It's hard to tell by the first four episodes if Final Fantasy: Unlimited has what it takes to be a great part of the Final Fantasy franchise, but with a little luck, the promising elements present in these initial episodes will blossom throughout the remaining twenty one. Phase 1 proves to be a fun ride, and should entice fans everywhere to stick around for a few more volumes.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : B
Music : B
+ Video Game Action in a candy coating
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