Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 1st 2008
Ragnarok The Animation
Fresh from their last mission, the gang decides to help a young member of the Thieves' Guild, whose home pyramid has been beset by a horde of monsters. Upon investigation, Roan and company discover that a familiar figure – Yufa's thought-dead older brother Keough – seems to be behind it all, and he has apparently been warped to evil. Roan's functional uselessness in the fights bothers him so much that he temporarily departs the group to seek himself, only to return as a Crusader to help the group out in a mission to free a monster-infested clock tower. Roan's reformation and her own inability to do what needs to be done in the group's next mission, in the haunted ruins of Fayon, convince Yufa to seek to become a full Priest. Takius, meanwhile, struggles with her role: is she really the student of Zephyrus or just his pawn in his mad quest for ultimate truth?
Anime adaptations of video/computer games other than dating sims rarely work and often fail spectacularly, at least in part because the creators' desire to pander to fans of the game makes them so intent on remaining faithful to the source material that they neglect the adjustments necessary to make the game's story viable in a different format. (Of course, those that adapt a manga into anime often get lambasted for actually making such adjustments, so it can be a no-win situation for anime production companies.) The animated version of the Korean-originating MMORPG Ragnarok is a shining example of this principle. Its second volume, which covers episodes 10-18 in a two-disc format, offers little respite to those thoroughly disappointed with the first volume.
Whether or not the source material even could have served as the basis for a worthwhile animated series is debatable, as the only thing that distinguishes this fantasy world is the seriously odd mixture of fantasy, modern, and fantastical technological elements. This production avoids any chance to overcome its shaky foundation by adamantly refusing to divorce its game mechanics from its storytelling, resulting in an unwieldy and fundamentally unsound mess. In these episodes two characters upgrade their wimpy initial classes into far more powerful versions in an illogically short time frame and with an illogically massive jump in relative power level; the pre-Crusader Roan is pathetic, while the post-Crusader Roan is suddenly a powerhouse, for instance. While this may represent a proper game conversion, it makes little sense in a storytelling context that he and Yufa could undergo such astounding transformations so quickly. In fact, time factors in general are routinely ignored, as is any sensible attempt at plotting. The series also seems unable to decide whether it wants to play its game-based premise straight, as a parody, or in a mildly self-aware state, as it regularly mixes serious elements (Keough's ill-executed push into evil) with the thoroughly ridiculous (the maid outfit-clad women, the monsters, the adventurer-oriented structure).
The cast of characters does not help much. This volume does make at least a few honest attempts at character development, as can be seen in Roan's quick evolution from a wimp into an ass, Takius's struggles over her true role, and some advancement in Judia's relationship with Iruga, but none of the characters are endearing or memorable and most operate within one-note roles. New supporting characters regularly pop up only to be set aside after 2-3 episodes, but none of them make much of an impression beyond possibly the cute young Archer Lin. The gratingly hackneyed dialogue Keough gets stuck with in both languages does not help matters, either.
The ponderously staged battle scenes offer further room for criticism. Only a couple of the many battles achieve any degree of tension or flow, with interruptions for exposition happening regularly and characters sometimes taking other actions that do not make sense within the context of the battle. The repetitive nature of the fights in the pyramid and Fayon arcs also becomes a nuisance after a while, and the staging of the battles shows little creativity; sure, the Boomerang Shield and Reflective Shield maneuvers by Roan are pretty cool the first couple of times, but they get old fast. And let's not even get started on the animation in the battles, which undercut their entertainment value by using every conceivable shortcut to make them cheap to animate. They certainly show where the money didn't go.
With the exception of Tis's father and Iruga, the designs for named characters are among the series' few solid merits, although none of them are especially memorable prior to Roan and Yufa's upgraded versions. Generic place-fillers dominate minor roles (all of the peon thieves in the first couple of episodes look identical, for instance), while an array of monsters with Pokemon-like design silliness compose the opposition, including the (gasp!) dreaded hopping undead in the Fayon arc; only the Merman in episode 13 and the minotaur-like creatures with the giant mauls convey any real sense of threat. The background art may be respectable but neglects to inspire any sense of wonder, and the entertainment value of the flashy magical effects dulls with overuse. Despite a couple of fan service-like moments, the series maintains a TV-PG rating because of its utter lack of graphic content.
Is it a sad statement when the opening and closing themes, both sung wonderfully by Maimi Yamasaki, are the high point of the entire production? The soundtrack in between them does try, and actually has some nice musical selections in places, but its questionable choices of recurring themes leaves it underperforming overall. Even a truly inspiring soundtrack would have struggled to elevate this work, however.
None of the blame for the failure of the series can fall on either of the dub casts, who do make an honest effort with what little they have to work with. The English script strays a bit less than Funimation scripts normally do and both the casting and acting fit well, with Mark Stoddard as the apparently mad Zephyrus being the highlight performance. The only flaws here are a few inconsistencies between the subtitles, dub script, and credits on the exact handling of some names; Lin vs. Rin and Lai vs. Rai are the biggest examples but not the only ones. As a nice touch, the subtitles do explain the English dub's justification for naming the main bad guy Roan fights in episode 13 as a Merman based on the original Japanese name, which literally translates as "Half-Fish Man."
Funimation's release of the second volume offers no Extras but does include nine episodes in a double-disk case no thicker than the norm and costing no more than the norm.
Ragnarok represents a textbook case of how not to adapt an MMORPG into anime format. It is not entirely without entertainment value, as it does have a couple of decent battles and a few truly funny moments (the Iruga/Jadia fake wedding scene is priceless), but immensely better and more enjoyable examples of both the fantasy genre in general, and game-rooted fantasy in particular, exist out there.
Overall (dub) : D+
Overall (sub) : D+
Story : D
Animation : D
Art : B-
Music : C+
+ Nine episodes for the regular price, good opener/closer songs.
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