Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Feb 8th 2010
Sands of Destruction
Blissfully working (in disguise) at a beastman restaurant, cheerful human dip Kyrie gets an up-close and personal encounter with Morte, a wanted fugitive from the World Destruction Committee. Though really, she is the committee, seeing as the committee was cooked up by beastman authorities to give them an excuse to seize the Destruct Code in her possession. The Destruct Code is a legendary treasure with the power to destroy the world, and Morte, true to her assigned title, has every intention of using it to that end. She just doesn't know how. So she wanders the world, in which humans like Kyrie and herself are brutally oppressed by a small but nasty beastman elite, inadvertently doing good, mostly thanks to unwilling partners in crime Kyrie and Toppy (a mini-bear with outsized abilities).
Around the time Morte takes Kyrie hostage only to have his disguise (a pair of cat ears) fall off, instantly lowering his hostage value to zero, it's pretty obvious that Sands of Destruction has no intention of taking itself seriously—apocalyptic title notwithstanding. A smart move. Based off of the eponymous (in the US) Sega game, the series has neither the world-building prowess nor the character depth to do full-on serious. To be sure it has its serious elements, including a shockingly high body count and a fantasy vision that echoes current divisions of power, pointedly casting beast-men in the role of wealthy oppressors. But they are consistently blunted by an onslaught of pratfalls, silly crises (cue the jailbreaks and gladiatorial contests), and broad beast-people caricatures. Socioeconomic messages, after all, are no match for petty frog despots and kick-ass teddy bears. A lot of it is really quite amusing: particularly Toppy and his incongruous martial skills, but also lesser comic lights such as Lia, a vicious pursuer with an incomprehensible soft spot for sad-sack Kyrie, and the constant inability of the Committee to live up to their reputation. And in the absence of running jokes, there're always the little one-off gags that pepper every episode, an elaborate plan that hinges on a chicken's, er, regularity being a particular highlight. Of course a lot of it also isn't funny at all, merely silly and slight, but the balance tips towards amusing overall.
Inevitably the frivolity wanes a bit as the series approaches its end and leaves behind the standalone tales of goofy inadvertent charity in favor of wrapping up its main plot. Curiously, the increase in gravity isn't as damaging as it should have been. Not because the characters or the plot—both of which are mud-puddle shallow—can support it, but because it never completely loses its spirit of fun. It may introduce a main villain, but his ultimate fate, satisfying as it is, is more gag than catharsis, and the series never makes the mistake of allowing tragedy to go unleavened or, heaven forbid, of trying to take Toppy seriously. That said, the series' final act has enough unflinching collateral damage and sad back-story to give it some edge, and perhaps more shockingly occasionally flirts with intelligence. A lot of the show, from Lia's crush on Kyrie to Kyrie's visions of Morte's past, makes a surprising amount of sense once all its cards are exposed. The answers may be predictable (anyone who doesn't figure out Kyrie's secret far in advance needs to watch more anime), but they are unexpectedly well thought out.
This isn't one of Production I.G's more consistent works. Compare this to something like Stand Alone Complex and you can easily see that IG is slumming it here. More than a few of the show's many fights end up exactly the kind of bargain-basement sword-swinging that you'd expect of an RPG adaptation, and all too often it looks plain cheap, breaking out the simplified designs, vanishing backgrounds and frantic editing that you usually associate with lesser animation companies. However, just as often director Shunsuke Tada turns his limitations to advantages. A fight in episode three uses ultra-cheap animation and sloppy, blocky art to superb comic effect, and the split-second switch-ups between pointedly shoddy and attractively detailed animation create an appealing, free-wheeling energy that works wonders for making the hackneyed proceedings feel fresh. Uneven is the word for it, especially given the periodic bursts of extreme quality (the unleashing of the Destruct Code) and character designs that veer from elaborately cute (Lia) to ludicrous (nearly all beast-men), but it is also distinctive and effective. Most of the time.
Uneven is also the word for Yoshihiro Ike's score. Unfortunately it's not quite so effective. Perhaps the blaring fantasy pastiches were intended as musical jokes, but they aren't really funny—just embarrassing. When it calms down, particularly during piano solos, it's actually quite good, and the sillier music is fun, but the bad moments are the ones that really stick.
Give an American anime company a broad comedy and generally they'll go to town with it. Funimation's dub may not be exactly liberal—for a comedy it's scary faithful, even incorporating Japanese speech affectations—but the cast is obviously having a grand time voicing all those evil, short-lived beastmen. Hammy accents, flagrant over-acting—supporting actors haven't had this much fun since Dragon Ball. The main cast plays things a little straighter (which in the case of Toppy means funnier), their performances pitched quite close to the original Japanese. Luci Christian does Morte just right, though her competition being Maaya Sakamoto she can't quite top the original, and the others are all good choices for their roles. Fun.
Disc two includes four fake interviews: (badly) animated omake in which characters from the show give interviews as if they were actors playing roles in a live-action film, dishing out fake behind-the-scenes dirt and exposing what they're "really" like off-screen. Pretty funny stuff, and more interesting than the rest of the extras. Which isn't hard as they're limited to clean versions of the decent opening and closing songs.
Though not up to the gold standard that Tower of Druaga set for this kind of thing, for clean, disposable and weirdly socially conscious RPG fun, you could do far worse. It won't rock your world, but it will give you a piratical teddy bear beating the snot out of sand worms and minotaurs. And really, what more could you ask?
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : C+
+ Light fun with no headaches; smarter than it seems; cool teddy bear.
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