Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike
Blu-Ray + DVD
In this prequel to the Tales of Vesperia Xbox 360 game, Flynn and Yuri are young knights under the command of Niren Fedrock in a remote outpost town. Something strange is happening in the surrounding countryside that is endangering the people Niren's squadron is charged to protect, a bizarre mutation of the power known as “aer.” As Niren works to figure out what is going on, Flynn and Yuri must come to terms with their pasts and their reasons for becoming knights in the first place, as well as what it is they want for the future.
The “Tales” series has spawned an impressive number of games and not a few anime adaptations, of which this is the third to get an English language release. Unlike the previous Tales animations, however, Tales of Vesperia's anime is not an adaptation, but rather a prequel to the video game. If you've played the game, you will doubtless appreciate this more on an immediate level, but those unfamiliar with it can still find plenty to enjoy.
For starters, this movie is gorgeous, and not just for theatrical animation. Images are crisp (moreso on the Blu-Ray) and movement is natural and fluid. Perhaps this is best seen in the fight scenes. Rather than relying on jazzy and creative choreography, most of the fights take a relatively realistic approach focusing on the process of going from one position to another as Yuri (who gets most of these scenes) takes down monsters and human villains alike. Sure there are some fancy flips and spectacular jumps, but for the most part the fights are just beautiful sequences of a young man hacking and slashing away. Even in the more mundane moments, however, Production IG has done an exquisite job of bringing the characters and settings to life. There is a clear Spanish flavor to many of the buildings, with the ruins looking a bit like Granada and the town itself bearing a distinct resemblance to sections of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, both of which help to give the fantasy setting a feeling of reality. This is needed as some of the costumes are impractical for fighters, most notably the trailing tails on the surcoats and the fact that the women don't get pants to go with their miniskirts.
The plot of the story centers on Flynn and Yuri, childhood friends who drifted apart only to meet up again when they both became knights. The two both ended up in the same unit in a remote town commanded by Niren, a father figure who clearly does his best to look out for all of his knights. Both Flynn and Yuri have their own issues to deal with – Yuri isn't all that good at following orders and has a temper that gets him into trouble, and Flynn is still coping with the loss of his father, a knight who died disobeying orders. The central theme of the film is the question of whether one works within the system or outside of it in order to do the most good, and while the story moves slowly, it builds on this theme in a very credible way. Aiding in this are Flynn's flashbacks, which are simply animated in gray scale. Since Flynn is the less immediately likeable of the two protagonists, these flashbacks help us to see him in a more sympathetic light. While other characters besides Niren, Flynn, and Yuri are present and play minor roles in the story, most of them are anime-only creations who serve little purpose; no where is this better seen than in the redheaded twins Hiska and Chastele. While the twins are present in all of the major scenes of the film, their characters aren't really developed beyond “one is buxom and one is not.” Were they not the most prominent female characters, this would be less of an issue.
The film's sub and dub tracks are both nicely done, and which you prefer may well be a personal matter. Yuri's voice is consistently a little too masculine for his slightly feminine design, with Troy Baker giving him a deeper tone than Kousuke Toriumi, but both actors do a fine job of capturing the character. The same is true of Flynn's actors, and Princess Estellise is nearly identical in both versions. The forest sorceress Rita is markedly sweeter sounding in Japanese, but otherwise your own language preference should guide your choice. It is worth mentioning that many of the characters have the same voice actors in the film as in the game.
While Tales of Vesperia ~ The First Strike ~ seems slow while you're watching it, reflection shows it to be a worthwhile viewing. With its slow pace and long runtime, attention deficit viewers may prefer to watch it in two sittings, but overall the gorgeous animation, well-acted characters, and suitably heroic soundtrack all work together to make it palatable. It may not have many extras – both Japanese and American trailers, an “afterward” in gray scale images, and Funimation trailers – but this set does contain both the DVD and the Blu-Ray copies. It may still appeal primarily to fans of the game, but for those who enjoy a heroic fantasy tale, this is one worth checking out.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B
+ Exquisite animation and good sub and dub tracks. Good exploration of theme and certainly makes you want to play the game to find out what happens next. (Scenes in the credits are quite tempting.)
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