Reviewby Theron Martin, Dec 6th 2009
Tears To Tiara
Sub.DVD - Collection 1
Riannon, daughter of the deceased chieftain of the Gael clan and sister to Arthur, the clan's First Warrior, has inherited a certain power due to being a descendant of the Elf King Pwyll, but that also makes her a suitable living sacrifice for an Imperial priest's rogue effort to resurrect (rather than insure the imprisonment of) the mythical Demon King Arawn. The priest miscalculated, however, for Arawn not only assumes a very human form but saves Riannon instead, unwittingly resulting in him becoming the new Gael chieftain, much to the consternation of Arthur. Faced with further probable Imperial interference, Arawn leads the Gaels from their home on Erin Island to Albion Island, where they find new residence in Avalon, Arawn's hidden onetime fortress. As conflicts with Imperial forces (some offensive, some defensive) periodically flare up, Arawn, Riannon, and Arthur gradually collect numerous powerful allies, including the feisty Gael archer Morgan, the former Imperial swordswoman Octavia, the sage Ogam, and an assortment of elves. Meanwhile, the Divine Empire seems to secretly be up to something rather ominous and unfathomable, though its individual commanders seek more direct conflict.
American anime distributors are notorious for lame and occasionally misleading advertising tag lines, but this time Section 23 has a beauty on the back cover: “Before you resurrect a Demon Lord. . . Make sure he's going to be on your side!” Truer words have rarely been spoken. . .
Sentai Filmworks and Section 23 have taken a lot of flak from some corners of fandom for not bothering anymore with English dubs on their new releases, but that practice does seem to have enabled the Companies Formerly Known as ADV to achieve a remarkable feat of timeliness here, as the first half of this 26-episode series is coming out on American DVD less than two months after the series finished airing on Japanese TV. This is one of the quickest turnarounds ever, and we can only hope that it is a sign of things to come. Fortunately the series they have chosen to do it with, while not a top-tier title, is at least good enough to be worth the effort.
That Tears is based on a tactical RPG for the PS3, which was itself a more family-friendly revamping of an earlier PC-based ero RPG, should be no surprise to anyone familiar with past anime adaptations of either game type, as many structural details allude to both origins. Arawn gradually being surrounded by a near-literal harem of beauties all fiercely loyal to him (at least two are technically his wives!) harkens back to the series' ero game days, while the varied skill sets and improbably lavish costuming practically scream a roster of RPG archetypes; present so far are a healer (Riannon), an archer (Morgan), a barbarian-type (Arthur), melee soldier-types (Octavia and the antagonist Lidia), a heavy blade type (the antagonist Gaius), a wizard-type (Ogam), and some elves who mix melee and magic components. Most of the first ten or so episodes even have a “gather the party” feel to them that is the foundation of game-based series. In fact, in many senses this first half has a similar feel to the first half of Utawarerumono, another fantasy series with similar origins.
Tears shares structural similarities to other series in the game-based fantasy subgenre, too. It dishes up an expected mix of battle sequences, magic, and occasional humor flavored with suggestions of hidden plot agendas and occasional flashbacks, while encounters with old adversaries help provide some character depth. It also has an obligatory collection of stock personality types: a hotheaded character (Arthur); a character who's almost impossibly kind-hearted (Riannon); an uncouth, hard-drinking female wild child (Morgan – and really, this is a vastly overused cliché across all anime genres right now); a character with encyclopedic knowledge (Ogam); a shy and seemingly hopeless beauty who shows surprising competence in certain areas (Llyr); a cold, businesslike beauty (Octavia); and of course the expected cute complements (the other elves). In fact, one could make a checklist of common components in series like this and check off nearly all of them here.
Tears does separate itself at least a bit from its kin, however, and one of the places it does that is with Arawn. From the first moment he appears in human form, he gives off a vaguely different vibe, one that faintly suggests of a lingering sorrow and more firmly suggests of a kindness and nobility belying his common eye-rolling and status as the Demon King; that he has such ardent support from the elves who pop up also implies that perhaps the whole “Demon King” thing is just a load of ancient propaganda spun by his past enemies. The full measure of his backstory does not come out in these episodes, but clearly more happened in those battles of a thousand years past than has been revealed so far in the snippets of myth passed down over the generations. On the lighthearted side, the first half's funniest sequence involves a grossly oversimplified rendition of Arawn's legend by one of the elves.
There are other places, too, where the series shows a little more promise than normal. Octavia's conflict with Lidia may be predictable in execution but still plays out with surprising effectiveness, as does the way Octavia comes to join the merry crew of Gaels. The unlikely friendship which starts to form between two prominent characters is a pleasant surprise, and in a few places the writing comes up with some pleasingly strong lines and impressive sincerity. Quality may lie in the cracks amidst the more mundane fantasy RPG content, but it is there. Using Celtic and Roman naming conventions and a vague representation of early northern European geography and history also are nice touches, although the armor types depicted and prominent presence of female warriors in the Imperial armies are fantasy compromises rather than thematic consistency.
This one also stands out amongst its peers with its artistry, an effort courtesy of White Fox (a new studio spun off from Oriental Light and Magic – yes, the company behind Pokemon). The visual style and the extent of its animation may be standard for series of this type, but the rendering is a distinct step above the norm. Color schemes are typical but look a little more vibrant, while characters designs, with one exception, follow expectations but look a little sharper. The biggest departure is actually in the elf designs, which eschew the traditional anime long-pointed-ear look in favor of appearances virtually indistinguishable from human; in fact, what separates elves from humans in this setting, aside from an apparent propensity for magic use, is not clear from these episodes. Costumes are naturally a bit more elaborate than is practical and curiously anachronistic, with Octavia incongruously wearing a miniskirt despite being a military commander and two of the elves sporting modern-day maid outfits, but those are simply typical concessions to high fantasy and game styles. Since the series adapts more directly from the PS3 game than the original ero game, it is clean of fan service save for a near-nude scene in the first episode, but the amount of bloodletting present calls the TV-PG rating into question.
The musical score certainly does not lack for ambition; if anything, it gets too energetic and dramatic at times, especially in earlier action scenes. Opener “Free and Dream” by Suara and closer “Blue Sky, True Sky” by Aira Yuhki, both solid J-rock numbers, bookend each episode. Notably, the identity of the little girl who is featured prominently in both the opener and closer visuals does not even get hinted at until near the end of this set. The Japanese vocals, though solid, are also very typical and thus unlikely to be memorable.
Extras and release format are typical of recent Sentai Filmworks/Section 23 releases: clean opener and closer on the first of two disks set facing each other in a plastic case about the thickness of a normal DVD single. Only one grammatical error was noticeable in the subtitles this time, but it did confound an entire sentence. There is, of course, no English dub.
By the end of this set Tears finally has its core cast completely and firmly established, so unsurprisingly it seems to be on an upswing at that point. The realities of the format will probably limit how much better it can get, but it is still an enjoyable and good-looking series likely to appeal to fantasy fans. It is not among the best titles out there but is definitely worth a look.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Good artistry, sometimes very funny, storytelling occasionally excels.
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