Reviewby Mark Sombillo, Jun 18th 2011
Hakuoro is rescued by a family residing in a small village. In this house lives Eruru, the eldest of two siblings training to be a healer like their grandmother. As they begin treating Hakuoro, it becomes apparent that he has lost his memories. This was almost as obvious as the mask which he wore and which seemed to be permanently attached to his face. In a world where a malevolent emperor is oppressing the land and the magical forces of nature are present, his mask of bone hardly seems out of place and very quickly through his kindness and sincerity, he becomes part of the household and village life. Eventually his caring for the family, forces him to lead the villagers and soon the country, in order to fight the evils that have begun to amass themselves at their doorstep.
Fantasy-adventure shows are a dime a dozen, as prevalent in the world of anime as ninjas and samurai. It's essentially a show that suspends many of the laws of physics and offers writers the full freedom to come up with a universe of their own, free from any preconceived notions of what's normal or not. Of course as a consequence of so much freedom, practically all fantasy-adventure games or series end up being the same; hero appears with a mysterious past, gets mixed in with the wider goings-on of the world and somewhere along the line saves the day despite reservations about fighting to begin with (usually they fight because they have to protect their friends). It's such an easy concept that is effortlessly modified in interpretation that it is used the world over since the days of Merlin.
Then there are the few that try to break from this mould. Oftentimes these range from introducing a blend of sci-fi into the mix (e.g. robots) to ideas too wacky that the obvious question of “what are you smoking” inevitably gets asked. Utawarerumono falls somewhere near the wacky side of the ideas spectrum but not because you'd need some mind-bending substance to help you understand it. For a great portion of the series, the formulaic presentation of wars and ebbing alliances is the norm. In fact the titular revelation that forms its quirkiness could have very easily been something else or taken away completely and the story would have still plodded along. Anyway let's digest this series first in less general terms before I come back to trying to review for you this plot element in a way that will hopefully not spoil it.
Character design is fairly well done albeit at times uninspired. There's enough variety to be able to differentiate all the characters from each other but as the story unfolds and the cast just seems to get bigger and bigger, it behoves oneself to keep your attention sharp in order to keep track of them all. Animation and choreography is equally well executed but just being able to claim that your art is up to scratch technique-wise does not mean you'll be turning heads; I've seen more originality in a few episodes of Naruto than in all of what Utawarerumono has produced.
Viewed on its own the design department could be seen at best as only being satisfactory, but from the context of the grandeur of the whole world it's set in, it starts to take on a different light altogether. This is an aspect that actually became quite the surprise treat. Yes the first few episodes show snippets of Hakuoro's memories which indicate grand battles, but predominantly it's the quiet village life that's the focus initially. This ultimately means that when you reach the later episodes where empires are fighting against empires, you get the subtle feeling of nostalgia as you wonder how it all got this far (almost being in awe like when Goku transformed into Super Saiyan level 4).
Character personalities also develop quite nicely and almost in sync with the changes in scenery. I found them to be quite bland at the start but as you get to know them, the acting seems to improve substantially. That said there seems to be an air of, well let's call it lies that surround them. The characters do start to end up looking like they have more concrete motivations but the delivery of dialogue just doesn't feel quite genuine and here I would draw upon the fact that Utawarerumono sprouted from a visual novel which was also an erotic game. When was the last time you saw a pornographic film and praised the dialogue?
Anyway, the ending revelation; Scrapped Princess. There, I said it.
Ok so maybe it didn't end the same way as Scrapped Princess but the concept it pursued was very similar in nature. And despite this apparent sci-fi-like idea, it's actually more rooted in magical origins which the show only really scratches the surface of to explain. As I said in the start, this idea in the end felt quite inconsequential just because of everything else that has occurred but I suppose there needed to be an explanation to Hakuoro's missing memories. Frankly I wouldn't have cared if he just tripped one day on his way to the dunny and knocked himself unconscious on the porcelain, flushing his memories along in the process.
This series took me quite some time to actually go through. It's like a nice relaxing book that you inch your way through each night before you go to sleep. It won't encourage a sense of urgency or a need to marathon the whole set and it's not because it's uninteresting. If my review hasn't been clear so far, I'll just state it plainly that Utawarerumono wasn't boring. What it is however is nothing new, and we've seen this before in one iteration or another (ignoring the “out there” finale) so the feeling of novelty doesn't last long. Once it does, you either develop a rhythm and watch it as if you're watching the daily news or you tune out after realising you don't care.
Utawarerumono © 2006 AQUAPLUS / UTAWARE Partners.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C-
Art : C
Music : B+
+ A very grand world that slowly unfolds majestically.
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