Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 26th 2007
DVD 2 - In the Face of Evil
More villages join the growing rebellion led by Hakuoro as the Emperor uses first Benawi and Kurou, and later Nuwangi, to attempt to enforce his corrupt rule. Eventually Hakuoro's army must confront the Emperor himself, and his tactics, leadership, and fighting ability play key roles in winning the day. Victory brings Hakuoro the title of the new Emperor, while his calm, compassionate, and efficient leadership earn him unexpected new allies, including a former foe, a winged princess as a mediator and representative of a religious order, and a monstrously strong ex-gladiator. Victory also brings a host of new problems, such as rival empires who wish to absorb the new state of Tuskuru and the daily grind of administration. When the empire of Shikeripechim seeks to use force to demonstrate their dominance over Tuskuru, Hakuoro finds himself once again forced into battle, much to the dismay of Eluluu. Meanwhile, Aruruu finds a new friend.
Didn't get enough of the computer-animated mass battle scenes in the later two Lord of the Rings movies? Then you owe it to yourself to check out this volume, which offers what is probably the most extensive use of CG animation of massed movements, drills, and fighting yet seen in an anime title. In some places where armies are shown moving and fighting these CG effects are actually smoother-looking than the regular animation, in others they too glaringly stand out and feel artificial, but the sheer scale of what the producers tried do here deserves special attention.
What ultimately matters more, though, is the story execution, and in that the second volume remains true to its bishojo game origins. As each stage of the ga. . . er, story plays out, one gets the feel of directing the events from the viewpoint of Hakuoro. And that is precisely what he does: with only a couple of exceptions, he guides the course of events rather than taking the lead in them. Because of that, all of the supporting characters have more and better-defined character than he does. Ten episodes have passed by the end of this volume, and a viewer still will not have much of an impression of who Hakuoro really is – and this refers both to his true identity and his character. We know that he's a compelling leader because of the way people react to him, that he seems wise and sensible at making leadership decisions, and that he has a caring nature, but his actual personality, in execution, remains flat. Watching the fiery Oboro, the shy and standoffish Aruruu, noble Benawi, pleasant but fragile Yuzuha, or the reserved, good-natured, and increasingly concerned Eluluu is usually more interesting.
Whatever else might be said about the series, it does not remain stagnant. Its first story arc wraps up by the end of episode 7 before shifting into its “what do you do with a country after you've overthrown its leadership” mode (actually some of the most interesting content), including the not unreasonable actions of another country to take advantage of its newness, before wrapping up with the introduction of the new ex-gladiator character Karula and her thoroughly ridiculous sword. Three other significant new characters, a new race, and a new enemy all pop up to keep things lively, including the beautiful Princess Urutori of the winged humanoids known as Onkamiyamukai, her rascally, playful younger sister Camus, and the princess's adviser Munto. And the threat posed by Shikeripechim seems to be just starting. And for all the serious content, the writing does have occasional flashes of humor.
While the artistry does look good, it is unlikely to “wow” anyone used to the better efforts of Gonzo or BONES. Newly-introduced characters offer nothing special in the way of designs (beyond Karula's sword), while the greatest appeal of the returning designs continues to be the general cutesiness of the female designs and the fine fantasy costuming. The delightful way Eluluu's fox ears and tail support her expressiveness, especially how they twitch when she's flustered, is a subtle but thoroughly endearing extra touch. Most of the many fights scenes are generic affairs beyond the CG-animated massed combatants usually seen in the background while “name” characters are fighting in the foreground. Other animation is good but not spectacular, with numerous shortcuts and unanimated characters present. For all the fighting, the amount of graphic content remains minimal, and few and far between are the opportunities for fan service.
The soundtrack supports the events of the story without being obtrusive, while the pleasant opener and closer remain unchanged from the first volume. The English cast was well-chosen for the roles, with most performances taking the same tone and approach as the originals. At the least, they deserve credit for successfully pronouncing some of the obscenely long and difficult names. The English script does not stray enough to be a problem.
In addition to five full episodes, ADV loads up the second volume with Extras. Back are the glossary of terms, clean opener and closer, extended episode previews, and a character art gallery set to music. The special extra this time is a Q&A session about the series conducted in-character by Hakuoro and Eluluu. The eight-page insert booklet contains three short two-pages interviews: one with the art director and chief CGI designer, one with the seiyuu of two of the prominent supporting characters, and one with Christine Auten, the English ADR director and voice of some of the minor roles.
So far Utawarerumono has told a solid if unremarkable fantasy story which focuses less on heroic action and more on the practicalities of the situations the characters find themselves in. It may not excite, but it should entertain.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Appealing character designs and quirks, ambitious use of CG.
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