The Spring 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Ten years ago, when he was still a child, the swordsman Hiiro lost his parents in their effort to seal away the evil dragon Dagan Zot and save the kingdom of Kunaan from his fiery tyranny. Moments before Dagan Zot would have crushed Hiiro in his claws, the young warrior's father used forbidden magic to bind the dragon and the boy's heart together, completing an imperfect seal. Now Hiiro swears revenge for the loss of his family and homeland, training under the master swordsman Giiru (and his talking demi-dragon friend Palupa). After mastering the use of his giant blade, Hiiro travels to a faraway city to steal back his sealing crest of Dalhalbart and the sealing crystal known as the Grand Trowa from a greedy merchant lord. However, no sooner does he get his hands on these valuable items than Dagan Zot resurfaces before Hiiro's eyes, eager to finish the world-destroying job he started! Cerberus is based on a mobile phone game and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Mondays at 2:15 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
I watched the first episode of this one right after writing up the first episode of Hundred, so the striking contrast between the two made a stronger impression than it might have otherwise. What Hundred did wrong (and indeed, that can apply to other LN adaptations this season), this series does right.
By that I mean that it actually succeeds at doing something interesting with a fairly common anime premise: a marked young hero seeking to avenge his parents. It has some new gimmicks, such as luring a powerful evil dragon into thinking it's being summoned by devotees to devour a sexy maiden, only to have that turn out to be a trap. It has a fun rascal of a male lead, one who's not above being a bit playful even as he takes care of his business, and it even offers some promise in the pack of urchins the hero encounters while trying to reclaim a family insignia or the sly efforts of one of their number to abscond with a magical jewel (or the opportunist efforts of the other urchins to rescue him from execution). Of the talking animals who have been introduced so far this season, the dragonlike servant (companion? Henchman? Familiar?) of the male lead is the least obnoxious, and the Big Bad showing up again by the end of the first episode immediately raises the stakes. The spunky little evil female spellcaster isn't even that irritating, either. Not sure what to make of the character I'll call Ice Woman for now, as how what she's doing is at all related to the main storyline is not clear.
All of this works together better than it probably should due to a brisk pacing and a visual style which shows at least some degree of panache. As much as this has the common trappings of high fantasy, it at least makes some effort to not look entirely ordinary, which results in an occasional sharp visual gimmick. The animation is nothing special, which puts a limit on how detailed the battle scenes are (although there are some good scenes of the male lead vaulting and twirling between buildings), but the protagonist's mix of smugness and being startled that he isn't as good as he thought he was makes up for that. A bold, lively musical score helps a lot here, too.
In the end I give this one a mild recommendation because it feels a lot less generic than much of the other fare so far this season. While it may not sparkle, it feels like it can at least entertain.
Cerberus’ first episode opens in dramatic fashion, as what appears to be a ceremony of human sacrifice is quickly revealed to be a sealing ceremony for an evil dragon. But tragedy strikes before the dragon can be sealed, and so it seems that instead, the dragon is linked with a young boy.
That's a pretty classic scenario (somewhere between Naruto and Dragonheart, but with less Sean Connery), but the important things here are the details. The opening shots, where the audience is being led to assume this is a sacrifice, create a strong sense of dread; you're placed in the perspective of the sacrifice herself, and the dragon rising out of shadow is legitimately tense. Those details are also unfortunately what ultimately undoes this scene; the sequence is lacking in animation throughout, but the final sequence of linking the boy to the dragon is so minimally animated that it actually draws attention to itself, coming off as somewhat ridiculous.
That mix of reasonable ideas and atmosphere married to awkwardly low-tier execution haunts this first episode throughout. There's a lot of fine stuff here, starting with the fact that this fantasy world feels like an actual world. The show takes time to set up its desert city environment, and consistently devotes shots to creating atmosphere more than overtly conveying information. The plot so far is also pretty reasonable; nothing that will really surprise you, but the show introduces a variety of factions, actually gives its protagonist some texture (he's fun-loving and arrogant, talented but a little too sure of himself), and moves quickly through a rooftop chase, staged execution, and ultimate reveal of that Dragonheart premise.
All of this would make Cerberus a somewhat average opening to a fantasy series - the only problem is the visual execution. Though its backgrounds are nice enough, Cerberus’ character designs are flat and blocky, unappealing both in still frames and in motion. And the show just doesn't have much motion - there are sequences here that fail almost entirely because they lack the animation necessary to bring them excitement. Sequences like the rooftop chase could potentially be engaging with a bit stronger execution, but there's just no way for these scenes to work with their jerky run cycles and limited pool of shots.
It's a shame, really. If you don't mind the poor execution, there seems to be a pretty reasonable show here - but some stories demand animation more than others, and a high-stakes fantasy adventure can't really afford to look this bad.
Another mobile game adaptation has arrived this season! Will it rise above its meager beginnings and set itself apart from its illustrious brethren like Divine Gate and Leviathan: The Last Defense? The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding “no.” Cerberus is but another non-descript fantasy where the main character, determined to fulfill his destiny as The Lord Of Dark Dragons, chases around street urchins for a magical item with a perpetual smirk on his face. Strapped to his back is his fantasy protagonist-issued Cool Dark Sword, and underneath his matching Cool Dark Trenchcoat are vaguely tribal tattoos. Cerberus is selling style here, but it's way past its expiration date.
The show fails to engage with its audience in any kind of interesting way. Scenes are sandwiched between each other with little purpose or sense of urgency. Why do we care about a magical emblem that some no-name NPC was showing off? Why do we care about some random girl who turns lava into ice? Then there's the blocky-looking evil merchant with his catgirl sidekick who “nyaas” evilly, because that's the amount of effort put into the cute bad guy for Cerberus.
These trite design choices could be excused if the plot was engaging, or the characters were likable, or the production values were exemplary. Cerberus has none of these things. It's a mishmash of purposeless tropes that don't complement one another, instead opting to make its way through a checklist. You can blame it on the source material. Plenty of mobile games thrive on recycling another popular mobile game while altering one or two elements. Cerberus is continuing the tradition by rehashing everything you've ever seen, but in a less attractive, less coherent format.
This show has dragons. Right now, that's the most it's got going for it. It has the evil dragon with the ridiculously fun name Dagan Zot (for some reason I enjoy saying it), it has the cute little dragon with the prehensile tongue owned by the apparently dastardly Nambuuko, and I highly suspect that the naked girl who froze the ground once she touched it with her weirdly drawn foot is also a dragon, albeit probably not an evil one. With all of these dragons – to say nothing of demi-humans with cute floppy ears and swords with moveable blades – there should really be more that's appealing about Cerberus than the fact that it involves dragons, but sadly this first episode feels like fairly mediocre fantasy trying desperately to appear more interesting than it is. It may also win the award for mixed mythologies. The title, Cerebus, comes from Greek mythology, while the three sacred items we see in the ritual at the beginning belong to Shintoism. Later there are names that sound vaguely like Hindu deities, and finally the magical item Grand Trowa seems to have a lot in common with the fairy tale AT565, “The Magic Porridge Pot,” which most people know from the Strega Nona picture book. If you're at all familiar with more than one of these mythological elements, it's a little bit dizzying to see them all combined here without rhyme or reason, but since “reason” doesn't appear to be a major factor in this episode, that's about par for the course.
Taken separately, the pieces of this episode aren't that bad. The summoning and binding ritual intended to trap Dagan Zot in the beginning uses some interesting deceptions (I particularly like the priestess being disguised as the sacrifice), and aspects of the story's world hold up. Neither of these things are developed enough to gloss over the episode's issues, however, which mostly concern a lack of set up so that we care about anything that's going on. There is an attempt made at this with despot Nambuuko riding through town with his underclad ladies, throwing coins to a starving crowd while a group of street urchins takes the opportunity to pick pockets and try to steal the Grand Trowa away from him, which presumably is meant to indicate that times are hard and adorable kids have to fend for themselves on the streets. But nothing that Nambuuko does seems all that nasty (apart from when he tries to kill one of the kids at the end, but even then, he's barely tied to the post) and the kids don't look all that raggedy or desperate; in fact, they look more like they're having fun playing Robin Hood.
On the subject of playing, that's how ostensible hero Hiiro spends most of the episode – playing with the street kids and making grand pronouncements about when you're supposed to draw your sword. His age feels very uncertain; we know he was little when Dagan Zot killed his parents, but whether he's fifteen or twenty isn't clear, and from the way he acts, he could be twelve. He looks much older than the street kids, and he does step up when one of them needs help, but he just generally gives off an air of immaturity that's at odds with his bearing. He feels unfinished as a character, like a sketch someone decided to go with anyway, and that actually carries over into the design – there's something oddly unfinished about his face and outfit, like there wasn't time to finalize the draft. This may be due to the show's phone game roots, since by nature their graphics don't tend to be as good as console games’.
So, yeah. This has dragons, and Dagan Zot is a great name (seriously, try saying it out loud), but that's about all that Cerberus has going for it…unless you enjoy Gundam Wing flashbacks, because between the name “Hiiro” and the “Grand Trowa,” that's the other big thing I got out of this episode.
Okay, so when this show starts, there's a priestess with enormous boobs being sacrificed at an altar to a giant fantasy dragon. This exact same sort of scene opens a whole lot of light novel anime, so you may be tempted to think “oh no, not another light novel fantasy anime that takes itself too seriously and isn't written very well!”
And let me just stop you right there, buster, because Cerberus is based on a mobile game, not a light novel, so this is another mobile game fantasy anime that takes itself too seriously and isn't written very well.
That opening sequence also features a chosen lad being bonded to the evil dragon (named Dagan Zot, which I'll admit is a great name for a dragon). What's that, you ask? Do we ever see this mysterious boy again, he whose fate seems intertwined with this powerful dragon? Why yes! Minutes later we flash forward and he's already got his standard-issue red 'n black fantasy anime antihero armor on, complete with perma-smirk and a mysterious mission to obtain something called a Dalhalbart. What's that? I'm not sure it matters.
Cerberus is written like a lot of other fantasy anime that never really catch on – rather than being gracefully woven together to introduce the viewer to this world and these characters, this show is basically a random collection of scenes, introducing an big cast of largely nondescript characters, complete with a bunch of weird design decisions that feel completely out of place with the rest of the show (there's a Digimon-looking dragon sidekick thing AND a catgirl straight out of a 90s fanservice anime). I assume if you've played the mobile game some of this means something to you, but the show doesn't seem all that interested in engaging you if you haven't – which is a fatal flaw for something like this. It doesn't help that the parts of the story I did follow were pretty dumb – there's a sequence where Hiiro, having found his Dalhalbert (again I don't know what this does) is standing there holding it and a street urchin basically announces that he's going to take it, does, and then Hiiro stands there for a good two seconds staring into space before glancing down at his empty hand. Then there's another several second cut, a slow pan up, and THEN he yells “MY DALHALBERT!” This sequence isn't SUPPOSED to be that awkward, but there's a deadly combo of poor direction, poor pacing and poor animation bringing this thing to its knees.
Anyway, the dragon shows up again at the end of this thing and Hiiro looks very shocked that he's now quite obviously the protagonist of his very own fantasy anime, and this show did absolutely nothing to stand out against the dozens of others exactly like it every year. When your genre is saturated, you can either do the old stuff really well or make the old stuff seem fresh, and this isn't doing either of those. Next!
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