The Fall 2022 Preview Guide
Legend of Mana: The Teardrop Crystal
How would you rate episode 1 of
Legend of Mana: The Teardrop Crystal ?
Community score: 3.5
What is this?
Shiloh, a boy living near the town of Domina, has started to hear a mysterious voice in his dreams. The voice tells him that he has a mission to fulfill.
Then, one day, Shiloh meets two people who happen to be of the Jumi race. The Jumi have long been hunted and killed for the gemstones embedded in their chests, and now, cases of mysterious gemstone thieves attacking Jumi are breaking out all over the world.
Thus Shiloh sets out on an adventure centering around the Jumi gemstones! (from Crunchyroll)
How was the first episode?
Here is my sob story: when I was in middle school, I begged my parents for a PlayStation. We had never owned any game systems before, but I was beginning to become drawn to anime-style artwork and spent a not-insignificant amount of time wandering through Gamestop, admiring the box art on the JRPGs. "No," they said. "We have enough trouble getting you to do your homework as it is. Video games will be just another distraction."
Now I am an adult, and I can play video games whenever I want… in the time I'm not spending working, cleaning, and taking care of myself, so maybe like two hours a day. However, I missed the boat on several classics that I'm sure I would have loved, and the Mana series is one. I haven't yet gotten to the Legend of Mana remake – it's on the list for after I finish the PS1-era Final Fantasy games – but maybe the anime will make an acceptable replacement for the time being?
Or, maybe not. Video game adaptations are hard, and anime history is littered with far more failures than successes. After all, it's hard to translate the appeal of even story-based video games into a linear, non-interactive medium. However, I do have to say: I genuinely enjoyed the premiere of Legend of Mana. A lot of that enjoyment comes from its rich aesthetic, with lush greenery, bright colors, and lots and lots of critters I can only describe as “just a little guy.” The protagonist, Shiloh, grew up in this town and opens his home to strangers. Then… some stuff happens?
Okay, the storytelling isn't the best, probably because the aforementioned problems with translating games to linear narratives but gosh dang, I'm just so in love with how this show looks and sounds. I love the costume design and the feel of the town and the theme song that could be straight out of one of the late '90s anime that got me into the genre. I love Shiloh's poofy pants and big gloves and inexplicable tube top. I love the clever use of CG on things that are supposed to look slightly otherworldly or stick out. It's such a great-looking show and the story was just good enough to carry it.
To start with, I think it's important to mention that I have only played one game in the Mana series, Secret of Mana. And since that was back in 1996, I remember next to nothing about it. Perhaps my lack of knowledge about the series (and the specific game on which this anime is based) is the reason why I felt oddly detached watching this episode. It was like we were thrown into the midpoint of the story, and what little information we got didn't explain all that much.
From what I can gather, Shiloh is an orphan boy living in a village made up of demi-humans. The demi-humans are operating under some kind of geas that prevents them from having any interest in the outside world to preserve total peace and harmony. Shiloh, being a human outsider, doesn't have any such compulsion, and thus after a literal call to adventure in his dreams, he soon decides to set out with Elazul to find his missing lady, Pearl.
If all that sounds rather simple and dry, that's because it is. There is nothing in Legend of Mana: The Teardrop Crystal that allows you to latch onto any of the characters on an emotional level. Sure, Shiloh seems like a decent guy, but if he were to die in the next episode I wouldn't care—and the same could be said for Elazul. In fact, the only person with any real personality in this first episode is Duelle—and that's because he's the rare example of both a tsundere man and a harmless-looking badass. But he alone is far from enough to keep me interested.
And honestly, that's the big problem with Legend of Mana: The Teardrop Crystal: there's no hook to grab the viewer's attention and keep them coming back next week. Maybe hardcore fans of the game will find something to love here, if only to experience a story they care about in all its newly animated glory. But as for me, I'm out.
Who is Legend of Mana: The Teardrop Crystal meant for, exactly? The game that this anime is based on is over twenty years old at this point, and while it did get a remaster last year, I have to reckon that most of the fans of this franchise are my age, if not older. Given that The Teardrop Crystal feels it was made to appeal specifically to small boys between the ages of six to eleven, I cannot imagine that any of us old-school PlayStation One fans will get much out of it. Its main hero, Shiloh, is too much of an anonymous sponge-cake of a human being to be an appealing protagonist in his own right, and his companions consist of two horrifying-looking children with freakish monkey ears, some tiny dude who wears a gourd on his head, and a guy who says things like “I can feel her sparkle here” with such gravelly intensity that nobody that has gone through puberty could possibly take him seriously.
Then again, this premiere of Legend of Mana: The Teardrop Crystal is also so corny and obtuse that I cannot imagine how many Zoomers it could win over, either. There's basically no plot to speak of; the opening scene sees our pointless protagonist being told by a random magic lady to “find me…and tell me of the choices people made”. What this means or why this would possibly matter to Shiloh is never made clear, and the rest of the episode sees him just sort of wandering around and getting involved in events that we don't have any reason to care about. The characters all suffer from the strange problem of being simultaneously over-designed and also simplistic to a fault. None of the characters look cool, or even very likeable on a basic level of appeal. I was so distracted by the magic twins' hideous ears and Shiloh's weird little four-pack of abs that I could barely be bothered to understand what was happening once our motley crew was messing about with relics and navigating the video-gamey levels that suddenly popped into existence because of them.
Now, I won't even pretend to know what will truly appeal to an audience of modern Japanese children; maybe they'll go wild for this one. It's colorful, I guess, and stuff technically happens, so it will maybe work as a distraction for the most bored and easily impressed of viewers. Still, whoever Legend of Mana is for, it's definitely not for me, and I predict many viewers will find themselves in the same boat. You might be better off watching a Let's Play of the original game, instead.
I'm not sure what inspired Square Enix's recent push to remind everyone of their turn-of-the-century RPG catalog, but I'm not going to complain. While I was a little too young (and short on allowance) to really get into the PS1 RPG boom, I've always had an affection for the games that released around then, even if all I knew about them growing up was the title and the pretty box art. So I was curious how this anime adaptation(?) would work out, and while this premiere leaves something to be desired, it's at least a coherent and well-produced introduction, which isn't always the case for video game anime.
Mostly I just appreciate this premiere's copious amount of weird little dudes. So many modern fantasy anime stick to plain-old human characters, with maybe an elf or animal person thrown in, that it was just fun seeing Shiloh walk through a town populated by strange-looking but no less likable folks. Incidental details like the octopus fruit(???) budding from a sentient tree, or the village's wise old man being some fucked-up lookin' bird guy, make this world feel unique in the modern anime landscape even when filtered through the rounded and cute art style of the show. The humanoid characters have a lot of variation in their visual design too, and while the animation is modest at best, the color work makes even the busiest designs pop just right.
Still, while I liked looking at the premiere, I didn't really grok to its story. While there's an interesting, classically JRPG conversation between Shiloh and Nouvelle that sort of ties everything together thematically, most of this episode is just a jumble of scenes that don't fully connect to each other, and I imagine that's a consequence of jamming a handful of story scenes from the game together. There are awkward bits, like us learning through a very brief flashback that Shiloh has taken a couple kids under his roof, only for the kids to disappear from the episode midway through. We get a rude introduction to Elazul when he basically assaults a villager, then he walks off without explanation before showing up a couple scenes later to ask for help. There's moments that just don't make sense to me, like Shiloh's sentient cactus plant/pet hopping out of its pot to write down a diary entry and then get back in said pot.
These aren't enough to make the episode incomprehensible, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was missing something throughout. Paired with this being the first of a two-parter that doesn't really arrive at a central plotline until the last few minutes, and it makes this premiere less than inviting for a newbie, and the thought of watching more wasn't particularly tantalizing. But hey, it might just give me the urge to pick the game up on the Switch e-shop sometime soon, so there's that?
Based on the RPG of a similar name from 1999 (and, in case you're wondering “why now?”, re-released last year for the PS4 and Switch), Legend of Mana: The Teardrop Crystal takes place in one of those gorgeous pastoral fantasylands that I would live in in a heartbeat. It's lush, green, and full of beautiful little fantasy details and weird (and weirdly cute) monsters, and not even the overly ornate outfits or oddly chosen ornamentation (is that guy wearing a helmet made out of a crocus bulb?) can quite take away from it. No, we'll leave the disappointing-the-audience bit to the actual story.
In all fairness, this may be substantially less confusing if you're familiar with the game. It's a bit hard to tell if we're being plopped down in the plot in an in medias res capacity or if the story really does just start this abruptly, but no sooner does protagonist Shiloh wake up from his presumably prophetic dream than we're just sort of dumped into his current situation. It isn't difficult to piece together that he took home Bud and Corona, two elfish young magicians who were causing trouble in town, but it still feels like we need just a little bit more information to appreciate what's going on, such as how Shiloh ended up in the town in the first place or what, precisely, Bud and Corona were up to when he intervened. As it stands, we can guess that Shiloh feels beholden to the townsfolk, particularly Nouvelle, and that he takes it upon himself to help out as much as he possibly can. But without knowing any of the “whys,” we're left with the shell of the story, which perhaps isn't a great place to open the series.
I feel as if much of this episode can be summed up with the caveat, “If you think about it…”. As I'm writing this, I realize that I perhaps was able to put together a lot more than I realized based on what was presented, so the problem is less that we don't have enough and more that what we do have just isn't engaging enough to matter. It feels like watching the pre-tutorial cutscene of a game, or maybe a few cutscenes Frankensteined together to form something like an episode, and we all know that game- based anime doesn't have to be this way. I may give it a second episode based solely on the art if I need something to do on my commute, but as an introduction to the story, this feels empty and lacking, no matter how lovely the scenery is.
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