Reviewby Theron Martin, May 2nd 2012
Legend of the Legendary Heroes
Blu-Ray + DVD - Part 1 [Limited Edition] and Part 2
In a land where even common soldiers wield basic combat magic, military academy student Ryner Lute stands as the Roland Empire's most powerful mage, though one wouldn't know it to look at him; he's far more interested in getting in his afternoon naps, after all. He's also secretly the bearer of the Alpha Stigma, special magical eyes which allow him to instantly analyze and duplicate any magic he sees but which also leave him prone to berserk rages where he can unleash truly monstrous levels of death and destruction. Fellow military academy student Sion Astral, a dazzling leader of men who has ambitions to eventually become king and reign in Roland's notoriously corrupt nobles, recruits Ryner as a teammate and friend and eventually an employee, too, when Sion does ultimately become Roland's new king. Together with the indomitable swordswoman Ferris Eris, who is obsessed with dango and falsely accusing Ryner of being the Empire's biggest pervert, Ryner gets assigned to investigate and hunt down Hero Relics, remnants of a legendary period of great battles which possess immense magical power. As he and Ferris eventually learn, they aren't the only ones on the trail of Hero Relics, and Ryner isn't even normal by the standards of the widely-feared Alpha Stigmas, either. Sion, meanwhile, gradually learns that being king and dealing with the Empire's troublesome nobility can be an ugly, shady business, especially for someone as idealistic as he is.
The above synopsis is only the tip of the iceberg for major character and plot threads in this 25-episode light novel-based series, which starts out looking like a fairly straightforward, RPG-flavored swords-and-sorcery series but gradually proves – for better and worse – to be anything but that. In fact, if anything this series is more ambitious than it can smoothly handle, so much so that all of its multilayered plot elements, scheming, and separate character threads cause the series to burst at the seams by its final scenes. Major events even happen during the closing credits of the final episode and that's still not enough to shake the feeling that this series was either meant to be much longer or bit off more than it could chew in what it chose to adapt from the novels. As it is, very little gets fully explained or satisfactorily resolved by the series' end.
The other big problem, and one which pervades the whole series, is the erratic tone. In the early stages, and periodically throughout the rest of the series, the content assumes a light-hearted, adventuresome tone which sometimes hints that it might have a dark edge to it but is just as likely to be silly or playful, even at times slapstick. Any complacency about how the series will progress ends with the episode 3, whose beginning uses a severed, blood-dripping head as a prelude to a sudden, dramatic escalation into extremely graphic content later on in the episode. From that point on the series alternates between grimly serious and light-hearted modes and struggles to find a proper balance between the two, with transitions between the two modes sometimes being jarring ones. This is a series which can have a young woman named Captain Milk running around at the head of a semi-competent Taboo Breaker Squadron (which feels more like a reverse harem) or Ferris and Ryner play-acting a fake death scene while also showing Sion contemplating a purge of his country's nobility or revealing that one female character was only saved from being raped by her father (with her mother helping the father!) by her brother killing both of her parents. In fact, grim backgrounds are pretty much the norm for the series, no matter how lively or cheery the character may be. A lot of hypocritical moralizing about the horrors and pointlessness of war doesn't help, especially when the series glorifies bloody and highly destructive action scenes and thoughtlessly slaughters unnamed characters for effect.
The series isn't all bad, though. It does a better job than most of its type of fleshing out its characters, especially Shion and Kiefer (a friend of Ryner's from his military academy days who plays a prominent role early on and then pops up occasionally in the later stages), and despite some missteps – Ferris's younger sister Iris, for instance – doesn't lack for an interesting cast. Many characters have ulterior motives, and the fact that it isn't always obvious which ones do and do not, and what exactly those ulterior motives are in some cases, keeps things interesting. The plot, while not always executed smoothly, is as meaty as anything seen in any fantasy anime series and only slacks off in the bonus recap episode, thus always giving viewers some kind of action to follow. Sometimes the writing does come together with other elements to lend the material an impressive and involving amount of gravitas, though sadly such occurrences generally don't last too long. Those seeking powerful displays of magic will certainly get their fill here, ranging from a simple trick that enhances speed to dueling lightning and shadow conjurations to nuclear-level blasts.
The artistry and technical merits are also strong points. While the series does not stand amongst the best fantasy titles on either front, character design variety, costuming, rendering quality, background artistry, and animation are all more than adequate, with strikingly handsome/pretty designs on both sides of the gender divide and an unusual amount of attention paid to minor but still named supporting characters. (And arguably the best design – the aforementioned Kiefer – isn't even one of the prettiest.) Some characters – Iris, for instance – seem more concessions to anime style than fantasy archetypes, but that is not a big problem. Displays of magic also pack every bit of the visual flash and pop that one would hope for and gory scenes pull so few punches that the TV-14 rating for the series can be called into question; animator ZEXCS seems fond of an effect which simulates blood splashing on the camera. Coloring provides some interesting effects in the red-tinged backgrounds that tend to accompany Alpha Stigma power releases; in other places, however, coloring seems a little muted. CG artistry is also used well. The one downside is a mid-series episode which suffers from some serious quality control issues, but that is a singular aberration. Fan service is, somewhat surprisingly, nearly nonexistent outside of the closers.
Miyu Nakamura, who also scored Utawarerumono, turns in another solid effort here, with a good mix of dramatic orchestrated pieces for serious moments and lighter pieces for more comedic ones. Perhaps most importantly, the score enhances rather than overbears its material. While the openers and closers (two each) have some nice visuals, none of them are particularly memorable.
Funimation's English script does play around with the original dialogue quite a bit, but casting choices and performances are typically strong ones, especially in the lead roles. The star performance unquestionably belongs to Ian Sinclair, who has typically done supporting roles in the past but here brings Ryner to life better than Jun Fukuyuma's uninspired original performance. Standing only a fraction behind is J. Michael Tatum's silky-smooth, darkly sly tone in a key supporting role as Sion's shadowy underling Miron Frouade, which shows why no current American voice actor does the sinister but well-mannered gentleman role better than him. Luci Christian, meanwhile, is clearly having fun hamming it up as Ferris and Eric Vale handles the more varied emotions of Sion well in giving him a slightly raspy voice. Most other roles are also good, with the only significant weakness being Jamie Marchi's slightly abrasive delivery for Captain Milk.
Funimation is releasing both parts of the series simultaneously in Blu-Ray/DVD combo packs. The first set, which covers episodes 1-13, also can come in a Limited Edition version which offers an artbox suitable for holding both titles. The second set covers episodes 14-24 and also includes what Funimation is labeling as episode 15.5, which is a bonus recap episode. The two sets include clean versions of both openers and both closers as well as a total of four audio commentaries done by Funimation personnel and voice actors. Each case also includes a reversible cover and a character card; the review copy had Ryner and Ferris cards, but whether these vary or not is unclear. The Blu-Ray versions do get sound and visual upgrades over the DVD versions, but they are not big ones and still leave somewhat of a hazy visual effect even on the Blu-Ray version.
Despite its flaws, Legend of the Legendary Heroes still packs enough pop to be an entertaining, even involving series – at least up until its last episode, anyway, where it becomes painfully clear that not much of anything is going to get resolved or wrapped up. The story does continue quite a bit beyond that point in the novels, but the chances of any more getting animated seem slim. As is, the series may be remembered for how much it whipsaws between fun and extremely violent content but is otherwise ultimately forgettable.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ English dub, displays of magical power, character development.
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