Reviewby Theron Martin,
Legend of the Millennium Dragon Blu-ray/DVD Combo
When he was young, modern middle school student Jun Tendo lost his father to a heroic effort to save a child's life. Jun never quite understood that or his mother's comments that a time might come when he'd have to be courageous, too, but when a strange creature pursues him into an old temple he finds himself hijacked back to the Heian Era, where the monk who took him refers to him as the “Savior” who will help the nobles of the time defeat dreadful oni (like the one which pursued him earlier). Turns out that Jun has a birthmark which designates him as a descendant of the Magatama Clan, and only that clan's members can summon the water dragon Yamata no Orochi, whose might is needed to defeat the oni. Jun is not sure he's cut out for the job, though, and his uncertainties only mount when a chance to actually talk to one of the “oni” reveals that not everything is what it seems. As the monk Gen'un prepares for a final assault on the oni using the might of the Four Heavenly Kings, Jun must decide where he stands and what he is willing to do to bring peace to the land.
2011's Legend of the Millennium Dragon is the most recent effort by director Hirotsugu Kawasaki, who is probably best-known to American fans for helming the Spriggan movie and one of the Naruto movies. This project does not much resemble either. Instead, it is a throwback to the timeworn “normal person lifted from modern day into a time and/or place where he becomes Someone Special” story, albeit with one big (though hardly unprecedented) twist: exactly who the hero is supposed to be heroic for is decidedly at issue.
Kawasaki, who also co-scripted and co-storyboarded the movie, apparently wasn't content with just that for a gimmick, however. Before the movie is through it takes a vaguely nature-vs.-civilization path, although unlike Princess Mononoke this movie does not even pretend to examine both sides of the issue; having Jun stop to consider that the future he comes from does not ever develop without communities like the “oni” tribe ultimately being marginalized into extinction is apparently a more challenging mental exercise than the series wants to attempt. (Having a cute, capable girl about the hero's age on the oni side helps assure that Jun has no inclination to consider that possibility, either, since that would, of course, be contrary to said girl's well-being.) The story also throws in interpretations of the mythical eight-headed dragon Yamata no Orochi, the legendary period samurai Minamoto no Raiko (here just Raiko) and his four Shitenno, and the Four Heavenly Kings from Buddhist mythology. Further, the oni tribe can be seen as an amalgamation of assorted fringe tribes that were among the last on the island of Honshu to resist falling under Imperial authority.
All of this should ostensibly give the story a lot of material to work with, but in reality the execution is basic and plain. Nearly every move the plot makes is wholly predictable and practicalities are ignored when they become inconvenient. An occasion good scene does slip in, such as one where the girl explains to Jun how her tribe came to be known as “oni,” but not enough to prevent wide swaths of the movie from becoming drudgery to watch.
The movie obviously intends to lean heavily on its visuals to shore up the weak plot, but sharp inconsistencies abound. In what may have been a deliberate effect, the modern era scenes at the beginning and end have a rougher look and simplified animation compared to the flashier and more refined-looking scenes set back in the Heian era. Character designs make some very odd choices, such as portraying Raiko and his loyalists as teenages and turning other characters into virtual caricatures, giving the project a cartoonish feel. The CG-animated distortion effects that are part of the illusion created when the oni tribe puts on their battle masks are much more effective, suitably giving them a demonic feel. The artistry and animation saves its grandest efforts for the extraordinary temple designs, the animation and depiction of Orochi, and featured action scenes, where the visuals are lush, vibrant, and detailed enough to truly give a “motion picture budget” feel.
The soundtrack is equally inconsistent. At times it finds a good, driving beat which can evoke a period feel, but other times - especially during action scenes - it relies on a mix of pop and rock sounds which seem out of place for the material that they are supposed to support and about two decades out of date. Music director Ryudo Uzaki, whose resume includes several live-action Kamen Rider credits and a trio of early-to-mid '80s anime movies, has not had an anime-related credit in 17 years, and it shows. The best sound comes from the ending theme “Starlight,” an adult contemporary-themed song which, with English lyrics, could have charted high back in the '90s.
Neither the Blu-Ray nor the DVD versions provide English-translated credits, but many of the English dub voices are long-time dubbing regulars (several voices may be familiar from Bleach, for instance) who generally do a sufficient job of transferring their characters' vocal styles into English. Raiko sounds much too deep-voiced for the way he looks, but this was also a problem with the Japanese dub. The English script generally stay close to the original, though it does eliminate a couple of obscure historical and cultural references that would fly over the heads of even most Japanophiles.
This dual DVD/Blu-Ray release, courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, is a new high water mark for anime Blu-Ray releases in America, as it more fully exploits the capabilities of Blu-Ray than any previous such release. It has a whopping eight dub tracks, including Japanese and English in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and French, German, Italian, Portugese, Spanish, and Thau in regular 5.1. Subtitle options include all of those and Arabic, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Hindi, Korean, Norwegian, Swedish Turkish, and both simplified and traditional Chinese options. Bookmarking is enabled here as well. The sole on-disk Extra is a very extensive Concept Art Gallery available in slideshow or thumbnail form, but the Blu-Ray is outfitted with a BD-Live feature which promises extensive additional content and offers for those with Internet-linked Blu-Ray players. Unfortunately, this feature did not work on the review copy, so what exactly is accessible that way is unknown. The 1080p video transfer is top-quality, however. The included DVD version has many (but not all) of the language and subtitle options but no Extras. Its visual quality is also decidedly inferior by comparison to the Blu-Ray and the font style used for its subtitles is an abomination. (The Blu-Ray version, contrarily, has much more eye-pleasing subtitles.)
None of the content or style points in the movie are insular to anime fandom, so Legend was clearly intended to be accessible to a broad audience. In that respect it does succeed. Its quality in all respects except voice work is too inconsistent for it to qualify as a top-tier production, however.
Note: Grades given below for visuals and music represent averages rather than consistent quality levels. Each peaks much higher.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ The best content looks outstanding, excellent Blu-Ray quality, extensive language options.
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