Reviewby Theron Martin,
Record of Lodoss War OVA + Chronicles Of The Heroic Knight TV
Blu-Ray/DVD (OVA), DVD (TV)
OVA series: In an age long past, a final battle between two goddesses split a chunk of land off from the main continent, a chunk which came to be known as Lodoss, The Accursed Isle. Thousands of years later, a struggle by young Parn to protect his village from troublesome goblins sets him on a quest to become a knight. Along the way, he accumulates a number of trustworthy companions, including a priest, a sorcerer, a thief, an elf, and a dwarf, and this new party gradually becomes embroiled in wars and schemes to determine the fate of Lodoss itself.
TV series: In the wake of the War of Heroes (as seen in the OVA series), a successor to fallen Emperor Beld of Marmo, the black knight Ashram, sets out on a quest to possess the Scepter of Domination, which will complete his former lord's plan to bring all of Lodoss under his control. But there is another party interested in the scepter, with even grander and more nihilistic plans in mind. As one generation of heroes fades into the background, a new generation of fledgling adventurers arises.
Over the last 26 years, several fantasy anime have come along to exceed Record of Lodoss War on technical or storytelling merits. Despite this, no anime series more truly deserves to be called the definitive fantasy RPG anime than the 13-episode Lodoss War OAV series released in 1990-91. With a story and characters based on accounts of an actual Dungeons and Dragons campaign, it embodies the essence of heroic fantasy RPGs to a degree that few of its successors rival – even ones that literally use game mechanics. It also set stylistic and design standards for fantasy RPG anime that would pervade throughout the '90s and even linger in the modern day to some degree.
The OVA series also holds some significance in the West for being one of the earliest anime series to make a breakthrough in the American market as a known Japanese property. It's not difficult to understand why it might have appealed to anime neophytes, as it captures the “dice rolling behind the screen” feel so familiar to tabletop gamers without weighing its story down with clunky game mechanics. (This puts it in stark contrast to the recent spate of fantasy anime that specifically define themselves on presenting game mechanics literally.) Lodoss War's story is iconic, assembling a diverse group of heroes to combat the encroaching threat of an invading monster-laden army, with a mysterious legendary witch playing both sides for inscrutable yet ultimately complex reasons. There are villages to be protected from monsters, a princess and companions to be saved, and allies who might even fall under the sway of evil forces or perish in battle in classic Tolkien style. There are also heroic kings, powerful magic swords, magic both arcane and divine, and of course, legendary dragons. In other words, Record of Lodoss War contains all the standard fantasy RPG elements you could possibly ask for!
No less iconic is the OVA's core cast. Parn is the hotheaded young knight wannabe, Slayn is the potent sorcerer, Woodchuck is the practical-minded thief, Ghim is the dwarf stout in both attitude and build, and Etoh is the fledgling priest. Though Parn is the focus character, the true star is commonly the scene-stealing elf Deedlit, who's equally good with a sword and magic in classic RPG tradition. The romantic interest she takes in Parn is also a clear homage to the romance of Aragon and Arwen from Lord of the Rings, one of many Tolkien-esque elements of the series. Though practically the embodiment of grace, Deedlit can also be quite tempestuous in demeanor, especially when she thinks Parn is ignoring her. In the classic fantasy tradition of elf-dwarf relations, she and Ghim also have a sharp-tongued relationship, though both also readily acknowledge each other's abilities.
The OVA series is definitely not without its major flaws, however. Transitions between different parts of the story are choppy, with significant gaps that may leave viewers scratching their heads over how one thing led to another. An in media res first episode doesn't help this problem, though it does serve to sell the series' merits with its compelling presentation. Doubtless at least some of the blame for this rests on each episode having a different director; there are seven credited on this project in all. The storytelling quality also decreases markedly over the final five episodes, which are only loosely based on the third and fourth novels of the source material and feature an original ending. Though the series features two major romances – the feature pairing of Deedlit and Parn and the secondary romance of Slayn and Leylia – neither is developed convincingly; indeed, Deedlit's interest in Parn seems to come more from story convenience than any believable attraction. It's easier to buy Leylia falling for Slayn, but little work is put into that relationship either.
The storytelling issues in later episodes also bring the 1998 TV series into the picture: Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight. It takes place five years after the events of OVA episode 8 and spends its first eight episodes delivering a more accurate adaptation of the third and fourth source novels, fully replacing OVA episodes 9-13 and changing one key detail about the climax of the War of Heroes. The story then shifts ten years later and begins to focus on new hothead fledgling knight Spark, who essentially takes on Parn's role while Neese, the daughter of Leylia and Slayn, becomes his Deedlit. The adaptation of the fifth through seventh novels that take up the remaining 19 episodes primarily focuses on the struggles and exploits of Spark, Neese, and their new companions, with characters from the first storyline still regularly appearing to play important roles.
Though the TV series' story has a much smoother flow to it, some potentially interesting new characters, and a more natural development of its key romance between Spark and Neese, it's also about as generic as fantasy RPG storytelling can get. Its dependence on one of the most utterly generic fantasy villains and a protagonist who's largely an annoying ball of anxiety also contributes to its lesser standing among fans compared to the OVA, along with a distinct dilution of Deedlit's fiery spirit. As a follower rather than a trend-setter for fantasy RPG anime at the time, nothing about it feels as fresh. The obnoxiously punny “Welcome to Lodoss Island!” chibi bits that close out each episode might not help either. (In fairness, these segments are at least occasionally funny, though the Japanese wordplay at their core doesn't translate well.)
The TV series' artistry also isn't as crisp as the OVA series. While the OVAs are notorious for its limited animation beyond the impressive first episode, their atmosphere-laden fantasy setting and sharp character designs were standard-setters; these OVAs can probably be credited with ushering in the era of ridiculously voluminous shoulderpads for anime fantasy heroes and villains, along with dramatically elongated pointed ears for anime elves. Many other visual styles, such as the way spells are cast and depicted, also saw frequent replication in fantasy titles throughout the following decade. The series' dragon designs are also wonderfully unique, even if their relegation to being depicted in moving stills limits their full visual impact. While these style points mostly carry over to the TV series, its brighter coloring and rougher character rendering loses some of the charm, richness, and expressiveness of the more darkly-shaded OVAs. The rages of the story's berserker character are also portrayed quite differently in the TV series, though I'm ambivalent about whether this is an improvement or not. At least the animation improves slightly, giving a better sense of flow to the battle scenes. In both cases, the graphic violence can be frequent, even if there are far bloodier fantasy titles like Claymore out there nowadays
One place where the TV series clearly exceeds the OVA is in its opener “Sea of Miracles,” sung by Maaya Sakamoto early in her career. (She also voices Spark's half-elf companion Leaf.) Its languid melody evokes the nobility, mysticism, and adventure at the heart of innumerable fantasy tales, while its wistful expressions and sweeping shots of isolation also help engender a sense of longing that lies at the core of the story's romantic elements. Combine that with the song's unique instrumentation, and you have one of the all-time-great anime opening themes. OVA opener "Adèsso e Fortuna ~honō to eien~,” which emphasizes the Parn/Deedlit romance more than the show itself does, is a decent effort but pales by comparison, while the Deedlit-centered closers of both series are a little stronger. The cinematic orchestration that dominates the soundtrack of both series can sometimes come off a little heavy but never lacks for tension-building or dramatic power, so it greatly compensates for the limited animation.
The English dubs for both series have enough decent performances not to be called terrible, but both ultimately disappoint. The subpar matching of vocals to lip flaps is a recurring problem in the OVA series, and while stilted delivery is an issue in both series, it's definitely more prominent in the TV series, especially the parts focusing on Spark and Neese. Some performances struggle to find a consistent tone and delivery style, or even one that works at all. However, the English dub doesn't come off as badly considering that the original Japanese dub also sounds uninspired with some questionable vocal choices. There are some bright spots in the dub, such as the memorable performance by Lisa Ortiz as Deedlit. Billy Regan (aka Bill Timoney) also does a respectable job of making Parn sound older and more mature during the different time periods of the TV series.
Thanks to a license rescue by Funimation, both series have gotten their first complete re-release in 15 years, and their first release combined together. The OVA series comes in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack and has almost certainly never looked better, as the colors and video transfer on blu-ray are as crisp as could reasonably be hoped for. The TV series is only available on DVD, but even those are a dramatic improvement from the blurry, grainy quality of the original CPM DVD set from 2000. Subtitles have also been redone to current translation standards. The only extras are a collection of episode previews, commercials, and trailers for the OVA series, along with a clean opener and closer for the TV series. The only physical extra is the flimsy box that the two cases come in, but that doesn't matter. If you've ever wanted to own either or both of these series, this is the set you want. Even if you already own them and plan to ever watch them again, this is still the set you want. The video quality improvement is just that significant.
Overall, the Record of Lodoss War OAV series is a piece of anime history, and the two series taken together form a reasonably entertaining epic tale that seems purer and less jaded than current fantasy series, completely divorced from the somewhat obligatory “meta” nature adopted by modern fantasy RPG anime. They definitely aren't the greatest fantasy fare ever made, but both versions of Record of Lodoss War will resonate with your inner RPG gamer.
Note: The grades given below are an average of the scores for the two series.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : B+
+ Standard-setting fantasy anime with a distinct visual look for the OVA, smoother storytelling for the TV series, embodies the essence of heroic fantasy RPGs superbly, video quality is vastly improved on this release
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