Reviewby Mike Crandol,
Record of Lodoss War
DVD Collection (Collector's Series)
The island continent of Lodoss is home to a mystical realm of wizards, elves, dragons, and demons. Evil Emperor Beld is amassing an army of foul creatures to conquer the land he once fought to save. Two great kings prepare their nations for war, while behind the scenes the mysterious Grey Witch, Karla, manipulates all sides to her own ends. A small band of adventurers led by the young warrior Parn are the only hope for restoring peace to war-stricken Lodoss.
More than a decade after it's debut, the original Record of Lodoss War OVA series remains the definitive fantasy anime. A perfect cinematic realization of sword-and-sorcery RPGs, Lodoss War was one of the first anime series to really hit it big here in the US, and is still a favorite today not only among anime fans but also devotees of Tolkienesque fantasy who otherwise do not care for animation. Following Lodoss War's success the anime industry has continued to produce no end of series in the fantasy vein, but never again was the distinct magic of sword-and-sorcery tales so accurately captured in animation.
Much like the popular Dragonlance books, Lodoss War was originally a role-playing game which was adapted into a series of novels, which were in turn adapted into the 13-part OVA we know and love today. One only has to look at the cast of characters to see the obvious Dungeons-and-Dragons heritage of Lodoss. Our band of six heroes include Parn the fighter, Deedlit the elf, Ghim the dwarf, Slayn the wizard, Etoh the cleric, and Woodchuck the thief....as perfect a D&D party as there ever was. The plot too is standard role-playing game fare: the intrepid companions trek through dungeons, caverns, and castles in a quest to restore peace to the land, and along the way rub elbows with mighty kings, powerful sorcerors, and fierce dragons. It's a familiar story, but one that had never been successfully translated into a visual medium of any sort. This causes many fans of the fantasy genre to fairly drool upon seeing Record of Lodoss War for the first time. In fact it was not until Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" adaptation that Lodoss War was dethroned as the king of cinematic fantasy, live-action or otherwise. In the animated realm, however, it still holds absolute sway.
The first half of the story is a solid adventure tale that chronicles how an unlikely group of friends are swept into a great war for the island continent of Lodoss. Not merely joining forces for the sake of making an ideal dungeon party, each of the six main players is given their own reasons for joining the quest. Parn and Etoh are ostensibly "sent out to investigate reports of evil", though in truth Parn is kicked out of his home village for starting trouble. Parn's neighbor Slayn is leaving to aid his friend Ghim in his search for a missing girl, and the four travelers set out together. Along the way they pick up elf Deedlit, who is smitten with Parn, and the thief Woodchuck whom Parn rescues from jail and who joins the imposing band for safety reasons. The rational way in which each member of the team is introduced negates the cookie-cutter feeling of their group, and though there is little in the way of character development each of their personalities is vividly portrayed.
Things derail a little bit in the second half....at this point the anime goes beyond the then-unfinished Lodoss novels, and without a clear plot outline the story begins to meander. After a few episodes of characters running around but not doing much of anything, Lodoss War gets back on track for a grand finale in the grand fantasy tradition, as Parn regroups his sundered fellowship to rescue Damsel-in-Distress Deedlit and prevent the total annihilation of Lodoss. Mixing in some genuinely moving moments of tragedy, dramatic double-crosses and action scenes aplenty, Lodoss War redeems it's lapses in storytelling and makes for a thoroughly entertaining viewing experience.
Lodoss War owes much of it's success to it's incredible artwork. The animation is extremely limited, but Yutaka Izubuchi's character designs are so lush and detailed they would be impossible to achieve in full animation. Though lacking in terms of actual movement, each frame of Lodoss War is a beautiful piece of art featuring intricate line work, vibrant colors and many layers of shading. At times the show looks almost like a Yoshitaka Amano painting come to life.....no wonder that Lodoss War cels rank among the most expensive of anime production art. And unlike many other fantasy anime which allow modern-day elements to creep into the frame, the world of Lodoss War is wholly medieval. From the castles to the armor to the silverware on the tables, the design is firmly rooted in the faux-middle ages that such tales are native to. Complementing the medieval look is an excellent score by Mitsuo Hagita. Though several pieces of background music are reused throughout the series they successfully evoke the feeling of a fantasy RPG.
The voice acting is fairly mediocre in both the Japanese and English versions. For a group of such exotic characters, the Japanese cast gives a surprisingly run-of-the-mill performance with no standout voices. The same goes for the English cast, excluding Lisa Ortiz's great turn as Deedlit. Though the rest of the cast have distinctive voices unlike their Japanese counterparts, the performances are largely wooden, and matters are not helped by a sometimes awkward script translation.
Central Park Media continues their remastered issues of classic material with this two-disc collector's edition. The video presentation is really not much better than the previous Lodoss War DVD edition. Picture quality is good but there is still traces of dirt on film, and whenever the camera pans for any great length the picture jerks about slightly. The real improvements are on the peripheral aspects. The preceding release barely even had a menu, just chapter stops listed from 1-40. This time around things have been done right. Chapter breaks are grouped by episode, and the revamped menus are puncuated by animation and music from the series. You even get a different menu design on each disc. There is also a fair amount of extras. In addition to the fan convention premiere found on the old release there is a visual comparison between the anime and manga versions of Lodoss War as well as introductory clips of the characters and the various magic spells they use. Most interesting is a 6-minute trailer for Lodoss War in English which appears to have been made by the Japanese to peddle the series to an American distributor. The narrator speaks endlessly of the show's potential international appeal, and the characters are voiced so horribly they make the final English cast look like the Royal Shakespeare Company. But the most noteworthy feature of this release as far as completists are concerned is the restoration of the original episode title cards and "Next Episode" previews that have been absent since the original VHS release.
Record of Lodoss War is to fantasy anime what Mobile Suit Gundam is to mecha anime. Though not without it's faults it is to this day the last word in animated fantasy adventure. With a lasting appeal that extends even beyond the realm of anime fandom, it is a necessary addition to any serious animation library. If you're a Lodoss fan who already bought the previous DVD release, I suggest seeing what you can get for it on eBay.
+ the mother of all medieval fantasy anime, unparalleled art design
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