Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars
Blu-ray + DVD
As the empress of Enastoria, Yuinshiel Asteria already leads a difficult life, balancing the complexity of leadership against the everyday trials of being a teenager. But when her sister Rena is approached by a mysterious figure from the past, Yui's troubles will only get worse. In truth, her sister Rena is a Regalia, an ancient weapon bearing great and terrible powers. The curse of these Regalia has driven whole kingdoms to ruin, and with ominous characters now attempting to abduct Rena, Yui will have to choose between her love for her sister and her duties to her kingdom. Can Yui retain both her home and family, and what will she have to sacrifice to secure a happy future?
It's sad to say, but it feels like we're approaching the end of the era of the traditionally animated giant robot. Once one of the premiere highlights of anime as a medium, giant robots are slowly but surely going the way of cars and cogwheels, their consistently blocky shapes making them convenient choices for CG animation. Traditionally animated robots are becoming more the exception than the rule, and even franchises like Code Geass that once boasted fine traditionally animated machines are now transitioning over to smoother CG objects.
In the midst of this sea change, Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars feels like a love letter to the old times. The show stars the empress Yui and her “big sister” Rena, a much smaller girl who doesn't seem to age at all. As we learn within the first episode, Rena's strangeness comes from her identity as a Regalia, an ancestral robot that bears the power of light itself. Rena is quickly approached by ominous figures who wish to steal her away, and when her sister comes to her rescue, the two battle as one to save both Yui's kingdom and Rena's family life.
Regalia's robot battles are easily one of its strongest features. The show features distinctive mecha designs and an array of unique powers, and its traditionally animated battles are a smorgasbord of smart choreography and vivid effects animation. Though its fights can sometimes devolve into busy “stuff happening” with nebulous stakes, they still succeed as pure visual spectacle, with vivid colors and distinctive attacks keeping things lively throughout. One mech fights with spinning chains, another with conjured spears, and Rena's own mech form Alecto is often wreathed in black flame, with carefully animated fire and explosions lending a sense of grandeur to every clash.
Regalia's fight scenes are also elevated by the show's terrific sound design. This starts with the music, which offers a rich mix of melodies ranging from somber piano ballads to full orchestral pieces, wind instruments trilling against triumphant horns. But it's also reflected in the show's standout explosions and impact noises. You can viscerally feel the crash of metal as robots slam against each other or the thunderous shaking as an explosion rips a building in two. Sound design is rarely such a defining element that it draws attention to itself, but Regalia's excellent fight scenes are often given impact through the strength of its background noises.
That's the good news. The bad news is that Regalia's story isn't very good. The show's emotional core, the bond between Yui and Rena, is a reasonably charming relationship, and their scenes of mutual concern are some of the show's best. But the narrative they're pushed through is cliche and contrived, full of characters that simply appear and disappear, led mostly by the necessity to have more giant robot battles.
The plot of Regalia hinges on the nature of the Regalia themselves, semi-human machines that another country once attempted to harness as a power source. The fate of that country is a beat cribbed from Giant Robo and drained of thematic impact—a mysterious young scientist came to work on the project, he made a bunch of evil choices, and then the country was destroyed. Here in the present, the aftereffects of that country's demise play out as Rena having to fight a few robots of the week before confronting that same evil scientist, who cackles maniacally all through the show's second half. They defeat him, then he comes back stronger, then they defeat him again, then he comes back stronger again, and so on. His motivation is “I want to destroy everything.” Their rejoinder is “you can't destroy the power of love and friendship.”
Regalia's overarching narrative is as drawn-out and simplistic as they come, and its episodic conflicts often feel like a disjointed series of random events. On top of that, the show's dialogue and comedy hinge on archetypes and played-out gags like “the girl who loves cute girls too much” and “the girls who really like eating.” It's nice to see a show that contrasts the appeal of giant robots against the love of two sisters, but Regalia's writing just isn't good enough to capture the potential of that premise. Unless you're completely satisfied by giant robots clashing in a narrative vacuum, Regalia is likely to be a slog.
Regalia comes in a standard Funimation combo pack, offering the show on both DVD and Blu-ray contained in a slipcase and standard case. The included dub is perfectly reasonable, though some of the side characters, like Yui's friend Retsu, can sound strained. While Amber Lee Connors' interpretation of Yui hits her emotional notes perfectly well, I felt she lacked the slightly heightened, regal edge of the original performance, coming across as more of a conventional high school girl. On the other hand, I might have actually preferred Luci Christian's take on mad scientist Johann, who really nails the smirk implied by his every line. Overall, it's a fine dub, and your choice of track should ultimately come down to basic sub-versus-dub preference. Outside of that dub, the only extras are clean opening and closing songs.
On the whole, I can only recommend Regalia to dedicated giant robot enthusiasts. The show strives for equal appeal as a show about the bonds between sisters, but I never felt its writing reached its goals, so it falls to the show's often spectacular fight scenes to carry the day. At least in the age of rising CG robots, beautifully animated mecha battles aren't such a bad thing.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : D+
Animation : A-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Creative and beautifully animated mech battles, both the music and sound design are excellent
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