Reviewby Theron Martin,
Tales of Phantasia
The warrior Cless, cleric Mint, archer Chester, and sorcerer Morrison have banded together to defeat a marauding knight who has destroyed their village, but their efforts to stop him before he frees the imprisoned Demon King Dhaos come up short. The magic of the time is not sufficient to defeat or reseal Dhaos, so Reisen sends Cless and Mint a century into the past to enlist the aid of the legendary summoner Claus F. Lester and half-elf magic-user Arche Klaine, who are engaged in their own battle against the monster armies of Dhaos. When even that aid proves insufficient to corner Dhaos, a trip to the future is in order for the whole gang (minus Reisen). But although Dhaos seems intent on exterminating humanity, is it possible he has motives beyond that?
Based on a highly popular fantasy console game, the anime version of Tales of Phantasia is a OVA series composed of four 30-minute episodes, which collectively provide a highly condensed summary of the story told in the game. Although the anime is obviously targeted at fans of the game, the characters and story are basic enough that one need not have any familiarity with the game in order to understand and appreciate the anime. Some background and character development may be lost if you haven't played the game, but anyone familiar with console or paper-and-dice fantasy RPGs should have no trouble figuring this one out.
The series' game origin permeates every aspect of the show, as the story essentially involves completing various quests in order to defeat Dhaos, the main villain. All of the standard elements of fantasy RPGs are present: warriors, archers, magic-users, clerics, and even a ninja, although Suzu, the ninja character, does not appear until the third episode or interact much with the rest of the heroes. (In the original version of the game she was not a playable character.) Spirit forms get summoned, offensive, defensive, and healing magic gets thrown around, elves pop up, monsters of all sorts maraud across the land, special magical swords must be found, a girl flies around on a broom, and all sorts of random Norse mythological references get tossed around. Possibly the coolest element is the Magitech weapon that appears in the past storyline, which ultimately becomes something of a plot device. All-in-all, it's a lot of good, clean fantasy fun.
Lacking is any degree of substance. Cless-Mint and Chester-Arche romances are hinted at but never much carried through, and the regular doses of action offer little time for character development beyond the standard one-note profiles: Cless is the aggressive, headstrong one, Mint is the pacifistic nurturer, Claus (Klarth in some versions of the game) is the flamboyant mage, Arche is the delightfully cutesy, playful one, and Chester is the taciturn fellow. Some of Dhaos's dialogue and actions imply that he is not truly be a completely bad guy, but again, not much is made of this. The one character who does see significant development is the knight Reisen in the past timeline, who initially comes across as arrogant but changes markedly when he sees the devastation that results from his arrogance, but he is not one of the core cast members. Opportunities for their greater development certainly exist, but the series doesn't take the time to explore them.
The plot also has a bad habit of jumping around a lot, and the concept of transition scenes seems foreign to the production; it just flat-out skips ahead to the next critical moment, without showing at all how the characters got there. This is, of course, a reflection of the content being assembled from highlight scenes from throughout the game, but other game adaptations have shown that it all can be put together with a much better flow than it has. And what's the deal with the weird naming conventions? A character named Mint? And how can you take seriously a series with a character named Claus T. Lester?
No fan of the game could be disappointed with the visuals, which beautifully portrays key cast members with well-rendered designs that may be cut from standard fantasy molds but are sharp nonetheless. A vivid palette of colors and nice background art contributes to the visual appeal, although it often seems like some kind of filter has been place over the artwork to mute the colors somewhat. Magical effects are suitably flashy, as is the animation in battle scenes, although inconsistencies can be seen in some scenes where Arche is flying around on her broom. The action/violence graphic content remains at a PG-13 level, and nary a hint of fan service is to be seen anywhere.
The musical score heavily borrows and adapts themes from across a wide range of fantasy and action movies and games, as well as other fantasy and sci-fi anime titles; veteran fans could almost make a game of identifying what theme originates from where. It certainly does its job at reinforcing the tone of any given scene, although it sometimes comes across too strongly in key drama and action scenes. Its theme songs, both beautifully performed by seiyuu Masami Suzuki, deserve special mention. The opener “Yume no Hate” sounds like what you'd get if you crossed certain selections from the soundtracks of Titanic and Conan the Barbarian and added Japanese vocals to it, but it works extremely well and is as perfectly-synched with its visuals as any opener in recent memory. The closer “Priere” is a more purely graceful and soaring love song, but while its visuals are more ordinary it is nonetheless the equal in vocal quality of the opener. (For both, the regular visuals are replaced by storyline scenes during the final episode.) The soundtrack is worth purchasing for those two songs alone.
Geneon turned to Bang Zoom! for the English dub, which was scripted and directed by voice actor Patrick Seitz (who also voices Dhaos). The English script remains faithful enough that it shouldn't provoke much complaint, with the only noticeable error being a substantial discrepancy between the dub and subtitles on the number of enemy forces at one point. Most of the principal English vocals hit the mark, with Jennifer Sekiguchi turning in another sterling performance in impressively capturing Arche's pitch and playful spirit; yes, this is the same VA who did such a wonderful job as Guu in Hare+Guu. The one weak point in key roles is David Vincent's occasionally stiff performance as Chester, but it isn't a major detriment.
All of the on-disc Extras are standard fare: clean opener and closer, company previews, and a substantial art gallery. Both the inside of the cover and an additional insert contain bonus artwork.
Spreading the story out over a couple more episodes may have allowed for a smoother-flowing story and greater character development, but the series does pack enough action and pleasing visuals to keep a viewer's interest, and its soundtrack may be worthy of independent purchase. It is an entertaining, if forgettable, production.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Opening and closing themes, character designs.
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