Reviewby Theron Martin,
Tears To Tiara
BLURAY - The Complete Collection
As the children of the former chieftain of the Gael clan and blood descendants of the Elf King Pwyll, Arthur stands as the Gaels' First Warrior and his sister Riannon is their priestess. When Riannon is kidnapped by a rogue priest of the Divine Empire as a sacrifice to reawaken the Demon King Arawn, Arthur and his warriors must rush to the rescue, only to discover that the priest's plans have backfired; the awakened Arawn is hardly the world-destroying fiend that legend has made him out to be and instead saves Riannon, who quickly names him her husband and thus bestows on him the chieftainship of the Gael clan, much to Arthur's initial dismay. With the forces of the Empire breathing down their necks, Arawn leads the Gaels from the isle of Erin to the isle of Albion, where they set up residence at Avalon Castle, Arawn's stronghold in his former life. As the Gaels settle in and fend off further threats from the Empire, they gradually accumulate assorted allies, including the ageless sage Ogam, a bevy of Elves who regard Arawn with reverence for his deeds in the Great War of a thousand years past, a former Imperial swordswoman, a clan of bandits represented by the bard Taliesin, giants, and the long-abandoned mystical sword Dyrnwyn (i.e. the Excalibur stand-in). They will need them all, because the Empire is not the only – or even greatest – threat the Gaels face; the one still lingering from Arawn's original battles may well pose a threat to all of humanity and Elfkind.
Tears to Tiara was one of the first wave of titles licensed by Section23 Films and released on DVD by Sentai Filmworks, the two most prominent successors of ADV Films, back in September of 2009. Because of the conservative approach that Sentai took to its initial releases (and perhaps also partly because Tears was released on DVD in an astoundingly short two months after it finished airing on Japanese TV), this one did not have an English dub the first time around. It apparently sold well enough in its initial DVD releases to become one of the handful of Sentai titles to earn an English dub for its second pass, however. That alone may make the Blu-Ray upgrade worth it for fans who care about English dubs on their anime releases.
That's good, because the Blu-Ray upgrade otherwise may not be worth it. Although Tears is presented here in full 1080p output with VC-1 encoding, it was not originally produced in HD and so shows many of the minor visual flaws typical of non-HD productions which are transferred onto Blu-Ray. The colors are a little richer on the Blu-Ray release than they were on the original DVD releases, but this was a good-looking series to begin with so the upgrade is not readily noticeable except in a side-by-side comparison. The audio also gets a bit of an upgrade, with DTS Master Audio tracks for both language tracks which are presented in 2.0 stereo, but again, it is not a big difference. Extras included here are the same as with the original releases: only clean opener and closer. All 26 episodes are now split across a mere two disks in a single case, however, so space efficiency has improved some, and a couple of minor flaws in the subtitles for the original releases do seem to have been corrected.
The stories and settings for Tears are heavily ground in a mix of Celtic lore and Arthurian legend, so the English dub tries to play that up with its pervasive use of accents. Chris Ayres does the best and most consistent job of replicating a Celtic accent in his voicing of Arthur, while Hannah Alcorn does a generally solid job as Riannon, though her accent sometimes falters when she must raise her voice. Other accented efforts generate mixed but generally positive results, though Shannon Emerick stumbles in her efforts to make Lidia sound like she's from a noble background and Greg Ayres turns in a performance for Rathy which makes him sound virtually indistinguishable from Negi Springfield. Roles that don't rely on accents typically fare well, especially John Swasey in a perfect fit as rumbly-voiced Ogam and Josh Grelle's dead-on rendition of Taliesin. Illich Guardiola's Arawn may take some getting used to for those who watched this subtitled first but it is not a bad performance. Despite some minor weaknesses, though, the English dub does do one thing right that the Japanese dub utterly failed at: its actors consistently pronounce a certain character's name correctly. The English script, except in rare occurrences, does not vary much from the subtitles, although there are a few places (typically when characters are having internal ruminations) where the English dub goes silent while the subtitles continue on.
The series itself is based on a milder PS3 remake of an erotic tactical fantasy RPG originally developed by Leaf, a subsidiary of Japanese publisher Aquaplus which is otherwise probably best-known for creating To Heart. Its setting, lore, story themes, and naming conventions all liberally mix elements from Celtic/Welsh traditions, Arthurian legend, Christian and Greek mythologies, and the history of the Roman Imperial era, though the end result is an independent fantasy setting with tweaks suitable to make the content conform to a game format; any viewer familiar with other anime adaptations of games can instantly recognize a broad spread of standard fantasy RPG classes and both major and mini-quests. Even if one views the series cynically, a lot of fun could still be had by trying to identify which elements were borrowed from what source material and/or what game mechanic certain actions represent.
The series spends most of its first half establishing the setting and introducing characters, while the second half concentrates more on resolving the series' three major plot lines: the threat the Empire poses to the Gaels, the business from Arawn's past involving the spirits (which is only barely hinted at until the last third of the series), and Arawn's unspoken efforts to train Arthur to be a proper king. Watching Arthur grow up, learn to reign in his natural hotheadedness, and become the kind of leader his people need is actually at least as satisfying over the long haul as any of the action elements in the story, while the parallel development of the friendship between Morgan and the Imperial swordswoman Octavia evokes memories of the bonds formed within the Fellowship of the Ring from Tolkein's classic trilogy. Arawn's backstory is also more interesting and involved than most titles in this genre. There certainly is not any shortage of involved action scenes, either. On the downside, the sequence of climactic battles which compose the final four episodes drags out some, the size of the Gael clan seems to vary according to the requirements of the storytelling, and the series never entirely escapes its game-origin feel. Still, when the story and writing are clicking on all cylinders, the series can generate quite a bit of compelling power, the kind of rousing emotion found in the best historical epics.
The artistry, courtesy of White Fox, emphasizes the character designs, including elaborately-dressed female characters (often impractically so) and sharply-dressed male characters. Background art and monster designs also never disappoint and the animation in battle scenes can get very involved. Overall, this is one of the best-looking fantasy game adaptations to come along to date. The musical score, which emphasizes themes with a Celtic flavor and rousing, triumphant numbers to complement key moments, also proves very effective. The opener and closer are not especially memorable, however.
Ultimately Tears to Tiara succeeds because it does not aspire to be anything other than exactly what it is: a simple and usually straightforward fantasy story designed to entertain fans of fantasy RPGs. The addition of an English dub for this Blu-Ray release should make it more attractive to those who might have missed or passed on it the first time around.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Sharp character designs, good animation and music, sometimes-rousing storytelling.
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