Fantasy OVAs Double Feature: Heroic Legend of Arslan & The Record of Lodoss War

CriticalOtaku: It’s…. it’s been three days since Chaos Dragon aired in Japan and there are still no subs! WHY IS THIS ALLOWED IN THIS DAY AND AGE!

Imaginary Friend: It’s because Funimation picked up the streaming rights and they’re usually slow getting out the first episode.

Crit: HOLY- Where did you come from!

IF: I’m a figment of your imagination brought to life by your stir craziness and the fact that whatever shred of self-respect you have left prevents you from talking to a dakimakura.

Crit: Huh.

FANTASY OVAS DOUBLE FEATURE

IF: What are you doing? Why are you hooking up your mobile phone to a microwave oven?

Crit: If the future won’t come to us WE’LL GO BACK TO THE FUTURE!!! Relax, I saw this work in Steins; Gate

IF: This isn’t going to work-

BLAM!

IF: Holy shit it worked.

Crit: BEHOLD, THE FUTURE! See, we’ve time traveled far enough to get all of Arslan Senki in a collected format.

IF: Errr…. the future is VHS?

The Heroic Legend of Arslan (1991)

Heroic Legend of Arslan OVA anime review

Mandatory fantasy poster group shot

Crit: Huh. We seemed to have gone back in time instead.

IF: Might as well watch these tapes then, since we’re here. Would make the entire endeavour feel less like a waste of time.

Crit: Oh wow. It’s like watching Yoshiyuki Tomino direct an Akira Kurosawa inspired adaptation of Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings.

Heroic legend of Arslan anime ova review

Yeah, what he said

IF: Wow. Could you be any more nerdy and obtuse if you tried?

Crit: Oh come on! You can clearly see what I’m talking about- the luscious watercolour backdrops are evocative and beautiful like Bakshi, there’s a very cinematographic emphasis on shot framing and movement similar to Kurosawa, and the storytelling is done in that exaggerated naturalism that Tomino’s so famous for.

So yes, that really was the only way to describe this accurately

Crit: Lessee, studios- J.C.Staff and Production I.G.? Who’s the director… oh! Tetsuro Amino, which explains the similarity to Tomino. Did storyboards for a lot of late 80s Gundam shows.

IF: Don’t forget he was director of Macross 7 and Dirty Pair.

Crit: Hmmm… while the individual frames are beautiful, they reuse too many animation sequences and to be honest the actual animation can get pretty cruddy at times. I mean, it’s all par-for-the-course for the 90s, but in comparison to what we have in our time it does look a little primitive.

IF: Primitive in comparison to the horrendous CG in the Lidenfilms adaptation?

Crit: Well… Okay, I won’t deny that this version has it’s own charms. Aesthetically I will readily admit that this is probably superior- the watercolour backdrops are breathtaking. But Lidenfilm’s version feels more… cohesive? In the sense that it feels better directed and narrated, in the way that all the shows elements seem to be working together to tell the story. The characters seem to fit better into the backgrounds and world – but that might be because I’m partial to Hiromu Arakawa’s character designs.

Arslan-Senki-Anime-Visual-2

I mean, just compare the character designs yourself in this mandatory fantasy poster group shot

Crit: Case in point is the voice acting. This version has voice acting that feels very lifeless and phoned in- Narsus sounds like the most bored civil servant in existence, instead of a master tactician. There’s no sense of drama or emotion- only this detached, jaded narration that’s trying to be understated and instead coming out sounding bored.

IF: So, basically- watch this for the cinematography, but watch the recently aired (in our time) Lidenfilm version for a better storytelling experience?

Crit: Pretty much.

Crit: Lessee what else we can find around here-

The Record of Lodoss War (1990)

Record of Lodoss War anime review

THIS IS WHAT A BALANCED PARTY LOOKS LIKE STOP THINKING YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH JUST A BARD AS THE MAIN HEALER

Crit: Oh hey, I’ve been searching all over the place for this.

IF: Yes, “All” “over” “the” “place”.

Crit: Oh, hush you.

Pops tape into deck.

Crit: Wow. Wooooooow. Woooooooooooooooooooooooooow. If I could vomit rainbows right now, that’s exactly what I’d be doing.

IF: Eh, it’s not that special-

Crit: I have no idea how any imaginary friend of mine could be so devoid of cheer and cynical.

Crit: This show is Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk. This show is Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. This show is everything that is good and noble about getting a bunch of nerds to gather around a table to roll dice and try telling a collaborative story together.

Crit: In short, this show is Dungeons and Dragons, and everything that is beautiful about DnD, and everything that is beautiful about high fantasy in general. And it does a much better job of living up to that legacy than Jeremy Irons ever did.

IF: Shudder.

Crit: Yes, the story is all sorts of goofy. Yes, Deedlit is probably the most annoying Mary Sue/Damsel in Distress of an Elven Waifu to ever grace fantasy canon (as an aside- NEVER TRUST AN ELF!). Yeah there is some really, really goofy looking reused animation sequences and moving static images, especially when it comes to the dragons.

Crit: That doesn’t matter. None of that matters. Just watch the opening sequence. That’s how beautiful the show is– almost every single still frame in the show itself is a work of art.

record of lodoss war anime review

A random frame from the first episode

IF: Whoa whoa whoa. You were ragging on the Arslan Senki OVA’s for being visually arresting yet lacking in the narrative department. Why does Record of Lodoss War get a free pass?

Crit: Because Lodoss uses its art to tell its story, rather than have the art be placed front and centre and valued over the story it’s trying to tell. That’s the difference and the problem with the Arslan Senki OVA’sArslan Senki is trying to evoke mythology from aesthetics, Lodoss is myth itself.

Crit: Yes, every character in Lodoss is an almost stock-standard archetype. Fighter, cleric, mage, thief, elf, dwarf. But every character is imbued with character- they all have simple goals, they all struggle with their goals and set-backs, they all react to situations in-line with their thinking. This simplicity is a strength: the show moves beyond cliche into universality- moves beyond simple adventure into the Heroes Journey.

Crit: This wouldn’t work if the show was ugly. Without the insanely detailed character designs, without the breathtaking backgrounds, without the high quality animated action sequences- there would be no way in the Nine Hells that anyone would buy into the story. But it isn’t ugly. It’s beautiful.

Record of Lodoss War anime review

So beautiful…

IF: Sasuga Madhouse. Key animator Hirotsugu Kawasaki apparently worked on Ghost in the Shell and Akira– wait are you crying?!?

Crit: We… we’ve lost all such beauty in our time. Forever faded into the West. We… don’t deserve such beauty in our time… We threw it all away, gave up true art and poetry for shoddy mass produced knock-offs of the industrial machine. Saruman won- the Shire is scoured.

Crit: Our very presence sullies this more idyllic time… We… don’t belong here.

IF: Yeah, I guess it’s time we headed back.

Poof

Crit: quiet sobbing

IF: There, there- there’s always Chaos Dragon to look forward too.

Crit: That just makes me feel worse, you imaginary asshole.

Epilogue: At the time that this was written, I had just found out about Chaos Dragon and was pretty hyped just from its description as a modern Record of Lodoss War. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to readers that, in a feat of cruel cosmic irony that just serves as the ultimate punchline for this comedy sketch, Chaos Dragon sucked. Don’t bother. Seriously. Like The Dark Lord twisted and tortured captured Elves into Orcs, so did shameless commercial enterprise and hack screenwriters twist and torture the concept of an animated Let’s Play into Chaos Dragon. This is Saruman’s greatest achievement, right up there with the Uruk-hai and scouring the Shire.

(Although, if you can read Japanese and can find the original Let’s Plays of Red Dragon– the thing Chaos Dragon is based on- those are great fun and worth the read, if only for the mental images you get when trying to imagine Gen Urobuchi trolling Kinoko Nasu at the DnD table.)

If you want a good fantasy anime from a more recent season, Chaika the Coffin Princess and this season’s Utawarerumono are about the only shows that readily come to mind. Or, y’know, you could watch The Record of Lodoss War- it has aged really well.

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