Final Fantasy: Unlimited
A hugely dedicated fan-base, but one which awaits with trepidation the latest manifestation of their `world'. Like all role players they've got a huge investment in this world, and a bad rendition is like a nasty dream. And considering `The Spirits Within' they might feel ready for something that makes the beauty of this rich world visible...although I sort of doubt this is what they had in mind.
To make it really clear I've never played any FF game, I don't even own a console. I do play computer RPG's, Fallout being an awesome game, but neither of these facts is relevant here. I'm reviewing this as an independent anime for a fan who is into anime rather than into the final fantasy mythos. I would imagine the huge number of Final Fantasy web-sites can adequately cover things from the other side.
Weird things happen. Innocent kids enter the heart of weirdness looking for their parents. Instead they find some cool hero's, twisted villains, and huge buckets of mind bending weirdness.
Okay, I'll try to be serious. The series begins with a huge energy beam impacting with earth. From this emerges a huge, shiny, metallic monster that blows away the combined military forces of the world. Soon after another different, but equally shiny, monster comes through and they mutually annihilate one another. Some scientists observing the battle are, assumedly, caught in the reality disturbing blast.
A while later two very young children, a sensitive male and a forthright girl, are waiting in the subway. Armed only with a copy of their parents book and the knowledge that people have been vanishing in this subway. The book details their parents visit to, and escape from, a very strange world. But now that their parents are missing the kids are determined to bring them back. And, in what could be considered a very bad piece of luck, their information proves to be correct. With a very strange alien train arriving at the station to take them to a high tech version of Wonderland.
This is going to sounds really familiar, but let me explain why I felt so tempted to give a `odd' synopsis to this review. The reason is that this show is really, really determined to overload the `boggle' component of your brain. It wants to make your reel with shock and say, "what the hell?" to yourself. Is final fantasy actually like this? or is it another case of lets design the visuals and let the story take care of itself.
The first negative is a sizable injection of computer graphics. Blah. I'm a fan of computer graphics in general, but I'm not so keen when these guys are allowed to determine the direction of the story. Computer graphics is flashy, impressive and ornate but it doesn't carry any more meaning than even the most primitive old style animation. And since the focus is often on the flash, rather than the substance, they often mean far less. There is certainly an element of that here. And combined with a repeated sequence, loading and firing a gun in this case, it can almost become tedious...especially because this isn't even at the top level of modern computer animation.
Mind you the rest of the story is every bit as confusing. Luckily the two kids find a helpful, but subdued, lady on the train (in skin-tight outfit naturally) who stops them being killed. There's also a wandering, mysterious, black cloaked warrior who ends up saving them from stuff they can't handle and then wanders off again. And they need quite a lot of saving, because the local `god' who's insane, twisted and powerful has taken a dislike to all of them. Which leads to either more flashy computer graphics or huge animated monsters as his underlings move to challenge the group. Through all this the kids want only to find their parents, though one imagines the plot will widen as time goes bye.
The world in which this takes place is, um, weird. Are you getting sick of that word yet? All sorts of weird people, places and objects which seem to have been the result of a contest as to which writer had the wildest imagination. They're thrown together with cheerful abandon. Some parts make sense, some don't. Some have a degree of insane intensity, some are just silly. And the feeling is a lot like Alice in wonderland updated. Will all the parts of this world be explained and linked into some glorious story? I seriously doubt it.
Is it good? hm, I haven't seen much but so far I'd be seriously worried at this point. The focus on blowing your mind, on characters being so cool, seems to be coming at a cost to story, depth and understanding the characters. Sure there's a lot of nice special effects, and odd environments, but where are they leading, what do they mean? Some of these elements are doubtless from the games, even I have heard of chocobo's (though I thought even FF players weren't so keen on them), but this adds precious little to the general anime viewer.
The animation, hm, it can best be described by a word that starts with w and ends with `eird'. The actual animation is skilled but uses the `flat color' style, with figures having relatively simple linework and sizable blocks of a single color. This style is great for representing movement, and crowds, but sometimes looks a bit odd. It definitely doesn't match the excruciatingly detailed computer graphics or even the overly detailed special effects graphics. Add in some `comedy' animation and the whole thing feels slightly disconnected. There's certainly lots of skill in there, but perhaps not the direction to tie it all together and provide a strong central vision. The voices are solid enough, though dialogue is minimal. The music is decent, sometimes good but the `comedy' music that plays sometimes and at the end is a little bit too plastic and obvious. Possibly a reminder of the video game, but that's not really an excuse.
A lot of the Final Fantasy sites have the trailer, but there is little information and no reviews from my regular sources. I'm interested to see both more of the material and how the other sites find it.