Star Ocean Ex
Another game inspired light adventure anime? It certainly felt a lot like it. Given the name I thought we might be in for a nice sci-fi series, but such was not the case. And, while it might get better, the first episodes were enough to give me some concerns.
It's an odd series that begins with telling you of all the achievements a great hero has accomplished. It makes you wonder if this is a sequel. All though in this case we are not concerned with this great hero, standing proud at the helm of his spaceship, but instead the young crewman behind him who just happens to be his son. They're here to investigate strange phenomena, which seem to be linked to a huge metal globe on the planets surface, and the young guy is eager to prove himself. Unfortunately he does this by ignoring the captains orders and going a little too close to an alien artifact. Zap...it's alternate world time.
Now imagine a fantasy world full of rustic rural villages, lush wilderness and bright colors. A young elven maiden is picking flowers seemingly without a care in the world. And while she may not be worried this planet has troubles. A strange and alien `globe of sorcery' has crashed on the planet's surface. And now this world is marred by natural disastrous and monstrous beasts. But she is unconcerned, because she believe fully in the hero warrior who will come to save this world from monsters like the one behind her.
Ah, say the writers, we've got to get these two together.
Even the most optimistic would have to admit it's not a story that is going to score highly on the originality graph. The idea of a `monster generator' that only the young hero can defeat is straight from the most average adventure novels. What's more the young lead can't help tripping over things to help him in his quest. He's supposed to have a sword of light and just happens to have a blaster. He suddenly knows how to use a sword and other fighting skills. Even better the young maiden proves to have powers and her own mysterious destiny so he's got his first, and cutest, companion straight off.
It doesn't do itself any favors with the writing either. The good hearted young hero, who doubts himself but must prove his worth to his respected father, is a reliable archetype. Meanwhile the super cute young elf type who must discover her destiny is another. The writing all falls into place with just a little too much convenience to be taken seriously. You get the feeling that anyone he meets is going to play a part in the adventure, there's no space for anyone else. Even the lead in to where he must go, and the parents virtually pushing their young daughter on him, despite the fact he's going to the `heart of evil' strains any sort of reality the show attempts.
Is there a positive side? well, yeah, just because it's an archetype doesn't mean it's bad. And most adventure series do take a little while, and a couple of incredibly unlikely coincidences, to set the wheels in motion. The lead character is likeable enough, brave and noble without being unbelievable and irritating. And starting off with an attractive young female companion never hurts, even if she is a little too young to be interesting (ah, Deedlit, where are you). There's even a reasonable degree of interest in discovering what is actually going on, and what the mysterious globes are all about.
In essence it is light, and somewhat artificial, adventure fodder. If you accept it in that vein you'll probably enjoy it. Archetypes can be fun and it's not so full of itself you can't watch it. But it's not sufficiently subtle, or original, to be something of incredible value. Hopefully, as the show continues, the depth and power of the story will grow, but I cannot admit to being too optimistic of anything great coming from this seed.
This is largely because it has another problem. And that is some quite dodgy production. The sense of design itself is very stock, but the actual quality of the animation is much less impressive that it tries to be. There's some computer graphics to add flash, but the action animation is embarrassingly stilted and forced to use all sorts of still frames, wipes and tricks to make up for the lack of actual animation. It manages some decent stills, and the character art is occasionally very nice, but this was clearly not made on a huge budget. Add in relatively low detail, and moments of muddy color, and it is clear the animation is not going to make up for any limitations in story. The voices, and music for that matter, are nice enough but feel quite generic and fail to stand out.
Unneccessary Obscure References
Deedlit is the name of the elven maiden from the Lodoss wars OAV (and TV series) which is one of the archetypal fantasy anime's. She was also one of the first to prove that elven females don't have to look 13, and can be clever and capable (very capable in fact), without surrendering a huge serve of cute and sexy. Note that the female lead in this series isn't truly an elf per-se, but it's clearly the origin for much of her character.
None of my regular sources have a review of this movie so far. But I imagine this title will eventually come to their attention.