Thursday, 19 October 2006 00:00

Utawarerumono (TV, 2006)

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Overview

As I mentioned in my first Dragon's Den article, there's been a recent trend of Eroge to Anime conversions coming out of Japan, and that they have, for the most part, been very good series. Today I'm taking a look at one of this summer's releases, which just wrapped up last week, Utawarerumono, or The One Being Sung. Uta follows the life of a man with amnesia and a silver, horned mask that he can not remove as he wakes up in the care of the village elder Tsusukuru, and her two granddaughters, Eruru and Aruru. It seems that Eruru found him laying unconscious in the forest after an earthquake, and brought him to her grandmother, who is a widely known healer. Needless to say, it doesn't take long for events to be set into motion that are sure to shatter that apparent peacefulness of their existence.

Review

The village itself is at the mercy of two elements, one being the forest god Multikapa, a titanic white tiger, and the other being the overlord of the area, Inkara. Multikapa is a respected and worshiped figure, but the god is angered when one of Inkara's agents destroys a shrine devoted to her name after the amnesiac An-chan, as the villages have begun nicknaming him, stops him from attacking Eruru. This brings the wraith of the beast down on the cluster of villages in the area, and they have little choice but to defend themselves, with the masked amnesiac leading the way, trying to repay the kindness they have shown him. In the end they succeed in killing Multikapa. Aruru finds one of her kits, and brings the tiny fur ball home; Tsukuru, meanwhile, gives the amnesiac the name Hakuro, after her own son and Eruru and Aruru's father, as well as an odd steel fan weapon.

Truth be told, I could spend a couple days reviewing the story of Utawarerumono... It's not just a deep storyline, but somehow the writers manage to pack an incredible amount of material in without the series ever managing to feel rushed. The writing is excellent in all aspects, from character development to world back story, giving the series a serious running start right out of the gate. It's also not afraid to be honestly light hearted at times, which provides an awesome balance against the fact that Uta is based off not just an RPG, but a Tactical RPG. The fight with Multikapa is only the beginning of a very long, and often very bloody series of wars that Hakuro and his friends wind up fighting. There's something else worth mentioning too - the death and dismemberment rate in this series of supporting cast is... remarkably high. More characters that you come to respect and like get wasted - as often in nasty ways than not - than any other series I can think of off the top of my head, and that includes shows like Record of Lodoss Wars.

Actually, as long as I'm on the subject, let me mention here that, having seen the entire series, I think that there's a good chance that Uta could become RoLW's natural successor for the title of best-known fantasy anime. The two series share some parallels - ensemble cast, high mortality rate, awesome wars, excellent leading characters, beautifully realized settings... Uta could very well become this generation's classic fantasy anime that everybody talks about ten to fifteen years down the road.

Getting back on track, Uta would be nothing without its characters. As I mentioned, it's an ensemble cast, but beyond the main group of Hakuro, Eruru, Aruru, Mukuru. Oboro, Yuzuha, Dori, Gura, Benawi, Kurou, Karura, Touka, Urutori, and Kamyu, the supporting cast is absolutely huge, too many to name. Nearly all the secondary characters are reasonably well developed, and the main cast is explored in considerable detail. Hakuro, as mentioned above, is amnesiac and has a silver, horned mask that he can not remove. The series of events that follow would lead one to believe that his life has been touched by the fates. Eruru is always by his side for support; Aruru is always at her 'daddy's' side... whether she should be there or not, and everywhere she goes, Mukuru, the cub of Multikapa she found, is with her.

I'd get into the extended cast, but again, much like the story, I really could spend a couple days reviewing the full cast, not just because they're great characters, but because they're deep characters. I'm not giving the three that I mentioned justice, with the little blurbs above; the best way to get to know them, honestly, would be to watch the series. A last note - the rate of insanity among the supporting cast is... I'd say realistically high, given the situation, but I will admit that on occasion I wish that they'd have toned it down a bit. I'd also have liked to see perhaps a little more time given to Touka's race; aside from that, I'm happy overall with the characters.

Moving onto the animation, I'll start by covering the CG that was done for the war marches - it's ok. Not the best I've seen out there, but it's remarkably effective for depicting the massive number of troops seen throughout the series. For the most part, more traditional computer cel-style animation was used for the actual battle scenes, though some scattered CG appears there too for scenes that don't contain the main group. Understand one thing, folks... Utawarerumono is a series encapsulated in its wars. Hakuro and his friends play pivotal roles in no less than five major wars over the course of the series, and the mortality rate of the fodder is, as #tenchiFF chatter an`ya pointed out, realistically near the 50% mark that was true of such era battles. Oh yes, there will be blood, so to speak... if you're not a fan of violence, I'd strongly advise right now that you probably won't like the primary course of events.

That having been said, the animation and character design is excellent. Character appearance is as varied as it is colorful, and most 'humans' in the series have some sort of animal heritage as well. Among others I picked out canine (Eruru, Aruru & really the entire village Hakuro wakes up in), avian (Touka, Genjimaru), angelic (Urutori, Kamyu), feline (Karura, Derihouri), rabbit (Kuuya, Sakura and more), as well as a smattering of normal humans and a few other races here and there. Outfit design is equally broad and colorful, from Hakuro, Eruru, and Aruru's kimono's to the dress that Karura wears for precisely one scene - it's been argued on a fair number of chat boards that it's the best designed piece of clothing in the series.

To wrap up the animation portion of the review, I'll turn back to the fighting, and the main cast... The battle animation of the series is top notch, especially for Touka, Hakuro and Karura. These three are the best fighters of the series, and that shows - Touka moves like mercury through fights, Hakuro's fan is remarkably effective, and Karura... well, let me be honest folks, Karura doesn't even really need to bother fending off attacks... nobody's dumb enough to get close once they see just how strong she is.

The series voice acting is strong, though could perhaps have used a few more people for the sheer number of secondary characters that appear throughout the story. Characters sounded comfortable in their roles, and perhaps more importantly, the VA's for the main cast did a good job of putting the love for each other that the characters clearly had into their interactions. Between wars the characters are light hearted and get to have fun, and the VA's were able to make these scenes sound ever so much more honest. Bravo there. Music for the series was pretty good, though didn't stand out to me as much as other recent series. That's alright though, as the writing was more than good enough - the back ground music wasn't required, and so was able to be just a decent compliment without having the chance of overpowering the scene. The opening theme by Suara is among the better themes from this summer, but can't truly compete against the likes of Shiawase no Iro (Ah! My Goddess TV Season 2), God Knows (Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi) and Noble Roar (Innocent Venus).

Before I finish this review, I'd like to point out again that I was impressed with the sheer amount of material that gets covered over the twenty-six episodes of the series. In many ways, especially with the depth of such a large cast, things really should have felt rushed. Worse still, the mortality rate of the series means that new characters get added and older characters removed, meaning that that depth has to be established again... but the writers pulled it off. The storyline doesn't feel rushed at all, and indeed, moves along at quite a comfortable pace. As I mentioned, the main cast takes roles in no less than five major wars, but the writers were smart enough to also add one or two episodes of down time between each war. This not only helps to avoid a monster-of-the-week feeling, but gives a good chance to explore the character's human sides. An extra bravo to the writers for an exceptionally well done job, there.

Overall

I'll say it again... this series is about war, and all the death and destruction caused by that pass time. No amount of sugarcoating or good review can negate that fact about Utawarerumono. The casualty rate is obscenely high, but realistically high as well. I'd be remiss if I didn't warn the squeamish that there is blood, and there is death, not just of fodder, but of supporting cast as well. That having been said, the series strikes an excellent balance with warfare and just getting along with life during down time. The character interactions are deep and well executed, and Hakuro, who somehow builds a harem of awesomely beautiful women without even noticing it, is a solid character to tie everything down to. Fans of Record of Lodoss Wars, I think, will love Uta right out of the gate, as should any fantasy fan, but Uta's strength, aside from very high class writing and story is that it really does have something for just about everybody. Exceptionally high marks, and a must watch series if you don't mind blood and death!

Additional Info

  • Title: Utawarerumono, うたわれるもの
  • Genre: Fantasy, Action, Harem, Slice of Life
  • Director: Tomoki Kobayashi
  • Studio: Oriental Light and Magic
  • Licensed: Funimation Entertainment
  • Network: TV Ashai, Chiba TV, TV Saitama, TVK
  • Format: Television
  • Episodes: 26
  • Animation: Very Good (+3)
  • Writing: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Pacing: Good (+2)
  • Voice Acting: Very Good (+3)
  • Soundtrack: TOASTY! (+4)
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