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Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation – Anime Review

Chinese Title: Mo Dao Zu Shi

 

Related: Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation 2 (sequel – TBR 2019)

Similar: Avatar: The Last Airbender

Twelve Kingdoms

Castlevania

 

Watched in: Chinese

Genre: Historical Action Fantasy

Length: 15 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great characters.
  • Gorgeous backgrounds.
  • Action looks fantastic.
  • Such lovely music.
  • Perfect finale to end the season.

Negatives:

  • Magic is a little inconsistent.
  • Jarring time skips.
  • Occasional bad CG.

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Now this is more like it! Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation gives a far better first impression to donghua (Chinese anime) than The King’s Avatar did. It still has that unrefined edge from this new market, but combining Avatar: The Last Airbender and Twelve Kingdoms with a touch of Game of Thrones still makes this a great series well worth the time of fantasy fans.

The story is set in a province of fantasy China where five clans of cultivators of magic live an uneasy peace. Of these cultivators, most peculiar is Wei Wuxian. He is the reincarnation of the legendary cultivator of demons and necromancy, one feared by all. Contrary to his infamous reputation however, Wuxian is a likeable goof known for his cheek and mischief at the monastery colloquially known as the “Wall of Rules” (for its list of 4000 rules, of course), when he should be studying with the other cultivators. Opposite him is Lan Wangji, who takes life too seriously as the perfect student that never smiles. He’s responsible for turning Wuxian into the monastery instructors more than once. Life becomes more than fun and games for Wuxian and his friends when one clan closes its iron grip around the others.

The comparison series I used above are perfect descriptors for Demonic Cultivation. We have the might of one clan against everyone else similar to Avatar. Wuxian has Aang’s playfulness amidst all the violence. The etiquette and Chinese mythology influences seen in Twelve Kingdoms have ingrained themselves within the fibres of society. The brutality of war and politics like in Game of Thrones plays its role too. And I am pleased to say this series succeeds in all these elements.

The characters, the action, the environments – god, the environments! – reassure you this is quality fantasy. I love how Wuxian controls the dead by playing unnerving music on a flute (recalls that villain from Naruto who used to control her ogres). It tells much about his character. Even the product placement works.

If I may go on a tangent, the sponsorship ads are great. How would you fit modern products in an ancient fantasy series, you ask? Well, Demonic Cultivation achieves it by taking a scene from the episode (saves on animation budget) and makes it about the product instead during the ad break. For example, the episode has a scene with a tiff between Wuxian and Wangji over something story related, while the ad takes the same tiff and makes it about the fact that Wangji is such a stick in the mud because he hasn’t eaten a Cornetto yet (“You’re not yourself when you’re hungry” type ad). They’re amusing. More like skits instead of ads.

Anyway, back to the show.

Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation is full high fantasy. The most common reason I hear for people being put off high fantasy is all the specialist terms and names you have to learn (Hobbit, Rivendell, Mordor, Nazgul, Dunedain, Numenoreans, Eldar, Vanyar, etc. for The Lord of the Rings). It’s especially important to have some sense of who’s who and what’s what when reading high fantasy, as the story isn’t fed to you like when watching a film. In the case of Demonic Cultivation, the barrier to most people reading this review comes from it being foreign fantasy, where the conventions aren’t the same as what we are used to. Once you grasp one Western high fantasy series, it’s much easier to move onto the next. But going to another language, another culture, another history, it’s almost like starting fresh.

For me, the greatest challenge was those damn names. The subtitlers – Sigmar bless them – did their best to note cultural context and meanings for name and titles, but I still had characters and relationships confused. You hear the same surname, so you think the characters are related, right? No, they aren’t. Other times have a character named one thing, only for it to be something else in another scene. Turns out, pre-20th century China had a convention called “courtesy names”, where people would receive another name upon reaching adulthood. Couple this with the fact that these names – Wei Wuxian, Wei Ying, Lan Xichen, Nie Huaisang, Yu Ziyuan, to name a few – are nothing like Western or the usual anime names and it becomes difficult to remember any names at all. (I had to look up Lan Wangji’s full name for the blurb above and he’s second billing!)

Now I’m sure this isn’t an issue whatsoever to Chinese locals, just as Western or Japanese high fantasy is second nature to me, yet for the uninitiated, it will take time. Stick to it because the payoff is well worth it. Even if you can just remember how characters connect and who’s superior to whom, it will work out in the end. (Little easier said than done though, with characters from the same clan looking like each other in the same uniform and same hairstyles. They love that long hair.)

While this adherence to traditional naming schemes is a positive even if it increases the barrier for entry, since it enriches the world and its lore (in fact, I wish they had applied the same complexity to the magic by laying out rules), the frequent timeskips are a definite negative.

Timeskips bookend each story arc, often leaping over what seem like important events. The most notable is when the villain clan makes their move. One episode ends, everything seemingly fine, before the next opens to the clan in near total control of the others. How the hell did that happen? Did anyone say no or did everyone surrender unconditionally? How did we get here? It isn’t implausible that this conclusion would occur, but it would be nice to see the events that led there.

These timeskips remind me of watching a TV series before the advent of DVR and video on demand/downloading. You would watch an episode, then miss a few weeks because scheduling conflicts, and when you finally catch another episode, you wonder how it got here from where it was the last time you watched. “Weren’t those two madly in love? Why are they trying to kill each other? Wait, isn’t that guy dead?”

If you go in blind, the point of the story can be confusing because it takes a few episodes to get into the real plot. I thought at first the story was about other cultivators hunting Wuxian for his use of necromancy. Turns out, they just hate him because he’s a troublemaker at school. Early episodes make up the “school years” arc.

Demonic Cultivation also doesn’t wow the audience (outside of its amazing backgrounds) these few episodes. Once the story gets going however, it grabs you and doesn’t let go until it ends on a fantastic final act. That finale has left me craving more. (Season 2 in July!)

If you haven’t tried any donghua yet, let Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation be your first. It’s a little rough and a little difficult for those foreign to Chinese fantasy like me, but don’t let that stop you enjoying this new perspective on anime.

Art – High

Picturesque backgrounds, varied environments, fluid animation, and impactful spell effects should earn an art rating of the highest tier. Unfortunately, 5% of this art is early 2000s CG monsters and buildings, and it looks bad. The CG in some important scenes looks so bad that you can’t help but wonder why they didn’t take an extra two weeks to do them normally. Some CG shots don’t even need to be there. Just cut them. A still painting to establish setting would have sufficed – the environment artists are certainly talented enough to make it beautiful. Also, supporting character faces and hairstyles could use more variety.

Sound – High

Unlike The King’s Avatar, the audio is spatial and uncompressed (characters on the right sound from the right), which is a huge improvement. The acting has a little ways to go yet. Such lovely music though! I love classical Chinese music with traditional instruments and I could listen that opening song forever.

Story – Very High

A demonic necromancer reincarnated in the body of a trickster gets up to no good against the backdrop of a brewing war between clans of magic. Great characters in a story of complex interpersonal and political conflicts makes for a great series.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Watch it. If there is the right donghua to begin with, Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation is it.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients

Positive: 

Deep NarrativeFluid AnimationGreat MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

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KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!

 

Similar: No Game No Life

Ixion Saga DT

Slayers

Log Horizon

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Adventure Comedy Fantasy

Length: 20 episodes (2 seasons), 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Consistently funny characters.
  • Fun, colourful style.
  • Great parody of otherworld anime.

Negatives:

  • Weak story lacks progression.
  • World could do with greater exploration.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Kazuma is useless. Darkness is useless. Megumin is also useless. Aqua is especially useless. Everyone is useless in the world of KonoSuba! And it is great.

After an embarrassing death, high schooler Kazuma has the chance at another life in a fantasy world. A nerd’s dream come true! Unfortunately, he spawns as the worst class in the game and Aqua, the goddess that granted the new life, is a companion without talents to speak of. They soon recruit descendant from a powerful magical bloodline, arch wizard Megumin, master of explosion magic. At last, some strength to the group!

Nope. She can only cast one spell before collapsing. Well, at least they have a resilient tank in the form of paladin Darkness. She will save them! Nope. She’s has zero accuracy in combat and is a masochist that loves taking a beating from monsters – the more people that watch her sweet arse and bountiful breasts get beat the better.

KonoSuba is a refreshing change after trudging through the endless mire of isekai (otherworld) anime. This parody is better and funnier than the vast majority of titles in the genre, not to suggest there is stiff competition.

Everything works and make sense in this take on the genre, Kazuma being utter trash most of all. His team starting out at the bottom doing menial quests such as slaying killer cabbages and painting houses that barely pay enough for living expenses (note how most isekai forget expenses), just like in any MMO, makes sense. Every isekai fan believes that if they woke up in a fantasy world, they would be a powerful knight or wizard at the top of the food chain (just like how advocates for communism think they would be part of the small ruling class and not one of a billion peasants at the bottom). Who knew that being an otaku NEET doesn’t train you for life in a dangerous fantasy world? KonoSuba shows the reality of how garbage everyone would be and leans into it for great comedic effect.

The characters in particular bring this series together. They are such fun, such a riot to hang out with that they overshadow problems. I did think there was a risk of repetition at the start. For example, Darkness’s love of masochism could have quickly become her running into the fray to get smashed, we laugh at the joke and repeat next episode. However, the joke stays fresh because it isn’t about having her armour stripped off each battle. Instead, it’s about the ridiculous lengths she will go to for arousal and how much more desperate she is each time. Just when I thought it wouldn’t be funny anymore, she surprised me next episode.

The big problem with KonoSuba is the story, or lack thereof. The main goal is to defeat the Demon King, something I forgot about a few episodes in since they ignore this in favour of episodic stories. Now, these small stories work well in facilitating the characters and comedy, but they don’t progress the plot. Watching these episodes in the moment wasn’t a problem until it cares about the Demon King again, where it reminds you of how little the plot has moved. The overarching story feels like an afterthought. “Oh damn, I wrote all these great jokes but forgot the story. Quick, make something up – kill bad guy…big monster…demon…yes, demon king! All done. Phew.”

As such, if you are going to watch KonoSuba, you have to do so for the characters and humour. The world itself lacks depth, having used the generic fantasy template, and the story is just as straightforward as can be. If after you meet the whole team you don’t find it funny, then don’t proceed further.

Art – Medium

I like the colours and character designs. It’s a shame little effort went into making the environments anything but generic. If you removed characters from the shot, you wouldn’t know which anime the environment was from. The animation is strong, particularly in the spell effects that took the largest portion of the budget.

Sound – High

The acting is strong, though it may take a little getting used to Kazuma’s voice, as he sounds too old for a teen, but hey, at least it’s something different from the usual forgettable isekai protagonists. (Note: There is a dub on the way, for those interested.)

Story – Medium

A teen revives in a fantasy world, but has no talents and is surrounded by others with no talent either. Characters and humour hold up this rather barebones story.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for comedy fans. KonoSuba is greater than the sum of its parts thanks to its characters and hilarious comedy. This is an easy anime to watch and recommend.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

Castlevania Season 2 – Review

Related: Castlevania Season 1

Castlevania Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Hellsing Ultimate

Berserk

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 8 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves upon the strong first season.
  • Vampire political intrigue.
  • New characters.
  • Oozes atmosphere.

Negatives:

  • No Church.
  • Ends too quickly.

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We last left Trevor Belmont and his companions in the search for the means to find Dracula’s castle and slay the master of the keep. I left Castlevania with a positive impression though uncertain of whether it could hold up beyond what was, essentially, the opening to a series. Much to my surprise, yet again, Castlevania is superior to what I had anticipated by way of an interesting narrative focus.

Season 2 opens in the past with the arrest of Lisa (Dracula’s wife) by the Church for the “witchcraft” of medicine. While this is a retread, it gives us more detail and makes for a chilling first scene when you know what happens to everyone for ignoring her warning.

After this, we jump to Dracula’s war room, where his strongest vampires from across the kingdom have gathered to plot humanity’s annihilation. However – and this is where the brilliance started – he selects two humans as his generals to lead the scourge, much to the disgust of some vampires, especially one of the Vikings. Beyond their deep-seated loathing for humanity and their tactical ability, these two have the only clear heads in the army not driven by bloodthirst.

Now, at this point, it’s just a good idea (and I’ve harped on often enough about the importance of execution over ideas in past reviews). The brilliance comes in the backstory of these characters, contrasted against the vampires, and their actions going forward. They are simultaneously committing some of the most heinous atrocities against humanity while conveying sympathy. One of the two, Isaac, is Dracula’s Forgemaster. He doesn’t forge weapons, however. His speciality is bringing the dead to life, often forged into demons of great power, though he has equal inclination to revive a fallen puppy as a companion. Makes for an interesting ability.

The appointment of these two as generals leads to much unease among the vampires, many playing politics to gain power or favour with Dracula. There are whispers among the ranks about Dracula’s soundness of mind after the loss of his wife. How will vampires feed if he wipes out all humans? Carmilla the vampire queen of many legends is particularly sly and sharp of tongue. I relish the political drama she brings to the court. I did not expect politics, of all things, to be such a significant portion of the narrative and so well executed.

I haven’t talked much of Trevor and his two companions so far because they aren’t the focus this season. They have enough to do for the eight episodes as they return to Trevor’s home for blessed weapons and a means to access the castle, but the focus is truly in Dracula’s camp. It’s a bold risk to shift from the protagonist. It works. Sure, we could have more of the trio in addition to all screen time with the opposition, but that would go into overtime.

Castlevania Season 2 isn’t all blood, politics, and goodness, unfortunately. The end feels too quick. For seven episodes, we have methodical build up packed with social and political dynamics, feeding us juicy backstory and character motivations until we reach the final episode where, suddenly, so much of it wraps up with too many questions and possibilities remaining unexplored. It needs more. It gives the impression that they didn’t know episode 8 would be the last until they started work on it, realising they needed to close several threads.

I want more – more vampire society, more politics, and more lore (and bring the Church back! Tap that potential). I am grateful to know a third season is on the way. Even so, they could have gone deeper with Dracula’s arc in particular.

Still, I am far from disappointed with Castlevania Season 2. The action is as gory as before (you see someone decapitated by hanging from a bladed noose), the orchestral soundtrack is a perfect match to the atmosphere, and the acting is still quality, now with more accents from the corners of Dracula’s kingdom.

I love that this outdid the first season.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Castlevania Season 2 improves upon the first season in almost every way and now goes far enough into the story to warrant investment. If season 3 is any better, I’ll have to consider a Very High rating.

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The Seven Deadly Sins – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Nanatsu no Taizai

 

Related: The Seven Deadly Sins: Revival of the Commandments (Sequel)

Similar: Samurai 7

Yona of the Dawn

Fullmetal Alchemist

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Well-paced.
  • The talking pig.

Negatives:

  • Immature humour and protagonist don’t match the plot.
  • Baby-faced art.
  • Stereotypically battle anime action.
  • No surprises.

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Princess Elizabeth collapses into a pub during her quest to find the Seven Deadly Sins, legendary warriors said to have betrayed the king. The perverted child that owns the pub saves her and turns out to be the Sin of Wrath, Meliodas. He soon agrees to aid her plight and, accompanied by his talking pig, they search for the other Sins.

The Seven Deadly Sins came recommended, so I watched it in anticipation of seeing something worthwhile. I waited, and I waited… And I waited. Something worthwhile never came. I like the talking pig – he’s good for a few laughs – and the pacing never drags. That’s about it.

The first warning sign beyond the blobby character designs (though never judge an anime by its cover, and all that wisdom) is the protagonist. Meliodas looks like a kid despite being thousands of years old. (If you’re wondering why from a marketing perspective, it’s to match the age of the target demographic.) His defining trait is groping women. This anime isn’t subtle about his “rapiness” and I’m sure they would have him do far worse if it didn’t affect the age rating. It isn’t funny like what you find in Golden Boy and Great Teacher Onizuka. The gag is that he gropes women – usually the princess. And that’s the whole gag. These jokes only work when there is some form of repercussion or counterplay. It is so encouraged that a point of conflict between him and another character is about how he doesn’t grab her arse as he does to other women.

This “humour” alongside the alcohol jokes had me questioning the target market at first. I had gone into The Seven Deadly Sins without research, so perhaps my age group assumption was off. However, everything else is in line with a typical battle anime for a middle school audience. The baby-faced art and dumbed down story don’t mesh with the sexual and alcoholic humour. It’s not that it’s inappropriate for kids – this is for the individual to decide – but rather, I don’t think they’ll get it. And it’s not the same as adult jokes hidden in Pixar and DreamWorks movies, which slip by children for adults to find hilarious. Thankfully, the series seems to grow tired of this joke and barely uses it after a while.

I don’t know what to make of the other characters. Most don’t do much. Elizabeth is a nuisance who cries at everything, including in the middle of a deadly battle because Meliodas is nice to her. It’s as lame as it sounds. Ban, the immortal Sin of Greed, has the most screen time after Meliodas and the only real character arc. I liked his backstory with the Fountain of Youth and his theme, naturally, of greed. I thought this to be a turning point in the series, but alas, it goes back to Meliodas the Boring. The other Sins are filler characters preceded by much hype and no payoff. I assume they will have their time to shine in later arcs, in which case they should have come into the story later on.

One thing Hunter x Hunter does well is not keeping side characters around when they aren’t story relevant. Naruto is similar with the team system, where it can logically bring along only story relevant characters for the current mission. In The Seven Deadly Sins, once a character joins the group, you know they will hang around doing nothing most of the time.

A final point I want to make on the characters relates to the seven deadly sins theme. This was most famous in Fullmetal Alchemist with the villains, where you get why they have the model the seven sins. Each of those villains is a perfect match to their sin while not being one-note either. They are fantastic characters. The seven deadly sins in this anime don’t seem to have any point of relevance to the theme. Why are they titled after the sins? They each committed some sin as part of their backstories, yet it doesn’t relate much to the sin with the slight exception of greed. Meliodas, for example, failed to protect someone. What does that have to do with wrath? Most of these characters have similar sins, so they could equally fit the Wrath title. Furthermore, unlike FMA, these personalities have nothing to do with the sin, weakening the theme even more. I’m willing to bet a considerable amount of anime bucks that the author read FMA, thought the villains cool, and decided to use the theme in his manga, but made them the good guys to differentiate himself without understanding what made the others so great.

These aren’t terrible characters – apart from Meliodas, perhaps – and have enough dimension to avoid being flat. They simply don’t have anything to elevate them, which is where the theme could have played a significant part.

I haven’t even talked of the action yet. The action is as stereotypically battle anime as you can get. It has impossibly fast moves (no need to animate), delayed damage, invincibility to attacks when standing still, crying ability names, and a secret move for each fighter. The Seven Deadly Sins greatest action crime is the “just kidding” fake-out. Once every fight, a character will take massive damage or an instant kill attack, pretend to take the hit or be out of the fight, but then, “Just kidding!” they’re actually fine. (If they would all die, then we could get out of here.)

It also has the laziest battle progression. With the use of lightning fast attacks almost exclusively, we don’t see how someone survives an attack – they stand there and take it – and the defender has to tell the attacker how his ability worked for the audience’s sake. Every. Single. Fight. If that’s not lazy, I don’t know what is.

When someone breaths fire and the opponent creates a shield to block said fire, we don’t need an explanation. In The Seven Deadly Sins however, someone breaths fire, the opponent takes the fire to no consequence, and then has to tell us how invisible fire-eating thetans cover his skin or some nonsense like that. This is what I imagine a boxing anime would look like if the creator knew nothing about boxing. Did he get through the opponent’s guard by feinting left to land a right hook? “What does feinting mean? His punches just go through because of abracadabra. But don’t worry, the opponent takes no damage because of mumbo jumbo.”

No effort went into figuring out how the abilities work and how characters would attack/defend with them in battle. I’m sure you, dear readers, could all point out instances of impossibly fast or fake out actions in other battle anime and wonder why I criticise them so much here and not there. These action techniques are valued in rarity. When Rock Lee drops the weights and goes lightning fast (note how we can still see the action and slow motion adds impact), it matters because it’s a change from the norm. Sticking with Naruto, you see Gaara survive all manner of attacks without a scratch and you’re thinking, “How the hell does he survive?” He’s the exception, which makes him more interesting. When the series does reveal the secret behind his sand armour, it only has to explain once before we can see it in action, in detail, from that point forward. Deadly Sins’ problem is that these techniques constitute 90% of the action. Add on to this the “everyone has a trump card” ability mechanic, and it becomes boring real fast.

If you are new to battle anime, The Seven Deadly Sins will likely seem decent. It has competent production values – it’s no Beet the Vandal Buster – and fights don’t have padding to last several episodes. The tournament takes a few episodes, not an entire season, which is refreshing. However, in all other respects, I would recommend the established series like Naruto, My Hero Academia, or Hunter x Hunter. The battle genre is one of anime’s most competitive and it certainly isn’t lacking in content to keep you busy for the next century, so to turn to The Seven Deadly Sins, you must be desperate.

Art – Medium

I detest the character designs of The Seven Deadly Sins, especially the baby faces. Though it looks made for kids, the art doesn’t match the content other than in its immaturity. The animation is better than the style.

Sound – Medium

The dub cast uses their Sword Art Online character voices, which I couldn’t un-hear, so you may want to go with the Japanese. Could do with more memorable music – battle anime usually have memorable soundtracks.

Story – Low

When the Holy Knights of Britannia overthrow the king, a princess goes in search of the legendary warriors known as the “Seven Deadly Sins” to reclaim her kingdom and defeat the tyrants. The Seven Deadly Sins is as generic as imaginable in its action, often at the expense of character and story that showed potential. The pacing is good.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For action anime fans only. The Seven Deadly Sins feels worse than the sum of its parts, owing to a lack of anything to differentiate itself from the competition. You could watch so many other battle anime first.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World BuildingNot Funny

Tales from Earthsea – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gedo Senki

 

Similar: Castle in the Sky

Princess Mononoke

Howl’s Moving Castle

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 55 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Gorgeous art.

Negatives:

  • No depth to the characters.
  • Lacks engagements.
  • Doesn’t explore anything.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Tales from Earthsea is often the lowest rated feature film by Studio Ghibli on anime database sites, sometimes by a significant margin. This discrepancy for such a venerable studio has always made Tales from Earthsea stand out to me. It looked like a Ghibli movie, so what could be wrong?

The world is deteriorating. A division of desires between dragons and humans has thrown nature off balance. Archmage Sparrowhawk goes on a journey to find the cause, meeting Arren, young prince of the kingdom, who has just killed his father and is on the run. The prince harbours a darkness within that grants him both strength and cruelty. The sorcerer Cob sees Arren’s weakness as an opportunity to tip the balance further and open the gate to immortality.

Confusion. I characterise Tales from Earthsea best with the word ‘confusion’. The above plot outline isn’t clear until the movie is almost over. The storytelling is so vague. It doesn’t lay out any clear information at the start. You don’t know what any character wants, where anything is going, or why anything is this way. In any story, you must give the audience something to care about from the beginning, whether it is a character motivation, a goal, or an ideal. You wander aimlessly through Tales from Earthsea. I paused several times to watch a YouTube video out of boredom. I care nothing about this film.

Sparrowhawk is a one-note noble wizard, Arren doesn’t have anything going for him outside of these visually intriguing nightmares, and Cob is just Evil Guy 63728. His subordinate slaver is more interesting. We don’t receive reason to care for their actions or their fates. Lacking are the ‘human’ moments that make us love Ghibli’s other characters. How charmed are we by Howl’s first interaction with Sophie? How lovable is Chihiro within minutes? Who could say no to the fluffy Totoro after a single yawn? How strongly did we feel for Seita’s predicament before we even knew his name?

The world of Earthsea almost made me care. When the main characters reach the town of Hort, it’s a magnificent sight, hinting at a deeper world. A back alley shows us citizens crippled by an opium-like substance. A slaver insinuates he will sell a girl into sex slavery. Drugs, slavery, and other dark elements speak of a depth created by the novel’s author, yet not translated by the film studio. These dark elements don’t matter in the movie.

I can see why praise is scarce for Tales from Earthsea with so little to recommend itself. With the basics of storytelling and characters missing from here, there’s no point commenting on the higher layers, such as the scene-to-scene. It’s a waste of time when every problem could be summed up with, “You need to go back to the story/character and fix it first.”

Tales from Earthsea was the first feature film directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro, and he hadn’t grasped the Ghibli magic that made the studio’s films stand out.

Art – Very High

Even with a bad story, Studio Ghibli delivers quality art. The shot of the city impresses me in particular, as does the cinematography on the dragon’s back in the opening scene.

Sound – Medium

The acting is decent. The dub needs more energy, especially from the girl. In the dub, Willem Dafoe replaces a Japanese woman as the sorcerer, oddly enough.

Story – Low

A boy combats his inner demons as an evil sorcerer seeks immortality. Tales from Earthsea lack direction, foundation, development, and depth to make a compelling story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Unless you must watch Tales from Earthsea to complete the Ghibli library, there is no reason to waste your time on this film.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative:

DissapointingHollow World BuildingShallow