Monday, August 27, 2012

Anime Reviews: Guin Saga

The other anime I had a chance to get through this summer courtesy of the college library (unfortunately you can only check out two DVDs at a time and, since I'm not the only person in the household who likes movies, I was barely able to get through this, Paranoia Agent, and Veronica Mars before the summer was up) which was one I had been curious about since I say people talking about when it came out (fairly recently in 2009). It's high fantasy, based on a series of novels that seem to be fairly well regarded in Japan, has lots of world-building, that sounds like the series for me, right?

Guin Saga

Summary: In the middle of the night the country of Pharos is invaded by the army of the country of Mongaul* and the twins Rinda and Remus (the heir to the throne) barely manage to escape using an ancient device that seems to be one of the reasons for Mongaul's invasion. But the two do not end up where they mean to be and are ambushed again in a remote forest when they are saved by Guin, a strange man who remembers nothing of his past and has a leopard's head instead of his own. He agrees to help them escape and then regroup to take their country and they all become involved in the even wider politics of the world in the process.

The Good: I knew that this series had to cover multiple volumes in the series but I figured it was between 4 and six, which is standard for most light novel to anime adaptations. According to tvtropes this show crammed in 16 novels in 26 episodes which I'm rather impressed about, there must have been a ton of compression to make this work but the show didn't feel like it was cutting corners, rather that it was just quickly paced. I do have mixed feelings on the ending (on the one hand it was a logical place to end, on the other hand it had two rather large cliffhangers involving different characters) but they certainly couldn't have ended the show any earlier and I doubt they could have fit another few novels in. 

The Bad: One of the extra features in the second set (which I didn't see since it was on a separate DVD and I was running out of time) was an interview with the original author who mentioned that she had trouble writing female characters, something I had noticed but I would go so far as to say that she just doesn't seem to be a great character writer. This series should've had me completely hooked on it with it's big politics and setting yet I just didn't like any of the characters (except for Rinda but unfortunately as Remus began to "grow" as a character, read become an ass, her role diminished even further) and just couldn't care about any of them by the end. I will note that I have read some translations of light novels (official and by fans) and I've noticed that Japanese writing tends to make the characters more introspective, which doesn't carry over well to anime most of the time, so part of this problem might be from the adaptation but I feel like my complaint still stands. I'm completely baffled how a female writer doesn't know how to write female characters whatsoever; you write a character, give them a personality, flaws, desires, etc, and then consider what affect their culture will have on them because of their gender. She instead seems to wallow in the idea of "oh they're a woman so they're in love and it makes them indecisive so they'll never be the major mover and shaker of the story!" and even knowing this series started in 1979 it frustrated me.   

The Audio: I watched the Japanese audio since I had heard rumors at how bad the English dub got (no seriously, at one point they have a guy singing out loud his internal dilemma which makes no sense at all and the script-writers should have understood from the context) which is a bit of a shame since the Japanese dub is rather average. The opening and ending songs are rather nice however, the opening is an instrumental only piece and the ending is a nice ballad and the lyrics even make sense within the context of the story. Together with the background music they felt like a cohesive soundtrack which had several good pieces, including one which I believe was the main theme (based on how often it appeared in the show). 

The Visuals: While the visuals they weren't utterly spectacular as I would have hoped for a fantasy series (think your average, comes out and in a few years people don't remember it, fantasy film vs Lord of the Rings in terms of looks) but again it works. It's simple plain, the colors come off as too bright and flat in many instances, and even the multiple fight scenes didn't draw me in, even the most simple looking of shows should have a style or flair to them that the viewer remembers and that helps out the story in some way.

By the end I was simply slogging through the story (doesn't help that for some reason it was packaged six episodes to a disc which made it feel even longer) and I have no interest in seeing the show again, recommending it, and after finding out that the few novels that were published in the US don't cover even half of what the anime did I have no interest in reading those either. Next! 

*which, amusingly to me, is pretty much pronounced "Mongol", seemed fitting for an invader. 

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