Monday, April 18, 2016

Anime Review: Utawarerumono The False Faces

It's time to dive back into last season's offerings, and this series was a bit of an odd one for me, it's a sequel and I haven't watched the original! The problem is that I got into the show around episode six at which point anime-only watchers still weren't entirely sure how closely this would be related to the first Utawarerumono (and the original visual novel had been out for less than two months so there weren't many game players around to answer questions) so watching the sequel first was totally by accident. I dealt with it by reading a ton of spoilers (the wikipedia entry used to have a really detailed account but it was removed pretty quickly) but I'm not sure I would say I recommend watching the first Underwaterrayromano first since I don't really recommend watching this follow-up either!

Utawarerumono: The False Faces

An unnamed man wakes up in the snowy woods with no idea of his past or the world he is in. He's human but everyone else is festooned with animal ears and tails so this is probably not the same world he went to sleep in. One traveler named Kuon takes pity on this helpless man (possibly remembering her own past), dubs him Haku, and until he's able to live on his own they'll travel the country of Yamato together, meet new people, and possibly fight in a war secretly motivated by the same secrets that destroyed the humans years ago.

Normally the three-episode test is a good way to see if an anime is worth sticking to, so, after more than three episodes of characters dealing with monsters, bandits, and giant fluffy birds I thought this would be a fun show. Unfortantly, right after I started watching the characters reached the capital of Yamato and the show came to a screeching halt for quite a while. I don't mean that the plot stopped, honestly the plot hadn't really begun at that point, I mean that nothing interesting happened. The characters stagnated, the transitions between episodes were sometimes sloppy, sone character gained and then lost a floating jellyfish pet without any explanation, it was pretty dull. Sometimes the show would tease something interesting in the stinger but come the next episode it was back to the same old same old slog. Heck, I wasn't sure why they were still even in the city! Haku was there because Kuon was there and Kuon came to the capital to investigate but since the camera only follows Haku around I have no idea what she was actually doing....

When an adaption falls flat I always think "how many of these failings were inherent in the original and how many of them came about because of the adaption?" Going off of what game players were saying, much like Erased it sounds like this story would have been perfectly adapted in 16 episodes, however I know that some events were actually cut out! There is also an interview online with the director saying that he once got too attached to the source material for an anime and made a bad show, now he tries to distance himself from the source and didn't really read this one. And that I think is a Bad Thing.

This is a long visual novel that was only released a month before the anime premiered, obviously I don't expect the director to have played through all of it, or in this case even as much as was available during production. But even with those restrictions, one constant refrain I saw from the game players was that the story was hitting the same events but in different ways, and that a lot of the bits that anime objectors thought were especially boring or pointless were new. For example, here in the anime there are not one but two "fake kidnapping" plots, apparently the first one played out rather differently in the game and the second one swapped "reinventing the hot air balloon in order to get past an enemy's defenses" for "take a fake hostage to get into the enemy fort." Actually, with all of the changes the fights in general play out a little strangely; the original visual novel did have some RPG type fights in them which served to show the player that yes, Haku actually has some tactician skills so when story-important fights come up in the second half it makes sense that Haku is involved. All of those little side quests were cut and I honestly feel like they should've kept at least one in there since as it stands, we see Haku come up with an idea on how to defeat a giant centipede once around episode 3 and then around episode 16 we have important military leaders asking for his advice and we haven't seen him really come up with more than one or two really basic plans since then! It sounds as if the characterization for a couple of characters was hurt in this adaptation (I am told that being a BL fan is in fact not Rururtie's defining characteristic) but I think that in some ways it hurt Haku, the main character, most of all and that's pretty shoddy.

There is one problem that I can't blame on the director, it turns out this is the middle title in a trilogy! And those stories are always the hardest to tell, you have to bring in new elements (in this case, an entirely new cast) without resolving everything (I guess barely involving the original cast). I still think there was a way to do this better but I won't deny that in retrospect this wasn't a very easy story to adapt. If there is a third anime for the upcoming game (coming out this year) I'll watch it casually because now I'm grumpy, I want to see if all the buildup is worth whatever the story is trying to do, but I'm gonna hold back from recommending the series until then. Honestly it would have to be an amazing third part for me to recommend this, I can't even make a "watch just these episodes to avoid the filler" since it's so slow paced throughout! 

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