Ragnarok Complete Collection (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, August 16, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The online RPG gets adapted into the anime world with a few quirks and a whole lot of cliches as well as giving us a lead character who essentially turns into quite the jerk.
What They Say
A great evil is sweeping over the realm, an evil that the young swordsman Roan and his life-long companion, the acolyte Yufa, must face head on! For these two travel toward their destiny, from the highest towers to the depths of the underworld, through forest and desert alike.
With an ever-growing cast of fellow heroes, fate will grasp these travelers by their very souls and propel the band of skilled adventurers towards a noble end. Or ignoble, if they don't watch their step! Monsters are afoot and the way rife with danger and magic, the path forward may be unclear - but where will is strong, there is a way! Lessons wait in the depths of darkness, and good must prevail. The journey starts now!
Story and art by 1-26.
The bilingual presentation for this release is a bit of a surprise as both tracks are done in stereo encoded at 224 kbps. There's a touch of extra impact in some of the action scenes that lets the mix stand out a bit more in general, but when it comes to dialogue and other ambient sounds it's a fairly standard full center mix. The music has some occasional good moments where it feels wide and there are a few moments of dialogue placement that fits, but for the most part it's a standard weekly action show when it comes to how it's mixed. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in Japan in 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. This release of the series is spread across four discs in a seven/seven/six/six format. The source materials for this looks to be in good shape overall though it's plainly a bit of a budget production. The show has a fairly average bit rates to it and it plays well into the peaks but also has a lot of lows simply because it's a full frame show. The opening and closings are better off here than in the original release which used alternate angles, something that has fallen away since, and the focus on just one angle gives it more space and less quality issues. The series seems to fall victim to practices that Gonzo uses on its lower tier shows in that it features a horrendous amount of banding and that translates poorly here. When it's at its strongest, it macroblocks but not as severely as it did in the previous release. Noise is fairly mild throughout, though you can see some motion in some of the dark blue backgrounds, and overall it looks decent throughout but the banding and gradient issues are just heavily distracting when they hit. Some problems just don't stand out much but these aren't like that.
Ragnarok gets the standard collection format for this release with a slipcover that holds two clear thinpak cases. The slipcover has a nice fantasy style to it with a dark earthy background of a ruin with runes on it while the main cast of characters are spread out across it with a bit of color and detail. The logo is surprisingly small considering they want to draw attention to its connection to the game. There's a lot going on with the cover because of the number of characters and all the detail in the background but it looks decent overall. The back cover uses the same kinds of colors for the background with some good character artwork that gives it a serious feeling. The summary takes up a decent amount of space and covers the concept well while providing a nod towards the episode count. A few shots from the show are added as well while the bottom is given over to a ton of production credits in a small font.
Inside the slipcover we get the two thinpak cases that are really nicely designed. The front cover pieces use different characters on each which look really detailed, especially in comparison to the show itself. The backgrounds are definitely different than the norm with one of them using a dense tree area while the other has a black background filled with fireworks. It's an interesting contrast to the character artwork that doesn't quite fit yet keeps you looking at it. The back covers are done use the layout from the front of the slipcover with the runes up and down the sides while having the disc breakdown of what episode numbers and titles are associated with each of them. Each volume has artwork on the reverse side as well that spans both panels where it features the core cast of characters together, generally fully of smiles, which highlights their personalities well. The release looks good overall but there are some odd quirks about it in places.
The menu designs for the series are pretty straightforward and unsurprisingly simple considering the value of the release. The main menus are designed around a piece of character artwork and a fantasy oriented background laid out similar to the slipcover backgrounds. No motion to speak of but there is some good if brief instrumental music that sets the mood nicely. The navigation is simple as there are no extras so there's little here outside of show related pieces. Everything loads quickly and easily and the discs default to the English language with sign/song subtitles and not by the players' presets.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ragnarok, a twenty-six episode series based on the original massive multiplayer online role playing game, is the spawn of evil. Yes, the MMORPG is evil and I have no problem saying that. When the game started to really attract attention years ago, it sucked away friends of mine that I've not really seen since. Ragnarok proved to be a gateway drug to other similar games and their lives have long been lost. As such, the game itself in my mind is pure evil which in turn makes the anime about the game world the spawn of evil.
Evil can be fun though, but unfortunately Ragnarok doesn't get near there. FUNimation's release has smartly packaged the first nine episodes together simply because if you watched this in a standard form and pricing format, you'd not feel like you were getting value for your money. Ragnarok really makes you realize that fantasy shows are very hard to do simply because nobody seems to get it right. While surely there have been some decent ones in the last ten or fifteen years, I continue to feel like the last best fantasy anime series I saw was Record of Lodoss War. That means, even if I'm predisposed to dislike Ragnarok, I'm hopeful to add a new entry to that genre that will make me cite it as a positive. I'd love to be able to reference something that's not as old as Lodoss.
Ragnarok introduces us to the pairing of Roan and Yuufa, a cute pair of kids who really feel like level one characters wandering in a level two world. Roan is your standard fighter class character who is trying to build up his skills while Yuufa is the cute healer girl with a few minor religiously themed powers at her disposal. The two originally traveled with Yuufa's older brother Keough and their childhood friend Iruga, but Keough's death not too long ago has kept them apart for a bit. Roan and Yuufa continue to travel together and they're setting out to build themselves up in order to do Keough proud. What we see is that road trip through these nine episodes. There are some very, very minor moments that hint at something darker as there's a woman watching them from the shadows and the less than obvious moment where we learn Keough is still alive.
Following tradition, Ragnarok works on its party building right from the start. The show can't survive on Roan and Yuufa alone and that's a good thing considering how badly Yuufa abuses him. She heals him in battle so fast that he gets whacked again right away, resulting in constant healings that don't really let them progress much. It's amusing in its own way, as I've done that in game play myself, but it doesn't make a show. The first member of their party to show up is the mysterious Takius, a sorceress who is wearing a hand me down from Princess Leia's slave days. Where it differs is that she wears a cape and a blindfold. The blindfold comes from her fathers insistence that doing this will lead her to the real Truth of the world. It's paid off well for her as she's been able to really enhance her other senses which in turn has made her a better combatant.
Ragnarok wants to also play up the kid role as they introduce the young Maaya, a business oriented girl who has an item for every need. While she has a bit of a cruel background given to her, it's alleviated by her partner, the cute pink blob known only as Poi Poi. Maaya provides the raw emotion and manipulation needed at times to keep things moving along but she's also the first character in any party that other members will want to kill. You sometimes wonder if she's the kind introduced into the group in order to turn someone else to the dark side on purpose. With a big wide dress, a cute purse and plenty of tears at her disposal, Maaya is almost always a given for deserving a throttling.
Though not nearly as fleshed out the group grows a bit as Iruga is introduced, as well as his companion Judia. Iruga is the least dealt with as he plays up the cool and quiet warrior type, a role that I instead wish was given to Julia. Iruga, with half his face covered in cloth, is fairly standard material but he's saddled the show with an obnoxious character as Judia has decided that he's the one she wants. Judia's an archer type with some experience behind her and she has an answer for most everything. Where the problem comes in is that in the Japanese version, unless you have a great ear for accents, her Kansai accent isn't really a problem. The English version, which is what we listened to, has her with a really grating southern/Texan accent that made me want to claw my ears out. I have to wonder if it was intended to be that way and if it was as bothersome in other regions, as even the Philippines version was done in a way that differed from everyone else. I typically enjoy performances by Caitlan Glass, but this one just drove me up a wall.
Ragnarok does the fairly standard routine for the first half before it hits that point where it starts to get a bit darker and the focus starts to come together more with the way the characters are truly connected and how the larger arc will be defined. The journey started with Yuufa and Roan simply looking for their beloved older brother and friend. The discovery that Keough is either changed or under some evil influence has their goals changing a bit so that they can rescue or save him now from whatever it is. Keough doesn't seem to want to be saved of course and he's got his own plans in motion and has no problems with eliminating old friends or even possibly his sister. Yuufa and Roan have lucked out in that Iruga is intent on helping them out and trying to either save or kill his friend as the situation warrants while others are helping as well. There is some distrust though after the events of the previous volume involved Takius, but such things tend to work themselves out in a fairly predictable manner as these nine episodes move forward.
It's the moving forward part of the show that's really awkward at times. With the group in such disarray after a few fights and some very minor revelations, Roan finds himself in a position where he cannot do what he promised in defending Yuufa. With Keough being so strong and others being taken down alongside him, Roan's mentality is shattered and he turns into what seems like a lifeless zombie as he wanders away from everyone and spends a lot of time training against monsters in order to get stronger. It's all about getting stronger for him now regardless of the cost to his sanity. The time spent out training has him so lifeless that he even falls in with an unsavory for a group before he's finally found by a Crusader.
This gives him the proper path to follow for the strength that he's looking for, but it comes at a strange cost to the show itself. The timeline of everything is very off in how it's told as Roan ends up becoming a very powerful Crusader in nearly the blink of an eye. We get some very minor moments with the rest of the cast as they're continuing on their journey, but the disparity is so extreme that it's really jolting how it plays out. When Roan returns to the group, he's incredibly powerful and can actually push back on Keough now which certainly comes as a shock. He's not the only one that goes through this though as Yuufa herself does the same when she realizes later on that she can't handle a certain scenario and needs to move beyond Acolyte and into a Priest level. It happens so fast that it just unbalances the entire thing since it feels like it's incredibly easy to level up to something powerful.
There isn't much to say about Ragnarok in the end beyond talking about the character archetypes since all that we have here are basic simple fantasy standalone adventures. These aren't even the fun kind that I remember from playing Dungeons and Dragons basic edition back in the seventies. I still have fond memories of playing the Keep scenarios but a day after watching this I can barely remember much about it because it's so empty of what it really wants to be about. The opening stories were all things seen repeatedly over the years with nothing original and nothing to really make it feel like this is a unique world that defines Ragnarok the game. Ragnarok knows what it wants to do but its execution is fairly weak. It's light and fluffy but then has no problem getting surprisingly violent. It's not Gantz level violence, but for what seems more like a harmless children's show at times suddenly has people getting whacked at every turn. What's unfortunate is that they don't kill the Team Rocket trio that appears early on.
Ragnarok is the kind of show where it doesn't seem to be able to please anyone. It doesn't seem to have enough of what made the game unique and fun to it, unless the game really had nothing to set itself apart. The world isn't all that detailed here or unique nor are the types of character classes and so forth. It doesn't give much to anime fans in general because it plays with such mediocre material at best and then it takes the lead male character and essentially turns him into quite the jerk. Everyone is so paper thin throughout and with their motivations and feelings on their sleeves that you really can't get invested in them. It's lightly enjoyable at best, surprisingly violent and dark at times but mostly just fluff. It is certainly enjoyable for the price and amount of content which makes it a very impulse by and one that's even easier to continue with. It isn't a show that you go out raving about though or one that you'll want to watch again anytime soon.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: C-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: C
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
Running time: 650
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2