Final Fantasy Unlimited Vol. #1 (of 7) (Mania.com)

Review Date: Friday, February 13, 2004
Release Date: Monday, March 15, 2004



What They Say
Welcome To Wonderland!

The gateway to another world appears suddenly one day, and with its' coming awakens two mysterious beasts of astonishing power. When the monsters appear to destroy each other they vanish, leaving behind only the inexplicable pillar of darkness and the unanswered questions of the natural world.

12 years later, the twin children of two scientists who disappeared on the 'Day Of Conjunction' go on a hazardous quest in search of their lost parents. Boarding a phantom subway, Ai and Yu travel to Wonderland, a chaotic world of amazing beauty and thrilling danger. Accompanied by Lisa, an enigmatic woman they meet on the train, and Kaze, a brooding stranger with a demon-summoning gun, the twins begin an incredible journey that will lead to the mysterious heart of Wonderland...

Set in the fantastical world of the wildly popular 'Final Fantasy' series of games, this contains 4 complete episodes.


The Review!
Once again Square Enix dip into the Final Fantasy well for the latest tie-in, but unfortunately it suffers from being very mediocre.

Audio:
I listened to the Japanese stereo track for my main review. I witnessed no dropouts or distortions during regular playback, and the show sounded quite good. The music is a bit hit-and-miss at times, but overall it's quite nice, especially the ending theme, "Vivid". Spot-checking the English 5.1 track revealed no problems.

Video:
Much like most of the latest ADV shows, Final Fantasy: Unlimited looks gorgeous. Colours are vibrant and I noticed no artefacting at all. Aliasing was negligible, which was nice as it's something I've grown quite a dislike for since I started using this TV. This transfer really is spot on.

Packaging:
Presented in a clear keepcase, the cover showcases Lisa in the centre, inside some sort of crystal ball, with artwork of Kaze to the above left, and I presume White Cloud below right. This artwork works well, and gives a nice light and dark contrast. The back cover contains the usual screenshots, features list and show summary. Also present is the newer style ADV information bar, which clearly lists available subtitles, audio and the aspect ratio. Once again, I will praise ADV for adding these to the UK releases, as they really are helpful. The reverse cover is a darker version of Kaze, with a montage of screenshots in the background. The reverse back simply has an episode list over some summon artwork. The insert provides some nice character art for several of the characters, as well as some summon information on the back, along with a correlation chart for the show, making sense of everyone's relationships. The packaging as a whole is very nice indeed.

Menu:
The main menu has a red background that swirls around, with the show's logo rotating in the centre and chocobos running past every now and then. Episode links are provided at the top, with sub-menu links at the bottom. The sub-menus are all static, but fit with the main menu. Access times are nice and fast.

Extras:
Here we get the standard ADV extras for every volume ? the textless opening and ending animation. There are two galleries of production sketches, done as moving videos to melodies from the show. There is also a bunch of preliminary illustrations, with a note on how the concepts were changed as production continued.

The biggest extra is the commentary, which has its ups and downs. Chaired by ADR director Charles Campbell, joined by Jessica Schwartz (Ai) and Shawn Sides (Yu), this track is relatively informative at times, but doesn't really focus much on the show, which is a bit of a shame. After the Najica commentary, I may have been expecting too much, but it was a fun listen nevertheless.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Mary and Joe Hayakawa, a pair of scientists, witness a pillar of darkness descend from the sky, and two massive creatures emerge to fight. The monsters seemingly destroy each other, but the pillar remains...

And thus begins Final Fantasy: Unlimited, one of the newest shows from Studio Gonzo. Much has been said about this series, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that prior to watching this disc I hadn't heard a lot of negative things about this series. I do tend to try and approach anything with an open mind, though, and so approached this series expecting very little and wondering what I'd get. While I really don't think it's quite the abomination that a lot of people make it out to be, undoubtedly it's extremely mediocre and sometimes rather poor, which is unfortunate.

Nevertheless, the story continues as Ai and Yu, Mary and Joe's children, go in search of their parents, who have disappeared. They wait in a subway for a train which will take them to Wonderland, as their parents' book says. While they think the train isn't going to turn up, it does, and it's on board that they meet Lisa Pacifist, who decides to join them.

Wonderland isn't what they expect. The first land they encounter looks just like a regular park, except the sky is an orange colour. Further investigation, though, reveals that everything is actually made of plants! After encountering a chocobo, they find as man who doesn't seem to know where he is, doesn't remember his name and is after some "scoundrel". Alas, a strange vehicle flies above them and drops a giant crystal, and out pops a mushroom monster. They try to fight it, but are forced to run. When cornered, the man appears and kills it with his gun, and says his name is Kaze.

That's the first episode in a nutshell, and the rest of the episodes continue in a similar manner. The second episode introduces Earl, the (obviously evil) ruler of Wonderland, as well as his henchmen. Yu also gets a hold of a chocobo feather which seems to summon the chocobo, who comes and kills the latest monster. Kaze also returns to aide the crew again, mainly to then ask them if they know the person he's looking for ? White Cloud.

The remainder of the disc sees Ai, Yu and Lisa unsuccessfully try to return home on the train from Wonderland, and Ai's bag get stolen. She then meets Fabula, the "prophet" of sorts, who helps her on her way. The search for the bag causes trouble, which leads to Kaze returning again, and temporarily disposing of Earl's latest crony. The crew is also led to Knave and his group, who are preparing for the upcoming battle against something called Chaos.

Much like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within a few years back, part of Unlimited's problem is that it doesn't have the feel of Final Fantasy. Thus far, the story hardly seems epic, the characters are fairly weak and lacking much depth, and the stories aren't really all that much fun. There are a few Final Fantasy trademarks seemingly thrown in for good measure. Whenever a bad guy is disposed of, the familiar victory theme plays, there are a few spells and such like Shiva that appear or are referenced by name, and a few characters have names that appeared in prior Final Fantasy games. And still, it doesn't quite feel like a part of the franchise. This immediately throws back fans of the games, but that's not necessarily the end of the world.

Unfortunately, even as a stand-alone, thus far the series doesn't really have the meat to back it up. Of course, it's not really possible to judge an entire series based only on the opening act as it were; with four episodes here we're only just getting in to the swing of things. There are a few hints of bigger forces at work (spelled out quite blatantly, at that). Who is Kaze, what's his goal and why is he helping Ai and Yu? How did Earl come to have such a gang of cronies and manage to gain control of Wonderland? And what is this "Chaos" that is referred to a number of times in the fourth episode? We may or may not get answers to all those questions before the series comes to a close, but they may be what some people are looking for to hook them.

The odd thing about Unlimited is that it's primarily aimed at a younger audience than, say, your average Final Fantasy game would be targeting. It's a shame that it's quite confused and doesn't always seem to know what it wants to be or what it wants to achieve. It sometimes feels like the creators threw some stock plotlines into a hat and pulled them out randomly, so they were left with lots of options for future plotlines. Unfortunately, the series was originally meant to be 52 episodes, but following a poor reception the order was cut to 25 episodes, which makes the pacing of these early outings feel a little too slow under the circumstances.

It doesn't help, then, that the animation itself, while looking as gorgeous as most Gonzo shows do, is extremely repetitive at times which becomes extremely frustrating. I could do without seeing Kaze load his gun, explain each bullet and then fire a wonderful spell at someone at least once an episode. As the show moves on, the repetitive nature of this sort of thing really sets in, as do the lengthy spells in general. While this is something of a selling point, and showcases the CGI (and, in a sense, stays true to the franchise!), it does become tiresome.

With all that said, it's not the worst show I've ever seen by a long shot, it's just rather mediocre. The English language presentation is definitely first rate, though. Not only are all the logos and such untouched on the video, ADV took extra care and rather than provide a credits scroll over the ending (which they frequently do, and often they look quite bad), they display the credits around the running chocobos, much like the Japanese release did. It's little things like that which make a big difference, and for this show ADV have really made an effort in terms of production.

In Summary:
While it's not completely terrible, it's just very mediocre with little to hook the series. I will go in to next volume with an open mind in hopes it'll go somewhere, but it's not something I'll anticipate.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Voice Actor Commentary for Episode 1,Production Sketches,Key Animation Backgrounds,Preliminary Illustrations,Reversible Cover


Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.



Mania Grade: C+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: ADV Films UK
MSRP: �19.99
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Final Fantasy Unlimited