Swords and sorcery in adundance - if that doesn't hook you, then this probably isn't your cup of tea.
What They Say
From the golden pen of Ryo Mizuno, comes an all-new adventure set in the aftermath of the Lodoss Wars! Ashram, desperate to find a home for his people, is tricked into selling his soul. 300 years later, Pirotesse's devotion to her king remains unshaken. In the sacred world of Crystania, amidst a civil war waged by shape-changing warriors, she searches for her beloved Ashram. She meets Redon, a young prince obsessed with avenging his murdered parents. Together, they confront Ashram's captor -- the bloodthirsty Barbas, who aspires to rule Crystania as "The God's King". Will they free Ashram's soul . . . or will Redon's innocence become the next sacrifice to Barbas' emerging power?
The English language options were used for the primary viewing of this title. The 5.1 mixes are wide and full. The music in particular spreads out and envelops you, but the sound effects and voices are well placed also and flow smoothly between the speakers when needed. The content of the shows gives the mixes plenty of yelling and spell-casting and sword-swinging to flex their muscles, and they don't disappoint. The OVA mix has a slight edge due to having a little more ambient sound such as wind and rain to work with. I also spot-checked the Japanese options and found them active and effective stereo mixes that aren't a far step down from the surround versions. They are much lower inherently, though, so direct comparison is difficult.
Crystania is a land of muted colours, heavy in earth tones, so don't expect a lot of vibrancy here. What you can expect, though, is a pretty clean look overall. There is a bit of the usual minor noise in darker areas, but no really distracting problems except for faint ghosting along the outlines of characters. This does come up pretty regularly, though. As much as the characters and monsters bleed in these stories, the colours do not.
The two discs come housed front and back in a standard-sized amaray case. The cover art doesn't look as good as either of the original issues to me, but I guess it isn't too bad. The back has your standard writeup as well as all of the vital statistics laid out in an easy-to-find way on a technical grid. One slightly odd feature in my copy was a TokyoPop insert ad for Sgt. Frog laid over the first disc. It makes me wonder a) why anybody would put this in a DVD case and b) why this case, particularly?
The main menus go the simple, functional route by using still images accompanied by music all across the board. Access times are nice and quick and everything is easy to find. Chapters are plentiful for easy scene access. The default language is English, as you probably guessed.
Nothing too special: just character profiles and a trailer for the movie, and a non-translated opening for the OVA. Note that the profiles include spoilers for events in the first part of the film, so if you're sensitive to those save them for after the movie.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Fantasy and animation are a natural fit; a genre of fiction that is only limited by what you can imagine has an obvious affinity with a medium that is only limited by what you can draw. One of the best-known and best-liked products of this partnership is The Record of Lodoss Wars; a series which for all its renown has managed to slip by me up to now. So when the chance came to take a look at this Lodoss spinoff series, I decided to give it a whirl, despite its having a reputation somewhat lower than its illustrious predecessor. What I discovered was a pretty standard fantasy adventure that probably deserved that reputation, but managed to be good enough on its own terms.
The Legend of Crystania consists of two parts: the movie and the three partChaos Ring OVA. Luckily you can jump right in without a knowledge of the Lodoss universe, like I did. As far as I can gather there are only a couple of characters from Lodoss in here, and no backstory is required. The only necessity is that you have to watch the movie first, since the OVA picks up just where that left off.
The movie packs a lot of content into its 85 minute running time. It takes the party of heroes across the unpassable wall into the land of Crystania and throws them into a lot of interesting situations, many of which lead to involved and well-executed battles. (These feature severed limbs, decapitations and impalings, so they can be quite a bit bloodier than the TV-PG rating on the box would suggest - be warned.) The pace is very brisk. If you don't always know exactly what's going on, or who's after what, there'll be a few fireballs or a little sword-swinging coming along any minute to keep you from worrying too much about it. The plot is pretty much the usual "kill the dark lord" type, but the story has enough energy and good ideas to make it work on a basic level. A lot of the people in Crystania can take on animal forms, which lends a bit of freshness to the encounters.
The characters are pretty numerous for a story of this length; certainly a lot more than you see in a usual three or four character RGP-style setup. There isn't a whole lot of time for development, so everybody tends to be defined by function more than personality. You get the young, earnest hero, the loyal sidekick, a staff-wielding wizard, an ethereal mage, a dark elf out for vengeance, a hulking swordsman with a chip on one shoulder and a spirit-summoning young girl on the other. And that's just the group at the beginning. More characters good and bad show up along the way. The only real problem is that there's no governing perspective: the lead isn't clearly the protagonist, and indeed it's one of the other characters that takes center stage during the climax. The whole story feels kind of aloof as a result, despite generating a fair amount of interest in individual scenes.
But the movie manages to end well and sets up the story for the OVA, which follows right on its heels. Again the plot is typical: I suppose there's some rule among fantasy writers that in sequels you always have to resurrect the bad guy. The series takes a little longer to tell its story (each episode runs about 40 minutes, not counting credits), but has a little less story to tell. I initially thought the movie seemed a bit rushed and might have suggested that giving a little more time to set things up may have made the plot clearer and maybe added some drama. But the first episode of the OVA made me rethink that opinion. Nearly all the setup has already been accomplished by the movie. But a huge part of the first episode is devoted to exposition, most of which didn't really help me understand anything. I still don't know what the chaos ring is for (or what a chaos ring is for - apparently there are a number of them). The other episodes have the same problem to a lesser degree. There's one part of the story where several factions are fighting over a large bell and trying to figure out how to ring it; but it isn't explained to us what the bell does until after someone actually goes and rings it, which wastes a good deal of potential drama.
There's also a shortage of the nifty beast-morphing that made some of the movie's action scenes so good. In fact, there's a shortage of action all around. The worst point is where two characters who fought man-to-man in the movie are brought together and draw swords for a rematch...only to have the story cut away so we never get to see any of it! But somehow the series finds ways to be even bloodier than the original. There's an encounter with a dragon where buckets of the stuff gets thrown around. Even the scenery gets drenched.
However, the story has bigger ambitions to match its more obvious flaws. If it makes more mistakes, it does have some better scenes to compensate for them. You just have to cut through some dead wood to get to them. And even there a lot of the best scenes are given to a couple of new characters, so some of the regular cast, such as the sidekick, end up getting shortchanged. But like the movie, the OVA comes through with a good ending. By the time it's all over, you feel like the story has gone somewhere. If you can't be sure exactly how it got there, well, don't let it bother you.
The Legend of Crystania is a by-the-numbers but capable fantasy show that doesn't offer a whole lot out of the ordinary but handles the material in a mostly satisfactory way. It has a hard time making sense of itself, particularly in the OVA, and there's a sense of aloofness over the whole that makes it difficult to get entirely involved with the story (even when understandable) or the characters. On the other hand it knows what action scenes are for and can push the right buttons when it needs to. Genre fans, I suppose fans of the Lodoss world in particular, may find this right up their alley. Other audiences, however, will likely see this as a renter at best.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles (for the movie), Character Bios, Original OVA Opening
Sony 35" KV-35XBR88 SDTV, Sony SLV-D370P DVD Player (via generic component), Yamaha RX-V550 DD/DTS Receiver, Infinity Primus C25 and 150 speakers.