Ragnarok Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: C+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: C
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: N/A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 213
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Ragnarok

Ragnarok Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     December 07, 2007
Release Date: December 04, 2007



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!

The Review!
Out to conquer the world together, Roan and Yuufa build up a party of friends in their travels and live the life of a role playing game. I mean, a fantasy world.

Audio:
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.

Video:
Originally airing in Japan in 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The source materials for this looks to be in good shape and the episode spread, five on the first disc and four on the second, isn't unusual in the slightest. The bitrates for the series doesn't have any regular rate but there are numerous scenes where it sits in the sevens and peaks into the eights. The opening and closings tend to be the lowest due to the alternate angles but that isn't where the show hits the most snags. 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 severely since it's all tied to motion. It's more noticeable when you're watching nine episodes in a row perhaps. 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.

Packaging:
This double disc set is in a standard clear keepcase which has a hinge inside for the first disc while the second one is attached to the back interior of the case. The front cover artwork is pretty good as it features Roan and Yuufa together with the background material that clearly conveys a fantasy setting. The colors are quite good looking and realistic and there's plenty of detail to be had here and there. The series logo is a touch small, but familiar, and they do make good note that this is a double disc set instead of just hiding it like some others do. The back cover is fairly traditional with a large character shot of Takius along one side while the rest of the background is made up of small shots from the show itself. The summary is simple but covers the basics (and provides another studio where they don't use the same names as in the show itself. Is it Yuufa or Yufa?!) and there is a breakdown of the episode numbers and titles to highlight just how much content there is here. The bottom portion is the standard data crunch with a lot of production information on top of a squished technical grid. No real insert is included, but we do get the promotion for playing online free for a bit, and there is no reversible cover.

Menu:
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, such as the first volume featuring Roan and a fantasy cityscape. 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 and only the second volume features any trailers. Access times are nice and fast and we kept to the menu selections for our audio/subtitle options due to the opening and closing angle issue. It also doesn't help that the subtitle track for full subtitles continues to be listed as Japanese.

Extras:
None.

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.

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 more than the Golden Thief Bug, and only that much because the size of it changed repeatedly during the episode. 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.

In terms of production design, Ragnarok is pretty darn basic. Everyone wears the same thing throughout, backgrounds are simple and minimal and the character designs themselves don't have much detail. This lets them keep up a decent amount of fluidity when needed but otherwise it uses the standard budget approach of stills and plenty of pans and zooms. It isn't a bad show, but it keeps to what you could call a fairly standard look and feel. It doesn't stand out or really have any kind of visual hook that sets it apart from other shows, making it interchangeable in some ways. The opening and closing sequences are pretty good though and I have to admit I like how the ending brings everyone in bit by bit as they travel along.

In Summary:
The existence of Ragnarok isn't a surprise considering how well the game has done over the years. The other thing that isn't a surprise is that instead of taking some of the best elements of the game and writing a story around that, it instead decides to go the route that we've been down dozens of times before. For this generation, that may be enough, but for those who have seen it before, there really isn't anything new here. I'm hard pressed to say that fans of the game will find much to like here since it doesn't really do much with the game world beyond some monsters and basic character archetypes. It has some cute moments here and there and it certainly entertained my children as we watched it together, but it left me counting down the episodes and runtime more than anything else. FUNimation is definitely releasing this one in the right format as the double disc set makes it a far easier commitment to make, and one you feel more compelled to continue with because you've just seen nine episodes rather quickly.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
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.

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jnager 3/13/2012 6:36:30 PM

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