I was pretty much ready to give up on Utawarerumono after a disk or two. The amnesia man premise I could give a go, as those sometimes lead interesting places; I was able to accept that for some reason the girls have tails, and could settle for the vague medieval fantasy tribes whose names only die hard fans will remember. Despite the initial clichés, I was so excited in the beginning when, as the forest god terrorized the village, they finally decided to (someone please shield Totoro’s ears) kill it.
Yes, they killed the forest god! Un-freaking-precedented! How cutting edge! But after that I was swiftly disappointed since that fact had next to nothing to do with the rest of the story except explaining how one character obtained her beast companion. After the appearance of the memory-less Hakuoro with his glued-on mask and this brief but startling shake-up, things settled into a monotonous political march.
Invasions! It’s so hard to care why everyone is fighting. There are just wars, you know? Kingdoms have them! Sometimes! One of those boys who ride the dinosaur horses gets too big for his britches and decide to oppress some villagers — then it’s a party. Hakuoro has no qualms about jumping into help out the girl who saved his life, Eruruu, her little sister, Aruruu, and the rest of their peeps. Of course, just taking out the local lord is not enough, so eventually he becomes Emperor, but there are other empires. It never ends! Whoever said it was a small world, after all?
Sure, some new characters are introduced. The angel wings, at this point, were no surprise. The slave girl crazy warrior/sake-lover, the mountain warrior with undying devotion, the “I’m not a boy, dammit!” girl. Unfortunately the middle of the show really does drag. You are primed to want to learn more about Hakuoro, but the journey is long and the writing is bad – not only full of super tired whole grain healthy sentiments, but also just really stiff dialogue at times, like a scene where Eruruu was serving tea to a refined guest and her companion blurted something about how this “plain tea” would not suffice for her highness. Even if he had called it “peasant tea,” it was just not really believable that a conversation about the quality of the tea would even have taken place, especially since it turned out to be delicious, whereupon he said “It’s not nice to trick an old man,” or something to that extent. Sheesh.
Things pick up when we finally get some glimpses into what the deal with Hakuoro and his…powers (?) might be. Of course, I can’t tell you what they are, but they involve Guymelefs – I mean, Evas – I mean…Avu Kamu (yes, a new wonder species of giant bio-mech) and the future (also: the past). I’d even go as far as saying that it gets pretty epic. Also: genre-bending like a boomerang.
Easing the actually-important-plot wait are some pretty nifty fight sequences. I count this as the series’ biggest strength, really. Different characters have their own styles (fan, dual swords, giant sword, archery, claws) and they are all animated nicely. It could be that the fights are just much more interesting to watch than the “slice of life” bits (Oboro, brave “brother” of the emperor, waking up with the twin archers after a particularly heavy sake night = completely unexpected and somewhat boggling), but the choreography definitely caught my eye.
As far as vocal work, I’d say the sub and the dub are about equal this time. Rare, but the English dub didn’t have any voices that completely annoyed me and the Japanese voice for Hakuoro didn’t seem to fit him any better than the English one.
This package contains next to no extras. Does anyone even count clean opening and closing sequences anymore? Because that’s what you get – and trailers. No interviews, no commentary, not even some art or character galleries to look at once and then forget about. Maybe this shows confidence in the form of, “This show stands on its own! Extras? Who needs extras?” but maybe it shows that Utawarerumono is a generic hodge-podge of elements from other shows that isn’t worth discussing at length.
No no no, did I just say that? “Generic” is definitely the way I was describing it through the first disk (aside from that missed opportunity with the forest god slaying); through the second it was more just boring; the third was an improvement, but the fourth was when I was finally somewhat compelled (although that could be the Stockholm Syndrome – after putting in so many hours you might as well see it through). Utawarerumono does actually get a little quirky…in familiar ways. Remember how Evangelion took its time to get to crazytown? This show did, too, only it took a lot longer and instead of being awesome in the meantime, it was just sort of mediocre.