As an important introduction to this review, I have not read the Earthsea novels; in addition, I generally am not impressed with the majority of Studio Ghibli titles. Spirited Away is a classic in its own right, and I did also enjoy Princess Mononoke and Kiki's Delivery Service; most of the other titles, however, did nothing for me.
These points are perhaps important as the two major complaints I keep reading about in relation to Gedo Senki are not related to the actual plot, character development, or animation; rather, the complaints are either "It doesn't feel like a Ghibli film" or "It's nothing like the book." Thankfully, neither of these concerns affects or matters to me.
Gedo Senki takes place in a lush and remarkably barren world flanked by oceans and surrounded by open fields and clear skies. While the countryside is nothing to scream about (and is very simplistically animated, I might add), the vibrant port town is bustling with life. Amidst the action are the wise mage Sparrowhawk and his traveling companion, Arren. Unlike what other synopses would suggest, Gedo Senki is not an action-packed adventure filled with swords and sorcery. Rather, it is a quiet and intelligent tale with deep character development that is based upon a single theme: the fear of dying.
While I found Gedo Senki's quiet pace and introspective feel to be marvelous, there's something to be said about the deceptiveness of the plot's setup. The first ten minutes of the film lead you to believe that what you'll be viewing is an epic tale of grandeur and scope which determines the fate of the world as we know it - but that's just not the case. I believe that this, combined with the movie's deviation from the books, is the cause of much criticism. However, there is a solution: go into the film understanding that the first ten minutes are very different than the rest, and you won't be disappointed. The pacing and flow is sometimes a bit off as well, but like Princess Arete, Gedo Senki still manages to portray its story in an intelligent, thoughtful, and overall meaningful manner.
The real meat of the story involves watching Arren explore who he is and who he is to become, with the help of his friends and enemies alike. Though there is a centralized "plot" related to good and evil, it isn't as important as the characters' inner development. Thus, again, I think having correct expectations is key if you are to enjoy Gedo Senki as much as I did.
The only other item worth mentioning is the ending, which some have described as one of the worst endings of all time; I can't disagree more. Given that the anime itself is focused on a boy learning to accept who he is and how to take responsibility for his life, I thought the end couldn't be more appropriate.
Gedo Senki's animation has been chastised as seeming too simple and "bad" for a Ghibli film - I can't help but disagree. While it's true that Gedo Senki does not retain the exceptional visual style of older titles such as Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle, it holds its own with a more traditional look. Character designs are more basic and are akin to simplistic anime such as Nausicaa and King of Bandit Jing. Backgrounds are still absolutely gorgeous and detailed, bringing Gedo Senki's fantasy world to life with style. Moss-covered bricks adorn Celtic fountains, sweeping fields border countryside residences, and a dark and ominous castle looms in the distance. There are many other examples of the superb visual style, but you'll just have to watch to find out.
Gedo Senki's soundtrack is nothing less than flawless. With a distinct Arabian feel, the sweeping melodies that accompany each scene took my breath away. At times, the tone is jovial and uplifting (such as in marketplace scenes) while at others, the songs take a more epic tone akin to something like Lord of the Rings or Braveheart. Kubiki strongly reminds me of the Stargate movie, and still gives me chills when I listen to it. Tabiji is my other favorite track on the OST (which, I might add, I purchased immediately and can't seem to stop listening to).
Gedo Senki is also unique in that all of the voice actors were chosen PERFECTLY. An old man with 3 minutes of total on-screen time sounds frail, tired, and definitely aging. Arren sounds like his age: 17; he doesn't have a female seiyuu, nor a deep-throated voice of someone twice his age. Even Cob's androgynous and sexy lilt is perfect, giving him a disarming demeanor and appearance.
As someone who struggles herself with the concept of death and dying, I could completely identify with Arren's grief and tendency to wonder if fighting for life is truly something worth doing. His character undergoes a remarkable transformation from one who places no value on his life, to one who cherishes each moment and wants to protect the ones he loves.
Arren's new friend Theru undergoes the second most poignant transformation. Scarred as a child by her abusive parents, Theru lives with Sparrowhawk's companion, Tenar. Theru does not care for Arren's company to begin with due to a conflict of morals, and is generally afraid of anyone new and unknown. Throughout the course of the film, Theru, like Arren, gains a greater sense of caring and self worth.
Secondary characters include the stoic and wise Sparrowhawk whose character is akin to Gandalf of Lord of the Rings, Theru's strong and steadfast caretaker Tenar, and the evil and sadistic Cob. Each plays an important part in the story. Though impossible to discuss without spoiling, I'll simply say that I was even able to identify and empathize with the villain of the story, once the ending credits neared. Too often a villain is simply an evil person with a need for power, but not so with Gedo Senki. Rather, Gedo Senki's villain has a much more human motive that viewers can empathize with.
Though I know my opinion is not in the majority, I found Gedo Senki to be a masterpiece with very few flaws. If anything, the story should not have been misrepresented in both the first 5-10 minutes, and in every other synopsis on every other anime site. I feel that if people are able to set aside the notion that the anime has to follow the book exactly, and/or don't place such high expectations on the movie in general due to rampant Ghibli-fanboyism, that they will see Gedo Senki for what it is: amazing. I found the character development and inner struggles to be compelling, the soundtrack to be emotionally moving and the story to be touching. Overall, a movie that I would be glad to replay time and time again.
Don't listen to the negative hype, go into it with an open mind, and I believe that you too will appreciate the beauty of Gedo Senki.
When Miyazaki Goro’s anticipated debut movie hit the screens in 2006, much of the reception was lukewarm, and even a bit unflattering. Let me tell you this: Unless all you care about is a gripping plotline, don’t take those criticisms seriously. Many of the reviewers expected Goro’s film to be yet another Ghibli swashbuckler filled with adventure, intrigue, and fun. Young Miyazaki was unable to escape his father’s shadow (not unlike his film’s protagonist), and his ambitious, very different, work ended up the undeserved target of many preconceived notions. Tales from Earthsea is a far cry from the typical family-friendly flight of whimsy that one would probably expect, but while considered a Miyazaki “disappointment,” it remains a movie that can stand quite well on its own, thank you very much.
Tales from Earthsea is not a movie for kids. Nor is it a movie tailored for those simply “in for a good ride.” It is an unpretentious work with an unpretentious story, but a lot is said. Unlike Miyazaki Hayao, Goro’s narrative is driven more by mood and character than actual plot, though father and son align in their ability to convey something to their audience. Prince Arren, a troubled teenager and runaway, finds himself unwittingly caught in an evil scheme that has been throwing the world of Earthsea out of sync. In the midst of such troubles, he gains friends, traverses the countryside, hides from slave traders, and delves into the meanings of life and death. It is by no means an epic adventure, but is instead a series of thoughtful portraits in which Arren comes to learn about himself and the way he views the circumstances around him. Miyazaki Goro has something to say through this movie, something that transcends past commercial artifices into an important lesson on the value of life.
Compared to the charms of other Ghibli films, Earthsea promises a very different kind of magic. The fantasy surrounding the land of Earthsea is presented in a way not dissimilar to Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter: Its tone is much airier than those of the elder Miyazaki, the landscapes are distinctly un-Japanese, and all in all, there is just something sweeping about its whole image. It becomes a memorable fantasy not through heroics and fighting dragons, but through its beautiful tone colors. Keep in mind that this is NOT what every anime fan is looking for.
This isn’t to say that the story is without gaps and flaws. As a matter of fact, there exist a few moments where motives and actions do not connect adequately, leaving the overarching story less convincing than it could have been. Some plot occurrences are unneeded, while others are left unexplained. Nevertheless, its theme on the dynamics between life and death hits hard. The climax, while lacking a sense of urgency, is ethereal and grandiose, and then cascades into a quiet, satisfying conclusion.
One can easily detect the classic “Ghibli style” in Miyazaki Goro. Like its story, the animation and backgrounds are unpretentious, uncluttered works of art that serve their purposes well and add to the fresh, “open” feel of the film. What drew me in the most were its vast landscapes. With such breezy, sun-tinted oceans, desert seas, broad mountain ranges, and windblown grass fields, I felt a strong desire to step through my computer screen and actually experience the sensations that the scenes so strongly elicited. The characters are drawn in an uncomplicated manner and yet exhibit a cleaner, more detailed polish than earlier Miyazaki counterparts.
Let me just say that the music is absolutely, unequivocally beautiful. Its exotic harmonies and sweeping symphonic elements truly bring the world of Earthsea to life. Some main themes were used repetitively, yet they were so exquisite and full of imagery that I hardly minded. I particularly liked the more folksong-like piece that makes a poetic appearance in the second half, sung by Therru, the heroine.
The voice acting is well done. Above all, I love the voice for Cob, whose low, musical murmurs capture his mystique and lend to an odd kind of hypnotism that is fascinating to hear. This quality of voice heightens his terrifying potential for evil. The others’ voices, while performed persuasively, are generally unremarkable in timbre.
What the film might miss in plot it almost completely makes up for in the multifaceted characterization of its protagonist, Prince Arren. The boy’s realizations of life, death, and himself largely constitute the story as a whole; throughout his journey of guilt, doubt, and fear, he will be able to strike a deeply familiar chord with many viewers. Seemingly crushed by the irrevocability of dying one day, Arren copes with the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life. His development throughout the film will make it easy for viewers struggling with similar problems to reflect and journey with him. The impact of such a dynamic evolution of character cannot be denied.
Many of the other characters initially appear to fit into one-dimensional frames. Some of them remain so, while others grow into themselves. Sparrowhawk stays the stereotypical wise wizard, Tenar the supportive and strong female adult ally. However, Therru, a girl Arren rescues from the slave traders, blooms into a best friend and a vital part of Arren’s self-realizations. Cob, who is maliciously throwing Earthsea out of balance, holds vulnerabilities of his own that make his greed understandable. The only disappointing character is the annoying, broad-faced slave trader lackey who repeatedly fails in his attempts to apprehend Arren. His presence is merely a bad aftertaste that pops up over and over again as a device to tend to the rather forced undercurrent of suspense throughout the first half.
The critics who have trashed this majestic film are merely failing to come to terms with their own presuppositions. Of course, no one can call this piece flawless. Yet I see in the film a young director’s immense potential, as well as a stunning individuality that is too often unappreciated by those who merely desire to see an unoffending successor to the Ghibli tradition. The future looks dim for this underrated movie, and to be honest, this saddens me. I am not afraid to admit that I am completely taken with Tales from Earthsea. With its characterization, its aesthetics, and most especially its style, it has carried me upon wild wings of rapture.
Studio Ghibli became the colossus it is thanks to the directing and love of its major founder, Hayao Miyazaki. Most of his works are adored by most anime fans and he is considered to be the best director of anime movies. But sadly nothing can last forever and he is getting too old to create works with as much passion as the one he had three decades ago. Thus Ghibli tries to pass the torch to the new generation, and in this particular case, Hayao’s own son Gorou. This doesn’t mean all of his talent could be magically inherited to the next generation and that Gorou could pick up the duty with the same style or passion. In fact his first attempt is quite the unimpressive one. It feels dull and hardly shares the excitement of his father’s earlier works.
The story is based on Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea novels. I haven’t read them but I have seen the live action movie adaptation of the first novel and know all the basics. And here lies the first major problem of the movie; the fact that it is based on a mix of all the novels, which took their time to establish the terminology to the reader. The movie focuses mostly on showing the plot and not on explaining the internal logic of the Earthsea setting, thus anyone who is not aware of all that will be completely confused. Prior knowledge of the world in the books is necessary in order to understand how magic and control of the elements work. I am not a fan of expotalk but making a 2 hour story out of a world with a unique form of magic is kind of a bad move. Heck, even the straightforward way Middle Earth was running needed a trilogy to properly explain everything. Thus you need to read the books if you want to fully comprehend the technicals of Earthsea.
The second problem is that even if you do read the books, the movie will still feel like a loose and dried up version of a world where the balance between yourself and nature is crucial. A great part of the original story is focusing on internal monologues or long narration of the psychology of its characters, and how that in return mirrors the state of the world they are living in. If they have major issues, the land around them loses its balance and havoc spreads. All that can’t be properly translated from paper to screen, since you “see” them acting and not “hear” them thinking. And no, this is not some half-assed shounen where the characters can’t shut up and just mention the slightest thing they do to you. Thus the problem now is that you don’t understand the motivations or the mentality of the characters. If you see someone suddenly getting angry, chances are you won’t understand the reason because something weird just crossed his mind, stated in detail in the original text but completely invisible on screen.
The third problem is the storyboard. It is way too simple, even for an otherwise family movie. Very few things happen in each scene and thus lack the rich context of earlier Ghibli films. Many events could very easily be left out without a problem or could have been shown in a far more captivating way. Heck, they could have combined most action scenes to last half as much, just for the sake of being twice as interesting. The battles are boring, the talking is almost emotionless, and the actions each character does are simple and stretched to last for several minutes. This goes back to an earlier problem, where you have a complicating setting full of events that needs to show and explain lots of stuff, yet the director only chooses to state them in a most basic and dried up way. Earthsea is NOT family-oriented material; you can’t just sit with the kids to see humorous action and adventure. There is mostly world-building and psychology than action; both of which are absent on-screen and thus you get this soup of a plot. And to heck with that, how does the wizard plan to save the world by wasting days in plowing a field? Or how will the prince make his own kingdom by running away from the kindom he would inherit one day? Nothing makes sense!
It is the same problem Ghibli’s earlier work Howl's Moving Castle had. Way too many things happen in way too little time for the average viewer to grasp and cherish, and thus they get nothing specific to remember about. I understand how they are trying to make it more complicating than just another run-of-the-mil children’s adventure but such things simply take time to be properly presented and the target audience doesn’t care about all that to the most part. If you ask me, both Howl and Earthsea (and their following Borrower Arrietty) should be SERIES and not a teaser movie that scratches only the surface of the whole. They are not stories that can be zipped down to a few hours like in the case of Nausicaa or Princess Mononoke.
The fourth problem is the plausibility of the storyboard. Apart from being simple and incomprehensible, it is also full of convenience. It is ok to have a couple of scenes in such movies but if it happens all the time it tends to get annoying fast. Arren keeps bumping on the proper people, in the proper moment, all the time. If there are lotteries in Earthsea, he could have won them all with all that luck of his. And the wizard of the story can simply appear and disappear every time the script calls for it, and it is not because he can teleport or something. Not to mention the silent girl who, oh, so happens to bump on Arren in a one in a billion chance a few days later he saves her from being raped… RAPED? Did I just say something that shouldn’t be part of a family movie? Why the hell are they promoting child rape and child slavery in a movie for kids? See what I meant when I said Earthsea is NOT family-oriented material? This is going to scare children and parents away.
The production values are great as usual but definitely lack the mind-blowing visuals of earlier films. Earthsea “looks” rather generic for a fantasy medieval setting and it is its metaphysical unseen aspect that makes it great. Nothing close to Nausicaa or Princess Mononoke and their extremely full in detail sceneries and weird creatures. Furthermore they overdid it with the robes and the cloaks. Everybody wears these monochromatic blunt uniforms most of the time that it feels like they were trying to save money in animation by drawing a few simple triangles with a head on top that slide instead of a full body that walks. It again takes out a lot from what the eye could be kept busy and you are again left to realize how basic and boring it feels.
In a rather similar way soundtrack and voice acting are fine for what the movie is all about bout definitely lack passion. Since the world is out of balance most people are very gloomy and sad, so they feel too negative and distant for you to care. Plus since their motivations are blurry and you don’t understand how they think or act, you simply lack a reason to like them. Combined with the simplistic storyboard, you feel like half the time you are just hearing them talk in a cryptic but otherwise emotionless way, and there is little to no BGM to make it sound fancy. So I felt like most of the dialogue was short sentences full of amateurish attempts at building tension (Are you… could it be… it can’t be… perhaps… of course).
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 7/10
General Artwork 2/2 (well-made)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (very detailed)
Animation 1/2 (too many robes)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (dull but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (dull)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (vague)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10
Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (generic but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (generic but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 2/10
Historical Value 1/3 (none, unless you count the original books’ fame)
Rewatchability 0/3 (no way)
Memorability 1/4 (the dragons were cool)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 3/10
So did I liked it? No, but it is not the source material I blame for that. Instead of making a 12 episode series full of magic and psychological emersion aimed at adults they made a dull movie aimed at kids. Sorry Gorou, you need to get your facts straight if you want us to like you. Your first attempt was a big mess.
Earthsea left me with some mixed feelings about how good or bad the movie was. For starters, the whole fratricide thing is a little fishy at best and a horrible evil act at worst. It is mildly implied this was due to some spell or influence by the evil wizard but I got the impression that said influence was neither constant nor that strong, so I have to wonder how it was enough to influence such an act. Secondly, if it was so little of influence would it not be a bit like how hypnosis works? That it would never have the power to make one do something they were deadset against? Thirdly, if he supposedly lost his light half, then how come he was still nice to Sparrowhawk, Therru, and Tenar? Wouldn't having only a dark half make you do only evil things? I sense a few plot holes because of these questions. Fourthly, there was the whole dragon forewshadowing but dragons had very little presence in the movie or technically an impact and the influence near the end is a bit questionable as is what exactly happened.
((((Possible Spoilers, read at your own risk. I try not to be too specific but plot elements are discussed more deeply than in the pervious questions)))) Fifthly, at one point Sparrowhawk mentions to Arren that some influence was behind the world's imbalance but as he was about to say what, the scene faded out so no what was ever mentioned. Sixthly, whether it was some evil dragon or a magic user or some kind that somehow drained the world of magic, this mystery was left hanging. We never found out who or what was behind this mysterious magic void but one clue did appear at the castle of Corncob or cob (:D Pun intended), when it is vaguely implied something there sapped Sparrowhawk, but again, it is left too vague to point at the source like if it was even Cob behind it or something else. Given what happened during the last bout, I am inclined to think Cob did not explicitly have the power to do that this is coupled with the previous encounter he had with Sparrowhawk since it was only after he was thrown in the dungeon that he felt 'sapped' so though it is never mentioned clearly, we get the impression that something else was behind it and the reason Sparrowhawk's words were muffled was because perhaps he was suggesting a sequel and that information was left until after the end for us to understand. (((( Possible spoilers end)))).
Those questionable elements aside, it had alot of good points. The fantasy setting was elaborate and well made. The art was well above average though I can not say tops. Some characters lacked the sense of modern anime and art style and felt more like some of the older anime such as Arren and Therru who oddly look a bit too much alike (if you change the hair, clothes, and body markings you would have trouble telling them apart). The magic while fanciful is far from a sense of great power you often see in most other fantasies or magic setting stories yet the story focuses on a handful of magic users and imply they are among the most powerful but despite that you never exactly see a substantial display of it to prove how great these powers are. I find that a bit contradictory. However, Sparrowhawk is a pretty upstanding character. Therru though at times seems a bit spoiled, somewhat self centered and wallowing in her own misery or sense of self worthlessness still manages to live on but keeps to her self. Tenar gives the impression she is a middle aged mother of 3 even though I doubt she ever actually had kids of her own. There is a bit of a focus on the misery of the institution of slavery yet the sense of dread is not strongly presented and it is only lightly touched upon. Cob complains about some past with Sparrowhawk yet no flash back happens or at least not much of one so our sense of his bad experience is kept light. Sparrowhawk tells him there were reasons he had that fate but that is even less impressed upon viewers. Arren acts oddly nice around Sparrowhaw, Tenar, and somewhat Therru though he is puzzled why she dislikes him. Other times he knows he commited a dreadful crime but does not understand why. This of course makes the nature and gravity of any would be influence difficult to measure. Again though if the wizard has such control over him why did he fight the slavers and why did he struggle to apprehend him?
** SPOILER OPEN **
Ok, this is a question about what happened when Therru removed the block on Arren's light half and they saw the dragon. It was confusing to me as to who that dragon came from or what it represented or perhaps if it implied they both had some connection to dragons. The ending when the other dragon appeared further created confusion because at first it looked like some kind of summoned monster or illusionary power as if borrowing dragon like power, but then Therru seemed to disappear and only Arren appeared riding a dragon and Therru appeared after it vanished. Can we say more plot holes? My last question is, why does Cob so quickly change his mind about who has the secret of immortality? And if his reasons were sound then why did he think equally Arren had it originally?
** SPOILER END **
I am unsure if it was oversight or poor choices but after the first scene we never exactly see an update though I felt a craving to know the aftermath of what Arren did. The setting created is nicely done. Most of the few lead characters are well made and developed. Arren sadly has a few issues keeping him from being a truly solid stellar character partly because there are too many questions and plot holes about what happens to him and his quirky behaviors that do not match what is supposed to be the source of his angst. Animation is great especially animals, landscapes, and vehicles but some of the characters lack a sense of modern styles due in part to how too similar they look to one another in the same way much older anime does (as in the 80s or older). The character design style for several characters is at least a decade or more behind. Story like some of the characters is for the most part nicely done but plagued with rather substantial plot holes. The sounds are best exemplified in the sounds of the farm animals and the roll of wagon wheels and later a crumbling building but it is only slightly above average overall. You probably won't be disappointed to watch this anime then again if you are looking for a stellar show of magic or one filled with dragons you will be let down. Although the story somewhat focuses on magic, as Sparrowhawk himself said, (well paraphrased) in response to Therru, magic is no substitute for hard work. Magic is downplayed alot despite the fact that there are one or two untrained prodigies and at least 2 of the most powerful magic users in the world centered in the story. That is not necessarily a bad thing but I personally feel it is down played a bit to much for a fantasy so heavily focused on magic.
A deeply philosophical movie that unfortunately takes too long to develop its plot. While the start is abrupt leaving many questions hanging, most of them are eventually answered if the viewer is patient enough to see the Movie through. For more than half the movie I wasn't sure where the story was even headed or if it even had a plot at all. Had the movie been shorter with the emphasis on the second half, I would have rated this movie higher.
Characters : No one particulary stood out for me except SparrowHoawk who to me seemed like the Gandalf equivalent of Earthsea. I am also still uncertain about the gender of the Antagonist. Arren the protoganist has very few qualities that are appealing but I came to realise that his weak character was central to the climax.
Animation: Colourful and bright scenery. Character features are consistent and movements are fluid. No complaints here.