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.
Prince Arren is the cutest anime boy I have EVER seen. Holy cow.
There are a couple of lines where Aoi Teshima's voice is just breathtaking.
The story and movie itself are only so-so at best.
While slow-paced and not for amateurs, Gedo Senki uses it's time to build a believable and immersive fantasy world that absorbs the viewer entirely. With stellar animation and sound on pair with Ghibli's best works, it's an adventure any fan of the genre shouldn't miss.
Deemed to be Studio Ghibli's worst film; I went in thinking 'it's from Studio Ghibli how bad can it be?'. I don't know if I'm looking to deeply into it, but this is possibley one of the worst film I have ever seen and it all comes from the story and the character, the two biggest parts of the film and they fuck it up.
In the first 5 mins Prince Arren kills his farther the King, for possibly no reason and the movie wants us to feel sorry for him. Fuck you movie, I'm not going to feelsorry for a rich Prince who for no reason killed his farther and this guy is the King, right? So how come no one in the film is worried that the King has been murdered? Wouldn't they send the guards of the palace out to find the son-of-a-bitch who killed the king? And it's worse that Arren is just allowed to wonder out of the palace with no one seeing him, after commiting the horrific crime of murdering the King, but I guess in Earthsea this is a minor crime *rolls eyes*.
That's the start of my rant and there is more to go over and be angry about in the video review: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oes9PtGXvJ0
BBFC rating - PG for infrequent moderate violence and scary scenes