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.
In the lush fantasy world of Earthsea, dragons and humans no longer live together as one due to the greed of humanity. It is in this world that the young Prince Arren lives – a young man who is dejected, tormented, and afraid of the ultimate goal of life: death. After killing his father and stealing an heirloom sword forged by magic, Arren sets forth with his trusty steed into the unknown countryside, experiencing the joys and darkness of mankind. Along with the powerful mage Sparrowhawk, an unlikely friend and his own personal angst, Arren must rediscover his desire to live while evil forces threaten his precious life's existence.
My fav genres include sci fi and horror, but you'll find a lot of obscure reviews from me too, given I watch a ton to add to the database. My new reviews are written a lot better than my old ones, so when in doubt, sort by date! ^_^ Enjoy, and I welcome any and all feedback.