Don’t you just love it when you have completely unreasonable preconceptions about a show that then completely sweeps you off your feet? Utawarerumono (try saying that after 3 large glasses of wine), has the odour of a typical anime series based on an H-game, featuring animal-like females for virgin otaku to drool over; what I got instead was an unexpected bitch-slap from the plotline that completely suprised me a few episodes in. Utawarerumono was ultimately more akin to Berserk than the adorably mindless Magical Meow Meow Taruto.
After a gentle introduction to peasant life in a poor village, the main protagonists are thrown together under unusual circumstances. Continuing in a light-hearted vein, sudden punctuation of violence gives a taste of what is to come. Death is not a taboo subject in what initially feels like a family friendly spectacle, and this is soon cemented by one murder that serves as the catalyst for events throughout the entire twenty-six episodes. Numerous subplots occasionally seem to be forgotten about, but revisiting each fine thread of the story means everything is succinctly explained when the viewer least expects it.
The perfect recommendation for Utawarerumono is Twelve Kingdoms, as both heavily feature politics and the struggle of innocent people. Seeing entire villages razed to the ground and both women and children mercilessly slain by barbaric thugs can make for difficult viewing; but like a car crash, you feel impelled to watch the unfolding action, and take perverse pleasure in seeing the evil adversaries receive their comeuppance. Yes, it does follow the “fight an enemy, fight an even stronger foe” pattern, but deep down it's highly enjoyable and compulsive watching.
Though I was concerned that the writers were going to use the ultimate “Bobby Ewing*” cop-out ending when the penultimate episodes see a complete change of setting, it was to my relief that the storyline bounces back. To explain what I mean would be to spoil the show, so instead I will say that the writers skilfully craft an emotionally moving and fitting climax to an excellent genre spanning show. Although the narrative does meander away from the feel of the rest of the series, I felt it was a satisfying conclusion to a fantastical epic that would have been otherwise difficult to wrap up.
The majority of the show is beautifully drawn. The diverse races of human-hybrids identifiable by their different ears and tails, and their architecturally stunning cities contrasting against lush verdant scenery. Catgirls, canine-men and winged beauties roam the fantastical lands mostly wearing simplistic peasant or military uniforms. As the exception to this rule, the artists take perverse joy in squeezing Karura’s 38GG breasts into a meagre allowance of fabric.
Much of Utawarerumono is pervaded by computer graphics, especially during military intensive battles where one soldier is replicated many times. Unfortunately, these scenes were easy to pick out for their outstanding ugliness. I understand that war and its numerous participants is artistically and technically demanding, but the use of a few more production hours would have upgraded a weak part of the show from mediocre to remarkable. Luckily, the one-on-one hand-drawn fight scenes deserve commendation for their outstanding fluidity.
Much of the soundtrack for Utawarerumono is pleasant but forgettable. The opening and ending tracks betray the violent underbelly of the show; upbeat and jaunty, they give the feel of a fantasy adventure. Luckily, using the background music extremely sparingly, the viewer is instead treated to the melodic clang of clashing of steel or the harmonious serenade of the forests’ feathered inhabitants. Complemented perfectly by an orchestral chant, one breathtaking moment of the show is results in the viewer paying closer attention to the impending action.
Again, I feel the need to draw a parallel with Twelve Kingdoms – an unlikely hero is thrust into the throne to govern people with compassion, much to the discontent of surrounding nations. Placed into a difficult situation, both Hakuoro and Yohko struggle to learn the necessary political intricacies to keep the peace with quarrelsome neighbours. Supported by a strong team, their voyages of discovery attract allies from their magnetic charisma that only grows as the story progresses. Playing both a competent emperor and protective father-figure, Hakuoro is a brave and mysterious character that you can’t help but like.
Surrounded by competent fighters and emotionally supportive figures, both the main female protagonist and secondary cast compliment their masked commander down to a T. From a childishly naive Eruruu who spends most of her screen-time acting like a schoolgirl in love, to the overaggressive womaniser Oboro, each will find a way to woo the viewer. Although the female characters are somewhat stereotypical of an eroge, there is only one member who has a cup-size larger than her personality. And even then, she isn’t the usual vapid bimbo with a pork-sword on her mind. A sharp metal sword, maybe...
A strong start with an even stronger centre, Utawarerumono is a show that, despite its forgivable flaws, will charm a lot of fantasy-action fans. While unsuitable for children, there is gore and violence in abundance for viewers wanting a step away from the usual humdrum anime that takes no risks. The ending is strangely satisfying, especially considering the confusing departure from the expected storyline. Twists and turns aplenty make this an excellent show that, for anime fanatics who have not yet had the pleasure, should definitely add to their want to watch list.
*The good-guy oil tycoon in the uber-soap opera, Dallas, was run over and killed by a car in 1985, and then walked out of the shower and back from the dead a year later. The show's writers papered over the year that had passed by having his wife realise that the entire preceding season and its attendant plot complications had just been a bad dream.
A man awakens in an unfamiliar room, with no recollection of who he is or where he came from. His wounds have been bandaged, and his face is covered with a mask that he cannot remove. With nowhere to go, he decides to stay with his rescuers and help them when needed, waiting for his memory to return. Though his courage, skill, and wisdom quickly gain him the villagers’ respect, the same traits soon land him in hot water with the local feudal lord. Not one to back away from injustice, the path he must follow will lead him to confront his enemies, and his hidden past.
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As a not-so-closet perv, I love watching anything involving panty-shots, handfuls of cleavage and an innuendo fuelled plot. Although most of my reviews will err on the risque, I also love the obscure, the twisted and things that make you think - drop me a line if you want to discuss any of them!