What is it that comes to find when I say "fantasy". Perhaps Elder scrolls comes to mind maybe Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, or what that girl did at your friends bachelor party. Whatever comes to mind (except maybe the last one) Guin Saga ranks among one of the better fantasies around. From political intrigue, strange creatures, nobles warriors, and yes magic Guin Saga delivers in epic (although not quite perfect) fashion.
Guin Saga is based off the longest running single writers work in the world which, evidentially, is also called Guin Saga. The anime takes place in a fictional land divided up into three great kingdoms, one night the kingdom of Mongaul launches a surprise attack on the kingdom of Parros forcing the prince (Remus) and the princess (Rinda) to flee the country. By fate they end up in Mongaul territory where they meet a man with a Leopards head by the name of Guin. Guin has lost most of his memories and because of his chivalrous nature befriends Remus and Rinda. Now Remus and Rinda must return to and reclaim Parros along side Guin who struggles to understand who he is.
Now the anime seems to have two arcs to it and since I can't seem to find the official name for these arcs I will name them myself, the "remus is a whinny bitch" arc and the "remus is a cynical mastermind" arc. Now within the First arc there is plenty of action, as the trio cuts it's way through mongraul territory. They befriend a mercenary named Istavan and a sem named Suni who travel along side them. The first arc revolves predominately around characters background stories but the developing relationships between each of the characters. Other than that there isn't a lot to the first arc other than more fighting than Guin can swing a sword at. This makes the first ten episodes fairly forgettable however the character and relationship development provides an excellent base for the vastly superior second arc.
The second arc is, IMO, where the writing staff said "finally some action!". And after wading through the first ten episodes I was rewarded with a suspense filled dramatically fantasy, compound with political intrigue, betrayal and yes more violence. I was thoroughly pleased to see the story from another angle, as the main focus shifted slightly from Remus and Rinda's journey to Parros to Naris's reclaiming of Parros. Here the characters start to separate in order to fulfill there own individual goals and the different perspectives is a breath of fresh air from the monotony of the first arc. The mental chess game that Naris plays in reclaiming Parros along side Remus and Rinda's perilous journey back home is a mixture of flavors to satisfy any palette. Along with foreshadowing and epic feel of the show Guin Saga did well compensating for what the first arc lacked.
While in much of the anime is fluid and it's backgrounds beautifully drawn there where still many problems with Guin Saga's animation. First the good, this anime did a superb job with it's fight sequences. The animation was fluid and never got blurry or seemed rushed. The backgrounds in this anime as in many fantasy genres are grand and spectacularly drawn. The characters themselves while not orthodox where unique and well drawn (especially Guin). Now for the bad, much of the time especially when there was a conversation everything was stagnant except for the character talking. This was an obvious economization and while understandable still left a bad taste in my mouth. Sometimes characters where sloppily drawn especially minor characters ex. the wolf king. Lastly Guin's speech sometimes his mouth moved with the words other times he just opened his jaws and sounds spilled out. Overall not terrible but easily not what it could have been with a little extra effort.
If there is one word that can phrase the sound of this anime it's "Epic". It's obvious that a video game composer created the scores. The intro reminds me a lot of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion's theme, while the music is composed masterfully and really brings home the intensity of a battle or the treachery of a betrayal, once and awhile I found the music misplaced. Not only that but once and awhile the same music spilled onto two completely different scenes. The voice acting acting helps make up for this by being simply outstanding. Each of the characters voices match their personalities perfectly and only suni's voice terribly annoyed me (lucky she doesn't have many lines). All in all the sound came out smelling slightly sweeter than the average rose.
The characters are what make this anime truly stand out. Unlike the story which only starts rolling near the second arc the characters are deep and engaging straight from the get go. While some of the characters may seem like cliches for ex. Guin's unflappable chivalry and Naris who is almost a carbon copy of light from Death Note, it's their responses to the unique stimuli of this fantasy world that is engaging. From Rinda's subtle progression toward co dependence to Remus's not so subtle change from whinny bitch to cynical competence. As each character reaches toward their own goals they meet and react differently but not unrealistically based on not only their own shifts in personality but their fellow cast as well. And while not everyones changes are for the best you are still able to empathize and love each of the characters in their own way.
While this anime falls short of some of the greats out their it is still one of the better shows I have come across. While the story doesn't really kick off till the second arc, the first arc provides crucial backstory and development. While the sound and the animation leave something to be desired, the characters are deep, engaging and uniquely portrayed within the environment. The old Philosophical debate over wether or not we are controlled by fate or make it ourselves is a long running motif. Along with each individuals overzealous ambition toward their goals and how it shapes the world this anime worth taking a crack at. The ending Leaves of with many questions left unanswered but, while leaving room for a second season (which by doals beard better come to fruition) leaves you with some closure.