Review by: Brenda Gregson
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: DVD: $69.98
Running Time: 650 minutes
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now
Long live the masked Emperor!
Like many countries, Japan has a rich history of kingdoms long gone and of Empires that have passed on to the pages of history. Some stories of history even take on mythical feel as if they only existed in fantasy and make-believe. Utawarerumono: The Complete Collection is a fantasy story that has a historical feel to it and thus makes it a thoroughly epic and entertaining series.
Waking up in a home that is unfamiliar to him and staring at the face of a kindly young girl with furry ears and a long bushy tail, a young man who can’t remember who he is or what he’s doing there can see that the young girl had bandaged his wounds. The girl, name Eruruu, only tells him that she and her grandmother (who is the village’s healer) had found him wounded out in the woods. On top of that, the young man with no name is wearing a mask that seems to be stuck on his face somehow.
Given the name Hakouro, the young masked man begins his new life living among these people and staying with Eruruu, her young sister Aruruu and Grandmother who sees the goodness in the stranger. Hakouro lives among the people, aiding them in their harvesting and – when the “Goddess of the Forest” (that just so happens to be a powerful white tiger) attacks – he helps slay it. Just as Grandmother had forseen, Hakouro shows his kindness by caring for the people and even accepts young Aruruu when she reveals that she is hiding the Goddess’ baby cub. He even forgives the brash young man named Oboro who insults him when Hakouro becomes close to the young man’s ailing sister.
Yet not all is peaceful in this land since a cruel and violent government comprised of power hungry Emperors and Kings that wish to dominate the land with an iron fist. One such Emperor wishes to seize the small village and even uses a former village dweller named Nuwangi to bully the people of the village. Of course, Hakouro does stand up for them and even after a tragedy that sees the demise of Grandmother Tuskuru); it is the masked man who leads the villagers in a battle to defend themselves. And so begins Hakouro’s new position as Village Chief as he leads villagers in a revolt to overthrow the Emperor of the land.
With the Emperor gone, it is Hakouro that becomes the new Emperor of the land. As a result, winged people send an ambassador that just so happens to be a Priestess named Urutori who has come with her younger sister Camus to see what kind of ruler Hakouro is and what his plans are for the people. Hakouro is joined by the previous Emperor’s Samurai General named Benawi and his top lieutenant. He even takes into his army an escaped female prisoner who slaughtered her captors as if they were nothing.
Along the way, Hakouro learns what it’s like to be the Emperor of various territories. Luckily for him, Hakouro is loved and respected by the people even though blood continues to be shed thanks to the Emperor of another land. This Emperor Niwe leads his armies to destroy Hakouro and manages to do a lot of damage as well as slaughter close friends from the village that took Hakouro in as their own. In the battle against Niwe, Hakouro learns a little more about who he really is and what had happened to him. It is thanks to Eruruu that he looks past his questionable past and focus on the future as a ruler that means well for his people.
Of course, the land is plagued by unrest whether it is another race’s quest to free themselves from slavery to a young sovereign who befriends Hakouro and then threatens the land and the good kingdoms with giant mech-like armor units. Pulling the strings from the shadows is a winged person whose intentions become known when Hakouro finally discovers the shocking, very surprising and somewhat confusing truth about himself. What is the beast that lies dormant within him and what does it have to do with the mask he wears? All of this is answered in the final chapters and let me tell you that it will shock you in the end.
The truth is that Utawarerumono is an epic tale that feels like an Arthurian story of enormous proportions and that’s a great thing. The animation itself, though, is a bit inconsistent especially when things suddenly turns bloodier (where was the blood in the earlier episodes?) and the animation more fluid by Episode 14. Even the CGI effects feel a bit out of place at times. The light moments are actually fun, though, and while the series doesn’t give depth to the characters they are hardly forgettable.
In the end, what we have in Utawarerumono: The Complete Collection is a richly told fantasy story that has nearly everything you can ask for in an anime series of this type. While it’s far from perfect, there’s no denying how deep and fascinating this story of the rise of a noble kingdom is and how much you will enjoy watching the events unfold. Sure, we cannot pronounce the name but who cares since this story is fascinating? This series is one fantasy anime fans should not dismiss.
DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN
A mysterious man wearing a mask that he can’t remove and with no memory of who he his is wakes up in a village he defends against a cruel government. Quickly rising from stranger to leader, this man named Hakouro sees the people through battles to preserve the peace of the land. In the course of his leadership, Hakouro learns a dark secret about himself that’s a tad confusing but utterly fascinating.
VIDEO QUALITY: B-
The animation isn’t bad at all, although it is slightly inconsistent with the earlier episodes. Still, the video quality is excellent and the series overall looks great on DVD.
AUDIO QUALITY: B+
There’s a solid voice acting cast here whether you like the original Japanese voices or the English dub. The Japanese voices are my preference thanks to a Hakouro that sounds more commanding. The original score if sweeping and epic and the opening song, “Muso-Ka” by Suara is awesome.
The third and fourth disc in the set only includes trailers and the clean opening and closing songs.
Utawarerumono is a beautifully told fantasy tale that feels as epic as any historical feature film and it definitely is one of those rare anime series that shouldn’t be ignored. Yes, the characters can seem a tad one-dimensional at times but what the series doesn’t do with characterization it does with the actual epic storytelling.