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Anime Reviews: Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight
While its constant retconning of the OVA can be frustrating to follow, Chronicles' focus on its many interesting characters proves to be its greatest virtue.
Title: Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight a.k.a. Lodoss Tou Senki: Eiyuu Kishi Den
Production: Bandai Visual
Series Length: 27 episodes
Air Dates: 4/1/1998 to 9/30/1998
Age Rating: 7+ (mild violence)
Summary: Five years after the great War of Heroes, dark clouds descend over Lodoss once again as Ashram, the legendary dark knight of Marmo and loyal retainer of the late Emperor Beld, sets out to fulfill his emperor's wish to conquer all of Lodoss. Elsewhere, the beautiful female mercenary Shiris and her taciturn guardian Orson have taken a job as tax collectors and have come to collect at the border town of Zaxon. Unluckily for the mercs, the town is under the protection of the valiant "free knight" Parn and his elven battlemage companion Deedlit. After a tense battle, the defeated Shiris and Orson abandon their job and decide to follow Parn on his quest to slay the two dormant ancient dragons whose hoards contain powerful relics--relics which have also caught the eye of the ruthless Ashram.
The Good: Legendary opening theme; appealing character designs; classic fantasy story peppered with likable and interesting characters
The Bad: Inconsistent animation; first few episodes are ultimately just a prologue; rewrites the OVA; the "Lodoss Island" portion of each episode
The Ugly: Trying to keep track of the differences between this and the OVA is a herculean task
I really do miss the days when high fantasy anime were commonplace, because the deluge of modern-day slice-of-life stuff and low fantasy is just getting dull at this point. It was refreshing to sit down and revisit my youth with Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight, as I could finally get my fill of knights and elves and orcs and magic, for which I've been craving for a while. But unfortunately, my revisiting of this series has revealed to me some flaws that I had overlooked as a youngster, and so now the question is begged: Was this a series worth revisiting, or did I still enjoy myself despite the flaws? Let's go on a quest of discovery, shall we?
We'll start things off by looking at what is, by far, the most memorable aspect of the show: the opening theme, "Kiseki no Umi." My God. Just like Wolf's Rain and The Vision of Escaflowne, this is the dream team of Yoko Kanno and Maaya Sakamoto working together to create absolute musical bliss. The overall Celtic feel and the tribal chanting really add a unique dimension to the song, and even those who were lukewarm towards the series always held this track in extremely high regard, and for good reason. The visuals are, likewise, top-notch and still incredibly beautiful to this day. Really, I could watch this opener all day long. So when I say the opening theme is the most memorable aspect of the show, that's not a slam against the show--it just means that it's that good. The rest of the soundtrack is no slouch either, but finding samples to show you is tricky, so all I can say is that it's solid, if nothing spectacular.
Another piece of aesthetics that has always stuck with me is the series' character designs. With maybe a few questionable decisions aside (blue and purple hair in a medieval fantasy?), I love the series' consistent art style, and it's one of those rare fantasy series where you can actually tell the difference between the various warring armies without boiling it down to "good guys silver, bad guys black." The main characters are brilliantly designed, as well, and even though there are about three dozen of them, I never once got confused as to who was who, because their designs were easy to latch onto and remember. But of course, good artwork is not enough to make one remember so many characters over the course of 27 episodes.
The other secret to Chronicles' success and its ability to keep us engaged hinges upon its writing, specifically its story and its character development. The individual plot elements will be instantly familiar to you if you've ever experienced a fantasy story in your life, but the way they're weaved together is what makes them still feel fresh. And in a similar fashion, the characters start off as familiar stereotypes but remain interesting nonetheless; however, as time goes on, you'll find that these characters transcend their molds fairly quickly and, by the time you reach the last few episodes and if you're anything like me, you'll be so invested in these peoples' lives that it'll be devastating when any of them--any of them--bites the dust. And make no mistake, some of them will. When a series can make you legitimately dread the fate of its characters, it's doing something right. And spoiler alert: the main villain likes to throw around an instant-death spell. Ain't we got fun!
In all seriousness, though, I'm honestly surprised how well-rounded and well-developed the cast is, especially considering how the Record of Lodoss War OVA's characters were largely flat (very interesting, but flat nonetheless). I enjoyed watching the OVA's cast, but Chronicles' cast blows them out of the water, easily. And don't get me started on how awesome Ashram's character arc is, or else I'd be here gushing all day.
Now this is the part where I have to put a wet blanket over my own parade (that's how the saying goes, right?), because Chronicles has quite a few problems, the least of which is its inconsistent animation. Put simply, at times it looks like the series just didn't have the budget to make its action sequences truly impressive, so we're treated to a lot of still frames and occasional reused cels just to make ends meet. It's a bit of a disappointment to see such an ambitious series struggle visually, but considering Bandai Visual had another project going on at the same time, I can understand why it happened. Still a shame, though.
It also doesn't help that the first 8 or so episodes are just an appetizer for the 9-27 main course, a la Clannad ~After Story~, making those early episodes feel like little more than an extended prologue. Here's the cast, there they go, whoo-hoo evil is allayed! It rushes by so quickly that the still-well-developed cast takes a backseat to the narrator's manic driving.
What frustrated me most about Chronicles, though, is that it essentially is unfriendly to both newcomers and to fans of the OVA. If you're new to the franchise, characters will make reference to events like the War of Heroes without giving you an explanation; if you're familiar with the franchise, then you'll be asking yourself all kinds of questions all throughout, like "How the hell doesn't Parn know who Shiris and Orson are?" and "Why is King Kashue the one fighting Emperor Beld? Isn't that supposed to be King Fahn?" and so on. Worst of all, if you've watched past episode 7 of the original OVA, then you already know what the majority of the TV series' 2nd arc is going to be about--just change a few names and add some more details, and you know everything that's going to happen. Which is lame.
The reason is that both the OVA and TV series were based on the same novel, and while the OVA tried to quickly tell the whole story in 13 episodes, details be damned, the TV series tries to stay true to the novel and begins about one-third of the way in. So, essentially, if you've seen one, you've seen the other. If you can only watch one, your main choice lies in whether you want better action (the OVA) or better writing (this).
Finally, while it's not strictly a "flaw" as much as it is an annoyance, each episode spends its last 2 minutes on an extremely cartoony skit called "Welcome to Lodoss Island," which is a cutesy sort-of-parody of the show itself, lampooning its storyline in an exaggerated comedic fashion. It can be amusing at times (King Kashue's specialty is making bad word-play jokes rather than his swordplay and that got a few giggles), but it mostly grates on my nerves. You'll know very quickly whether or not you'll like the skits or not, and if you don't, you can safely skip to the next episode once you see the pastel stained-glass doors with the silhouettes behind them.
So despite all my griping and whining, I would still highly recommend this series to any fan of fantasy anime (if they have somehow managed to not already see it), and if you're just curious to see what the genre's all about, this is definitely one of the better titles around, along with Slayers (if you want something a bit more comedic). Its great music, eye-catching designs, exciting story, and fleshed-out characters will be more than enough to be worth your while.
Final Score: 8 out of 10. One of the better examples of its genre, Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight stands above the crowd with its well-developed cast of likable characters and its classic, if a bit familiar, storyline, despite a few rough patches in its animation and its constant retconning of the OVA series.