Tuesday, 17 January 2012

テイルズ オブ シンフォニア & テセアラ編 / Tales of Symphonia & Tethe’alla-hen

First Impressions, 13.6.07
Heee, the Tales of Symphonia OVA makes me happy. The only thing I dislike about it is that at only four eps, there’s no way they’re gonna be able to go into the kind of depth they need to do the game justice. It was great hearing the Japanese seiyuu, whose performances are subtly different from their American counterparts’ (unusually good though the acting on the Western release of ToS was); Lloyd is less the confident leader, more a goofy kid, which suits him much better, while Collette is far less annoying and more sincere. Genius/Genis sounds adorable in whatever medium. That kid is so cute.
UFOTable’s animation standards have gone up, too – or at least, their budget has for this. And of course they got in their cute little claymation ED, which will no doubt baffle the uninitiated.
Anyway, watching this reminded me that I gave, what, 40 hours of my time to these characters? Even if I didn’t like the way the plot meandered towards the end of the game, I still have a great liking for those characters.
Final thoughts
I was intending to wait until after the end of the United World episodes to write impressions about the Symphonia OVAs, but its becoming increasingly apparent that I’m going to have too much to say, so I’m going to write about the first two parts now. At eight episodes of 45 minutes each (plus short gag omake episodes), there is after all as much running time here as there is many full series. Plus after the wonderful first United World episode, I feel the need to gush.

Symphonia feels like it came out longer ago than it did. It was really the only game I loved – indeed, particularly enjoyed – on my Gamecube. It came out at the tail end of 2004, and was my first experience with a Tales of… game. And while I have since played through Eternia (more on that when I write about its own anime series) and have made a start on Abyss, none have left the impression Symphonia did. But I’ve already written up my impressions of the game – suffice to say that for its faults, I loved it, and it was really the first time I’ve been actively impressed by the English dub of a J-RPG: after all, they got in big hitters from American cartoons for the dub like Tara Strong (Teen Titans, Drawn Together, My Little Pony), Jennifer Hale (Wolverine and the X-men) and Scott Menville (Teen Titans). I’ve only ever liked FFXII’s dub so much.

Since then, Symphonia has remained relevant in Japan. A poorly-received sequel came out for the Wii and Symphonia characters showed up in various crossovers. Namco runs little festivals just for Tales of properties. A licenced manga appeared with beautiful art by Hitoshi Ichimura – also noted for her Kingdom Hearts porn as ‘RaS’ or ‘Samwise’. And then of course there are these OVAs, released episode-by-episode. The first four appeared in 2007, with the Tethe’alla episodes appearing in 2010. United World’s first episode just crept into 2011, with the rest yet to come.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the experience of making Symphonia has transformed anime studio UFOtable. Prior to this they were a small, charming studio known for their silly claymation credits sequences, best seen in 2X2 ga Shinobuden. In 2007 they made Manabi Strait, which while in my eyes better than Lucky Star was also rather average and even derivative of Haruhi. Since then…well, they basically worked on Symphonia and the Kara no Kyoukai films with a few short pieces until all of a sudden they were back in 2011, making the jaw-droppingly good animation for Fate/Zero. What used to be a silly little studio making so-so animation is suddenly superb, and the transformation can be seen in these OVAs.

Symphonia retells the game’s story beautifully. The character designs I like so much made it intact, and the original voice cast give life to Lloyd, Geni(u)s, Presea and the rest. Though sometimes rather static, the OVAs are lovely to look at, and there are moments of beautiful fluidity – and the static parts are more than made up for by frequent character animations that go far beyond the bare minimum and look superb. The only part that looks rather bad is when the old lady turns into a big blob, but that’s really Namco’s fault.

If there’s a problem here, it’s with the pacing. This really isn’t a good way to experience the full story of the game, and I suppose a large part of the problem was that UFOtable didn’t really know how much money the project would make, and thus how much of the story can be animated. The first four OVAs in particular are rushed and choppy, with characters not properly introduced and complex concepts not elucidated with anything like the clarity needed. The abiding impression is that the adaptation is by the fans, for the fans, and seems rather like a movie adaptation of a series. On the other hand, Tethe’alla’s part, by which point UFOtable presumably know they aren’t going to cram the rest of the game into four episodes, is allowed more space to breathe, and United Worlds looks like it will be able to go ahead properly-paced to the climax, with all the twists as good cliffhangers.

It really remains to be seen with United Worlds whether this story will satisfy, but its first part will always be rushed, and that’s a shame. But let’s face it, it’s Symphonia in motion, well-acted, well-animated and remarkably well-drawn. I love it.

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