Wednesday, 13 November 2013

テイルズ オブ シンフォニア THE ANIMATION 世界統合編 / Tales of Symphonia: the Animation Sekai Tougou-hen / United World

Symphonia is the Final Fantasy VII of the Tales Of series. Possibly not the most fun to play nor with the best graphics, characters or writing, but the most iconic and memorable, and the one that I personally enjoy the most, in part because I enjoyed it so much when it was the newest RPG around. It never attained the universal acclaim of Square's big hit, amongst RPG fans its popularity has always been high.

It's also a good time to be a fan. The HD remake, including the dodgy sequel, is soon to be released, and in Japan, that meant we could enjoy promotional campaigns in various shops and restaurants, including some lovely desserts in Namja Town I didn't want to eat because they were decorated with the characters' faces. (No such qualms for Tales of the Abyss's Mieu - stab stab stab!)

And a few days ago, the complete blu-ray set of these OVAs came out. I remember being somewhat disappointed back when the project was announced that there were only going to be four episodes, but it turned out that these were just the first part of a larger project that spanned five years, ultimately resulting in eleven episodes, each close to twice as long as the episodes of a television anime, so there was quite a long time for the story to be explored. I’ve already written my thoughts on the previous two chapters, but now I’ve finished the third and final part.

And I was very pleased, because this is a story I very much like, populated by characters I really love. Genis is one of my favourite characters in video game history, and I loved how the final episodes made him seem more the heart and soul of the series rather than Lloyd thanks to his friendship with Mithos. That isn't to say I don't like Lloyd as a protagonist, who is a kind, loving and endearing soul very capable of kicking some butt when needed. Presea the axe-weilding little girl I will always remember, and motherly Raine with her daft Japanese name of 'Refill' (to go with her little brother 'Genius') has a very funny intense side. Sheena is a character type I don't usually like but won me over, and even ridiculous lunk Regal is likeable, as by the end is Zelos when it becomes obvious his swagger is just a front. There's a lot of hatred for dojiko Colette, but she doesn't grate on me. Then the classic badass Kratos fills that role probably better than any other I can think of.

The story evolves neatly from a small-scale story about a young girl who from infancy is told she is a 'chosen one' who will become an angel to uncovering a conspiracy involving that old anime chestnut of using people as a vessel to revive a dead but very powerful individual. Stopping this involves travelling between worlds, each of the heroes' allies revealing the painful secrets of their pasts and some fantastic magical powers. There's a hint of one of those anticlimactic stories where the bad guy gets what they want only for things not to work out as they had hoped, suggesting that even without the intervention of the heroes, the plan would never work, but Yggdrasil would clearly have ended up punishing the world without intervention. The anime does a good job of taking the most salient and iconic parts of the long game and other than a slow start pacing it very well so that the whole story is satisfying and works primarily through the feelings and desires of its cast.

And UFOtable most certainly stepped up their game for these animations. Arguably the ultimate effect is that the studio ended up losing relevance, this and other OVAs meaning they only managed to produce one weekly series in the past few years - the high-impact Fate/Zero - but I have the feeling that despite it being a bit of an obscurity in the West beside the big series that come out every season, the OVAs were quite a hit in Japan. And the fact is that it looks beautiful - the production values are high and the already rather lovely character designs look fantastic in motion. There's a little of the problem Sword Art Online had with characters of opposite genders looking rather too similar when the framing is very tight on faces, with Genis and Presea as well as Colette and Mithos looking uncannily like one another at times, but that simply carries over from the game and I actually find the resemblances rather cute.

The fact is that this is fanservice, and I was more or less guaranteed to like it as soon as it became clear the whole game wasn't to be crammed into four episodes. I love the characters and setting and all the other related media, including the manga. But it's not churned out with no effort - it has been done with care and high production values, and I was very impressed throughout. And if there's more to come with Lloyd and Genis - and even Emil - I will be very eager to watch it, even if like the last few episodes here, there's difficulty finding fan translations, because after all the active fansub groups six years ago aren't necessarily the same ones active today.

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