|Posted by Madhog thy Master on May 18, 2012 at 6:25 AM|
A/N: The following review serves as a continuation to a specific introduction video. Watch it here.
A recurring problem in visual media is the perennial conundrum of narration versus length. It’s often hard to proper convey a story, a written script, within specific limits of duration imposed by a non-written narrative format such as cinema and, like in this case, serialized animations. Decades of evolution of said media allowed many modern-day “minstrels” to develop various techniques in order to actually take advantage of these limitations to tell their fables. Unfortunately, doing so might prove to be especially hard when it comes to adapt a pre-existing story from a specific medium to another - like a videogame to a movie, for example.
The main problem in those kinds of difficult translations is, in fact, the handling of a context made for a diegesis that didn’t have to worry about “running times.” In light of that, turning a videogame into an episodic extravaganza would make much more sense from a pure “It’s too bloody long and messy for a single film” perspective. However, as Faries pointed out earlier in his video, most animated series based off games are prone to failure as well, not just because they can’t seem to make their minds about what portion of their source material they want to adapt, but mainly because they have no clue as to how tell the original story by using their own narrative means. To answer that dilemma, here comes the “Tales of Symphonia” OVA series, which should be considered a valuable lesson in story-telling not just for any “JRPG-to-anime” transliteration in existance, but for visual media in general.
For the sake of this analysis, let’s take a look at the first episode of the so-called “Sylvarant” cycle - the beginning of the story. First off, the main characters are cleverly introduced along side the world they live in. Which is to say, the show manages to focus on the development of its protagonists while delivering the basic information about the fantasy realm itself. This goal is achieved, simply enough, by having Refill Sage quickly explaining the mythical origins of Sylvarant during a history lesson at school. At the same time, we are also introduced to Irving’s best friend, Genius, and to their best-pals-for-life relationship. Subsequently, the beautiful opening credits roll and, via an alternate montage sequence, we are shown the world’s map while also been introduced to the mysterious character of Kratos (insert your “God of War” joke here), the manliest mercenary that has ever lived!
On the sixth day, God created Man... Kratos was giving him instructions
The soothing song along with the imagery and the first appearance of what we now know is going to be one of the true protagonists of the saga, create a solid sense of flow between the animation and the narration. Every moment, frame, sequence in this series is exploited to the max in order to tell its beautiful tale. There is not a minute wasted and everything fits into place like a particularly clever jigsaw puzzle. You can already feel a strong emotional attachment to this world and inhabitants by just witnessing the opening titles delivering all the clues you really need to understand for the time being.
Another great example of running times put into good use is actually the end credits. Having only four episodes to retell us about the significantly long “Sylvarant” arc (which is only one third of the overall epic, mind you), there is simply no time left for eventual comic relief shenanigans that most anime are usually fond of. That’s where a compelling sequence in Stop Frame Animation always fills us in at the end of every chapter with some genuinely fun and endearing moments starring our favourite heroes.
All these accorgimenti, while invigorating the full potentials of this adaptation to the utmost level, in the end are just details - life-enriching details, I might add. The core of this diegesis, the one true element that makes this whole open-ended saga work so well, is its outstanding cast and the magnificent work the animators did with it.
In retrospect, the show presents a pretty basic telltale for a fantasy RPG: it begins as a classic Coming of Age story that slowly evolves into a broader “Man versus Fate” scenario that we’ve seen time and time again. What differentiates this particular universe from, let’s say, a “Lord of the Rings” book, is how strictly character-driven this “animated novel” has been so far. Each and every member of this fantastic palmarès, from the strong-hearted Irving to the secretly conflicted Kratos, from the selfless Colette to the sly yet doubtful Zelos (to name a few), along with all their collective backgrounds and the peculiar way they intertwine with one another and the rest of the plot, are what ultimately move this story forward.
“Tales of Symphonia - The Animation” delivers the most complete and well-written form of visual story-telling the OVA market has ever experienced. It’s a timeless tale about young people trying to survive a hostile fate by first overcoming their own issues and learning how to deal with their fallible humanity. It also fares greatly in the sound department with some of the best voice talents of our generation, such as Katsuyuki Konishi (Kamina from “Tengen Toppe Gurren Lagann” among many others), Nana Mizuki (Duck from "Princess Tutu", Wrath from “Full Metal Alchemist” ) and Masaya Onosaka (Vash the Stampede from “Trigun”;), and so forth.
Meet Zelos... He's awesome and he knows it!
Finally, the unique art-style was originally brought forth by worldly-renouned manga artist Kosuke Fujishima - the author of "Oh My Goddess!" and already the character-designer for the "Sakura Taisen" franchise, so to speak. The show only becomes so much better when the “Tethe’alla” cycle begins and episodes start being fifty minutes long, thus making for more juicy running time to be filled with great character developments and stupendous fight scenes - some of the best I’ve ever seen in this medium, for that matter.
Presea: she's a Lumberjack and she's Not Okay!
Even though the last and final third of this masterpiece is yet to be released by the time this article is being written (it’s called “The United World Episode” ), there’s no denying that this OVA series is one of nowadays’ finest examples of serialized narrations to lose our mind with - let alone the best videogame adaptation ever conceived.
My score for “Tales of Symphonia - The Animation” (thus far) is:
Guinness Jesus: Simply divine.
Achievement Unlocked: Avoiding massive spoilers during in-depth analysis.