[Script] Beautiful But Boring – Anime’s Original High Fantasy

Record of Lodoss War really is a beautiful show. The animation is far from perfect, and entirely serious fight scenes are often portrayed simply by sliding a cel all the way across the screen, but it does an excellent job at rendering a high fantasy in world in motion. Every locale that you’d expect in this kind of setting is rendered in remarkably beautiful ways, from the dark forests to the pastoral grasslands, and the bountiful kingdoms to the deepest lairs. Whatever image you have of Tolkienesque worlds is represented here, almost exactly as you would imagine. That applies to the characters as well. Their designs are hardly original — though the sheer length of the elves’ ears is an interesting decision — yet they’re simply wonderful to look at, perfectly embodying the archetypes they were a part of and carrying a sensibility that reminds the viewer of Yoshitaka Amano’s art. This is, of course, adapted from a series of DnD sessions, and the entire project looks the part.

Unfortunately, watching another group’s fairly generic game is not a particularly fun time. Look, don’t get me wrong, this is hardly an awful show. The aesthetic perfection mentioned earlier is able to carry it to great lengths, keeping it interesting for much of its run. Additionally, there are elements of it that work well. Understanding that the appeal of tabletop games is the expression of communal storytelling, it focuses a great deal of its time on the party as a group, rather than setting any of its individual members apart from one another. The bickering between elves and dwarves may be a bit overplayed at this point but it’s still enjoyable banter, and the power fantasy of being surrounded by strong friends who have your back is one that resonates far stronger than simply being supernaturally powerful yourself.

About two thirds of the way in, however, this changes, to the detriment of the work. The party spends more time seperated than together, resulting in a loss of the snappy one-liners as well as the strong sense of community that was previously seen. Say what you will about Tolkien’s weird brand of reactionary thought, he at least believed in the importance of multiple people over one great man. As he says, “only a small part is played in great deeds by any hero”. It’s a shame, then, that Lodoss drops this understanding throughout its run. As time goes on, events become more centered around main character Parn. This is in addition to another major shift — the end of episode 8 results in a change of direction for the plot, one that ultimately destroys the intrigue previously established in favor of focussing on a new antagonist.

While this would be a poor decision in itself, it’s made all the worse by what’s focused on. The romance between Parn and Deedlit — the resident elf — is given greater focus here, when it was never one of the series’ more interesting attributes. Her teasing of him is fun, but an actual relationship between them comes out of left field. If they were interesting characters, that wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but Deedlit is just any old elf girl, with the sole difference being that she’s a swordswoman instead of an archer, while Parn is a nobody. Seriously, if you told me this was a random narou novel, I might be able to believe you, because Parn behaves exactly like any old everyman. The fact that he’s not absurdly overpowered is, in itself, somewhat interesting early on, but as he grows stronger, even that morsel of characterization is stripped from him. After that, he’s just a basic, noble knight who offers little to anyone who’s consumed works in this genre before.

What makes games like DnD work so well is the fact that in playing, you help to shape the story, alongside people you know and presumably have chemistry with. Watching someone else’s story come to life, however, is bound to be a somewhat disappointing experience no matter how beautiful. An inventive campaign could still see success as a piece of consumable media but for something this standard, self-participation is a necessary part of the process. Furthermore, Lodoss War really emphasizes how lacking Tolkien’s many derivatives are. I’d honestly say that even the worst isekai do far more of interest with his ideas than this series does; at least in turning different races into “moe elements”, an attempt is made to adapt Tolkien into a new framework and isekai works often use Tolkien’s settings to put forth a clear political ethos, albeit a bad one. Lodoss War echoes the many works that simply apply his worldbuilding and races without any understanding of what he was aiming at, not trying to establish a utopian vision or make commentary on our society but simply because Tolkien’s world is cool. The result is a series that reads as worse Lord of the Rings, and given that I’m currently listening to that work, it makes for a very unfavorable comparison.

If Lodoss War’s art weren’t as beautiful as it is, I don’t think it would be a worthwhile look at all. But its vistas are so gorgeous, its characters so mesmerizing that I almost have a hard time saying not to watch it. What you’ll be in for is perhaps the most generic rendition of the classical high fantasy story, satisfyingly executed for most its run before dropping the ball with its last third. If that’s worth it just to look at some of the designs crafted by this production team, then this show is a good watch for you. Similarly, if you’re at all interested in the history of Tolkienesque fantasy in Japanese pop culture, this is a key piece in the puzzle, and perhaps the first depiction of high elves as such. Otherwise, however, I really can’t suggest that you watch this show.

The next $5 patron-voted watch is Ojamajo Doremi. Let’s hope that with these cute little witches, we end up more satisfied.

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