Background: Medieval style quests are one of the most common forms of anime after giant mechanized robots and high school situation comedies are factored in. Sadly, this also means that for every one of them that is exceptional, there are scores more that are either truly lame or at very least mediocre in nature. One of the more generic offerings of recent years in this subgenre is Ragnarok the Animation: First Quest, a perfectly serviceable attempt to cash in without anything new being offered up. The entire series is split up into three volumes of two discs each, this first one containing nine full episodes. I suppose it's fair to say that what it lacks in quality, it makes up for in quantity (to an extent).
Series: Ragnarok the Animation is a sword and sorcery series set in a mythic time & place long before technology is worshipped as it is today. Most people are common workers who ply their trades and stay away from anything dangerous, staying indoors at night as a prudent measure against things that go bump (and eat people) outside the safety of the castle walls. If that kind of person were the subject of our series, it'd be mighty boring though so in trots the young swordsman Roan and his acolyte pal Yufa. They share a sense of ideals about the world, though Roan is more interested in impressing Yufa than slaying mighty dragons or the like. Roan's skills with a sword are not overly impressive but as a young brute-in-training, he suits the need for a brash warrior too stupid to know when to run away. For her part, Yufa is mostly a healer so she makes a sensible traveling companion for a guy like that, the gal able to fix him up when they encounter trouble.
The setting for the story is a series of increasingly horrible cataclysms that show something is amiss in the world. No one is quite sure what is wrong but a growing sense of dread permeates the land, none of the usual good guys able to figure out the trouble either. The series as a whole being based on a large scale online game certainly doesn't help much since role playing gamers are not likely to understand any thematic changes based on the show any more than casual viewers of the show are likely to gain much understanding of the game based on what they watch here. My sorted history with such shows leads me to believe that cashing in are the operative words of the day but I'm a fan of both Gonzo and FUNimation so I bit the bullet when no one else would to review the show, already being told it would be very generic. That said, Roan and Yufa travel around trying to help those in need, sometimes with smaller and mundane matters while other times getting in way over their heads.
It doesn't take long for the team to stubble across some crooks holding up what appears to be a sexy looking blind babe so they assist, eventually saved by the fiefdom's guards. This debt of gratitude leads the trio to work together in bigger scale events though since the blind gal is actually a powerful sorceress named Takius. She isn't blind but her training in the mystical arts requires she wear the blindfold to perform her feats of magical prowess, including lightning storms and ice spears out of the blue. Her power level is substantially higher than the other two but requires a moment of mental preparation so they come in handy at distracting enemies while Takius sets in motion her abilities. Their initial defeat of a large mechanical clock tower proves them a good match and they break up only to encounter each other repeatedly throughout the series.
As with any series of this nature, additional characters are brought in, some as one time stand alone roles and others are recurring bits that start hanging around on the fringes more. One of the next ones of importance is a capitalistic young girl named Maya. She likes the two lead characters and offers them a variety of potions, foodstuffs, and the like at quite reasonable prices as they are needed. While not quite a thief as is standard in such questing adventures, she has a honed sense of survival (one of the flashback episodes deals with her colder nature that surfaces on occasion and knowledge of things that can help solve any problems. Others that join in on the later adventures are an archer/falconer named Judia and a Wolverine type assassin called Iruga; each character having their own hastily drawn motivation for what they do and different level of skill with combat.
Episodes in the first volume:
1) Why Do You Wield That Sword?
2) Be Good To Me, Big Brother
3) I Believe
4) Is That The Best You Can Do?
5) What Did You Just Say?
6) I Won't Let Anyone Get In My Way!
7) Will You Comfort Me?!?
8) Life Is Precious
9) All For The Truth
The initial theme of a nameless, faceless series of doomsday events (the title comes from the Norse day of reckoning, also called the Twilight of the Gods) starts to give way as the series progresses, eventually showing an evil looking beast but that's for the next volume as this one concentrated more on introductions to the characters along with some basic adventures to set the stage as to where they were at, allowing the viewer to grow with them as they evolve (like a videogame experience). I liked the value of the inclusion of 9 episodes for the price of a single disc (even with a lack of extras) but the stock characters were such that almost any one of them could be plucked out of any other series, the comedic effect noted all too often with Roan in particular. That doesn't mean it was a horribly marred title but it didn't give me much motivation to want to review subsequent volumes either (volume two is up next and three is in the mail as I type this) so I rated this as a strict Rent It for genre fans longing for another quest series to appreciate while they wait for a better one to come out.
Picture: Ragnarok the Animation was presented in the same 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was shot in by directors Seji Kishi and Lee Myoung. As thematically plain as the series is, the companies releasing the series have long stood the test of time regarding quality releases so I wasn't worried about what the show would look like. This was, however, one of those times when they faltered from their normal levels of quality. There was aliasing and compression noise observed frequently throughout the show, even blocking on the vast expanses of similar colors (the sky during the day or night comes to mind). The colors seemed accurate enough and the detail not badly drawn but the motion they showed reminded me of a slow LCD screen when they first started showing up for computers (for the record, my HD TV is not an LCD). The limited rate of animation and cheap manner in which most movement was handled looked like too many corners were cut during the production phase of the show.
Sound: The audio was presented with the usual choice of 2.0 Dolby Digital in either the original Japanese or an English language dub with optional subtitles in English. While not immersive in the slightest, there was some separation in the background noises and special effects, primarily in the combat sequences, and the dynamic range was not half bad. The score was kind of generic but the vocals were easily discernable and my only observation about the entire audio track set up was that both tracks seemed very similar (often enough, the dub gets re-engineered to sound louder, better, and typically more aggressive but that was not the case here, although the vocals on the original language track were not quite as loud compared to the other aural qualities).
Extras: There were some trailers and a coupon for a free month of the online game (though my coupon expired back in February).
Final Thoughts: Ragnarok the Animation was far from the worse production I have seen in recent years but it really had nothing special to attract me to repeatedly watch it as so many other series have provided in the past. I've come to expect the plot holes large enough to drive a band of miscreant adventurers through by now and the idea of using a Norse mythology concept for a Japanese videogame turned anime series was odd but not fatal. Still, Ragnarok the Animation: First Quest might appeal to the younger audience as it doesn't take itself too seriously and those who play the online game might find it interesting to see a series patterned after their passion, albeit a watered down version to say the least so check it out if you are so inclined.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, Best of Anime 2005, and Best of Anime 2006 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.