FUNimation is slowly, but surely, working through the vast amount of titles that came as part of the ADV deal that passed licenses from hand to hand. The latest show up for a complete collection is Utawarerumono. This series, that you simply cannot say ten times fast, let alone once without practice, originally came out in 2006 and was the byproduct of a somewhat popular adult Japanese PC game of the same name. The 26 episode program was successful enough here in the States when it was in ADV's hands, but should those who missed it the first time around take note of the collection?
In case you've never heard of it, Utawarerumono is firmly set in the fantasy genre. It's been a while since I've seen a solid fantasy effort come along, and I'm pleased to say that after watching hits one it harkened me back to the days of Lodoss War and Slayers. The nice thing about Utawarerumono is that it's really nothing like either show. It is its own entity, and though some of its trappings may feel cliché at times, the fact that Utawarerumono is successful is purely a credit to its production and original story.
The series follows the adventures of Hakuoro, who is badly injured at the start of the show and suffers from amnesia. While his wounds are one issue, the fact that he can't recall who he is or why he's adorned with a mask that cannot be removed, are problems of a different nature. During the time that he's coming back around and on the mend, he actually stays with a village of animalistic people. Well, that is to say that they have animal-like features such as fuzzy ears and whatnot. Despite that fact the people who have been taking care of him are very kind, and even though he's obviously not one of their own, they treat him as such. That's one of the fascinating things about Utawarerumono, because Hakuoro seems to more or less by the only human in the series. Everyone else around him has fuzzy ears, tails, pointy airs, or wings. This really hammers home the point that he's basically a stranger in a strange land, and it adds to the mystery surrounding his past and just who he is as a person.
Throughout the course of this show as we get to know Hakuoro, we discover that he's actually a responsible adult instead of some brash kid. This gives Utawarerumono a hardened tone that definitely elevates the content. What would have otherwise been a goofy series with any other typical fantasy lead turns into a serious story with powerful moments and a real sense of weight placed on each decision. This helps elevate the otherwise weak story and gives it a refreshing atmosphere that sets it apart.
As far as the actual plot here, the aforementioned Hakuoro lands himself into an interesting predicament and works to rebuild his life. Along the way he befriends several people and builds himself a following of sorts, which plays well into the massive battles that follow. As he and his ragtag pack of peeps travel from one nation to another, they essentially work to right the wrongs suffered by the populace and restore peace to the world. Some of this is tied into Hakuoro's past, but it's not until the end of the series that we get any concrete answers.
Now, since this game is based on a similarly themed video game, you can rest assured that there are some points where it definitely feels scripted. There are parts that just don't flow naturally, that feel forced, and there are bits that lack originality or feel clichéd. This kind of comes with the territory I suppose, but right up to the end Utawarerumono doesn't do quite enough to differentiate itself from other shows in the genre. It's just fortunate that what is here turns out to be very good, if you allow yourself to look beyond the generic designs and trappings.
If you're looking for a solid overall fantasy series Utawarerumono is definitely worth checking out. The series offers a light level of intrigue along with some nice, epic battles, and interesting characters. It's definitely not the greatest show I have ever seen, but it's not necessarily the worst either. It may be flawed with some rigid pacing, a lack of originality, and overall sense that there's just something "off" about it, but regardless of those facts Utawarerumono has a lot to offer fans of the fantasy genre. Consider the complete collection by FUNimation recommended.
Utawarerumono is presented on DVD with all 26 episodes packed onto four DVDs. For what it's worth the show looks very good, though the quality of the transfer suffers slightly from the consolidated presentation. This has been the case with many of the FUNimation series as of late and there is an ever-so-slightly heightened amount of compression in these transfers compared to the original presentation. It's not enough to make or break anything, but if you're looking for it you'll most likely notice these artifacts here and there. Otherwise the transfer for Utawarerumono is good with little in terms of grain and no other flaws to complain about. With regards to the production of the show, as I previously stated, Utawarerumono features someone standard designs and doesn't really push the envelope artistically. Some of the character models are much better than others and the backgrounds are fantastic, but ultimately there's little else that is outstanding.
A Japanese 2.0 stereo track and English 5.1 surround have been included for this release of Utawarerumono. For what it's worth, both tracks are the ones that were present on the original ADV releases, and they both do the material justice with regards to dubbing quality. Technically speaking the show is acceptable enough with the 2.0 and 5.1 tracks performing admirably for what they intend to do. I will say that the 5.1 English track doesn't quite pack the necessary punch at times, especially during battle. It's a shame really because there were plenty of moments where this little extra oomph would have gone a long way.
For this release of Utawarerumono some trailers and clean animations are all you're going to find for bonus features.
Don't even bother trying to pronounce Utawarerumono. Simply call it "that fantasy show about a guy in a mask" and people will most likely know what you're talking about, hopefully. Ultimately this is a show worth picking up and though it's flawed, it's very entertaining from start to finish. FUNimation's collection is a solid enough release that is on par with the original individual volumes released by ADV. I would say this show is simply recommended, rather than being highly so, but your mileage may vary depending upon your interest in the fantasy genre.
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