Just the other day I finished watching Hero Tales and posted my review for the first half of the series. My impression was that, while good, it wasn't exactly great. The show had all the pieces, including support from Hiromu Arakawa, but it didn't seem to pull it together. The manga was more tightly knit in this regard, but I kept the ball rolling and finished off the second collection. Does it get any better?
Once again FUNimation has released Hero Tales with another three disc release, featuring 13 episodes on two discs, with bonus features being available on the third.
Hero Tales takes place in a world that's reminiscent of ancient China by design, though there are many magics and fantasy elements. There's all kinds of talk about celestial alignment and destiny as each of the protagonists (and antagonists) represent a star. The series follows the adventures of a young man named Taito, who possess the Alkaid star, and sees his plight against Keiro, the guy with the Dubhe star. Basically Keiro wants to destroy the world and rule it with blood-soaked hands, so that makes Taito the hero since he, well...wants to see a world where everyone smiles. Yeah.
Taito's not in it alone, however, since he's joined by five Divine Warriors, who also bear stars from the Big Dipper constellation. The first half of the show was really a coming of age for Taito as he came to terms with the destiny that was laid out before him. He had to become stronger as a warrior and more mature as a man before he would be able to confront Keiro and have a chance of beating him. The first half was successful in the sense that it showed the boy becoming a man, but it failed in terms of story for the most part. The collection ended with a cliffhanger, however, and that was the most dramatic thing to happen in that bunch of episodes.
This second half picks up where the first left off. Taito was defeated by Keiro, and it was thanks to the sacrifice by Ryuko that he and the other Divine Warriors were able to escape. At the beginning of this volume Ryuko's fate is up in the air and Taito sinks into depression because it was mostly his fault due to being the Alkaid. While it's a necessary element and an obstacle in his maturing as a character, it unfortunately goes on for far too long. We're talking episodes where Taito mopes around feeling sorry for himself. After a while he snaps out of it, but until then it just feels like the show is limping along unnecessarily.
During this downtime Keiro's character is evolved somewhat, and Koyo dons a much larger role in the grand scheme of things. Once it gets past this hurdle the show revs up for the final confrontation. Things get much darker before they get better and there are plenty of twists in the plot that will leave viewers surprised. I, for one, loved how they played Keiro's evolution towards the end of the series, but felt the inevitable conclusion was a copout. There was no rhyme or reason behind most of it, and when the credits started rolling I was satisfied in some respects, but shaking my head in others.
I suppose that's symptomatic of the kind of show you get with Hero Tales. While it's a solid adventure most of the time, it meanders around for far too long and it feels uninspired. The show would have been better had it followed the manga more closely. It would have been darker, sharper, and more compelling. Unfortunately it went in an entirely different direction and in the end it's just "okay".
Hero Tales is presented on DVD with its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and has been enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series looks decent on DVD with mostly smooth animation, though there were some corners cut in production. Design elements aren't always solid and there are times where characters look strange, as though a section was rushed through. Still, the show as a whole has a good sense of design. The transfer for this DVD isn't entirely perfect either, as grain, line noise, and color banding appears here and there. There's nothing about the DVD that breaks the experience, but it's definitely not going to leave a super positive impression.
The series is presented with 2.0 Japanese and 5.1 English for its sources of audio output. Considering this is mainly an action release, the sound direction is a bit on the underwhelming side. Effects are often flat and front-centric, so there's really no sense of immersion in the heat of battle. Dialogue is good on both accounts, though I found myself leaning towards the Japanese audio more in that case.
The third discs that's included with this release packs in some decent bonus features. This time around there are clean animations, trailers, a commercial for the show, and the third installment of the original Japanese round table feature. This is an entertaining and highly energetic conversation between cast members of the show. It also clocks in at roughly 28 minutes, so you do get quite a bit of content.
Hero Tales Part Two suffers from the same problems of the first installment. The pacing is just off, the story is flat for the most part, and ultimately it just leaves you wanting something else. Then again, I read the manga before watching the show, so I had certain expectations that weren't met. At the end of the day the series is a decent adventure with some solid climaxes, but everything in between is mostly mundane. I'd consider the show a light recommendation.