Tears to Tiara certainly doesn't have a unique background or story about how it came to be. Like so many other shows this one evolved from a PC ero-game, which happened to have caught on enough to warrant an animated version. We've seen it several times before and I'm sure anime publishers aren't going to stop looking to PC games for releases any time soon. Generally speaking that's a fine thing, but I must admit that not every endeavor of this sort is met with success. Quality is often hit or miss. Thankfully, in the case of Tears to Tiara, the good definitely outweighs the bad.
For all intents and purposes Tears to Tiara is a very straightforward, and one might argue generic, entry in the fantasy genre. All the staples are here from an ancient land with rich history that involves elves, dwarves, and what have you to magic users, sword wielders, and an ancient demon returning to the world. Many of the trappings will be instantly familiar to anyone that has watched anything such as Record of Lodoss War, Utawarerumono, or even Tower of Druaga. Granted Tears to Tiara marches to the beat of a different drummer, but many of the staples are there.
The show takes place at an undisclosed point in time on a world that has seen many changes and ages. This place has gone through the age of elves, dragons, dwarves, and names of some various metals, but for the purposes of this series we find ourselves in the Iron Age, or the Age of Humans as it were. Not much is revealed about the history of what's going on here, and in all fairness there's not much in the way of revelation about where the series is going by the end of this thirteen episode installment. It's a rather cryptic show with a lot of "legend says" and mythology that is just kind of dropped out of the blue. It's not such a bad thing, but more references in these episodes would definitely have gone a long way to fleshing out the world.
Basically the story in Tears to Tiara focuses on events that surround a village of a people known as the Gael. The chieftain's daughter, Riannon, happens to have a drop of elven blood in her so she's regarded as a person of significance when it comes to ritual sacrifices in the name of divinity. At least that's what a traveling priest and his sizeable forces would have you believe. He arrives in the Gael village to pillage and burn it down, but his ultimate goal is to get his hands on Riannon. She's to be used in a ritual to revive the Demon King, Arawn, and bring about the destruction of the world. Charming, huh?
While Riannon is in the priest's custody her brother, Arthur, assembles the troops and charges off to rescue her. He arrives a tad late and finds that the ritual is already underway, but before Riannon can be sacrificed a series of events is set into motion that proves to be rather unexpected. Arawn does indeed come back in mortal form, but rather than serve the priest and launch his destruction campaign he winds up saving Riannon from danger. This prompts Riannon to claim Arawn as her husband, thus making him the Gael's new chieftain. Naturally this doesn't sit well with Arthur, but he's not quite a match for Arawn. Just imagine the good times that would come from being lead by the king of all demons.
Throughout this volume Tears to Tiara explores each of its main character's backgrounds and relationships. What it basically boils down to Arawn doesn't seem like that bad of a guy and he keeps alluding to humans gave him a title, so that is what he must be. He's undoubtedly the center of attention for the show and a running gag is the collection of wives he amasses from the moment he appears in the world. Riannon is almost too goodie goodie for her own good(ie), Arthur is gungho and comes off as one-dimensional at times, and Morgan is the spunky eye-candy who is rather boyish thanks to many of her mannerisms. There is also a great deal of enemies as well and a few characters stand out such as Gaius and the rest of the Divine Empire's henchmen.
Tears to Tiara is a charming show at times and though it plays it fairly safe, it definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer. The story feels like it's building up to something great and the characters receive an incredible amount of fleshing out with these episodes. The cast is large, but one gets the impression that screen time is well balanced so nobody gets lost in the shuffle. That's a feat within itself, though it's fair to say that Arawn steals the show. He's a fascinating protagonist and the other main characters work off him very well. Sentai Filmworks has a good show on their hands and I have to say that I'm really looking forward to the second installment. Strongly Recommended!
Tears to Tiara comes with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The show looks pretty good with solid colors, fine black levels, and an overall clean image that offers a lot of detail. The transfer here does contain faint amounts of grain and there's a little artifacting at points, but these elements are very minor. From start to finish this is a solid looking program that has many outstanding moments. In particular the design of the show is very attractive with some smooth animation and detailed artwork.
The audio presentation for Tears to Tiara is unfortunately not quite up to snuff. The show comes with Japanese 2.0 stereo as its only source of output, though thankfully there are English subtitles that tag along with it. As far as the quality is concerned the experience was relatively flat with not much in the way of "pop" from the track. There is some action, but it's pretty short overall and this turns out to be a dialogue driven affair. It's rather minimalist, but it does get the job done.
Some clean animations are pretty much all you're going to find here for bonus features.
Tears to Tiara is shaping up to be a very good show. The first installment by Sentai Filmworks offers up a wild group of characters, a somewhat traditional fantasy setting, and plenty of high points all around. With that being said this volume mostly feels like the show is setting itself up for the second half, so hopefully we'll see a payoff on that end. The A/V quality is rather diverse unfortunately, and there really are no bonus features, but overall this release gets a strong recommendation. Keep an eye out for the review of the second volume once it's released to see if the show "seals the deal".