Sunday, September 23, 2012

Anime Review 42-El Hazard the Magnificent World

Fantasy: Then and Now continues with El Hazard: The Magnificent World OVA from 1995-96.
DVD Cover 
El Hazard is directed by Hiroki Hayashi (Tenchi Muyo, Battle Athletes) and written by Ryoe Tsukimura (Moldiver, Tenamonya Voyagers, Tenchi Muyo). Production was done by Studio AIC, who also did Tenchi Muyo, Battle Athletes, and whole lot of stuff in the 90s and early-mid 00s.If they did an anime I reviewed, I mentioned it at least. It is considered the ‘sister series’ of Tenchi Muyo, as the same people worked on both.   

El Hazard concerns the tale of one, Makoto Mizuhara, an average Japanese high school student. One day, when dealing with a self-proclaimed rival Jinnai, he stumbles upon an ancient ruin beneath his school. There, he meets Ifurita, who supposedly met him before and then waited in hibernation for a long time. With the last of her power, she sends him along with Jinnai, Fujisawa-sensei and Jinnai’s sister Nanami to the world of El Hazard, a mystical land. Makoto and Fujisawa-sensei ended up working with the Princess Rune Venus and her kingdom in an effort to stop an invasion by the Bugrom Empire, a race of insect warriors, led by Queen Diva and Jinnai himself. But an even more deadly threat lurks in the shadows, without letting either side know it. In addition, Makoto meets elemental goddesses, Ifurita (again!) and the Eye of God (a mystery). What a thrilling adventure!

What a stunning landscape, brought by stunning visuals
Now, what makes El Hazard such a classic to me lies first in the pure scope and depth this story delves into. This OVA spans 7 episodes, and clocks it at around 4 hours. The first and last are 50 minutes long, with the episodes between last 30 minutes. As such, there’s a lot of time devoted to world building, even if boils down to simple terms: The world is divided by a river, with Rushtaria and its alliance on one side and the Bugrom Empire on the other.  But there’s more to it, with vast forests and deserts seen throughout and even more that we don’t see. The stunning visuals, example above, help to reinforce this. 

L-R: Queen Diva, Rune Venus, Fatora and Aielle, Nanami, Makoto and the three goddesses
The story and characters are also well-done. Granted, the cast consists of Makoto (single male hero) and group of female characters (the goddesses, Ifurita, Nanami, etc.) and their interactions with each other. Sounds familiar, eh? Well, that’s the same setup as Tenchi Muyo except for the initial premise. Whereas Tenchi had a harem of women vying for his affections, Makoto is set on only one of the girls, something not used a lot in harem series. Sure, some of them vie for his affections, but he seems too oblivious to it. Granted, the story doesn’t focus on this too much. Instead, it deals with Makoto and his friends trying to find a way back to the real world, which seems linked to the mystery of “The Eye of God”. It is an ancient weapon long dormant since ancient times and is essential to how the story develops.

The characters are very engaging. Makoto is a bit like Tenchi, above average male hero who ends up being the key to the story. He seems a bit more developed, as he got some brains behind his meek and nice demeanor making him quite relatable. Jinnai, on the other hand, is a perfect foil and quite possibly the best ‘joke villain’ in anime ever. Any scene with him is quite an interesting gem.

Most of the other cast is very typical for anime: Fujisawa is drunk but reliable adult role model and Nanami is a love interest in denial with a slight obsession with money. Even the three goddesses, with their impressive elemental powers, have expected personalities (Shayla Shayla-fiery, hotheaded, confident; Afura Mann-cool, calm and collected; Miz-volatile and moody). Rune Venus is the typical damsel-in-distress who doesn’t do much in the story anyway.

Heh-part of the reason why I'm reviewing this.
The exceptions lay with Princess Fatora and Aielle, who are the lesbian couple in the show. Granted, Fatora doesn’t have an active role until the last episode, but when she does she is quite a surprise. Aielle shows up near the end of the first episode and stays on as the token lolita of Makoto’s group, constantly hitting on some of the other female characters, leading to much hilarity.  They may seem a bit superfluous, but they are entertaining anyway, so I welcome their casual addition.

The English dub is pretty good as well. Been done by Pioneer/Geneon back in the day, it has a cast that includes mainstays for quite a number of their dubs: Eddie Frierson, Lia Sargent, Michael Sorich, R Martin Klein, Melissa Fahn, Dorothy Elias-Fahn, Bridget Hoffman, etc. They all do a pretty good job given the material. There are a few others (like Ifurita) where the performance is a tad wooden. I definitely recommend watching this dubbed, though the subbed version is decent.

Now, there are a few weaknesses to this OVA. First, the music is rather forgettable, barring the opening and ending songs. I love the opening song, with its rich mix of instrumental and electronic music creating an opening that grips and hooks you in. For the first six episodes, the ending song is a jumpy and energetic tune. The last episode, however, has a quite lovely and nice song to cap off the ending.

This leads to another weakness: The OVA is centered on a time loop paradox surrounding Makoto and Ifurita. Now, while this OVA has it built in such a way to ensure it has a definite ending, there is the possibility for sequels. This is similar to Tenchi Muyo, which had spinoffs/sequels due to parallel universes with the same characters. And considering how successful that was, AIC rightfully though it would work again with the EL Hazard series. To put simply, however, it didn’t. But that’s the subject for another review down the road

At the end of the day, El Hazard The Magnificent World as a standalone OVA is a fantastic piece of other worldly fantasy epic. It is well-done in nearly all aspects of the production, with a few exceptions. It stands its ground with other similar fantasy anime, like Magic Knight Rayearth and Escaflowne, both also very well-done fantasy series. I definitely recommend it. El Hazard is available on DVD quite easily on Amazon. 

The Eclectic Dude

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