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Monday, May 7, 2012

DRAGON AGE: DAWN OF THE SEEKER -- DVD review by porfle




From director Fumihiko Sori (TO, VEXILLE) comes the CGI/anime epic DRAGON AGE: DAWN OF THE SEEKER, a USA-Japan collaboration which takes Sori's familiar visual style from the hard sci-fi of TO into the realm of sword and sorcery.

When Funimation came calling with a proposal to do the videogame "Dragon Age" as an anime, Bioware creative director Mike Laidlaw was rightfully enthusiastic about the idea.  The result is a dark, mystical adventure filled with magic, dragons, knights, and other fun elements along with a story and characters that are both exciting and involving.

A prologue brings us newbies up to speed pretty quick.  In the land of Orlais, the Divine One rules along with her priestesses known as The Chantry.  A force of knights called the Templars keep order, but it's the stalwart Seekers who guard against corruption in the ranks of the citizenry, military, and ruling elite. 

Those who still practice magic, the Mages, are split into two groups--Circle Mage, who are loyal to the Chantry, and Blood Mage, the rebellious evildoers who abuse their magical powers.  When Blood Mage leader Frenic kidnaps a young Mage girl named Avexis who can control animals, it's part of a plot to use dragons to attack the Ten Year Gathering when all members of the Chantry will be in one place. 

It's up to apprentice seeker Cassandra and Circle Mage member Galyan to find out the truth behind all this and expose the conspiracy of corrupt insiders, but Cassandra's utter hatred of all Mages complicates their accidental partnership.  Cassandra, of course, is a knockout--what fictional warrior woman isn't?--and a fierce fighter, but it's fun watching her discover how much she still has to learn about politics, combat, and human relationships.  Her interplay with the kindhearted Galyan and their eventual friendship are nicely handled. 

When they're framed for murder and treason, Cassandra and Galyan find themselves battling both Templars and Blood Mages in a series of visually stunning battle setpieces, some of which involve monstrous trolls and golems.  Quieter moments allow for some dramatic character interaction that adds depth to Jeffrey Scott's story.

The finale during the Ten Year Gathering is a spectacular sequence in which the two main characters must escape the executioner's axe in time to protect the Chantry from a gaggle of enormous firebreathing dragons bent on destruction.  Fumihiko Sori's soaringly cinematic handling of this thrilling sequence is impressive as are the epic-scale set design and effects.

Fans of TO will appreciate the character design here.  Again, it's a pleasing blend of CGI mock-reality and comic-art style that's neither too realistic (avoiding the "uncanny valley" effect) nor too cartoonish-looking.  Motion capture is used very well and skillful rendering of facial details allows for some very subtly expressive characters.  Vocal performances in both English and Japanese language versions are good.  

The 3-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Funimation contains the English language version on both DVD and Blu-Ray format and the Japanese language version on DVD. Image is 1.77:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and English subtitles.  Extras consist of a 20-minute "making of" featurette, a tour of Bioware by Mike Laidlaw, production sketches, and trailers for other Funimation releases.

What first seems like a dense, tortured tale that would only appeal to gamers turns out to be an enjoyably accessible adventure with plenty of visual and dramatic appeal.  I've already come across some more hardcore fan reviews comparing it unfavorably with this or that, or pointing out ways in which the animation, voice acting, etc. fall short of the norm, but as for me DRAGON AGE: DAWN OF THE SEEKER is just plain fun.


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