"Dragon Age" film left seeking more substance
Note from Jason: We get in a lot of titles for review here at Otaku Ohana Central. Granted, it's all Funimation anime and Vertical manga these days, but hey, that's still a LOT of stuff, so it keeps us busy. So busy, in fact, that if you haven't noticed, we haven't posted any reviews of anime here since ... well, it would take an extensive search through the archives to find that last true anime home video review. (I want to say it goes back to the old "Drawn & Quartered" column in the Star-Bulletin, but I'm probably missing something that's run since then.)
Recently, though, we got in an advance copy of Funimation's Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker, bowing on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday. I knew exactly who to hand it off to: coworker/friend/Dragon Age fangirl Christina Chun. Here's why I thought she'd be more qualified than either me or tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J. in writing this review:
- Wilma has heard of Dragon Age, and that's pretty much it.
- I managed to pass my Joining and meet Alistair in Dragon Age: Origins, which I believe is 0.000001% of the game's story (add a few zeroes if you count the downloadable content in that total).
- Christina played through Dragon Age: Origins. And tweeted about her party. Often. Enough that I remember that she tweeted about her party often to this day.
Game, set, match: Christina. Here's her review.
I wasn't inclined to pick up Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker, an animated movie based on Bioware's Dragon Age fantasy RPG series. I didn't even know about it, and even if I had, I like to play my games, not read them or watch them. I usually pass on video-game-related books or movies. They're rushed and bland, and rarely contain any magic from the game itself.
Having played Dragon Age Origins (DA:O) and some of Dragon Age II (DAII), however, I was the most qualified person nearby to look at the copy that came to our office.
Here are some thoughts:
Dawn of the Seeker has high production values. As with most anime, background detail is lacking. On the other hand, I'm impressed that Bioware hired MOZOO Inc. and Studio Oxybot to add slick motion capture animation and 3-D modeled characters with an appealing anime cel-shaded look.
It works well. In true Japanese tradition, watch everyone's eyes carefully to decipher their emotional level, as faces are expressively rendered. I'd love to play a Dragon Age game in this visual style.
Screenplay writer Jeffery Scott has fashioned a serviceable story. Movie music composer Tetsuya Takahashi does a utilitarian job riffing off Dragon Age game composer Inon Zur, and end credit music by Seether and GACKT is a nice touch. All the voice actors did a fine job of blending in with the one temperament assigned to each character.
The story takes place prior to DAII, and after the fall of Kirkwall in the DA:O expansion "Awakening." Cassandra Pentaghast, a DAII character, is the focus in this movie as a tsundere warrior descended from a royal Nevarran dragon hunting bloodline, and a member of Seekers of Truth.
Seekers answer to the Divine, leader of the Chantry, aka the world's most powerful religious order. The story opens with Cassandra and her Seeker company preparing to to rescue a kidnapped Dalish elf girl, presumably at the Divine's behest. Blood mages have captured her and no one knows why. To make matters worse, these blood mages have also captured a dragon.
To what end? I don't want to say much more, as it feels much like a standard sword and sorcery plot to pull us from point A to point B. A conspiracy threatens the stability of the Chantry; see if you can figure out who the highest-level conspirators are before the movie outright tells you. Bioware has shaped a dependable Cassandra back story and prequel to DAII, and there's nothing wrong with that.
My main beef is that there isn't enough distinguishing the movie as distinctly Dragon Age except for Cassandra. "Keep your focus, Cassandra!" exhorts her mentor Byron as they prepare for battle. It's a good thing I'm not her, because I found it difficult to focus with so few Dragon Age-specific cues to keep me hooked.
There are scattered details such as blood splatter in an early combat scene, similar to that seen in-game with the "gore" setting turned on. A mage also casts Firestorm, a DAII spell, later in the movie. But overall, it's as though the movie forgot how much enjoyment game fans get from spotting these touches. Without them, Dawn devolves into any other enjoyable, yet fluffy action-filled fantasy most of the way.
I would've also liked to see the movie's templars be less pathetic. No one will ever want to play a templar after seeing them portrayed in the style of Star Wars' straw-stuffed Stormtroopers. The mages aren't much better.
And feel free to skip the first chapter in the Select Chapter menu; it only gives back story to the series' world that any Dragon Age player would know, and heavy foreshadowing of the plot ahead.
Dawn of the Seeker is entertaining enough for a Dragon Age fan to plunk down a few bills, but a hard sell at full retail. If you have any intention of ever watching it, pre-order before May 29 on Amazon.com to get a significantly discounted price (see below).
Bioware Studio Tour. Follow Dragon Age creative director Mike Laidlaw around his workplace.
Dawn of the Seeker Backstage Pass. Twenty minutes of movie commentary from Bioware-ians.
Dragon Age Production Art. About 60 Dawn of the Seeker art pieces live here.
Previews. There is a short slideshow of production art from the animated Mass Effect movie in the making, a notable addition for Bioware game fans.
English voice main cast: Colleen Clinkenbeard as Cassandra, J. Michael Tatum as Galyan, Chuck Huber as Frenic, R. Bruce Elliott as High Seeker, Christopher R. Sabat as Knight Commander.
Japanese voice main cast: Chiaki Kuriyama as Cassandra, Shosuke Tanihara as Galyan, Hiroshi Iwasaki as Frenic, Takaya Hashi as High Seeker, and GACKT as Knight Commander.
Running time: 90 minutes
MSRP: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack ($34.98, contains one English dub disc, one Japanese voice/English subtitled disc, and one Blu-Ray disc with content from both DVDs) or DVD ($24.98). Pre-order the Blu-Ray/DVD combo on Amazon.com for $14.86 at the time of this writing.
Release date: May 29