What They Say:
In a land where battles are fought with swords and magic, a young heroine rises to glory as Templars, mages, and dragons clash. Cassandra, a brash and beautiful warrior, must stop a conspiracy that threatens the realm’s most powerful religious order. Accused of treasonous crimes and hunted by friend and foe, Cassandra must clear her name and overcome her rage in order to save the day and take her place in legend.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty good but not spectacular as it features a pair of Dolby TrueHD 5.1 language tracks for both the Japanese and English mixes. The feature has a good bit of action to it and both it and the music are applied to the rear channels, but it’s not a big, bold work in that area. It tends to be a bit more subtle than anything else. The score is generally solid and well represented as are the sound effects and ambient noses, but it all comes across as a bit more muted than I expect. It’s not as boisterous as it could be, or should be in a lot of cases, which keeps it from really drawing you in.
Originally in theaters at the beginning of 2012, the transfer for this theatrical feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Clocking in at ninety minutes, the 3D CG presentation is pretty solid here without much in the way of significant or noticeable problems. 3D CG animation is just like anime in how varied it can be, and this one has a good mix of detailed pieces to it but also a kind of superficial neo-artsy style as well. The colors for it is where shows like this can be a problem, but there’s hardly anything to be had in the way of banding and nothing noticeable or distracting with line noise. Colors are generally strong and solid throughout due to the kind of shading used but there’s also a feeling in the darker scenes some intended grain being introduced.
The packaging for this combo release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case that has a hinge inside to hold all three discs as we have a separate disc for the Japanese and English versions on DVD and the Blu-ray that holds both. The front cover has the image that’s been used for some time with a stern looking Cassandra wielding her word while the blood red dragon imagery is behind her. It’s not murky per se, but it has a good oppressive feel, especially with the dash of white along the left side to provide some contrast. The back cover plays the white and reds to better effect overall as we get a decent summary of the overall concept here. The discs featuers are made clear as are the extras. The technical grid is pretty busy since it’s covering a lot of material but it handles it all cleanly and clearly. The disc does have some meager artwork on the reverse side that works well as it uses some blue hued artwork of one of the caverns in the show which would look better in a clear case than in a blue case. No show related inserts are included.
The menu design for this feature is pretty straightforward, though it has the added bonus of selecting which version of it you want to watch from the start and then going into the main navigation menu. Both aspects of it use the same clips of animation though, showing off some of the action, some of the dark wonder of the world, with a subtle instrumental mix to it that doesn’t swell as much as one might expect it. The navigation along the bottom is straightforward and has the added tag to select which version of the movie you want to watch as well. Languages are locked to each version, so the Japanese is only in Japanese with subtitles while the English is done similarly. Navigation is simple and the menus work well and generally sets the mood well.
The release comes with a couple of extras that will definitely be appealing to the game fans, especially the eight minute tour of BioWare which is pretty interesting. This one goes to the studio that deals with the two franchise that FUNimation is doing co-productions with, Dragon Age and Mass Effect. It’s pretty fluffy and friendly but I always like these pieces as a chance to see game studios and to understand where all their money goes on the “fun” stuff to relieve the stress of creating games. The other extra that’s of decent size is a twenty minute “back stage” pass for the feature, that gives us a look at how the film was created, from its storyboarded start to the finished production and everything in between. Similar to the tour extra, it’s very positive as you’d expect but it’s interesting to see the BioWare folks talking about anime in general, though more to the 3D CG side. Also included is a nine minute video segment that showcases a lot of the production art from the feature, material that does make me wish they went a more traditional anime route to see what that could have been like.
Based on the video game world of the same name, Dragon Age is a collaboration between FUNimation and Bioware that’s directed by Fumihiko Sori. Sori has dabbed in a few 3D CG shows before, including two release by FUNimation with TO and Vexille, and was a producer on the original Appleseed 3D CG anime film. It’s been interesting to watch the progress and variation of Sori’s works over the years since the 3D CG realm started to take some serious shape in the past decade, largely starting big time with Appleseed, and Dragon Age is a curious mixture of what has come before. You can see elements of those other features here, but I’m hard press to call it something that has taken it and built upon it, rather a feature that utilizes it and that’s it.
With the two versions of the film on the Blu-ray disc enclosed, I opted for the Japanese version just due to simple preference for the voice cast. While Dragon Age has been fairly popular since the first game came out, I have to preface this with the fact that I have not played any of the games or read anything about them. So for me, this is something that’s steeped in some mythology and lore that’s been created, but some of those aspects, if not a lot of them, are going to go over my head. What Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker has to do for me is to entertain simply as a fantasy movie. I’m not prejudiced against the 3D CG aspect, in fact I was one of a handful of people that walked out of the Appleseed theatrical event I went to nearly a decade ago that enjoyed it and looked forward to what the style would bring while everyone else called it utter trash.
The general setup here is one that’s fairly basic that can be picked up easily if you’ve read any amount of popular fantasy novels over the years. In this world where there’s magic, we’re introduced to a setup where the lead character of Cassanda is something called a Seeker, a class of warriors that deals in protecting the Chantry, the magicians of the world that take on a religious tone and enforce that magic is used only to serve man and not used against man. Of course, there are those magicians out there that want to go their own path and they’ve seemingly taken to working together and being called Blood Mages. They’re rather basic in here in that they want to upset the balance of things, utilize dragons and cause a lot of chaos. Cassandra’s your basic ass kicker that wants to get out there and deal with these guys and stop them, as evidenced by the harsh brutality she exhibits very early on as she pretty much guts one of the Blood Mages with her sword several times. Just to prove the point that she is a tough one.
Cassandra’s life here is one that is straightforward as she’s just following the direction of the bodies she wants to strike down, but along the way here events get out of control as she loses the one man that she seems to trust a lot and then gets caught up in a conspiracy where there’s trouble afoot for the Circle Mages. So it’s off on an adventure to figure out what they’re up to, why they’ve thrown their lot in with the Chantry and what the real objectives of the Blood Mages is. Unfortunately, the film has a kind of paper thin plot to begin with, introducves a number of characters along the way in brief and doesn’t utilize them well and generally feels like it’s about set pieces that may be dealing with characters that are better known if you’ve played the games. But even a cursory viewing of what the gaming fans have thought of this seems to say that the feature has little to do with its intended promise of fleshing out the origins of the game series and connection to events within the games so far.
In watching this film, I kept coming back to two basic problems. And the 3D CG animation isn’t one of them, as I find that this kind of stuff is pretty damn appropriate for a video game adaptation since it’s essentially a big cut scene. The first problem is that the characters are standard archetypes at best and we never really know anything about them. We get the gist of who they are, but they can be broken down as to who they are by how they act, which means that they’ll suffice for action sequences and generally moving things forward, but not for making me feel invested in them as characters. The second is that while we do get some basic idea of the world here, it comes across as something where it’s just such a superficial look that I’m being kept out of the loop because I haven’t played the games and immersed myself in it. It’s an accessible film in a basic way, but I get the feeling that those that play will obviously get a lot more out of it.
When it comes to the animation, I really do understand the problems people have 3D CG animation in general. This one has its problems at times with some of its structure and the movements of it along with some pacing, but for the most part there’s no real surprises here. The problem that’s been evident with 3D CG animation since Appleseed is to me simply that anime fans in general like ~anime~ animation that they’re familiar with. We’re not going to get Pixar quality here, and it doesn’t look like the anime that they’ve been drawn to since they first discovered it. It’s too reminiscent of what populates US TV in a lot of ways and that kills the “specialness” of anime. I rather like 3D CG anime, but it’s not at a point where it can really excel yet. But it can’t excel until more work is put in, better mocap work and a new breed of directors trying to work with it. I’m still convinced we’ll see some amazing stuff in another decade with this kind of animation. But at the same time, even though this is a co-production with FUNimation, it’s not really meant to supplant anime. I can’t help but to feel that this style is pretty appealing to a gaming audience as it’s a skewed version of the cut scene animation in the games. If I was still into games, I could easily see this being pretty appealing.
Sadly, Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker doesn’t do much to really stand out as a strong work. It takes the world that’s been established in the games and throws us into a story without enough real foundation to get engaged with. It’s kind of standard fantasy material here with a decent sized cast that performs admirably, but the characters aren’t anything that I can get into as a non-game player. It just lacked resonance and connection for me. It plays things straight with an edge of darkness, a few light moments and some decent action but it takes no risks and doesn’t seem like it goes big in any way that really lets it rise to the occasion. The feature feels like it’s set out to do what they intended, but as someone without the game experience, it didn’t do much for me. It may work better for the gamers, but as we’ve seen before with adaptations of game material from the US, it tends to be pretty hit or miss and I suspect this one is going to be the same.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Bioware Studio Tour, Dawn of the Seeker Backstage Pass
Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: May 29th, 2012
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.