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Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read

I think I played this Dungeons & Dragons module before…

What They Say:
In a mythical kingdom, the mighty Imperial Knights harness a magical substance known as Aer to power their weapons and protect humanity from the monsters of the forest. But something strange is afoot. The Aer is somehow changing, causing the wilderness to waste away and stirring the woodland beasts to attack with greater frequency. As danger creeps steadily closer to civilization, two young recruits – Flynn, the rigid son of a fallen hero, and the rebellious and brash Yuri – must ride with their fellow Imperial Knights to distant ruins in hopes of uncovering the truth behind the transforming Aer.

Some will not survive the thrilling journey. Some will be betrayed. If Flynn and Yuri cannot overcome their differences and learn to fight together, all will be lost for the people of the realm.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this movie is pretty solid all around as we get a pair of Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks that lets the Japanese and English shine. The feature has a lot of quiet dialogue scenes to it but it also runs with a few good action scenes that lets it stand out. The dialogue aspect of the feature is well played as it provides for an intimate feeling during a lot of it since it’s generally very personal when it unfolds, but it also goes big with the action scenes, especially the big finale that’s really expansive. The sword play itself really stands out as it clangs and hits but also the magic elements have enough nuance and character to them to make an impression. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally released in 2009, the transfer for this feature film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Clocking in at just under two hours with little in the way of extras, all the space is given to the video presentation along with the audio and the end result is strong. The Production IG feature here is really striking in its design with great colors, an earthy tone to a lot of it and some stunning magic sequences that really immerses you into the action. The transfer captures it all very well, with just a few bits of gradients in a few scenes, that has a solid look overall with just some small areas of grain to be had.

The packaging for this release is in a standard Blu-ray case that holds both the DVD and Blu-ray, all of it wrapped in a slipcover that mirrors the case artwork itself. The front of the cover is kind of odd in a way as it features the two leads, Flynn and Yuri, standing back to back with a good look to their designs. But what makes it feel odd is the dark background and the minimal amount of lighting used on them which keeps them from really standing out much. The brightest spot here is actually the Blu-ray strip along the top on the slipcover. The back cover is much lighter overall and goes for a look that fits well with a cool and almost marble feeling, especially with the silver borders that are brought in. The back cover does some good stuff with the shots used, the colors and the overall layout, making it a very smooth and engaging read to draw you in. The case doesn’t have any inserts included related to the show but there is artwork on the reverse side that’s done sideways that shows off the core cast of characters.

The menu design for this release is rather straightforward but it works fairly well overall as the majority of the screen is given over to clips from the feature. It does work some slower pieces into it to give us a bit of mood, but mostly it hits some fast paced bits while also bringing the logo in briefly to help cement and define it. The general tone of the colors from it is relatively soft but it works well, especially with the classically design navigation strip along the bottom that gives it a cool feeling with the blues and purples and the thin white font used for the text. Submenus load quickly and there isn’t too much here so it’s easy to navigate and it works smoothly and easily.

The extras for this release are pretty minimal but it has some things to check out. The first is nearly ten minutes of promotional videos that were produced to show off the film, things I always enjoy seeing to look at how they brought out different parts to advertise it, and they also included the four minute picture sound extra which shows off some sketch work for various aspects of the feature.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on Tales Series of videogames that have had several anime adaptations over the years, with Tales of the Abyss and Tales of Phantasia getting a North American release. While I’ve seen the latter, I haven’t seen the former nor touched any of the games so there’s a certain disconnect for me in that I’m not invested in the world or the characters. There’s something to be said for going in relatively free from influence though, which is what I did with Tales of Phantasia and enjoyed it. Fantasy based shows are few and far between unfortunately so when they do come around, I’m always interested since I grew up on fantasy gaming with Dungeons & Dragons.

With Tales of Vesperia, it’s a story that’s set in the somewhat out of the way town of Shizontania. It’s at a time where peace has generally filled the land due to some changes within the ruling class. That has little real impact here overall since it’s a bit of an out of the way place where life goes a little slow. The town is in a state of flux as people are moving on since it feels like it’s losing its life. But there are still members of the Niren Corps here that maintain the peace and order of things even as the guilds are starting to pull out. That causes some tensions in place, which we do see crop up here and there, but there’s generally nothing that really stands out here.

Where the problem lies is in that the things that brings magic and power to the world, aer, is starting to cause trouble in the area due to some ruins that are further upriver. It’s infecting the area in a big way, causing monsters and the like to cause trouble, and that’s keeping the knights and other soldiers busy. It’s through them that we meet the pairing of Yuri and Flynn, two young men who joined relatively recently to the Niren Corps for different reasons. Yuri is looking for a path to live and explore while Flynn is there due to his past as his father was a knight who disobeyed orders and died. He’s got a bit of anger to him that’s just under the surface for the most part, visible to be sure, while Yuri is a bit more relaxed but has a serious and active approach to everything.

What causes a little trouble along the way is that their captain is a knight who once served in the capitol and has ended up out here as a sentence in a way, being moved from the hustle and bustle to the hinterlands in effect where the thigns that once excited him are now things he can only dream of. But as he’s about twice as older as the others, if not more, he’s come to like the town and the kind of life that’s here. But as the feature goes on, after we learn the basics of the land and how the Corps works in this area, it shifts more to focusing on the mystery of what that ruined castle up river is causing. With Yuri and Flynn getting drawn into it, it’s dealing with the way the monsters are becoming more common, more blatant and threatening the town in a big way. And that leads into the big action that is probably the highlight of the film.

And it definitely needed a highlight. Tales of Vesperia is a film that I found myself having a really, really hard time getting into. Like a lot of fantasy shows, they don’t exactly make it complicated with the whole magic aspect and the structure of it all, but with all the interconnected aspects of it with aer, blastia and more, coming from an outside perspective with no familiarity with the game, it just felt like more than it should be. The characters have some stories to them, but it’s mostly Flynn that gets some extended background, which works well enough but isn’t a surprise. In the end, the film just doesn’t really engage as a story, but it draws you in with the animation. For a fantasy fan, it’s pretty much the kind of film that you know where it’s going to go from the first few minutes once the foundation is laid and it doesn’t surprise much beyond that. But because it’s a Production I.G. film, it really looks striking and had some beautiful moments to it that keeps you watching.

In Summary:
Tales of Vesperia is a film that had me hopeful for a well done fantasy feature, based on my experience with Tales of Phantasia. What we get here is a technically strong feature that has some great values to it with the animation and presentation, but it’s being backed up by a story that feels like it came from late 70’s role playing game story design. There are few characters here overall and what few we get really aren’t all that interesting or has much in the way of depth. I don’t want to discount the character stories that are here, as there are some very good moments both in the concept and the acting, but for the most part it left me cool at best to it. Fantasy fans will get what they like overall with the right kind of mood, sword play, magic and monsters, but looking for some depth or complex storytelling will have you coming up dry.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Promotional Footage, Picture Sound, Trailer

Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: June 26th, 2012
MSRP: $34.98
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.

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