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Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker Anime DVD Review

11 min read

An age of dragons should be able to provide more excitement than this.

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 Review:
Because of the need to try to get the CG to more closely match the lip flap for the two languages and the space constraints of the DVD format the language options for the DVD version the release is two discs with each language getting a 5.1 mix on its respective discs. For the purpose of this review initially the Japanese track was used as found on Disc 2 and it was found to be one that is free of drop outs and distortions and which was competent enough, if not exactly spectacular, as it didn’t run into problems with multiple sources being present on screen which is reflected in the soundtrack though the audio track never really rose to being anything memorably outstanding though it does manage competently the subtlety found at times which is often of a very quiet nature. Additionally for whatever reason on a number of occasions the voice acting just comes across as somewhat flat when it doesn’t feel like events warrant such a delivery and which when added to the lack of subtle facial features makes some dialogue come across giving the impression that the character on screen is bored.

After experiencing the lackluster Japanese track the English track was run in the background during the writing of this review and the cast there seems to at least recognize that they need to rely more on the events going on around the character to establish their vocal reactions than the somewhat flawed display that the animation leaves the facial expressions with. In addition to this the English language track does a bit better job with punching up the power of certain scenes, though I am not sure I am entirely thrilled with all the accents that were chosen for the characters as they don’t always reflect the homogony that probably should be there for a good deal of these characters given the nature of their nationalities (which admittedly is as much a personal preference as a more tangible critique).

Originally premiering in Japanese theaters in February of 2011, the video is presented here in its 1:78:1 widescreen format. For the creation of the series the company decided to try to use 3D CG to pull off a game like effect but the results are a bit suspect as at times some of the detail on some objects-particularly those somewhat reptilian in nature- is almost unnaturally detailed and eye popping while at other times characters can be present with thick and heavy black lines that seem to appear or vanish at whim. To add to this confusion there are points where some of the images come across incredibly sharp but feel more like cell-shaded PS2 era designs than something that is designed to approximate a game being played on the modern era gaming consoles. Just to add that final blow the animation doesn’t help sell the voice acting as mouth flap can be lazy to vague at times and expressions often don’t match the tenor of the voices (in both languages) but given some of the situations the voice actors seem to have the right tone nailed despite what their character’s facial expressions. Beyond this the only other noticeable things present in the video is the grain the feature was created with as well a thin level of noise in addition to some minor aliasing at times and banding present.

This review is of the DVDs only but the packaging was covered in Chris Beveridge’s review of the Blu Ray portion of the releases’ review.
The discs themselves use a simple but effective image of the feature’s main character Cassandra in close up who has her sword held in both hands in front of her on the left side of the DVD hub as the wind whips her hair to the right with the logo being placed over some of it on the upper right of the disc. Both discs use the same image and only the presence of the word “Japanese” in a small red banner on the right side of the label and a very small difference in the shades of the colors (the Japanese disc being a bit darker) differentiate the two discs.

The menus for both discs are the same (with the exception of the Extras being present only on the English language disc) which uses the same image of Cassandra from the disc label placed on the left while the image expands across the upper right though the middle and right center and lower portion of the screen are a white/silver color that resembles either a sheet rock pattern or smoke with the options listed horizontally in black that turn red when highlighted. The sub menus all use a similar look though the Silver/white color is predominant with the red blood pattern being relegated to the lower corners of the menu with the Scene Selection menu using images for the chapter stops but otherwise keeping the red tinted theme when selected going throughout. The menus themselves are easy to navigate and clearly display which selection is currently highlighted and in addition the menu is prompt to respond to changes in selection and engages the selections when chosen with a minimum of delay.

Included on this release is a trio of features that will bring fans of both the game franchise as well as this feature film a backstage look at what has gone into both. The first extra is an almost eight minute long guided tour of BioWare as the creative director of Dragon Age, Mike Laidlaw, walks through various portions of the studio where they create their games and shows off some of the places where their various team members work. The second extra is a 20 minute piece that gives a focused look at the creation of Dawn of the Seeker and some of the themes and structures that went into the creation of this feature film. Finally there is an art gallery that shows off many of the designs concepts that were used to create the finished CG products as well as some of the CG models as well.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Set in the world of the Dragon Age game developed by BioWare and published by Electronic Arts who teamed with FUNimation Entertainment to produce this new journey. The tale is set in the age of dragons where steel, magic and faith are the leading forces that are arranged to guard over man, though these powers at times turn dark and protection perverted by using power to control people. The main religious order is known as the Chantry and they use their strength in the form of their enforcement arm the Templers to enforce their laws and the mages in particular, even those in the loyal mages known as the Circle of Mages, find themselves being suppressed.

These efforts in turn cause more mages to turn to the darker arts (known as Blood Mages) which then fuels the cycle as the Templers become even more forceful in their efforts to crack down on them and prevent others from following their path. For years the only balance between the two is a special subset of Templers known as Seekers but things have reached a boiling point and even the Seekers may not be enough anymore. With the 10 year gathering approaching where the religious make a pilgrimage to their holy city to pray for peace the shadows are moving which threaten to cast their darkness over the land.

Among the Seekers is a young woman, Cassandra Pentaghast, who is one of their finest, if somewhat impetuous, members who is about to find herself in the midst of a massive plot whose tendrils reach to the heart of their holy city and whose conspirators may be in places no one could have dreamed. Cassandra is initially introduced into the story as she is part of a team of seekers who come across a band of Blood Mages that are using a young kidnapped girl to some secret purpose. Cornered the lead Blood Mage leaves the girl behind and escapes but rather than the end of the tale this is merely the beginning.

Shortly after returning to the holy city the ranking members of the Seekers meet with the head of their religion and Cassandra watches as her mentor Byron expresses his doubts at turning the girl over to the Magi’s that she was abducted from. Later that night though Cassandra is shocked when Byron leaves the city with the girl and she follows him to try to learn of his plans. What she finds instead is an ambush where the girl is recaptured and Byron is killed. With his dying words Byron imparts to Cassandra his suspicions as to the conspiracy that he fears has its plans set for the upcoming ceremony and he charges Cassandra with carrying out his will in discovering and preventing the plot from coming to fruition.

Things get hairy though when Cassandra is forced to rely on the assistance of a Circle Mage by the name of Regalyan D’Marcall to have any hope of survival- a problem compounded by Cassandra’s deep loathing for all who practice as mages in addition to just the suspicions her current task have her viewing others through. This is hardly going to be their only problem though as forces on both sides start to move against them and time starts to run out as powers both lawful and traitorous start to close in on the pair. Is this unlikely pair going to have a chance to discover and foil the plot against the country or are their efforts going to fall under the combined weight of the efforts of those around them?

When coming into this feature I didn’t have quite the reservations that I saw in some other circles as my familiarity with the franchise is just slightly above knowing that it exists (in that I own the first game which I have yet to play) and the concept of a CGI feature doesn’t automatically fill me with chills. That isn’t to say that when the film arrived in my mailbox I had high hopes either but I guess I would classify my expectations as cautiously optimistic. It turns out I was wrong.

The biggest problem here is the shear averageness with which the feature goes about its business from almost the very first second of the film which has a major strike against it as it starts with what is likely meant to be a narration to set the stage and convince the viewer that a very deep story that mixes religion and politics with betrayal is to follow. Now the film certainly strives to set up this goal but outside the narration it makes sparse use of this set up as it switches to a far less ambitious tale of betrayal than one might hope for that merely uses the set up to establish basic reasoning for the various factions rather than as a spring board to some greater character depth. To this end, most of the characters are incredibly shallow with very little effort put into making them anything more than stereotypical characters one might use as a basic template in creating a character for a role playing game before actually adding in things that make them appear as something more than just a generic character.

If this wasn’t bad enough, at times the writing becomes so pedestrian than the plot is actually (almost completely) reveled by a laughably bad villain who appears when the heroes are captured for the sole purpose it seems to gloat and reveal all but one critical piece of information (which is then just thrown out shortly after in such a haphazard manner the villain might as well have given it and saved a few seconds of not interesting speculation). And all of that is before the very video game style finish that the feature attempts to use which is one that would be rather expected in a game and might heighten tension of a player but in a different medium it just falls a bit flat.

It is really in the characters that the feature completely falls into the realm of forgettably mundane as no one really stands out as the feature couldn’t be bothered to spend much time with most of them and the few it does try to somewhat establish it doesn’t take any chances with in terms of back story or development and produces a mediocre and barley more than generic fantasy past which is a bit of a shame as there are a few elements here that might have been useful in helping to elevate the final product and create an interesting (though probably not fantastic) feature. There is almost nothing here to recommend the feature as it appears to almost set out to be the blandest finished product it can be in order to hit all the genre staples and that would be the one thing it actually succeeds at.

In Summary:
Sometimes a product comes out and it seems to be an attempt to get the attention of a different market than its original audience and tries to adapt to a different market and sometimes a product comes out which seemingly attempts to simply ride the coattails of a popular property and hope that new market follows along. Unfortunately Dawn of the Seeker falls into that latter category as it is a flat, generic and mostly lifeless product that has almost no innovative spark to its own credit. This is a feature that may do something for those ravenous for any new material from the growing franchise but it is not a good first step for anyone who might be curious about the property as it makes no real effort to engage the viewer and its at times inconsistent animation doesn’t help that matter. That such a generic product was produced is in fact the most interesting thing about this release as one wonders why with so many companies having a stake no one thought to take some risks and chance in trying to produce a well remembered or at least ambitious work- but perhaps that presence of a number of companies and the risk aversion that often comes with more partners is the answer to that question itself. If one is hard up for a fantasy series and wants to hit the major tent poles of the genre then this work will likely suffice but there is more creative and daring fantasy material available for those craving more than an average production.

Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Bioware Studio Tour, Dawn of the Seeker Backstage Pass

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

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: May 29th, 2012
MSRP: $24.98
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

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