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Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike Anime DVD Review

11 min read

Video game turned anime prologue done right.

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:
Having originally been created as a feature film, this release reflects that nature with its pair of audio tracks as both the original Japanese track and the English dub are presented in 5.1. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used and it largely is a center speaker driven affair with the main dialogue coming from that track except when the other speakers can be used to sell the directionality of events or to help sell the effects and sound to help create a more encompassing nature for the soundtrack, though the front speakers get more of a work out then the rear ones in this regard. During playback the track was found to be free of dropouts and distortions.

Originally premiering in Japanese theaters in the fall of 2009, the feature is presented here in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The film is one that is particularly gorgeous in its use of colors as it has some very rich and deep darker colors while it’s less sparsely used vibrant colors also come across particularly well. While the video is rather amazing at times there are a few issues that pop up including the presence of noise, a bit of banding and ghosting at times, some blocking issues, some fairly obvious CG, bit of haloing, minor dot crawl at one point, bit of aliasing, as well as some minor color feedback in some spots. While this looks like a laundry list of negatives most of these issues aren’t overly distracting and aren’t out of line with issues found on many other anime feature film DVDs.

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 disc itself uses a simple but effective image of the features’ main characters, Flynn and Yuri ,as they stand back to back with their shoulders just over the disc hub while looking in completely opposite directions as Flynn is facing downward but Yuri is gazing up at the sky. The image is presented in varying degrees of black and the discs natural silver color to present the two friends as they stand against a starry sky with the series log being present just below the disc’s hub.

The menu theme seems to be one of simplicity in its use of visuals as its main defining theme is a crisp white background that is present to some extent across all of the various menus. For the Main Menu there is a simple crest in the upper middle of the screen across which lays the main title written in purple with the film’s subtitle set below that in black and red. Beneath that are the choices which are listed horizontally in black but which switch to red when highlighted. Each of the submenu has an image shown in light gray to go with the white- the Scene Selection menu placing a table behind the small stills that stand in for the selectable chapters, the Extra Screen using a close up of a filled glass and photo as its background behind the options in the same soft color scheme while the Audio Select screen has a close up of a crest behind its options. Each of the screens has their own instrumental piece that plays and the menus are quick to respond to changes in the highlighted option as well as to implement selections when chosen.

The disc contains a pair of extras, the first labeled Promotional Footage, which runs around 8 and a half minutes and showcases some of the various pieces that were put together to help sell the feature in advance in Japan and one called Picture Sound which presents some slightly roughly drawn images of characters from the movie (and a few from the game as well) set to a warm instrumental track that runs just under 3 and a half minutes.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based off one of the games in the long running “Tales” videogame franchise, Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike is an animated feature that is set in the time before the Vesperia game and which serves as a prologue to many of the characters who feature prominently in that game as it examines the life Yuri Lowell lead and his connection to Flynn before the events depicted in the video game.

The world in which the feature takes place is one where man has managed to harness the flow of a naturally occurring energy that flows out of the ground known as ”Aer” once it has crystallized and which then allows them to use the energy in various ways, most of which for all practical means is pretty much magical and it is the source of the basis of their societies means of production. Recently though there have been problems in the far from the capitol city of Shizontania as there has been a disruption to the flow of aer which is disrupting other parts of nature, particularly when it comes to the local animas, fauna and monsters whose natures make them more sensitive to their environment.

To combat this the largely medieval like military has been trying to do its best to keep the monsters at bay but the cities small guard presence is beginning to be over run and even the large device set in the center of the city to repeal monsters from the town has been having less and less effect as the creatures have been encroaching on the area humans had cleared. Among the ranks of the soldiers stationed at the city are a pair of fresh recruits named Yuri Lowell and Flynn who have a bit of shared history from their childhoods and who were both inspired by Flynn’s late father and his actions as a soldier in the capitol city, though they both took very different lessons away from the life he lead.

While Flynn tries to be a very “by the book” soldier who is willing to follow all orders given to him to the letter Yuri is much more casual and believes that pursuing his own philosophy of following orders as he sees fit and making his conscience the ultimate guide to be the best course for a soldier. After graduation the two were assigned to the same post in Shizontania and each have been assigned to one of a pair of twin sisters whose role is to try further guide the newly stationed knights in their role and act as part supervisor and part mentor, though the sisters find the task not easy given Yuri’s rather lax discipline and Flynn’s temper which he isn’t always capable of controlling, particularly when he and Yuri clash over philosophy.

Luckily for these four though the commander of the troops in the city, Captain Niren Fedrock, is a rather easy going commander whose personality allows him to give his underlings a chance to grow on their own and his personality has which extended to the rest of the city and as such he has become beloved in a way that the knights rarely are in other areas. But he isn’t able to protect his charges innocence forever as the increase in trouble from monsters is causing a large problem for the city to the point that many of its inhabitants are trying to leave and the need for even the rawest knights to be placed on the front line looms.

As Niren attempts to discover just what is behind the recent change with the naturally flowing Aer he assigns the youngest knights each a mission with Flynn being dispatched to the capitol to try to get additional reinforcements from the king while Yuri encounters his own problems while on duty at the time assigned to look after one of the watches dogs. Each of the two is going to find their own defeat and have to deal with it in their own way but events are going to grow beyond them when the Captain decides that they cannot wait for reinforcements and they must find the source of the disturbance with the Aer now. Is this small garrison up to the task or will they be overwhelmed? And is the secret of the Aer and its recent troubles going to be one that anyone in the garrison is capable of processing or dealing with even if they find the source of the disturbance?

I’ve been playing video games for a long time now and have seen no small number of adaptations of them come and go, not just in the way of anime but also in the form of US Saturday morning cartoons, novels, comics and feature films (and probably some that I am forgetting like candy or toy tie ins that blur the lines somewhat). Along the way I have learned from hard experience to keep my expectations low as a result as the events that make for a good (if not great) videogame often don’t translate as well to a different medium.

But the production team for this feature got things right. One of the first things that they did was come up with a plausible explanation both for having forest creatures attack as well as the concentration of monsters that appear in other parts of the film. This explanation is one that many game adapters often overlook as random encounters are taken for granted in RPGs yet the premise rarely translates as well when moved to another medium as it is just a staple of RPGs but the audience in other mediums tend to like there to be some sort of reason for these clashes as they just don’t feel the same outside the gaming environment. In addition to coming up with a reason, the production team used these types of battles sparingly which helped the impact of events as it the encounters then felt more dangerous because they were infrequent and didn’t get the chance to become monotonous by overexposure.

The major focal point though is found in the main characters as they introduce both Yuri with his rebellious streak and Flynn with his more strict mannerisms yet neither character is simply some cardboard cutout incapable of growth or prevented from having another aspect to their personality and it is in these moments where the characters are able to show off their differences and complexities that the two really shine. On top of having some great characters who act with purpose to events around them, the feature has some absolutely stunning visuals which create lush and vibrant environments for the characters to live in which adds a wonderful polish to the work. Using these tools the team then crafts a careful tale that examines the natures of its lead characters while also laying the foundation for a fair amount of action and drama along the way and which isn’t afraid to take some chances at times that the character’s reactions might alienate them from some of the audience.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some flaws in the piece as there are a few characters shoe horned in and who are there in mostly cameo roles simply because they play larger roles in the videogame of the same name that takes place after these events and so a bone was thrown to game fans that causes the picture to stumble slightly as most of these characters really add nothing to the current story. Beyond that though the biggest negative to be found is the somewhat clumsy intro that is used to explain Aer and its role in the society of the game but which is sufficiently crouched in game terms to throw a bit of a wrench into events before they get started. One can’t help but wonder if perhaps a more fluid method might have been assembled but the film does do enough along the way to help those who might not have followed along with the intro keep up and the intro does make a lot more sense the second time around so it may simply be one of those “necessary evils” that come with an adaptation. All this work adds up to a film that is able to serve as both prologue to the game it is based off as well as stand on its own as a feature in its own right.

In Summary:
Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike is a fantastically animated feature that may also be one of the best adaptations of an RPG world that has been created in a different medium. The production team takes care to explain the mechanics of the world in a way that it adds a dimension to the characters that dwell there while not losing site that the world is merely the background for both where and how events happen. To fully utilize this world, the producers create some fabulous characters, particularly in the case of a pair of characters who are opposites in most ways, which allows for an exploration of different motivations which leads to a deeper understanding of the characters as well as an appreciation for the different philosophies that can spring from a single event. That the film then balances all of this with a superb pacing helps to create a rather stunning work in the final measure that doesn’t have to hide in the shadow of its game franchise and which tells a compelling story of its own.

Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles

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

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: June 26th, 2012
MSRP: $34.98
Running Time: 110 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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