What They Say:
In a strange dark age based on Celtic myths, the Divine Empire’s path of conquest seems unstoppable… until a savage priest makes a critical mistake while attempting to resurrect a Demon Lord! Now the scales of fate tip in the other direction.
Tears to Tiara is presented only in its original Japanese stereo language format, encoded at 224kbps. The show is one that makes out well by its audio design as there is a fair bit of directionality and placement throughout it, both in dialogue and in the action scenes as well. The series is one that plays well whether it’s a big loud scene or one of quiet dialogue with some ambient music and the encoding here serves it well. This is one of the better stereo mixes, though not a top of the line, but it at least makes some use of the stereo channels overall and adds to the show rather than just being a simple part of it. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2009, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The release contains thirteen episodes spread across two discs in a seven/six split. Similar to other works by Aquaplus, this show really has a very good look about it and the transfer captures it very well. Colors generally remain very solid with only a few areas showing some mild noise in a large area of a single color. Motion is free of problems and artifacts and cross coloration is pretty much non-existent. Some previous shows from this group had some problems with their CG work, but Tears to Tiara comes across very smoothly and with a wonderful look overall.
The cover for this release is interesting as it doesn’t use the character I expected along the front, with Arawn showing only on the back. The front does look alright though as it brings in Morgan, Riannon and Arthur for the character artwork, and it’s easy to imagine Morgan was used for all the skin she shows. The background itself utilizes the background from the closing animation sequence which gives it a rustic and earthy indistinct look. It’s not a bad cover but it’s not one that will out and out grab you either. The back cover uses more of the same background with Arawn leaning against the right side. The left side features a small selection of shots from the show while in between there’s a decent summary of the overall premise. Some basic production information is included along the bottom and the technical grid covers everything well. The cover does list that the disc includes clean versions of the opening and closing sequences, but they’re actually absent from the disc itself in the extras section which only has production credits.
The menus have a nice bit of simple style about them with a soft parchment like feeling for the overall background on which each disc has a different piece of character illustration artwork. The layout doesn’t offer too much to it, giving over a lot of space to the individual episode selection through the middle, No language submenu is included with this release so there’s really nothing here outside of the episode selection itself and the special features section. Everything does load quickly and it’s the kind of menu that does set the atmosphere pretty well before the show while making sure the episodes are easily selectable.
Originally an adult PC game that was then adapted and remade as a mainstream console game, Tears to Tiara is a twenty-six episode series that plays well in the world of fantasy while mixing in a lot more material than just swords and sorcery. Similar to another series by the same group of people, Utawarerumono, Tears to Tiara is a show that plays with a large scale of characters and settings as it deals with empires, people and how all of it works. There are details to be glossed over of course and with a good sized cast there are characters that aren’t fully explored, but so few series dabble in this kind of story that Tears to Tiara really does stand out.
Taking its cues from the darker ages of European history, Tears to Tiara starts off as any good series should by having a young girl readied for sacrifice. Riannon is a special young woman of the Gael tribe on the island of Erin who has magic healing powers and a ancient ties to the greatly revered elf Pwyll from time gone past, an elf who had made a kingdom into a legend before it fell to ruin. The sacrifice doesn’t go all that well as the ritual is interrupted by the arrival of Riannon’s brother, Arthur, who serves as the First Warrior of the clan and will do anything he can to protect his sister. His timing is unfortunate though as the seal has already been broken and the great demon king Arawn has already awakened and taken Riannon into his grasp.
Things take an amusing turn though as Riannon gives herself willingly to Arwan and Arwan isn’t quite what the legends had made out, something that he is quick to point out when he doesn’t seem to meet up with other people’s expectations since he’s slumbered for so long. What makes the situation even more complicated is that Riannon’s position as his sudden new wife means that Arwan is the chieftain of the Gael clan now, something he wasn’t exactly looking for. The only thing that mollifies him is the arrival of a very old friend in a sage and mage named Ogam who has watched over the Gael but also knew Arwan when he wasn’t in the human form he is now, a time when he was something akin to a godling.
This sets the stage for Arwan now as he slowly comes to grips with his position and the growing need to protect those that have suddenly become his people. With Riannon prodding him along and having Arthur doing the same, Arwan takes to the role fairly well while still getting a lay of the land and the numerous changes since the empire he was involved with was founded and fell. His past plays a role in the present as he brings his new people to the sanctuary that had been created generations before and is watched over by a few elves. The elven race has moved on to a new land far, far away but some have still stayed in order to serve, and one even comes back from the other land in order to help Arwan.
Over the first dozen episodes, the cast grows fairly significantly as Arwan draws people to him. With Riannon and Arthur as his base, he ends up with humans and elves alike following him. His arrival has not gone unnoticed by those who would seek out to do him harm as the Divine Empire that has risen from the ashes of the previous empire is now completely corrupt and out to do whatever it takes to survive. Through this angle, we start to see the two sides gradually coming up against each other as Arwan intends to protect his people and allow them to grow and forge bonds while the Divine Empire cannot let any potential threat be left alone. And like a good series, we get to understand those on the Imperial side. It does add to the size of the cast, but it also adds a good balance as we learn about those who serve, from simple warrior to those ranked much higher.
After really enjoying Utawarerumono far more than I probably should have, I was very keen on seeing Tears to Tiara. The visual design of the show is a very good evolutionary path for the company in how it works as it really has, for the most part, cleaned up what I found problematic in the other series. And that’s the computer generated background characters that walk around, usually in the form of the armies. In Tears to Tiara, they look more blended to the rest of the characters and they continue to do a nice job in trying to give them slightly different personalities, such as additional movement for some or stepping out of synch with others when it comes to marching. With these changes and having some very good looking character designs for the main cast, there’s a lot to like here. The characters have a decent amount of detail, there are some standout elements such as Arawn’s sword which doesn’t look like other swords in its design, and there’s very little overlap among the characters in their own designs. It’s like they took what they did before from a similar yet not the same series and refined it more.
Tears to Tiara was a title that was very low on my radar because it was airing throughout 2009 in Japan. I had not expectations of it arriving as quickly as it did, but I’m beyond thrilled that it did. This is a rare fantasy series, in Japanese style more than Western fantasy often is, that builds up an interesting cast of characters, a core storyline that has a whole lot of potential and interactions that avoid being childish through and through, outside of a few characters that are truly young in age. With a storyline that plays mildly episodic at times while building the larger narrative, this is in the running for one of the more engaging and exciting series that I’ll have seen in 2009 and the next set cannot come soon enough to see where all of this will end up.
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: November 24th, 2009
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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.