What They Say:
In a strange dark age, across the land that will someday become Europe, the Divine Empire has been on the march, ruthlessly devouring its weaker neighbors for generations. But when a savage priest attempts to resurrect the long-buried Demon King Arawn by sacrificing Riannon, the young high priestess of the Gael Clan, the Empire sows the seeds of its own destruction! Deciding to side with the beautiful girl instead, the revived Demon Lord joins forces with her potentially legendary brother Arthur, and begins to assemble a mighty force that may just bring the Divine Empire its knees! Humans, elves and even dragon take arms in a spectacular animated interpretation of the Celtic, Gaelic, British and Roman myths of Albion, as an all star English vocal cast adds the crowning glory to TEARS TO TIARA the complete epic collection!
This release contains the new dub for the series so we get a pair of stereo tracks encoded with DTS HD MA lossless codec. Though it’s a variable bitrate codec, it’s been encoded with a strict 1.6 mbps minimum bitrate which seems to defeat the point of saving space since even in dead silent scenes it’s at 1.6 mbps. That said, the two tracks are pretty good overall with the lossless stereo mix as it covers the forward soundstage well. There’s a fair bit of directionality across it with a good bit of depth as well during several scenes. The opening and closings tend to make out the best but the incidental music is noteworthy as well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout with no dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing throughout 2009, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the VC-1 codec. The twenty-six episode series is spread across two dual layered Blu-ray discs with thirteen episodes a disc. As can be expected, the bitrate is pretty variable with some strong highs in the thirties to a lot of lows a well. The transfer overall looks decent but the gradients feel like they’re more noticeable than normal. Colors are very good looking with a lot of very vibrant moments. The original DVD release was definitely very good and this one takes it up a notch or two. There’s little in the way of noticeable problems here but fitting thirteen episodes on a disc, even with stereo mixes, just makes you more concerned for quality because it feels like it’s being crammed on there.
Tears to Tiara has a standard size Blu-ray case which has the discs attached to each of the interior sides. The front cover uses different artwork than the previous DVD editions to good effect as the new image is of the principle cast standing on a somewhat mirrored surface against a setting sun skyline. The character artwork looks really attractive and there’s a good sense of color and detail about it. It’s all inside a leathery style framework with a bit of elegance to the edges to give it more detail. Promoting it as a two disc set is kind of a plus until you see the 26 episode listing which may make quality conscious buyers a bit wary. The back cover has a similar framing to it and brings in some decent minor character artwork as well. The top half has another push for the new dub and the episode count. The summary covers things well enough and there’s a decent selection of small shots from the show. The production credits rounds out a bit more of it and we get a good technical grid that details the discs features, though it doesn’t say whether it’s a native HD release or an upscale. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menus for this release are pretty decent though it points to the lack of much on the disc outside of the episodes. The top level menu gives over about two thirds of the screen to a good shot of the characters against some runes and other symbols with the logo placed along the upper left. The bottom third also doubles as the pop-up menu where it has a bit of similar framing to the cover with the leathery feel as well that contains individual episode access with episode numbers and titles below them. The first disc has the languages options as well while the second has the extras on it. The pop-up menu is decent and I do like that it’s a bit bigger than what you usually get so you can see it easily but it’s definitely very busy with the individual episode access, but cuts down on another submenu to navigate through. With nothing else on the disc it’s pretty simple and easy to use though the colors and layout of the language selection makes it uncertain at first which one you’ve selected or is active at the time. The disc defaulted to the Japanese language track with the full subtitles.
The only extras included on the second disc with the clean opening and closing sequences.
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 peoples 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.
While the first half of the set does a decent job at setting things up, it’s really the second half that pushes things forward. The details of Arwan’s past and his true role in things is what’s key. He’s decided to return to his tomb in order to gain some funds that are needed to continue the campaign. The tomb starts to open some memories of the past as Riannon sees things from a long time ago with Primula and Pwyll. These visions of the past start haunting Riannon more and more throughout these episodes as she’s coming to realize the power that’s actually inside her. There’s a really good arc with this that’s spread out across much of these episodes as Riannon starts to understand her connection to the past, something that Arther deals with as well as both have strong ties to those that have come before them in Primula and Pwyll. These kinds of connections are fun to watch play out as you see them somewhat influenced by what has happened but also staking out their own positions in life.
While the show has focused more on the war between Albion and Arawn as they try to take over the land, it does shift away from there in this set as it progresses. The initial early battles are really good though, as Arawn has fallen into a slumber due to a weakness and that has given the Emperor’s army the opening they needed to go after Castle Avalon. With Arawn down, morale drops but it gives everyone else a chance to shine as they try to hold off the invasion as best as they can. Octavia and Morgan shine the best here though as they’ve become very close and have a sense of rhythm between them that allows them to have fun while dealing out all manner of death. It’s an interesting mixture for them but it works incredibly well.
Where the majority of the middle arcs episodes focus, and it’s a good focus even if it does alter the flow of the show for awhile, is on the past where we see Arawn when he essentially first came to life. His time aeons ago as the thirteenth White Spirit highlights the rigid nature of the group as there can be only twelve and he’s considered an abomination. But he’s saved because he’s taken on the wing of Myrddin who is attempting to change the long range goals of the Twelve. The group has a very distinct idea about how the world should be and it’s one that does not include humans, as they believe it’s God’s will that the world should be pure and white with nothing there to despoil it. But Myrddin believes that the ice age that they’ve created must end and spring must come to the world, a world where mankind along with others will find their rightful place.
And for Myrddin, he believes that Arawn, who he names Lucifer, will be the one who can do that once he learns what it is he wants to accomplish in life. When Myrddin moves on and Lucifer takes on a formal position as one of the Twelve, he becomes an integral part of their plan until he starts to question it based on what he was told by Myrddin years ago. The connection between Heaven and Earth becomes the focus as Lucifer starts to understand the potential of the humans that have been brought to near extinction, causing him to question everything that he’s been doing. With all of this taking so long ago, seeing the differences in the world from then to the present time is really nicely done as is seeing Arawn in a very different way than we know him now. Unfortunately, the spend several episodes on this and when we get back to the present, it takes a bit to get back on track.
With Albion being less of an issue now and the focus shifting to dealing with one of the White Spirits’ that’s there, the war shifts to dealing with him and the massive armies of golems that are mobilizing out there. It takes on a good epic feel as we see more of the dragons of the past, giants with their hammers getting involved and entire mountains being demolished. The large scale of the battles, especially at the mountain, is really fantastic as everyone gets involved and it feels like a good solid epic moment. Tears to Tiara does get back to more personal moments though when the core cast heads into the castle where the White Spirit is operating out of as he has an obelisk there that will unleash enough Gravitas that will eradicate everything on the planet.
The final arc of the series is good as it wraps everything up, but there’s also the problematic part in that everyone gets split up into smaller groups and they each have to face different groups of villains that play to their strengths. After all the material on Lucifer and Arthur, giving the secondary cast subplots designed to give them more time is nice but forced. Everything does come down to Arawn and Arthur though and it’s really well done as it goes back to the time when the pair first met and how their relationship has changed and evolved over the course of it. There’s a lot of history between the two men that has happened, a lot of it that Arthur wasn’t even aware of for awhile, but when it reaches its climax it really is a spot on piece of epic fantasy.
One of the big differences between this set and the previous DVD editions is the inclusion of a new English language dub. Having enjoyed the last dub on on Aquaplus property with Utawarerumono, I was keen to hear how they’d deal with the dub here. Unfortunately, nearly everything about this one ended up grating on me from almost the first frame. What’s been done here is that accents are very heavy throughout and when it starts with Riannon and Arthur, and Arthur especially, it’s extremely heavy and thoroughly distracting. Accents are a difficult thing to incorporate into a dub and they’re usually more of than not a miss and unfortunately Tears to Tiara is a miss. Arwan’s voice comes across alright but the accents of Arthur and his clan kill a lot of the enjoyment right from the start. I’ve enjoyed number of dubs by Matt Greenfield in the past, but this one left me cringing too many times.
When Tears to Tiara first came out, so close to the Japanese broadcast at that, I was very interested in it. Utawarerumono really raised the bar on what I wanted from a show of this nature and with Aquaplus tackling something similar but different, I was really thrilled to have another shot at it. Tears to Tiara has a lot to offer but it’s execution is a bit off at times which keeps you feeling like it’s not sure of what kind of story it wants to tell. Looking at it from a larger perspective, they have some big ideas here but they don’t come into play until later in the second half after a lot of time spent on Arwan’s past and it feels like it came out of nowhere. I enjoyed the show overall, both this time and the time before, but it’s a more flawed show than I thought it would be and suffered a bit from high expectations after the work Aquaplus has done before. It’s definitely a good fantasy style show to check out, especially with how few come out and how few are actually good, making it a worthy addition to any fantasy fans library.
Japanese DTS HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: October 19th, 2010
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 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.