What They Say:
Two pairs of young lovers become embroiled in a war between two rival kingdoms, the primitive but resplendent Isa and the militaristic but undisciplined Paro. Izu and his young wife, Marin , are simple farmers who live in the unassuming village of Saki, which lies directly between Isa and Paro. While Saki does not have the beauty of Isa nor the war machines of Paro, they do possess a magnificent tree known as “Windaria,” to which the villagers give their prayers in return for “good memories.”
When the war erupts, Izu decides to join Paro’s army, enthralled by the fantastic motorbike “given” to him as a bribe. Before he departs, they each take a vow: He will definitely return to her, and until he does, she will wait for him. The other two lovers are Jill, the prince of Paro, and Ahanas, Princess of Isa. They initially want nothing to do with the rapidly escalating conflict, but after Jill’s father, Paro’s king, dies by his son’s hand in an altercation over the war, Jill has little choice but to realize his father’s final wish: the taking of Isa.
With the original language track unavailable, we listened to this feature in its English language format. The mix is a very basic stereo mix done back in 1987 encoded at 192kbps that’s pretty much center channel based in how it feels. There isn’t much depth to the track, though it sounds good overall. Also included in this release is a Spanish language version, but I don’t know if it’s based off of the Harmony Gold script or the original Japanese script.
Originally released in 1986, the transfer for this film is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. This feature was acquired by Harmony Gold in 1987 and underwent some edits for its running time. The print itself has held up surprisingly well over the years, though there are some areas in the beginning that are poor and a few throughout. There’s some initial cross coloration as the show gets underway in the various characters, but this fades off as the movie progresses. Aliasing is minimal but still showing up in a few places, but it’s the chroma noise that really is noticeable early on. With the roses on the cart, you can see them shifting around like they’re alive. These shows up in a few other red heavy areas later in the movie, and is the real main distraction outside of some of the initial graininess.
Done up in a white keepcase, the front cover is a rather decent image that has the central image of the Tree of Life in its own circle, while the forces at play are ringed around it, including a backdrop shot of Lunaria. The character choices for the cover are a bit odd since they bring only one side of the conflicts characters and the intermediary. With this having gone through various hands over the years though, I’ll chalk it up to a lack of materials. The back cover provides a cloudy backdrop for the artwork and a few rings of animation from the show itself. There’s a decent summary of the shows premise (with the tagline of “freely adapted from windaria” as well) along with the basic production information and the lovely technical grid at the bottom.
There might as well not be one, since the menu used here with the minimalist static image of just colored panels says that there’s simply nothing available for use, not even the artwork used for the cover. Selections are quick and easy to access, but nothing screams cheap more than this kind of menu.
I will say right up front that this release is heavy on the nostalgia side for me. It was one of the earliest dub tapes I had in my collection at the end of the 80’s, back when it was tough to have even a dozen officially licensed titles on your shelf. The VHS release, entitled Windaria, was one that really got me more into anime at the time since it played up the tragic aspect of lives and war, something that much like Robotech several years prior, was not shown in cartoons made in the U.S. market. Windaria, now retitled Once Upon a Time for this release, manages to hold up well against the intervening years and proved to be just as enjoyable now as it was the dozens of times I’ve seen it prior.
The tale is a typical near fairytale story. Set in the land of Windaria, there are two opposing kingdoms. On the ocean shore you have Lunaria, an old city that has developed marvelous aqueducts and other methods of bringing in clean water from the ocean and distributing it across all the lands. In the interior, you have the creepy Shadowlands, a place that lives up to its name and feels like a dark dead woodland set against mountains. In between the two of them though is a place called the Valley where people who belong to neither side live, where they live out their lives according to the values ascribed to their monstrously tall Tree of Life. These are the simple folk who take their goods to Lunaria to sell in the bazaar but are also the ones that always get caught up in war.
And war is indeed on the way. Since Lunaria controls the water into the countryside, they’ve raised the price of it to the Shadowlanders, something that has not gone over well and so they’ve closed off the supply to them. But the Shadowlanders are desperate, as they show in one move where an infiltrator makes it in and opens the floodgates, letting water flow into the city and beyond. It causes some destruction, but the lead of the film, Allen, makes his way there in time to close it up and save the day. This action by the Shadowlander only provokes war more though, and with the king of the Shadowlands already in some mad warlike mode, it just brings it closer to reality.
With any good war story, there has to be a love story involved as well. For this one, it’s the princess of Lunaria, Veronica, who is madly in love with Roland, the son of the king of the Shadowlands. Both have pledged to not take up their parents war and hatred, but they also don’t want to be used as a way to bring the two countries together either. So their secret love is something that at the least Veronica’s mother tries to use to stem the tides of war, but the desire for battle on the side of Roland’s father is too strong even for him. Though good people try to keep it at bay, some events are too large to be controlled and war does come to the Valley.
The best hope of all sides some down to one person, Allen. He’s sought as an intermediary by one of the barons of the Shadowlands so that he can used as a trusted relayer of messages between sides so that they can avoid outright war. Allen does his best to do this, even against the desires of his wife Marie, as he feels that his actions can help pave the way for peace and bring and end to things. But his desires bring him down darker paths as he finds he’s being used by those in the Shadowlands for their own goals of conquest.
Unfortunately, I’ve never seen the original movie so I don’t know how badly this one strays from that. This was out at a time when I was enjoying the Warriors of the Wind movie, another one that took years before I saw the uncut original version. At the time, these came across as eye-opening movies, animation with love, tragedy and violent deaths all rolled into one package. Even the dub doesn’t bother me, as there’s something almost comforting in hearing the voices from a number of other old Harmony Gold/Streamline shows. I’ve watched this movie countless times and had it on as background noise over the years, enough that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to watch it again since it’s been probably ten years since I last saw it. But it managed to recreate just about everything I remember.
Yes, I’m against editing and I dislike shows without their original language track. But I’m glad that this got out in some form and I really hope the original Winadaria release gets to be done someday sooner rather than later. This movie is your basic fable with good and bad sides that both have some of the other with it, lovers who are drawn into a larger fight and those who seek to keep the peace for their own reasons. It’s not earth shattering or revolutionary, but it’s a very competently done movie that has just enough visualize flair, particularly for 1986, that it made a significant impact on me when I saw it a few years later. Enough of an impact that even now I remember it fondly. It certainly won’t be for everyone; my wife got up after twenty minutes to find something else to do, but for me this is nostalgia at its best.
English 2.0 Language, Spanish 2.0 Language
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: C+
Menu Grade: D-
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: ADV Films
Release Date: March 16th, 2004
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
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.