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Record of Lodoss War OVA/TV Blu-ray/DVD Anime Review

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Record of Lodoss War PackagingA most accursed island.

What They Say:
In a land torn by war, young Parn and a ragtag team of adventurers set out to restore peace to the island of Lodoss. While an evil sorcerer seeks the destructive power of an ancient goddess, the Grey Witch presides over all with a cold-hearted bent for neutrality. The ensuing battles cost many lives before a brave new generation of heroes rises to face the sinister enemies once and for all.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language in stereo along with the previously created English language dub. On the Blu-ray side, we get it using the lossless Dolby TrueHD codec while the TV series on DVD gets your standard 192kbps presentation for it. The show is fairly straightforward for both tracks considering their age but the music makes out better in general and the Blu-ray side even more so. There’s a better richness and warmth to the music that really clicks for me and it balances well against the rest of the OVA design with some solid action throughout and a few creative areas where the dialogue is well played. The TV show is a bit more basic as you’d expect but it’s functional and problem free, though it makes me want a lossless better encode for the opening and closing songs as they’re quite good. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during playback.

Originally released in 1990 and 1991, the transfer for this OVA series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. It’s spread across two discs with a nine/four format and lots of room to work with overall. Animated by Madhouse, there’s a lot to love here with its rich detail through traditional styles that still win me over more than modern slick presentations in a lot of ways. The material here are in great shape where it’s never looked better when it comes to color definition and the visibility of detail, especially in darker areas, while still holding to some good solidity there. There’s a natural film grain to it that’s not something that stands out in a bad way and the end result is something that’s just crisp and appealing without feeling overdone. The encoding brings it to life beautifully and this was almost like a revelation having seen it across multiple formats starting with purple VHS tape releases.

The TV series from 1998 is on DVD as no Japanese Blu-ray edition exists and that’s in its original full frame aspect ratio and spread across four discs. Animated by AIC, this certainly looks its age as it hasn’t had a proper remaster in Japan yet so you can see smudges and bits of dirt here and there but nothing that really detracts from the overall work. It’s a much cleaner look than the original DVDs we saw years and years ago with dot crawl and the like but the animation itself isn’t as rich or engaging as the OVAs for obvious reasons. It’s definitely an upgrade over the original DVD sets and, in a way, something to view as a nice inclusion with the OVAs being what you primarily buy it for.

The packaging for this release is one that looks nice but is a bit frustrating as the box for it goes for the thin cardboard and not a heavy chipboard piece. The front cover has some great artwork in the center of a couple of the characters and it’s well framed with the gold design against the black background. It has that kind of quality feeling in its visual but makes me crave something with weight that means something. The back panel under the paper piece that breaks down the release has more artwork that plays to the TV side and is more colorful and shows off the designs of that version well. Within the box we get the two thicker than normal Blu-ray cases where each one holds their respective series. The covers are done in reverse of the box with a gold background and gold framing but keeps to adding more of the Japanese artwork with all its detail that really does sell it very well. The back covers provide for the usual material with a good breakdown of the premise and a look at the show with a few small shots from it. Add in the extras breakdown as well and it’s all good. Both sets have reversible covers with more artwork on the other side mirroring the same layout as the front cover.

The menus for this release work a simple approach that’s appropriate, but part of you wants something richer and more detailed with it as well owing to its fan nostalgia status. The layout goes for a lot of dead space where the OVAs work a nice blue background and the TV show a softer white background. THe left side has the logo along with what version you’re watching while the right places different artwork in the circle that shows off some very appealing designs. The navigation is kept to the bottom – blended with the background rather than in its own visible navigation box – and that gives it a more cohesive look. Everything is smooth and functional and i really like the artwork but it just feels simpler and more phoned in than it should for a title like this that will draw in errant old school fans with its nostalgia.

THe extras for this release are kept simple as we get just the next episode previews, some commercials from the original run, and the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novel series by Ryo Mizuno that ran for seven volumes between 1988 and 1993, Record of Lodoss War is a thirteen episode OVA series that ran from 1990 to 1991. The project was directed by Akinori Nagaoka with Madhouse providing the animation as it brought to life what originally started as a tabletop roleplaying game series of sessions and became something more. The show has a lot of nostalgia for many older anime fans because a number of us came from the RPG side of those days into anime through this show as it captured things in a way we never thought possible considering all we got was the 1980’s Dungeons & Dragons cartoon that was more comedy than anything else. A show like this, treated seriously, was like a revelation.

Long out of print in North America, Funimation’s release of the OVA series on Blu-ray with the TV series from several years later on DVD is a very welcome combination overall. Coming from the purple tape era of originally watching this show and seeing several North American releases of it, getting a high definition high-quality version at long last is just immensely gratifying. Though the OVA series is by and large fairly straightforward fantasy fare it does it in a way few shows are able to these days. Most notably because it’s not another cross-world traveling trope piece from our world into this world where it’s all about adolescent wish fulfillment. While there is some of that to a degree in envisioning yourself as the lead character of Parn, it’s far more in traditional fantasy mode more than anything else and does work as an ensemble piece of good versus evil with smaller and simpler character pieces along the way.

The focus on an island named Lodoss where a great battle fought in the past is coming to the surface again sets up a solid backdrop. The episodes open with a history of the world, more in the first one than the others which get a shortened version, and it paints the kind of epic cataclysm that has resulted in this damaged land hundreds of years later where there’s an uneasy peace. That’s now being shaken with two kingdoms that are getting closer to war, which are very traditionally designed with black and white coloring so you know what’s what, but it uses that as the pawns being moved by the darker evil from the past in Karla that is manipulating events. The initial introduction is a bit long – if you think three or four minutes is long – but it provides so much exposition through music and still images that even thirty years later it still haunts me with how effective it is.

What also works in the show’s favor, and is hard to pull off in a lot of ways, is that the first episode is actually the fifth episode in terms of actual continuity within the show. Giving us a look at the team together and going into a dungeon to deal with a dragon and all that it entails shows us the cast of characters pretty well. Parn’s the young but capable warrior, Deedlit is the light elf that’s both serious and whimsical, Ghimli the dwarf is standard fare, Woodchuck is a scoundrel of a thief, and Slayn is the weary but engaged wizard that’s looking over the group that also includes Parn’s childhood friend Etoh that has become a cleric. These are archetypes but they’re well executed. So when the show goes back to the start of everything after this episode to show how there are bad things happening in the world and they come together and eventually serve under King Fahn to find out why, it gels in a very strong way because we know where they’ll end up to some degree and enjoy watching it come together over the next four episodes.

That’s not to say the show is strong throughout. Once past the first half of the series and the main battle that occurs between good and evil it takes a bit of a turn. The introduction of additional characters throws off the balance a bit and it feels a little more listless until it gets its energy back and moves forward with the cast. But what helps is that we do have a good cast of characters throughout and moving through the background, such as the desert king in Kashue as well as the successor to the darker side of Marmo’s military with Ashram. Karla’s machinations also take some nice turns as we see her shifting form along the way and the complications that arise there as well. When the real villain that they have to deal with is revealed and we see the larger scope of things it definitely clicks well and it ends in a strong way when it comes to the ostensible leads of the series with Parn and Deedlit that will make you feel more than satisfied with it.

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