Helen McCarthy on the story thatâ€™s more than just a game
Game-based anime succeed or fail depending on how successfully they move from the kill-opponent-acquire-item matrix towards powerful, engaging characters and plotline. The Tales of Vesperia game, released in Japan and the USA in 2008, made enough impact to get a theatrical movie released in October 2009. Funimation believed in its potential strongly enough to acquire the full spectrum of rights â€“ home entertainment, broadcast, theatrical, digital and merchandising â€“ in Spring 2011. So how does their purchase stack up?
Director Kanta Kamei was a visual supervisor on the Kill Bill anime segment The Origin of O-Ren Ishii before helming the Digimon movie Diaboromon Strikes Back. Screenwriter Reiko Yoshida has written for many anime shows, and Akira Senju has made a name for sweeping, heroic music to support tales of high adventure. Production IG's name alone is a guarantee of top-notch animation.
The movie itself is a prequel to the Namco Bandai XBox 360 game Tales of Vesperia, itself the tenth in the â€śTales seriesâ€ť of games. Ten years after a great war, the people of the planet Terca Lumieris use a powerful and mysterious substance called aer to help them fight off monsters and maintain human life. Yuri and Flynn, childhood acquaintances who have just joined up as knights, are taken under the wing of their corps leader Niren. Under his guidance their rookie enthusiasm is tempered and their friendship matures.
The plot is basic enough that any experienced gamer of fantasy reader will be able to predict it, but engaging and energetic enough to keep most entertained. Those who have played the Tales of Vesperia game will meet a number of new characters in the anime, though most, it must be said, are not extensively developed.
Production IG have done their usual excellent job. Their excellence would be almost monotonous if the results were not so utterly bewitching every time. The images are crisp, fluid and gorgeous. The character and background design carries echoes of Studio Ghibli, enhanced by the European feel of many of the buildings and settings, although here the influence is Spanish, rather than the North European cities loved by Hayao Miyazaki.
The pacing, too, carries echoes of some Ghibli movies â€“ it's leisurely, letting its scenarios evolve. Action sequences are well handled, but the overall feeling is one of evolving the storyline rather than rushing from one set piece fight to another. Fans of the game will find plenty to enjoy, but so will those who aren't.
Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike is out on UK Blu-ray and DVD from Manga Entertainment.