Based on the first Wizardry game "The Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord", a group of characters enter a dungeon to confront the ultimate wizard to prevent him from reaching an unstoppable power. On their way they meet up with a few new friends who have their own battles to settle, but their paths lay together.
Wizardry was an old series of RPGs. The first one was released in 1981 as a simple dungeon crawler created by students. From there it exploded and kept going for two decades with the last game, Wizardry 8, coming out in '01. Unless you want to count all the spin-offs, which have kept going with an online MMO being the most recent. Its servers shut down after a year or two though. About halfway into the franchise's life cycle there was an OVA. It was brought to us by TMS Entertainment. You may remember them from Kyougoku Natsuhiko: Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari, Glass no Kamen
& Magic Knight Rayearth. So, how did they handle this classic RPG franchise? I'm guessing based on my track record of them that it was kind of middling. After all, the best series I've looked at was the slice of life drama, Glass no Kamen while the more fantasy-based ones have been rather mediocre or just all right. But maybe this one is better, or worse, than the works I've seen from them before. Let's take a look.
The narrative is simple enough. There's a dungeon with ten floors. Adventurers travel through the floors, save for the tenth, and they gather treasures. The tenth is avoided because that's where the big bad lurks and no group of adventurers wants to risk dealing with him. He hates adventurers getting on his lawn. Our protagonists are a party of three, not that kind, made up of Shin, Alex & Hawkwind. They're going to search for some treasures when they encounter the elderly Joeza and his apprentice Albert. The two of them are planning to take on the big bad Werdna and they need help.
To be fair, that is basically the plot of the first Wizardry game. You create your party, go through the dungeon to try and reach the tenth floor and beat the big bad. Nice of them to leave that intact for the fans. That being said, there are some problems with the execution. The big one is consistency. Initially, our intrepid threesome, not that kind, decline to help Joeza and Albert because it's not worth the risk. This is followed by them almost immediately changing their minds for paper-thin reasons. Why even have them decline under those circumstances? There's also a fight scene where their enemy uses a sword beam and its impact varies for no apparent reason. One person gets their arm cleaved off. Then it hits a couple other people and they just get knocked back. Now, in a game you could call this the result of a poor saving throw but in an OVA that's supposed to have a cohesive narrative, it just makes no sense. The series also suffers from being largely mindless action. It pretty much dumps its exposition at the start and then moves into a bunch of fight sequences. I know you aren't going to manage much in less than an hour of running time, but you couldn't have cut down on the action to strengthen the story a bit? Maybe do a better job with the main trio changing their minds?
The characters are pretty much a generic fantasy group. Now, in the game you make your own characters. So, it's not like they had any really well developed characters to work with. The problem is, again, the lack of consistency. It takes the characters from being kind of flat archetypes and downgrades them into kind of flat archetypes with confused motivations. It doesn't help that Shiela, our token lady for the series, suffers from a great personal tragedy by having it barely impact her. Huzzah for character reactions, or lack thereof, that remove any potential impact that the events of this series could have had.
For an early 90s anime, the artwork is pretty average. It doesn't look good by the standards of the time, nor does it hold up particularly well, but I can't say it looks bad. There are some awkward moments. Alex gets bitten by a zombie and poisoned but his metal boot shows absolutely no sign of damage and you have to wonder how he's actually injured in that situation. Did the zombie's mouth phase through his armour and get his flesh while leaving the armour intact? I don't recall the zombies in Wizardry having the powers of Kitty Pryde but maybe I'm just forgetting about that.
The acting in this is passable. The cast is pretty solid featuring the same actors who voiced Zoisite (Sailor Moon), Alex Louis Armstrong (Fullmetal Alchemist), Will A. Zeppeli (JoJo), Netero (Hunter x Hunter), Piccolo (Dragonball) & Chief Nakamura (Ghost in the Shell.) Unfortunately, the fact that they're voicing wholly bland characters prevents them from really showing their abilities. They still do just fine, though. The music is all right. Not good, but decent enough.
Honestly, none of the characters have strong enough dynamics to have romantic tension. Ho-yay or otherwise.
I will give Wizardry credit for making a genuine effort to capture the narrative of the first game in the franchise. Unfortunately, they couldn't be bothered to develop the characters well and the general problems with consistency hurt the series. It winds up being, while not bad, a below average fantasy work. My final rating is going to be a 4/10. If you're a huge fan of Wizardry or you just want a quick, action heavy fantasy story, consider giving it a try. Otherwise, I don't recommend it. Next week will be Kemono Friends.
Don't let the rating put you off this one. Its not as pretty or grand as many other sword and sorcery animes of the period but it is a very solid and enjoyable watch nonetheless. Definitely worth its hour long runtime.
The story is very generic but also very faithful to the dungeon crawler game it is based on. Many similar ova adaptations of rpg games ditched this aspect to break free of video/table top game constraints. But by staying faithful, the spells and character classes benefit from a added depth and charm. Similarly, the pacing follows a rpg style encounter, party member, exploration routine. This
works well for a hour long action ova and I can't see anyone messing something simple like this up. My only complaint is that the supposed big bad is stopped before he ever comes out, despite the considerable build up leading to his return to this realm. Many old ovas suffer from the flaw of a rushed or confused ending but at the very least, this one's ending is neither particularly rushed nor unsatisfying in any way.
Character is the strong suit of this anime. In a short 60 minute run, what an action anime should deliver isn't deep character development but rather, appealing character designs and personalities and the chemistry between the characters as they face dangers together. Wizardry delivers in all three aspects. You get the standard magic swordsmen, healers, apprentice spellcaster and elf against the standard zombies, vampires and demon stuff. And then theres also more original stuff such as the badass ninja character (called Hawkwind no less!) and a demonic harlequin. Easily the best part of this anime is how all the characters overcome their initial differences and cover each others backs to defeat monsters stronger than the sum of their individual abilities.
The art is average for its time. This includes both animation and the quality of the frames and drawings. The designs themselves are also very generic; but being based off classic dungeon crawler aesthetics, the anime somewhat gets away with this. Last thing of note is the darker colour palettes. Not as bright and vibrant as many other fantasy animes though you can argue that dungeons are supposed to be dark.
Sound is standard synth soundtrack, the sort of unmemorable stuff that a vast majority of anime of this period had.
If Wizardry has a flaw, its the fact that it isn't spectacular. There are fantasies out there with better art, characters, music and/or story but what Wizardry does have, it delivers with perfection. A solid hour long watch for any fans of retro rpgs, D&D tabletop style games and sword and sorcery fantasy.
Let's keep this simple: This is nothing more than a generic Dungeons and Dragons story. Straight up, and nothing more. If that's what you are after, you've found it.
This one-shot OVA story is based on a much longer game series. But really, that was twenty-plus years ago -- most of the people looking at anime these days weren't even BORN at the time. I am not familiar with the source material in the least, so I have absolutely no idea on how faithful it is. And, I think it really doesn't matter.
But I *do* know Dungeons and Dragons, and anyone who has a passing familiarity with D&D (and similar games) knows exactly what this is: your generic "dungeon crawler". You have the most generic mix of fantasy characters (the elf, the dwarf, the human, etc), the generic mix of classes, going through an underground dungeon fighting your generic mix of monsters with generic swords and magic and all that crap.
The way I say it makes it seem like it's terrible. But it isn't. It's just...unremarkable. It's like any other high fantasy dungeon crawler story, nothing more and nothing less. And there's nothing wrong about that. At the same time, there's nothing noteworthy, either.
Aside from that, the quality of the character designs (sans the distractingly big pointy ears), the artwork, and the animation quality are pretty decent.
Ever play a role playing game with dungeons? like l.o.t.r.o. or elder scrolls? This movie takes that experience and puts it into a if that were real this is how it could be played out. That idea alone of taking a lot of people's fantasy for the r.p.g. area make me happy and others too i would imagine. Sure, one could fight a monster or two or hundreds but this setup was a rarity/unique. Granted how people knew how this dungeon worked without informing the viewer was a little sloppy for an intro. Then again, the main cast was
not 'rookies' in their words. All that aside, the flow went well straight to the nice ending.
p.s. word of advice... depending how you see the movie via an English subtitle pay attention to what spells are cast/effects. Descriptions tend not to matter in general but this is an exception.