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.
The only problem is that he had promised his beloved, Ahanas, that he would not become involved. Windaria is a war parable set in a fantasy land of unicorns and ghost ships.
If you want pure literature in anime, something along the lines of Shakespeare and a true anime classic, then this it. It was previously released by Streamline and Harmony Gold in 1987, a year after its release in Japan originally under the title Once Upon a Time, but later re-named back to its original title. This anime tells a great tale of not just love and war, but about duty and loyalty to your family and yourself. The characters are captivating and unique, but I don’t like what the Streamline version did with Izu. In the original Japanese version, Izu is more care free and
doesn’t really fear for the worst, while in the dub, he’s presented more as serious and is more idealistic and an older version of him narrates the story in the dub while there was no narration in the original Japanese version. Even though the changes present are significant in relation to the context, it doesn’t overall deviate the intentions or violates the quality of this anime.
The style and design for 1986 was far beyond its time. Though considered old school by our standards today, when you view it from the point of view of its original release, it just truly amazes me of how well detailed the characters and settings are. The designs like I said are not only detailed, but you’re getting a huge range that isn’t stylistically one-dimensional though they are archetypical. Of course you got the pretty looking girls like Marian, Izu’s wife, and you also have the testosterone-taking Queen despite having a beautiful daughter. So I’m glad there’s really no repetition to the design. Though I wouldn’t say the art and animation is the same league of Akira, which came out a few years later, the execution of its respective concept just truly made it breath taking. But then again, they are different styles so you really can’t compare them in that approach. The battle sequences aren’t really at the levels of something like Braveheart but they do a good job of conveying how pointless and trivial the war between the two nations is. But some of the mechanical concepts in context to medieval setting of the story brings a Miyazaki like quality to it in both presentation and story telling.
Despite significant script changes and characterization, the acting in the dub is still very superb and masterful. I say it’s far superior to a lot of dubs to this day. The selected actors do a tremendous job of bringing their characters to life and you feel their portrayals. I don’t really know the names of those involved in the dub, but I feel that these are the best-unknown dub actors you’ll ever hear regardless of what was changed. But if you want to watch Windaria for the story it was intended to be told in, naturally you’ll have to go to the Japanese version. I was able to distinct some iconic names. To start off, Izu is played by Furuya Tooru, most famous as being Amuro from Gundam, Seiya from Saint Seiya, and Tuxedo Mask from Sailor Moon. He’s excellent in Izu’s portrayal of being carefree and optimistic, while the English actor does a great job of portraying him as serious and realistic in context to the situation. And Inoue Kazuhiko, who is famous to casual fans of Naruto and to Narutards alike as the voice of Kakashi, also plays a huge role as Prince Jill who brings a unique kind of charisma to the character as he does with all of his roles. For the English dub, rather than script and dialog change as mentioned earlier, the execution is enough to be convincing that Windaria still shares its unique distinction in Japanese anime and animation as a whole.
The soundtrack also accurately depicts the timeless romanticism that is demonstrated throughout this series as well as its fantasy setting. The Japanese track has a few insert Japanese pop songs that still capture what Windaria is all about.
To conclude, I will address the outrage that some fans would have over the changes and omissions the English release has, and this goes for other anime throughout the 1980s such as Robotech and Voltron. You have to keep in mind that when those series came to America, there was really no official anime market at the time and this was the only way to have any direct exposure to Japanese anime. Fansubs weren’t yet conceived and who the hell heard of subs vs dubs debates? I feel that Carl Maceck is in no ways an Al Kahn or a Haim Saban. Granted that Robotech upon initially watching it during its heyday didn’t exactly tell you what anime was nor was it 100% a true American adaptation of its Japanese counter parts, I felt that Robotech nor was the American version of Windaria dumbed down to a point where it loses their unique distinctions rather than the fact they are from Japan. I still feel they tell excellent quality stories with realistic characters and a new way to view animation, though the why wasn’t really there. While with 4Kids, they want to omit every Japanese reference as possible and their edits are just of course stupid and trivial to a point where it truly loses its distinction as an anime. But look at Ronin Warriors and Sailor Moon in English. Granted there were some changes, but Japanese references and settings weren’t edited out. And hell, those two animes in their English versions kept their death scenes. I felt the English Windaria still retains its distinguishing qualities such as the presentation of Japanese values such as giri ninjo meaning duty and obligation in a more universal presentation with its fantasy setting.
The most frustrating movies to watch are the ones where a good director is trying to work with a garbage script, and I don't think there's a better example of this in anime than Windaria. The characters are two dimensional at best, and their motivations rarely make much sense. Why does the one kingdom want to invade the other? Because they're evil, I guess. Why do they think the best way to do this is to flood the city, thereby destroying anything of value within? Who knows? Why does the prince, who had previously been begging his father to
stop the war just keep it going once he has the power to stop it? The movie tells you it's because he feels the pressure of tradition or something, but that was never concern to him until right then.
The main arc is supposed to be about the protagonist joining the war, becoming corrupted, then regretting it. The thing is, there's little if any reason for him to go through these steps. He seems to just randomly decide that he wants to join the war, without even caring which side he joins. When he gets to the city, he finds it a miserable place full of morons and assholes who treat him like garbage. In a sanely written movie, this would cause the protagonist to doubt whether this was a good idea. In this movie, he just becomes completely devoted to doing whatever they want, no matter the consequences. The result of this is not so much a story of a guy losing himself to ambition as it is one of a guy suddenly becoming a dick for no reason.
Despite this, the movie looks nice and occasionally quite beautiful. The late parts where the protagonist realizes the cost of everything even manage to be somewhat haunting. Honestly, I almost wished I watched it in raw Japanese. Whatever I thought was happening probably would have been better than what actually was, and I probably would have been more moved by some scenes without knowing the stupid, stupid context.
With a better script, this could have been an all time classic. As it is, it's one of the best attempts to polish a turd I've ever seen. The director and animation team managed to keep it from being terrible, but even they couldn't make it good.
The eighties were an awesome time to make anime in Japan. The economy was flourishing, money was in abundance, consumers wanted and paid good for it, and it was the time when animators got really ambitious about what they wanted to create. Lots of great anime came from the eighties, like the original Macross anime (and it's Macekred version, Robotech), Magical Angel Creamy Mami, Little Princess Sara, Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, Zeta Gundam, and, most notably, Akira. The eighties were also a time when anime began it's first journey to America, but not in one piece. Back then, it was the standard
to change names and storylines, re-arrange scenes or cut some out altogether, and market it only to kids, not teenagers and adults. Windaria was one of those titles. It was released by Harmony Gold (people who put together Robotech) under the name Once Upon A Time (No, not the live action show!) and apparently, similarly to Samurai Pizza Cats, they never got a properly translated script so they made their own one from scratch, much to the chagrin of hardcore fans. To this day, it has not been given an unedited English dub or a proper DVD release (Yoohoo! Discotek!). Anyway, I finally got to see it today, and...I have mixed feelings about it.
It's like Record of Lodoss War in that two kingdoms are warring against each other, but the war itself doesn't break out until the second half of the movie due to rising tensions between the two kingdoms. There's another place called the Village of Blossoms which live near the Tree of Windaria, which the village people pray to when needed. One day, when Itha nearly floods, a man named Izu rushes to close the water gates, saving the town from disaster. But later on, a messenger from Paro invites him to help with a mission and be rewarded with a castle, riches, and women, even though he already has a wife named Marin and a pet Eevee-lookalike named Polipoli. He takes on the job, and Marin decides to wait for him, even as war comes closer. On the other hand, a prince of Paro, Jill (why does he have a girl's name? He's named Roland in the Harmony Gold dub), and a princess of Itha, Ahnas, are in love, and don't like the way things are going. But when war breaks out, things definitely won't be peachy keen for anyone.
There's something I am DYING to get out of the way: I hate every single character, but I love how they're executed. Every major character follows some kind of archetype: the brash, adventurous young man, a meek, submissive girl, a rebellious princess, a bland prince who hates his kingdom, and an evil king. They don't get very much development, and never grow out of their stereotypes. The most egregious example is Marin, who, quite seriously, does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in the movie. All she does is sit around and do nothing while bad things are happening. She literally had absolutely no impact on the movie. Heck, you could cut her out altogether and nothing could be lost! Everyone else are just a bunch of one dimensional stereotypes. However! They all have one MAJOR saving grace that I feel the movie accomplished REALLY well: their flaws, and how they lead to their downfall. I won't mention anything for the sake of spoilers, but I absolutely LOVE how their major character flaws are completely realistic and actually have consequences for not just themselves but everyone else around them. Marin does nothing but sit around in a war torn village, Izu goes from one kingdom to another and becomes a money grubbing idiot when he defects to Paro, and Jill's hatred for his father clouds his judgment about the war. Their flaws drive the entire story, and not only do they make the entire story happen, when reality comes crashing down before them, the mistakes they make have grave consequences. I absolutely love that! That is a great way to use a character's flaws and mistakes! Characters in stories have to have flaws that need to be overcome and make mistakes so they can be well rounded characters! I love that!...but the only problem is, none of the characters are even remotely likable at all. It's good to have flawed characters instead of perfect little Mary Sues, but it's another thing to actually make them into good, well rounded, likable characters, with redeemable flaws and imperfections. The characters are basically the movie's biggest dark spot.
Now to get these out of the way: the music and animation are beautiful. Jaw-droppingly gorgeous, the animation is legendary for it's time. There's a ton of detail put into everything, like characters preparing for a battle to simple character movement, and the animators go way out of their way to make the people from Itha and Paro different from each other. I also really love the way they animate explosions and flying ships, especially the scene were Izu plays around with a flying machine for the first time. The music is also very wonderful, with some Yoko Kanno-esque orchestral tracks, even though I did find some pieces that I felt were a bit too peppy and bouncy for certain scenes. Also some things I didn't like were the evil king and a random nipple shot early on (I really need to stop being so sensitive about these things). It's definitely not a perfect movie, and it could have been better if it made it's characters more than just a bunch of one dimensional stereotypes, but I can see how this movie made an impact on the early otaku community when anime was just barely making a blip in the US. It's well animated, it's grim, it doesn't have a happy ending, and it's characters are so annoyingly but wonderfully flawed.
I don't hate the movie. I acknowledge everything it does right, and GOD, some things it does right are absolutely wonderful! But it could have been so much better if the characters were more likable.
Windaria is a Studio Gallop film from 1986. Yes, the same studio that did the early episodes of Rurouni Kenshin. Like many of the other films I've reviewed during this year's film festival, it's not based on anything. It's also one I'd never heard of prior to browsing random anime films. So, was it worth dredging up? Let's take a peek and see.
We open with a young couple, Izu & Marin, taking their cart to sell their wares in the kingdom of Isa. Their idyllic time is ruined when someone tries to flood the city. An attempt which gets thwarted by Izu's intervention. Turns
out, the nearby kingdom of Paro has its sights set on the lands occupied by Isa. Izu and Marin find themselves in an awkward situation, with their village between the two countries. To make things more complicated, Prince Jill of Paro and Princess Ahnas of Isa are romantically attached. What will happen to these young pairs of lovers when war breaks out? Yes, it's one of those stories.
There are a lot of problems with the narrative in this film. First of all, the warring kingdoms are both inexcusably stupid. Paro starts this whole conflict after clearly planning an offensive but they're also completely unprepared and undisciplined. They probably do as much damage to themselves through complete incompetence as Isa does to them. What kind of imbecilic leader gets into a rough situation with bugger all preparation? Putting King Trump aside, Isa is just as bad. After the whole near disaster at the beginning their “defence” against someone unauthorised messing with the gates that could flood their city comes down to giving one old guy a spear and some armour. Yes, Isa, that will keep your flood gates closed. It's a much better solution than proper guards working rotating shifts. Fecking morons. The film also suffers from adding completely pointless fantasy elements. We have a ghost ship that we see floating across the sky at different points. It contributes nothing. There are unicorns for, like, five seconds. There are spirits that we see take to the sky without actually doing anything. There's a forest with illusions which could be removed from the film completely without losing anything. You get the impression that Gallop wanted to craft a massive world with a lot of lore behind it, but the writing is too incompetent to do it well. There's also a general issue with the film taking a tired concept and not really adding anything of value to it. It's not horribly written, but the execution behind it is pretty bad.
The characters are actually a pretty big issue here. This type of “lovers torn apart by conflict” narrative needs strong leads who we want to see find happiness in order to work. This film, however, gives us two pairs of really boring, flat characters. Maybe Fujikawa Keisuke thought that the potential for tragedy was a guarantee and he couldn't be bothered to flesh out the characters or their dynamics. Whatever the case, the consequence is that what should be a tragic tale transforms into watching a bunch of morons we have no investment in scramble around.
The artwork actually does look, for the most part, pretty good. There are some awkward facial expressions and movements here and there. Which is kind of to be expected of anime from that era. Actually, the fantasy elements of the film might solely exist to make the thing more visually interesting rather than as an incompetent attempt at world building. The action sequences are a bit weak too.
There are some decent actors in this. Matsui Naoko (Dorothy Catalonia), Furuya Toru (Chiba Mamoru), & Inoue Kazuhiko (Yuki Eiri) have all given strong performances before. This is not one of those times. Listening to the acting in this is roughly equivalent to listening to a Junior High school theatrical production where they know the lines and they seem to be trying but they aren't very good. The music is pretty decent.
Honestly, this film doesn't have strong enough character dynamics for any of them to seem romantic. No, not even the main het ones. We just know they're supposed to be romantic because the film outright says it and shows the occasional kiss.
Windaria is a pretty bad film. The narrative takes an old idea and combines it with poor execution. The characters are beyond bland. It's just generally a bit of a mess. My final rating is going to be a 3/10. That's all for this year's film festival week. Next Wednesday I'll look at Iria: Zeiram The Animation.