The ancient kingdom of Parros has been invaded by the armies of Mongaul, and its king and queen have been slain. But the "twin pearls of Parros," the princess Rinda and the prince Remus, escape using a strange device hidden in the palace. Lost in Roodwood, they are rescued from Mongaul soldiers by a strange leopard-headed man, who has no memories except for the words "Aurra" and "Guin," which he believes to be his name.
This review is dedicated to Imaoka Sumiyo, better known as Kurimoto Kaoru, the author of Guin Saga, who passed away in May 2009. Few can come close to matching what you have achieved as a writer and author.
As a fan of science fiction and fantasy, I'm always on the lookout for enjoyable stories, and this is one of the reasons why I'm such a fan of anime. Imagine my surprise then, when I learned that a series that I've only ever managed to read parts of (and small sections they were too), and that I have tried on numerous occasions to find in English, was
being adapted for anime.
Guin Saga is, first and foremost, a series of heroic fantasy novels, written by Kurimoto Kaoru, that began publication in 1979. Unlike many other fantasy series though, Guin Saga never ended publication, and upon her death Kurimoto held the record for the longest continuing single writer's work in the world. At an astonishing 126 published volumes, 21 side story volumes and two manga adaptations, it's fair to say that Kurimoto's vision for Guin Saga was of truly epic proportions.
The anime begins with the invasion of the city of Parros by the Mongaul army. The King and Queen attempt to save their children, the royal twins Rinda and Remus, by magically sending them to the nation of Argos where their aunt is queen, however something goes wrong and the twins find themselves in the Roodwood. Here they meet a man with no memory and no home, but who has the bearing of a king and the skills of a warrior born.
He is the leopard-headed Guin, and his destiny will shake the world.
The one big complaint that many people have about this series is that, come the end of the 26th episode, there are simply too many parts of the plot that have not been explained or fully realised. In all honesty I have to agree with this sentiment, as the series introduces many themes, characters, ideas and concepts that are never fully explored. However, while there is a very clear argument to be made for the lack of completion in terms of the plot, one has to remember that the anime can only cover so much of the tale, especially as the novels continue on for another 100 or so volumes.
In terms of what is there though, the show has a depth and complexity that is rare in fantasy anime. While many aspects of the plot are never completed, there are enough elements that do reach a conclusion to make this show not only watchable, but enjoyable as well. The pacing is good throughout, however many people find the latter half of the series to be less enjoyable due to the fact that the action takes more of a backseat, and all the plots and political shenanigans come to the fore. To be honest, I enjoyed both aspects of the series, especially as the latter part of the show was more character focused than the series had previously been.
One thing that really stands out about Guin Saga is how it looks. The backgrounds and settings are varied and interesting, but above all, highly detailed and impacting. There are some moments when the scenery will take your breath away, and the influence of various real world civilizations is prevalent in many of the towns, cities, buldings, character designs, and even clothing. The characters are very clearly individuals, and have been designed with this fact in mind. Each is facially expressive, even if that expression is generally a stern one, except for Guin, however this only adds to the mystery surrounding him.
Animation-wise, Satelight have really pushed the boat out, not only in terms of standard animation, but also with its application of CG. The characters, monsters and animals all move in a very natural manner, although there are some odd occasions when the choreography seems a little off (Guin's mouth movements when speaking being the major one, but given his leopard's head this is understandable). CG has been incorporated very well, adding to the overall quality of the series' visuals and enhancing some of the backgrounds and settings.
Guin Saga is a little bit special in terms of its music as it is the first full anime series score composed by none other than Uematsu Nobuo. Fans of the Final Fantasy series will recognise the name as Uematsu is responsible for the music on most of the games, as well as a number of other titles by Square-Enix. The OP, Theme of Guin, has an almost heroic feeling to it that manages to capture the essence of the titular character. The ED, "Saga ~ This is My Road" (performed by Kanon), is a haunting, melodic track that has overtones of determination, resignation, and the bittersweet nature of the journey. The rest of the muic used throughout the series is well choregraphed and, in Uematsu's own inimitable manner, adds depth and atmosphere to any given scene.
While the music for the series may verge on excellent, the same, unfortunately, can't be said of the acting. Although the seiyuu generally deliver some fine performances, especially Horiuchi Kenyuu as Guin, and Nakahara Mai as Rinda, there are some telling moments when the characters appear wooden. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between, and for the most part that seiyuu portray their characters well.
Guin Saga has a plethora of characters, many of whom are fairly prominent in the series. One of the apsects of the series that I enjoyed most was the fact that, on many occasions, the titular character was not central to the action, and while Guin himself is an imposing figure in the beginning, the series also shows him as a friend, guardian and mentor to both Rinda and Remus. The characters themselves develop fairly well over the course of the show, with the most development being on the part of Amenlis, the Mongaul Princess. Remus, Rinda and Istovan also show a good degree of growth, however this is mainly because of their association with Guin.
And what of the titular character himself? Well, as characters go, Guin doesn't really show any real development or growth, however while Guin may have no memory or past to speak of, he is portrayed as a fully realised character, with his own sense of justice, his own ideals, his own honour, and this fact is demonstrated time and time again throughout the show. So the question becomes, does Guin need any development? Aside from finding out who he is, where he comes from, and why he has the head of a leopard, there doesn't actually seem to be any real need to develop him further, at least, as far as the anime is concerned.
I will admit that I was intrigued by this show, especially as I know something of the stories behind it. That said, I didn't actually hold out any real hopes that it would be good, especially given the amount of source material that would need to be packed into 26 episodes. Thankfully Wakabayashi Atsushi, in his first full time at the directorial helm of a series (he also produced the storyboard for the anime), and writer Yonemura Shoji, chose to adapt only a portion of the story so far. Because of this, the anime adaptation of Guin Saga doesn't feel the need to cram everything into one season, and this allows the story to progress and develop in an almost natural manner at times.
Guin Saga is very much an old style heroic fantasy like Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and The Lord of the Rings, and it bears all the hallmarks of one too. Fans of Seirei no Moribito, Berserk, or any other heroic fantasy anime should really give this series a try as it is a singular example of the genre and has the potential, should the series continue into two or more seasons (and oh, how I hope it does), to rival the mighty Legend of the Galactic Heroes in terms of plot development, character growth, complexity, and worldbuilding on a grandiose scale.
While many may be disappointed at the final few episodes, it's worth remembering that the story continues even after the anime ends and, if you're like me and you want more Guin Saga, then you can either find the books or hope that a second season is produced. Granted there are flaws in the show, however many of these stem from the fact that the story is incomplete, and the anime should be recognised for its achievments, rather than derided for not putting forward a complete tale.
Comperessing 126 novels into 26 episodes would have made a mockery of Kurimoto Kaoru's life's work, and I for one am glad that only part of the tale is told here.
And should anyone from Satelight read this review, more Guin Saga please :)
Considering 2009 was the first year i really started to notice that fewer shows were getting released year on year, it is truly surprising this project got the go ahead at all. Guin Saga is truly a faithful depiction of classic Fantasy/Adventure story telling, for better and for worst.
The story sets up and has the potential to be an epic masterpiece, the scale and complexity of the tale is vast, and ambitious, and while the scale of the story is rarely an issue, the show doesn't quite get there.
What the show does well, is what i would describe as the political aspect of the adventure,
the various countries, their royal families and the various stages of the conflict and occupation of Parros are engaging to watch and really set in around the early mid stage of the series. This steered me quite happily from episode to episode without any complaints.
What the show handles poorly are the day to day events following Guin and the Remus Twins, my interest in the events didn't last long beyond the introductory episodes to our protagonists. Now while i quite enjoyed watching the Remus twins and their adaptation to the situation they find themselves in, everything regarding Guin came off as underwhelming. Guin is very much our all action straight laced hero, sadly this show is all about the bloodless violence, every time the show went into a small scale battle, i would always be left disappointed, there's simply no edge to any of the action, it's predictable and stole screen time from the events i did find enjoyable.
The art is strong worthy of a 2009 anime, the character models for better are classic fantasy designs, nothing of the current moe trends, far more reminiscent of years gone by. The background animations are reasonable, albeit lazy at times, they do a good job of bringing a huge world to life. The sound was reasonable, if not overly memorable, the voice acting was functional if not a little repetitive (blame the scripting as much as the voice acting)
The characters actually grew on me quite a lot, by the end of it i had grown genuinely interested in what was going to befall the Remus Twin's and even Istovan finally showed another dimension to his character, which i appreciated.
Overall if you like fantasy shows you'll almost certainly enjoy this show, i happily breezed through the 26 episodes in 4 nights without any real complaints. There's plenty to poke at if your looking to not like this show, but all in all it was a good not great introduction to what i'm sure turned out to be a fairly epic story, the show could have been a great portrayal in it's on right, had it taken a few more risks, but settled for being a fairly standard affair in the end.
(99% spoiler free, a very small hint about the ending, but I don't go into detail about what actually happens).
Another great medieval-fantasy themed anime. This was actually quite good and mature for being PG. However, I watched the anime before ever hearing about the manga and found out the manga is actually much more gory and it seems to have been cut from the anime. I personally don't know why I think they should've kept it in all its glory. Anyway, the only negative thing I have to say about this anime is the ending is left as a cliff hangar because the original
writer and artist of the manga died before she could finish it. However, her friend wound up continuing her work and the manga is still going today. Sadly, only the first 3 manga seem to be translated to English or are just very hard to find the rest.
The royal twins of Parros have been driven on the run after their kingdom becomes overrun by enemies, and during their flight they come across Guin, a leopard-headed warrior seeking his lost memories of the past.
Be warned. If you’ve heard anything about Guin Saga it is most likely the fact that the story isn’t finished. The anime covers only around a tenth of the entire saga, written by Imaoka Sumiyo. This is not news and is simply something one needs to accept when going into the series, therefor I would mainly recommend Guin Saga to those that love pure high fantasy.
I will say that
Guin Saga starts off refreshingly straight-forward in its story-telling. We are taken on a simple Conan-like adventure, with a fast pace that succeeds in keeping it entertaining. Eventually the supporting characters however take over the lime-light, letting the simple adventure turn into a more involved political drama. All this is accompanied by a beautifully animated setting and an enchanting soundtrack.
The show’s main flaws come from the fact that several books have been compressed into such few episodes, resulting in clunky exposition and character-developments that feel too rushed at times. In Guin’s case he is the protagonist, yet the least developed in the entire cast, despite having the most interesting mystery surrounding him. While these flaws can’t be excused, they can be understood. Considering how long the author’s body of work is it is no surprise that the anime simply had to live with these problems.
Overall Guin Saga is a nice love letter to high fantasy, and hopefully something that will spark interest in the books that have yet to be fully translated into English. Guin Saga consists of at least 130 finished books with several side-stories, possibly making it the longest published work made by any author out there. Imaoka Sumiyo has truly achieved something most writers could never do, a feat that should inspire admiration in any writer out there, and for that I tip my hat to her.
In the argument of subs vs dubs, everyone is entitled to their own opinion (even if you are a filthy dub-loving anime fan). Hopefully these are ten English dubbed anime that we can all agree are horrible - no matter what your persuasion.