Knights, clerics, elves, dwarves and dragons occupy some of our biggest inner-nerd imaginations. Some of my fondest memories were playing old school dungeon-crawler video games on the PC, and interacting with this type of fantasy lore. Lord of the Rings, Willow and the Chronicles of Narnia all come to mind when reminiscing of some of my favorite fictional fantasies, and there’s plenty of anime out there that scratch the itch. Legendary anime studio Madhouse attempted to tackle Record of Lodoss War in the early 90’s, a time when fantasy novels and movies were undoubtedly on the rise. It has a palpable Dungeons and Dragons feel, and is nostalgic of those all-nighters with friends, chugging our Mountain Dews and munching on Doritos while rolling the 20-sided die one more time. Unfortunately Lodoss is plagued with a sense of “generic” that’ll have you thirsting for more depth… which’ll sadly never come. Coupled with some of the most inconsistent English voice acting I’ve ever heard, it’ll be an anime you’ll probably forget soon after watching it.
My biggest complaint about Lodoss is that it wasn’t given the proper amount of episodes to expand its story properly. It has such an engrossing atmosphere and massive worldbuilding potential that is squandered terribly due to a lack of time investment. What we’re left with is a marginalized “good vs. evil” approach, thinning the cast of characters to generic protagonists and antagonists. A series with this much imagination needs the proper nurturing to ensure success, and 26 episodes would’ve given it more of a fighting chance. On top of that, they decided to drop the viewers into the middle of what is chronologically after the 5th episode… only leading to the confusion. I don’t know if different mediums of media were trying this reverse storytelling at the time, but it was entirely unnecessary and only confused the hell out of me, and I’m assuming a lot of other people.
You follow Parn (yep, sounds like porn) and his stereotypical group of fellow travelers (a cleric, wizard, elf, dwarf and thief) as they seek to prevent the destruction of the planet by baddies that want to control the universe. Sound intriguing? Well, I can assure you that this is the Dynasty Warriors button masher of plots. Considering the source material is actually written to emulate a D&D experience, the dungeon master must’ve been rather disappointing. The main character transforms from useless fodder to going toe for toe with the most powerful foe on Lodoss (which has definitely never happened in an anime before), all in the course of like 5 episodes. There's a loose backstory referencing his father and restoring his family’s honor, but it’s unconvincing at best. Generic quotes like “I'll get you!” and “you're no match for me!” resonate from his vocabulary on occasion, and you sense there isn't much there are on his intellectual level. Parn’s childhood friend Etoh, the with perhaps the worst English voice actor of all time, accompanies him as a sworn companion.
Deedlit, a high elf and Parn’s hinted love interest, is a princess that randomly decides to join the adventure. Given the fact that she’s actually of royalty, she naturally drops everything to answer the underlying question of what is happening to her people. And honestly, the rest of the main pack is irrelevant. A gaggle of genericized fantasy tropes, which doesn’t create the best selling point. The most interesting character in the entire series is Ashram, a knight who seeks the highest power, but has some serious self-identification and reflecting to do in the process. He’s initially perceived as a villain, but can actually draw some empathy and understanding as the series elapses.
In addition to being a relatively generic series, Lodoss is littered with bits of randomness along the way. Although the “potential” romantic relationship between Parn and Deedlit never actually develops, there are plenty of awkward exchanges or long stares that force the viewer into thinking there’s something there. I’m just not buying it, there’s almost no chemistry between the two. Not to mention the interest fellow traveler Shiris (the girl with the berserker friend) has in Parn…. something that's awkwardly left by the wayside. There's also the evil witch Carla, with perhaps the most unassuming name in anime villainy existence, and another dark elf that sporadically falls for Ashram along the way. The more I get frustrated with the lack of finesse in writing, the more I realize what the anime was modeled after: a D&D quest. Speaking from experience, the element of randomness doesn’t even scratch the surface of the ridiculous stuff me and my friends used to come up with when we played. So…. I guess there’s that.
Sometimes I don’t consider it fair to criticize animation from the 90’s or earlier, because it’s merely a sign of the times. In Lodoss’ case, the art style isn’t necessarily my cup of tea but it’s consistent with the art out at the time in terms of quality. From what I remember reading, the studio actually utilized a sizable budget in order to get exactly what they were looking for in terms of emulating various fantasy elements and characters. Some of the fight scenes are actually quite fluid as well, something that earlier anime had issues with. No choppiness or quality drop during the heavier action sequences, something I can really appreciate. Especially when you consider the issues modern day anime have with frame drops and inconsistent animation, likely without any legitimate excuse.
Did I mention how bad the voice acting is? Central Park Media, a NYC based company took the reigns dubbing Lodoss. It was clear they had no idea what they were doing. Some acting is decent, but others are absolutely atrocious. It’s almost as though when the producers signed off on it they were doing more of a “screw it”, knowing they’d be out of a job anyway. If you’re a fan of dubs due to convenience, I strongly suggest you watch the Japanese version or avoid it altogether. It’s THAT bad. Performances like this employs hopefulness for my future seiyuu career… I digress.
The rest of the music is slightly unfitting, but about what I expect from an early 90’s series. Anime was largely in a learning period, starkly evident by the slow female ballads present in their OPs. For a show so focused on action and fantasy elements, the OP just...doesn’t work. As a standalone track it’s quite present, reminiscent of “Fly Me to the Moon” from NGE, but not an anime fit. The background tracks depict the genre much better. They’re full of orchestral life, and build crescendos left and right.
As much as I disliked certain aspects of Lodoss, I enjoyed it overall. However, one must understand that most of my enjoyment comes from a mix of nostalgia and relatability. I was a HUGE nerd in my high school days, so Lodoss speaks to me in some ways other anime cannot. On the other hand, it’s leaps and bounds from being “good” by any normal definition. Perhaps I would’ve enjoyed it more if I had watched the Japanese dub vice the English, but a generic plot, short run time and forced romance all work to cripple Lodoss, dooming it from the start. I would recommend this series to fans of other fantasy anime or earlier shows, or those just looking for something different. As always, thanks for reading!