Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight

Vandemar

imageLodoss Island is still not a very nice place. While Parn and Friends fought Evil and seemingly beat it into submission in the previous installment of Record of Lodoss War, the Chronicles of the Heroic Knight reveal the story is not over, not by a long shot. Villians still need to be vanquished, dragons still need slain, and Lodoss Island still needs to be saved.

Chronicles of the Heroic Knight begins simply enough, with a hunt for a dragon and a fight against evil. The Black Knight from the previous installment, Ashram of the Demon Sword and cool hair, has every intention of finishing what his former emperor started. A small group of old friends from the original unite join some new characters. Together, they sally forth to fight Evil. This provides a nice little close to the original story and allows a subtle transition to the new chronicles, putting away the old heroes and bringing us the new ones.

While it is nice to have a Lodoss: The Next Generation-style sequel, the use of old characters to gradually ease us into the transition means the first disc of the four disc set is nothing but prologue. Things don’t even really get rolling until the second disc. Not only is it kind of a jolt to watch four or five hours and find out that nothing at all has happened to move the main storyline, it makes one ask questions. If they were going to make a bunch of new characters and a whole new storyline, they didn’t just start with a little prologue scroll and go marching onto the new storyline? Teasing us with the old characters we know and love, then shouting “Ha ha, suckers!” and yanking away the rug is a little cruel.

imageAfter a disc+ of opening exposition, it turns out what Chronicles of the Heroic Knight is really about is the young would-be knight Spark and his band of mercenaries and adventurers tying up loose ends from the first series. It may be a minor spoiler to reveal that Wagnard is back, but considering he just deus ex machina-ed his way into the first series, it’s probably not huge. He wasn’t exactly explained the first time through and his return doesn’t trigger any kind of attachment or emotion more than an oh-it’s-that-guy. With most of the world’s dragons dead, it falls to Wagnard and Ashram to pick up the menacing bad guy mantle. The problem is, Wagnard is a little too stereotypical and Ashram seems demented, but not all that evil. Bad guys with decent, understandable motivations (certainly more than some of the just-there protgagonists) don’t exactly trigger my hatred. The fight against evil is a long and ongoing one, 26 episodes worth, and your tolerance for this series is going to depend on how much you like your high fantasy.

Advances in animation mean that the series is much, much nicer looking than the first installment. Faces actually move and show expressions, rather than being unmoving homes for moving mouths. Character designs are much nicer-looking this time around, with softer lines making for much more human characters. The gritty look of the original is all cleaned up and Heroic Knight is much more animated than its predecessor. While it hasn’t been shed completely, this series doesn’t lean so much on simply panning away from a single still frame to create motion. One of the best moves is in using a score that doesn’t rely on cheesy 80s synthesizers. The would-be New Age music has given way to good classical, high fantasy scores and nice vocal opening and closing themes.

Regardless of your opinion on the series, there’s no denying that the extras are awesome. There’s character sketches, comics, character profiles and a guide to Lodoss that brings things together very nicely. Those with DVD drives on their computers will also find scripts to browse, comics and other artwork, and examples of the Japanese packaging. The Extras are a nice package on their own, providing plenty of meat for Lodoss fans to chew on.

imageAs for the series itself, though, Chronicles of the Heroic Knight doesn’t quite capture the magic of the original series. While the original Record of Lodoss War had a plot with holes you could drive a truck through and some pretty dated animation, it had a certain charm, an undeniable good heart and “let’s put on a show!” charisma that made it fun to watch. I hate to hammer a series for making too much sense, but something about Chronicles just doesn’t capture the dice rolling in the basement feel of the original. It feels too plotted. Call me a giant hypocrite, but the improvisational feel at the heart of the first Lodoss War series was a benefit. You never really knew what was going to happen. The followup feels too scripted, not like an actual campaign is taking place, animated before your eyes. Fans of the original series are going to enjoy seeing what happened to the characters they knew and loved and the new characters don’t have quite the same charm as the first. It’s a nice second effort and returning to Lodoss is always worth the visit, but it’s just plain not as captivating as the first.

Technical/Extras: 9.0
Another outstanding job on the Technical/Extras front. The series is miles ahead of its predecessor in terms of animation and music, and the bountiful extras will sate even the most diehard Lodoss fan. Central Park Media and U.S. Manga Corps deliver more kudos than I can give for making a box set well worth the price.

Entertainment: 7.5
While it makes a lot more sense than the original, it just doesn’t catch the feeling of the first series.

Overall: 7.8

Episodes: Complete Set

DVD Extras: Character Sketches, Comics, Information Guide, Cast Page, Sneak Peeks, Interactive Menus, Chapter Stops, Spoken Languages: English and Japanese, English subtitles. DVD-Rom features: Character sketches and profiles, Reviews, Japanese packagaing, Complete Lodoss Information Guide, Script, Artwork, Comics.

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