Monday, March 23, 2020

Anime Monday - Utawarerumono

Utawarerumono. Man I can't tell you how long it took me to learn how to spell that! This is a series I came across quite a few years ago without knowing much about it. Heck I didn't even know there was an anime adaptation of it, but here it is! So to explain exactly what Utaware is, let's go into a little bit of background info before we move on with looking into the anime.

Utaware was originally an 18+ visual novel created by the Japanese company "Leaf." Known for their series such as To Heart, White Album, and later Tears to Tiara (yes, many of their series have been adapted into anime form), Utawarerumono was one of their earlier releases that came out back in 2002. While the game was in fact a visual novel, it blended the visual novel genre with that of a tactical role playing game. Instead of simply reading the entire time, these sections of the game would focus on you commanding your army, which was made up of key characters you met during the VN section, as you attempt to protect your country and expand it's reach across the world. Of course there was adult content as well, which was common for many early lesser known visual novels, but later releases completely removed such scenes. At the time of this writing the visual novel is not out in the US, but it is scheduled for release this May with it's remake titled "Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen." That being said, the anime adaptation is a pretty faithful retelling of this original story, with one notable change. Due to the removal of the adult content in the anime version as well, this means one key character from Mask of Deception is not born. Putting that aside though, it's easy to understand this change when moving forward with the series (be that in anime or visual novel form).

Anyway, I first found out about the series when Mask of Deception released in the US. I randomly downloaded it on Memorial Day when I was looking for something to do to kill time, and I ended up loving it. So that of course made me go back to the original story, which at the time was the anime adaptation. Honestly I don't think I would've watched the series otherwise, but now days I'm glad I did. It's an interesting tale, and it's one that took a pretty shocking turn. It's no wonder the remake is titled "Prelude to the Fallen."

The Story of Hakuoro:

When Utaware first opens we are greeted by some strange imagery, followed by our main character being discovered by a young girl. The man has no name, he can't remember who he is or where he's from, and for some strange reason an odd mask is attached to his face. This mask cannot be removed, and no one can figure out the reason why. This isn't the only odd thing about him however -- he doesn't have a tail and his ears are "different."

It doesn't take long for the man to notice the difference between him and the woman who had found him alone in the woods. Or rather, her and her entire family. Her, her younger sister, and grandma, all have funny ears compared to him, and they all in do in fact have tails. As for him? He appears to be completely human by our standards (putting the mask aside). While this doesn't bother the man it does make him stand out from the others, and the fact that he can't remember a thing doesn't help his case. The girl still trusts him though, and happily introduces herself as Eruruu, with her younger sister being named Aruruu. Along with their grandmother Tusukuru, the three agree to let the man continue living with them, and they give him the name Hakuoro.

After that day Hakuoro builds a new life for himself in the small town he's now found himself in. He quickly becomes friends with the villagers, and does whatever he can to help those around him. People of the village come to respect Hakuoro, and things can't possibly be going any better for him. However despite how things may first seem, this world is not at peace. When Tusukuru is killed, tensions between the villagers and a local lord named Sasante start to rise, and with Hakuoro leading the charge they find themselves going to battle with the neighboring city. This single incident is what sparks Hakuoro's "rebellion" and the start of a new nation named in Tusukuru's honor.

From this point on the series focuses on the country of Tsukuru, and the different people Hakuoro and Eruruu cross paths with. They find themselves in battle against multiple other nations, but they form just as many allies as enemies. It's a story of their struggle to protect everything they care about, but in reality this is only scratching the surface.

The Truth:

Obviously I can't go into this, but I can state what is obvious. Hakuoro is not normal. His past and everything about him is a mystery. The mask on his face is odd, but the world he finds himself in is even stranger. Just what is this world of Utawarerumono, and how does Hakuoro fit into it? There are many legends told throughout the series, and by listening to them you can start to piece parts of it together yourself.

It's pretty obvious that Hakuoro is "human," but if that's the case then why is the world different? Or do humans even exist in this world to begin with? Then again, is he human? Just because he looks like "us," does it mean he's the same? These questions only get more confusing as you learn more about the other characters and their pasts as well. This is a part of what makes the series so fun though -- trying to figure out the unknown. While you do care about the characters and the trials they have to overcome, it's the mystery surrounding the world that really drives all of this home. This is something that carries over into the sequel as well, but in a completely different way than one might expect. Yes you do find your answers here so thankfully nothing is left unsaid, but in some ways it's more like opening Pandora's Box. This is only the beginning of the story, and learning the truth of this world is just the first step to the insane reality that awaits our so called heroes.

Should You Watch It:

Yes and no. You should really only start this series if you are planning to stick with it. And not just by watching the follow up anime, but by actually sitting down and playing the games. There's a LOT to this story to cover, and while the original game is pretty short in general, the second part of the story is anything but. This is a series you need to invest possibly a couple hundred or so hours into, and even then it's not actually over. Now days the series is in the middle of it's own revival with multiple game projects being announced at a time, and a re-release of the original on it's way. It's a massive series, and this anime adaptation is only a small fraction of what's to come.

That being said, yes its' well worth getting into. While the animation may seem a little dated by today's standards, overall the series is still pretty well done. The English dub comes off as an older dub of course, but the Japanese sub is pretty spot on. Sadly they chose to completely remove all adult content from the story instead of having it happen off screen (considering it's key to the main plot), but just knowing this content is missing is enough to keep anyone from getting confused. These scenes only play a key role during the series ending, so it's not too big of a deal. Putting that aside, the characters are still great, and so is the story. It's filled with mystery, drama, and romance, and is perfect for those who love "other world" type stories. Just keep in mind that this is an older one, and that it's only the intro to the full story. So yeah, watch it if you understand what you're getting into.