Amon Saga Anime Review
US Release By
Amon is a young warrior, wandering the land in search of the city of Valhiss--a traveling fortress atop the back of a mountainous turtle. Within that city is the evil Emperor Valhiss, seeking to conquer the world. But he has a special captive--the beautiful princess Lichia. Amon is not the only one seeking someone inside Valhiss, but what will he and the ragtag group of mercenaries find when they make it into the city, and what will become of all of them in the wake of the Emperor's evil ambitions?
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Amon Saga, influenced in story and art by famed illustrator Yoshitaka Amano, is a fairy tale with its feet on the ground. It mixes a storybook plot with plenty of style and well-done-for-the-era action, but tempers that with slightly more down to earth characters, a sense of realism in the action, and a more personal feel to the central hero's quest. Although in all it's not a terribly memorable movie, it has enough style, action, and interesting embellishments on the formula to keep it interesting.
Much like Vampire Hunter D, Amon Saga is somewhat old fashioned and far from original, but it still has some style and creativity. I wouldn't strongly recommend it, but for fans of Amano or fantasy action, as well as those just in the mood for some old-school anime, it's probably worth at least a rental.
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Amon Saga certainly has a promising pedigree--based on a story illustrated by the famed Yoshitaka Amano, whose elegant artwork set the tone for the early Final Fantasy games and accompanied the Vampire Hunter D novels. The story is fairly standard fantasy fare, but from a fairy tale standpoint, everything you need is there as well--captive princesses, wandering swordsmen, and turtle-borne cities. The end result is, disappointingly, not terribly memorable, but it does have plenty of action and some style.
The Vampire Hunter D connection goes deeper than just the shared artistic heritage; the quiet loner hero wandering the land is similar to D in style, and his poet-swordmaster mentor (though he is only onscreen for a few seconds) could easily pass for D visually. The story is rather different, but the feel--quiet and somewhat gothic, frequently broken up by big action sequences--is also similar. The visuals are more stylish in setting and somewhat less stylized in the details than Vampire Hunter D's, and though Amon Saga has its share of blood, it doesn't revel in the gore. In all, Amon Saga is slightly less cheesy than Vampire Hunter D, but it's also less fun and I'm not surprised it's not as well known.
But even though I just did, I'd rather not compare it to Vampire Hunter D, since that movie has so much baggage among anime fandom, and Amon Saga is its own film.
Generic though the story may be, it does capture a classic fantasy feel as well as solidly tie together the variety of action scenes the movie is built on. It also has a collection of cool little fairy tale moments--the ground trembling as Valhiss approaches, a climactic battle amid a burning golden temple, and even a princess laying eyes, Shakespeare-style, on an unknown hero from the window of her bedroom prison. Of course, the fairy tale feel does lead to some annoyingly contrived plot points (the princess takes a swim; cue random big bad monster to rescue her from).
The story deserves a nod for a few more realistic points as well. It doesn't quite follow standard fantasy rules for dramatic battles--several encounters seem realistically messy instead of well-defined hero-villain pairings with predictable outcomes. Also, despite the grand settings, most of the production has a surprisingly close feel--sparsely populated cities and relatively down-to-earth, small scale battles give the sense of this being more of a personal saga than a grand quest. Perhaps not entirely a good thing depending on how you look at it, but it makes for a distinctive and somewhat more grounded story.
There isn't much character development, but there are a variety of familiar-yet-fun folks populating the story. Amon is the classic loner with a dark past, and he fills that role well without taking the aloof hero thing too far--he does display some emotion, and isn't totally immune to the goings on around him. That, combined with the fact that he isn't one of those ultimately powerful, "I'm too cool for these villains" guys (he isn't even notably tougher than most of the other hero-types), makes him a pleasant departure from the average loner, although he's still a bit too reserved for my taste.
The rest of the ragtag band Amon gets caught up with are similar--classic fantasy stereotypes (the big, tough, good natured guy, the shadowy elven archer, and so on) but with enough personality to keep them interesting. Well, except the elf, who's so shadowy he's almost never there. There isn't much to the villains, but at least they're properly menacing and seem competent enough to put up a good fight without entirely outclassing the heroes.
Frankly, though, it was neither the story nor the characters that stuck in my mind; Amon Saga is, at heart, an archetypal fairy tale built on action and style. From a purely technical standpoint it's a little rough, but for a 15-year old production it has aged well. It stands above the average older action movie, with reasonably clean but still detailed art, a subdued palette of earthy colors fitting for the world, and above-average animation. The action scenes are frequent and varied, ranging from bar brawls, to creeping around enemy cities under cloak of night, to grand battles with powerful swordsmen and sorcerers. Though slightly hampered by older, less fluid animation, it's still exciting enough for my taste and things do keep moving. In particular, I really like the way the one big magical battle is handled--a weird, somewhat abstract representation of the mental battle between a group of sorcerers.
Some of the visuals suffer from the age and midrange budget of the production, with undetailed or just bland backgrounds, but Amano's hand definitely shows through. A collection of very stylized scenes during the opening, and a handful of images like the massive city of Valhiss approaching through the mists captured a little bit of the incredible imagination and elegant, dreamlike style that make Amano's paintings so memorable. These scenes aren't nearly as frequent as I had hoped, but there are enough flashes of imagination and bits of pure artistic flair to distinguish Amon Saga from many of its peers. The character designs also show a little of Amano's influence (particularly in the weird magicians), but tend much more toward realistic faces and builds. The costumes are relatively plain with a few notably exotic exceptions (the princess' hairstyle, for example).
I can't speak for the Japanese, but though the voice acting in English is a little broad, it's all-around solid, with a particularly creepy performance behind the evil sorcerer and an appropriately otherworldly, booming voice for Valhiss. One down side to the dub is that in a few chaotic scenes, the background noise (the din of battle or the rowdy crowd in a bar) seems much too quiet, making them feel oddly subdued. Though much of the production lacks background music (which contributes to the more personal-scale feel of the characters' adventure), the score is appropriately dramatic and orchestral. The exception is the end theme, which starts out sounding cool but unfortunately ends up too modern and unoriginal.
All in all, I'd have to say that while nothing in Amon Saga stuck with me after the credits rolled, I ended up liking it more than I was expecting to. A combination of the flashes of visual creativity, not-quite-formula characters, and plenty of action kept me interested, and I enjoyed the fairy tale story with its feet on the ground. It definitely isn't anything special, and I wouldn't strongly recommend it to anybody, but for fans of Amano, fantasy action lovers, as well as those just in the mood for some old-school anime, it's probably worth at least a rental.
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I already went over the Vampire Hunter D connection, and the Record of Lodoss War OAVs share some of the same fantasy atmosphere, although those are much more plot-driven.
Notes and Trivia
Based on a comic of the same name published in Ryu magazine, written by Baku Yumemakura and illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano. Though Amano has illustrated many stories, including an illustrated book by Sandman author Neil Gaiman and a Wolverine mini-series, this is credited as the only actual comic he has illustrated.
Yoshitaka Amano was also the character designer for the ever-popular Vampire Hunter D. He supplied the image art for the Final Fantasy series of games up through the sixth installment, as well as art for other anime and video game productions. Although his art definitely doesn't look "anime," his loose yet elegant style is unmistakable and worth checking out.
The credits in the production were nice enough to be worth mentioning--even the dubbed VHS version includes the Japanese cast, and each of the English voice actors is credited under a picture of their character in a little montage after the main credits. The full end theme is also included, with a sort of music video for visuals, after the credits roll.
US DVD Review
The DVD, aside from attractive box art by Amano, features a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital English soundtrack, as well as stereo English and Japanese tracks, plus some character bios.
A fair amount of violence and one bathing scene rescue give this the 13-up rating Manga decided on, though that's probably a bit lenient.
Violence: 3 - Plenty bloody in a few scenes.
Nudity: 2 - Nothing detailed, but a lot of artfully concealed skin in one scene.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Only implied romance.
Language: 1 - Nothing strong comes to mind.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Amon: Kenyu Horiuchi
Lichia: Yoshino Takamori
Gaius: Mugihito Tenchi
Alcan: Koji Mori
Valhiss: Kiyoshi Kobayashi
Mabo: Ichiro Nagai
Darai Sem: Tamio Ooki
Messenger: Shunsuke Shima
Ekuna: Banjo Ginga
Ho: Koji Toya
Vikin: Naoki Tatsuta
Additional Voices: Junji Chiba, Kohei Miyauchi, Masanobu Okubo, Chikako Akimoto, Takeo Ono, Tsubasa Shioya, Sukekiyo Kameyama, Shoji Sato, Daisuke Gori, Shigezo Sasaoka, Takuro Kitagawa
English Dub Cast
Amon: Hideo Seaver
Lichia: Angora Deb
Valhiss: Keith Howard
Gaius: J. David Brimmer
Alcan: Jack Taylor
Mabo: J. Robert Spencer
Dennon: Flavio Romeo
Ekuna: Dan Stevens
Elders: Nick Yates, Flavio Romeo, Dan Stevens
Ho: Ed Kissel
Nanny: Judy Dodd
Bartender: Joe Blake
Messenger: J. Robert Spencer
Darai Sem: Nick Yates
Director: Shunji Oga
Executive Producers: Yoshio Takano (Mitzubishishoji), Shinji Nakagawa (Tohokushinsha), Toru Yoshida (Toei Video)
Producer: Shizuo Sengoku
Assistant Producer: Atsuyuki Kawai
Original Story: Baku Yumemakura, Yoshitaka Amano, Tkumashoten Publishing Co.
Screenplay: Noboru Shiroyama
Character Design Supervisor: Yoshitaka Amano
Character Design: Shingo Araki, Michi Himeno
Animation Supervisor: Shingo Araki
Animation Directors: Shin Nishizawa, Kuni Tomita, Masahiro Yoshida, Michi Himeno
Art Director: Mitzuhara Miyamae
Assistant Art Director: Eiji Hirakawa
Animation by Cente Studio
Produced by Mitsubishishoji Co., Tohokushinsha Film Corporation, Toei Video Co.
End Theme: "Kaze no Take a Chance" ("Take a Chance on the Wind")
Composer: Shigeaki Saegusa
Performance: Yuuri Sugimoto
Lyrics: Akira Otsu