Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals Anime Review
US Release By
Fantasy Sci-fi Action Comedy
4 30-minute episodes
1994-03-21 - 1994-08-01
What's In It
- Cute Kids
- Little Robots
- Chases and Races
- Violence: 2 (moderate)
- Nudity: 2 (moderate)
- Sex: 1 (mild)
- Language: 1 (mild)
On a distant world where both magic and massive technological airships reign, a young girl training in summoning magic, Linaly, and her sword-swinging friend, Prettz, are charged with a lofty goal: Protect the Crystal of the Wind, the magical object that gives life and peace to the Tycoon Kingdom, from an unknown evil force. But when Pirates and the Tycoon Military get involved, and they all want the crystal too, things are going to get complicated (and violent) quickly.
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This loose adaptation of Final Fantasy V has little to do with Final Fantasy (it's as if the production team had someone describe the games but never tried one), and even as a stand alone series is a rather juvenile disappointment of an action show more at home among US Saturday Morning fare than fantasy anime. If you look past the childish mood (despite a few borderline-sleazy touches), thin plot, and caricatured characters it isn't a complete failure, though; it does have an appealing perpetual-motion style of storytelling, the settings are relatively creative, and the wildly varied score includes some quality work, if well short of the bar set by Uematsu.
In all, it's best not thought of as having anything to do with Final Fantasy, and it's not without appeal as a very light fantasy romp, but basically it's a kids' action show aiming for the lowest common denominator of a rather young group.
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This first of many attempts to adapt the Final Fantasy series of games into anime is not what you'd call a rousing success. Though all the elements of the sort of techno-fantasy epics that have made the Final Fantasy series famous seem to be in place, the execution is largely a failure--an overly light mood, kiddy-pool drama, and it doesn't even "feel" like Final Fantasy. Not resoundingly bad as a stand-alone kids' series, but likely to disappoint both fans of the games and more mature viewers in general.
I'll get my gripes as a fan of the games out of the way first. Legend of the Crystals shares its opening music with Final Fantasy V, and the plot is very loosely based on that game, but Final Fantasy, it is not. It's as if someone explained the concept of a Final Fantasy game to the production team, but they never actually played one. All the individual elements are there--crystals, Chocobos, empires, airships, pirates, heroic kids with swords, and weird stuff from space--but most are a little off individually, and the aggregate doesn't feel anything like Final Fantasy. Here "Chocobos" look like ugly, featherless, prehistoric chickens, there's an airship that looks like a lumpy pink fish, and the two main characters are younger than all but a handful of minor ones from the games. Even putting details aside the general feel is off, and that's where even viewers who've never played a Final Fantasy game will run into trouble.
The overall mood of Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals is fun, but a little too fun for my taste. You could generously call it a very silly take on Miyazaki's Castle in the Air. Classic Saturday morning cartoons in the US are a better fit--the plot is functional, there's plenty of action and a bit of drama, but the characters are mostly broad, simple caricatures and almost nothing is taken seriously. The humor is equally basic; most comes directly from silly characters (the entire supporting cast), with the addition of a few wholly unnecessary low-brow touches. (Glowing buttocks? Ahem.) Add quite a few underwear shots scattered around, and the whole thing seems less tasteful than it should have. I'll admit to finding a few of the jokes and situations amusing, but mostly it's aimed too young and too low.
Despite the childish mood, Legend of the Crystals isn't all bad. For one thing, though the characters are flat, they do have a certain amount of appeal. My favorite among them is Prettz, one of the most cheerfully rash and carefree heroes I can think of. In particular, there are a couple of times where, faced with one of those dramatic tests of wit or will, Prettz just runs off and does something practical and rather stupid... and it works. Actually, even better, both that and the "right" way work--there's always more than one way to do something, and it's fun seeing that played out for a change.
The series' biggest strength, though, is the constant-motion style of storytelling, which I rather enjoy. Not to be confused with hurried, the way it unfolds there isn't more than a few seconds at a time when something isn't going on. There's also plenty of more literal motion--chases of all sorts abound. The downside to this is that the story is rather chaotic, lurching from one situation to another very abruptly, for which I blame the writing more than the style.
Backing up the movement in the story is some fairly smooth animation. The action is fast and well done, and despite some unevenness in the character animation Prettz has some spectacularly "real" moments. Almost everything else, though, fits the cartoony feel of the production; most of the character designs are silly and exaggerated (don't look for any Amano influence here), the colors are bright, and the mechanical design is, for the most part, outright ugly. On the bright side, there is one nice Nausicaa-esque airship, and many of the locations are fairly creative, or at least have a sense of being distant and fantastic--the floating temples, vast plains, and huge palaces are evocative of the games. Many of the backgrounds are drawn too simply, but the basic concepts come through.
The acting in the English dub (I haven't heard the original) is fitting for the characters and mood: broad and rather silly. Not bad per se, but nothing even approaching serious acting. The bad guy at least has a decent (if blatant) menacing rumble of a voice. The music, though, is a different matter.
Considering that Nobuo Uematsu's scores for the games are some of the best soundtracks there are--period--and a vital part of the series since its origin, Legend of the Crystals has a lot to live up to. Uematsu is, sadly, only listed as a supervisor, and the only recognizable themes are the opening and a bit of the Chocobo theme. Even so, the music is still the only part that comes close to the style of the games (although it reminded me more of Xenogears, another Square game, itself impressively scored). Despite some kids' action clunkers, many of the pieces are attractively composed and properly played in a wide variety of styles. The music has a very international flavor, with the inspiration for individual pieces ranging from the Middle East, to rock, to very attractive and creative choral work. The main action theme is an interesting, fast-yet-sort-of-wistful Chinese-sounding tune. The end theme is wonderful--an exotic song that captures the sense of traveling to distant lands and wanderlust of the games (if not of this anime).
In all, Final Fantasy: Legend of The Crystals is not really Final Fantasy, it's not very serious, it's not very mature, and for the most part it's just not very good. The consistently light mood and rapid-fire storytelling give it a bit of appeal, as do a few nice locations and attractive music, but in all its target audience seems to be the lowest common denominator of a rather young group.
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Has a lot in common with Castle in the Sky, though that movie is better in all respects. The silly fantasy series Gokudo is far crazier and more tasteless than this, but bears some similarities, as does the somewhat more serious and more mature fantasy comedy Rune Soldier Louie. For those wondering, it has absolutely nothing in common with any of the the more recently released Final Fantasy movies and anime. The Spirits Within, Advent Children, and Final Fantasy: Unlimited all look entirely different, don't share a shred of story or theme, and the moods are for the most part the polar opposite of this series.
Notes and Trivia
Based very loosely on the Square Enix (neé Square Soft) SuperFamicom (SNES) game, Final Fantasy V (much later released in the US and re-released in Japan as an updated Playstation version). The original title of this anime adaptation was simply "Final Fantasy."
For those unfamiliar with the names Nobuo Uematsu and Yoshitaka Amano, both have long been associated with the Final Fantasy series of games.
Uematsu wrote the score of every game up through the tenth, including some very memorable character-based themes and a number of spin-off albums with alternate-style, orchestrated, or vocal versions of pieces from the games. He has also conducted an orchestra playing selected pieces from the games on several occasions in both the US and Japan.
Amano is a graphic artist who painted evocative character images for the first six games, although his art only appeared on a few character images within the games themselves (until the Playstation re-release of Final Fantasy VI, which includes animated insert sequences based on his designs). His Final Fantasy-inspiring art has been reproduced on trading cards and in artbooks, and he was also involved with the visual style of Vampire Hunter D (he illustrated the original novels) as well as the one-shot Amon Saga.
US DVD Review
No US-release DVD exists as of this writing.
A few gross jokes, a bit of serious violence, and a lot of underdressed pirates probably put this one at a younger teen level; 13-up, maybe 10-up if you're permissive.
Violence: 2 - Some monsters get cut up, but not seriously at all.
Nudity: 2 - A lotta leather, some up-skirt views, and a statue in the background of one scene.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - A few off-color jokes.
Language: 1 - Nothing serious.