II: Prologue Anime Review
US Release By
Light Sci-fi Fantasy
What's In It
- Space War
- Super Technology
- Space Ships (big ones)
- Alternate World
- Violence: 2 (moderate)
- Nudity: 0 (none)
- Sex: 0 (none)
- Language: 0 (none)
On a faraway world, the crown prince has run away from home in search of a great treasure... and that's just fine with the king, since the prince is the bearer of some of the worst luck on the planet. The king's going to need all the luck he can get, since he's in the process of trying a new tactic to battle an age-old foe: a shiny new spacefleet manned by librarians. Where will all this lead? Who knows...
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II: Prologue is, as the title implies, a single episode introduction to what was promised to be an extended animated action-comedy series somewhat along the lines of Tenchi Muyo. The plans never panned out, but it was a decent teaser: the lively little production combines a large-scale (but rather silly) space battle, some classic bickering kids, and just a hint of bigger things to come. The 3D animation is a bit crude by modern standards, but doesn't let the medium dictate the style and both looks like "anime" and is used effectively to tell the story. The best feature is the English voice acting; by a mix of pros and would-be pros, it's almost shockingly good.
I can't really recommend II: Prologue on its own merits, since there's just not enough of it and it doesn't go anywhere. Still, it holds its own (an impressive feat for an indie production), and could have qualified as a promising start if it had ever been continued.
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Okay, when I got my hands on this the first thing I was wondering was: what the heck is II? Answer: II is the brainchild of a couple of American anime fans who managed to actually create some anime. It was conceived, produced (using 3D animation), written, cast, and scored as a non-professional project, and has the distinction of being (more or less) the second piece of US-produced indie anime, period.
Considering the ambitious scope and (almost) unprecedented nature of the project, the result (or, more accurately, the Prologue that made it to a finished state) is rather impressive. It would be nice to review it straight out, but it's nigh-impossible to look at something this unique without acknowledging its origins.
For one thing, I had to wonder: Is it anime? For all intents and purposes, yes. Spectacular anime, no. Groundbreaking (in terms of artistic content, not its source) anime, no. But, as a light-hearted adventure, II: Prologue has all the look and feel of anime done properly. The 3D visuals have some issues, which I'll come back to, but the bottom line is that the creators' effort to produce something with the look and feel of anime was a success, and fairly professional looking to boot.
Enough qualifiers; how does it hold up as a real production? The biggest issue with II: Prologue is that it is indeed a prologue, and one to a series that was never continued. Like most first episodes, it introduces a few characters, gives just a bit of background on the world, and a taste of the mood. What it doesn't do is much past that; it's under 20 minutes long and definitely doesn't attempt any sort of character development, real story, or conclusion. Not that it should have tried to do more; that would have almost certainly resulted in a rushed disappointment. Even so, it doesn't manage to do much more than whet your appetite, and that appetite will never get satisfied.
That said, it lays the foundation of an interesting series. There isn't really a story, but between some amusing sibling arguments and a large-scale space battle, there's enough going on to keep it interesting. In both cases, the mood is a bit Tenchi Muyo-like and quite light--just some kids messing around on one hand, and hundreds being slaughtered without the slightest feel of seriousness on the other. Although the battle is probably a little grim in appearance for its light mood, it is consistent with the overall feel, and I enjoyed it. The very end drops a hint of something a little deeper and more mysterious going on. Whether this would have developed into an interesting story we will probably never know, but it was a promising start.
The few characters we get to meet look to be a fun and reasonably likable lot. They aren't very original (nor would I expect them to be), though the King is an amusing take on an incompetent leader: self-centered, overdramatic, and completely illogical. My personal favorite is the minister who plays straight-man to the King's antics--the only person around who seems remotely competent, and properly (and amusingly) beleaguered as a result. The prince--presumably one of the heroes--is also likable enough, and the antagonism between him and his conniving sister is amusing.
On the topic of characters, the voice acting (English, of course, by a mix of pros and would-be pros) is almost shockingly good. There aren't any dramatic performances, but all the voices (including the grand total of one minor character) are distinctive, well cast, and quite well acted. The standout (by a narrow margin) for me is again the King's right-hand man, whose voice may be a little on the deep side for his look but, as a result, is also quite distinctive. The music, consisting of somewhat cheap sounding synthesizer work, is less remarkable, and a lot less noticeable--the whole thing feels rather quiet.
The visuals are where II differs from the norm; everything is computer generated from 3D models (on a couple of old-even-at-the-time Pentium Pros). As far as detail and rendering goes, the quality is not particularly impressive; even a Playstation 2 can do better, and do it in real-time. That isn't much of an issue (it just looks rather older than it is), but the visuals are the one area of the production that seems a bit unprofessional. There are, in particular, one or two shots that appeared to be visual jokes, but weren't clear enough to come across. None of it is glaringly bad, though, and the character animation is passible.
On the more positive side, the cinematography is relatively creative, with some amusing and/or interesting angles and visuals. More importantly, they didn't let the medium dictate the style. The character designs are generally appealing, properly "anime," and not created with 3D models in mind. Likewise, the look and feel (sweat drops, exaggerated facial expressions) comes straight from cel art. The non-organic objects are a little better overall; although the backgrounds are on the sparse side, the ships are angular and unusual, and the space battle is pretty cool (plus, again, the beam weapons have a notably "anime" look to them).
Overall, it's a little hard to review a single episode of an epic-scale series that was never completed. As a teaser, it did its job, and on its own merits it's generally fun and well acted, if short and unoriginal. All things considered, it feels like anime, and for a minimal-budget indie OAV it's darned close to a pro-level production. It's worth checking out if you can find a copy, but it's too bad the story was never continued.
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In as much as we see it seems to share a lot with Tenchi Muyo, El Hazard, and that variety of light action.
Notes and Trivia
II was conceived, written, and animated by two Americans, Mike Schwark and Ron Kaulfersch. It's the first product of their startup anime production company, Pseudome Studio. As of this writing the II section of their website has been shuttered, but you can see what it looked like circa late 2000, when the video came out, thanks to Archive.org's archive of it.
This Prologue OVA is an introduction to the world of II, which (if the creators' plans had panned out) would have been an epic, light hearted sci-fi fantasy story, apparently in a Tenchi Muyo vein. The original plan was, according to an interview, for four OAV series of roughly a half dozen episodes each. Unfortunately from the perspective of II, the producers ended up focusing on their fantasy parody comic Van Von Hunter, which was published through TokyoPop in addition to the web version, and was even briefly syndicated in newspapers.
According to at least one interview from back in 2001, II: Prologue was produced on a pair of Pentium Pro workstations. Although they were high-end professional systems when they were new in the mid-to-late '90s, these machines were getting older by the time II was in production. In more recent terms even an iPhone would run circles around them.
US DVD Review
A rather destructive space battle, but no onscreen death, and essentially no other objectionable material. I'd call it 10-up, though younger viewers are probably fine.
Violence: 2 - Lots of people die, but it's all abstract.
Nudity: 0 - Nada.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Zip.
Language: 0 - Nothing that I remember.
Staff & Cast
King Malk: Tristan MacAvery
kaz: Kris Wright
Kae: Christina Woog
General Vaj: Tiffany Grant
Kace: Esteban Oceana
Queen Aryuko: Michiru Kaioh
One: Mark Sprague
Myouri: Allison Rose Skwarlo
Generic: Art Damon
Co-creator, lead writer, character design, storyboards, key animator, casting, audio engineer, director, editor: Ron Kaulfersch
Co-Creator, writer, lead character designer, storyboard artist, modeler, lead animator, director, producer: Mike Schwark