Final Fantasy: Unlimited — Phase 1 Review
Based upon the wildly successful Final Fantasy videogames franchise from Square Enix Final Fantasy: Unlimited is a 25 episode series that originally broadcast on Japanese television back in 2001. In much the same way as the majority of UK videogame fans were introduced to the series via the Playstation incarnations only to find the series had been thrilling gamers the world over for years prior, FF:U is not the first attempt at bringing the series to the small screen and nor will it be the last. Following the 1992 SNES release of Final Fantasy V a four-part OAV was produced to continue the story though unlike the videogame incarnations, if you were to dig up this early effort you would most likely be disappointed as the reviews are overwhelmingly negative.
Later this year a similar project will be revealed to the Japanese public in the form of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, a CGI effort that has fans salivating due to its sumptuous visuals that will form part of this straight to DVD release and continuation of the enormously popular Final Fantasy VII storyline. Unlike these efforts both past and pending FF:U continues the Final Fantasy tradition of being set in a unique world with original characters and story leaving only mainstays such as Chocobo's, summon elementals and overriding themes of world dynamics, character associations and modes of travel to link the series numerous incarnations.
To introduce this story a prelude to the opening episode sees two scientists risk everything as they bear witness to the opening of a gateway to another world, an event which awakens two mysterious beasts of astonishing power who battle it out for one of the series early visual highlights. Twelve years after the so-called "Day of Conjunction" the two scientists have disappeared, leaving their twin children no choice but to embark upon a hazardous journey fraught with danger as they attempt to find their parents, who they believe to have been lost in the world the gateway leads too, a world known as Wonderland. Ai and Yu put their parents best-seller outlining their research on this alternate world to good use as they board a phantom train detailed within, a train which they hope will lead them to Wonderland.
Lisa, a typically busty heroine joins their party when they meet on the train, seemingly by coincidence in the children's eyes but the viewer knows better as we see her reporting back via a comms device to whomever she works for. At the very least we know her intentions are good as we see Lisa slowly develop a maternal instinct towards the children in these early episodes. She herself is not entirely powerless however, blessed with an ability known as 'Keegan Arts' Lisa is capable of defending herself against average foes but knows when she is beaten and advises the children well by engaging in some light exercise when necessary (i.e. she runs!).
Initially nameless, the trio soon happen upon Kaze, a figure who bears a great resemblance to Vincent (Final Fantasy VII) in both choice of attire and weaponry, and proves to be a wonderfully brooding character who looks calm no matter what the situation. Given that he faces the brunt of each and every serious attack at this stage in the series, this is no mean feat. Backed up by a powerful weapon known as the Magun, Kaze decides upon the elements he will call on to defeat his foes and uses this combination to summon a number of powerful creatures including well known series favourites such as Phoenix, Typhoon and Shiva. These in turn are delivered to us via 'summon animations' that like those seen in the more recent videogame incarnations are quite lengthy, but equally beautiful to look at. So far they are also diverse and used sparingly enough to not become repetitive but it is a possible concern as the series progresses.
Kaze is seeking out an unnamed person, companion or sworn enemy we do not know at this stage, but he understands to locate this person he must find the Earl, the villainous ruler of Wonderland who appears to be little more than a spoilt brat with a great many unusual servants to blunder their way through his commands. Another noteworthy character is Fabular, a goddess like figure who not only features occasionally in the episodes to help guide our heroes on their quest, but who also acts as the viewers guide to what has gone before and not yet come to pass with brief episode recaps and previews in the appropriate spots.
The events preceding this story, the main character introductions and basic structure the episodes will take is all packed in to the opening episode. In all honesty I had watched right the way through the four episodes on this disc and had absolutely no idea of the finer details regarding the children's history (the who, when and how concerning their parents and subsequent disappearance), because although we are told in the opening episode so much is packed in that it simply passed me by and took a read of the back cover synopsis followed by a repeat viewing to take it all in. The fact I still enjoyed these episodes first time round should calm any parents concerned their youngest may find the pace a little heavy going, for the back story is not of any real importance, at least not at this early stage where the characters, their basic goals and connections to one another are far more entertaining and keep the story moving along.
Character designs in the series vary with the wonderfully realised look of Kaze and his nemesis standing out, while the children are interesting in the sense they appear to be simple and almost westernised, something which suggests the series was made in the hope it would sell well overseas but which also gives it a retro pastiche with the soft pastel colours harking back to the likes of shows once seen in the early hours on UK television such as Ulysses 31. Ultimately however all of the designs are a far cry from the beautiful artistry from the genius behind the majority of noteworthy figures in the videogame series long running history, the brilliant Yoshitaka Amano who you may also know for his work on the title figure in Vampire Hunter D. To say that use of designs or even renditions of characters in his style would have resulted in a completely different series, one for a more adult market, would however also be accurate but that's not to say I wouldn't have loved to have seen such a vision brought to the screen.
Elsewhere the summon animations and elemental beasts seen within the series are often animated using CGI which blends in quite well with the shows 2D digital animation techniques that offers a very crisp overall look to the proceedings.
Sonically the series appeals in terms of effects work with the summon sequences living up to the cinematic feel we have come to expect from the latest videogame efforts, while in terms of music the use of a full orchestra to record the score aids the composer, Yoshitomi Yonetani's attempt to recreate the wonderful tunes that accompany the series greats which also includes some nice if minor reworkings of the victory fanfare and chocobo ditty. As with the character designs there is once again little here to suggest one of the original greats behind the series, composer Nobuo Uematsu has much to be concerned about, but the music here works well and certainly stands out when brought into use in and around the battle sequences.
Additional items, special abilities, chocobo, summon elementals, mysterious transport networks, an evil mastermind who resides in a floating airship and a growing party of heroes each with their own personal and combined adventures. FF:U does well to work in so many of the videogame mainstays into a traditional fantasy adventure anime, a genre that already shares a great deal in common with role playing games enabling a relatively simple transition that should appeal to fans coming to the series from either background.
Though clearly aimed at the younger market there is plenty here to enjoy, from the visceral thrills offered by the inventive action sequences to the promise of greater things to come thanks to the introduction of the intriguing subway that connects the many realms of Wonderland, the hitherto unexplained Earl, his connection to an entity known as Chaos and the plans they have for Wonderland which have brought about the underground movement led by Knave, and the appearance of Makenshi in the final episode which suggests the battles will no longer be as one sided as they have been so far.
Below is an episode guide that contains a basic outline of the episodes, the characters met, abilities developed and relationships emerging. As such it does contain spoilers, though as always I have kept these descriptions as vague as possible...
Episode 1: Wonderland - Journey into the Darkness
With their parents missing Ai and Yu are determined to venture outside the realm of everyday society believing them to be trapped in another world known as Wonderland. Using internet rumours combined with their parents book, "Day of Conjunction", which details their visits to this world known as Wonderland the intrepid twelve year old twins board a phantom subway train that is said to lead to their chosen destination. Along the way they are met and joined by Lisa, whom Ai immediately finds very suspicious with her "creepy laugh" and reservations of explaining her visit to Wonderland (Ai assumes Lisa is searching for her boyfriend). In the strange new setting of Wonderland the trio are soon attacked by an odd beast, which Lisa initially fends off using her Keegan Arts training but when the beast grows too large, they are eventually saved by the mysterious unnamed stranger who Yu will later name Kaze.
Episode 2: Magun - Man of the Black Wind
As their quest continues the trio happen upon their Chocobo friend who leads them to Chocobaba, an old lady with an affinity for the strange birds which have a taste for Ai's hair. Yu on the other hand is quite taken by these creatures and thanks to a Chocobo feather he discovers finds he can understand their squawking and summon their assistance. In the meantime the Earl of wonderland, a despicable young prince whose culinary delights are of more importance to him than the needs of his people, is threatened by the presence of these newcomers and targets them to flush out Kaze (who is yet to officially join the party). Coming to their rescue Kaze summons Typhoon to blow his enemy away...
Episode 3: Fruit - The Town of Sweet Scent
Kaze has once again abandoned the heroic trio leaving them to hop on board the phantom train which leads them to a strange town populated by faceless residents, while the Earl discovers through his council that Kaze's ability may very well be "Unlimited", suggesting his power exceeds that of the Gods. Following the defeat of Fungus in the previous episode the Earl invites another of his henchmen, Herba, to attack Kaze who has also found his way to the town made of fruit. Before another battle ensues Ai is the first of our heroes to come face to face with Fabular who gives the young girl a "creepy and cute" pet named Poshepocket, who doubles up as a handy storage bag that comes pre-equipped with some useful items. After using Shiva to defeat Herba the mysterious Kaze once again disappears while the trio rush off to catch the train to their next Wonderland destination...
Episode 4: Makenshi - The White Etude
Having missed their train the trio are led by Fungo (who stole Ai's backpack in the previous episode) to an underground organisation known as the Comodeen, the only place of order in Wonderland. Here the trio learn of an entity known only as 'Chaos', something that is devouring worlds and seemingly linked to the Earl, but whatever it may be the Comodeen are preparing to make a stand against it. While here Lisa is the victim of Knave's glassy eyed passes in the silhouette of a glowing fireplace, Ai takes another step toward being a true adventure game character as she trades in her traditional clothes for a more unique outfit, while Yu once again finds Kaze and in turn we are introduced to Cid. Another staple of the videogame series Cid is an expert mechanic who shares both a resemblance and name to a similar character from Final Fantasy VII, and would appear to be joining the party.
Further revelations play out in a spectacular battle sequence that see the Earl's ace henchman, Makenshi show up to face Kaze, and turns out to be the 'White Cloud' Kaze has been seeking out for his own personal vengeance. With power equal to that of Kaze the battle which ensues is a destructive one, while Kaze's dark nature is brought to a forefront showing little regard to the innocent bystanders as they bring down the cavern with the children trapped inside. Flashbacks to the day of conjunction only add to the cliff-hanger as we see both Lisa and Kaze were present on that fateful day when the gateway to another world was first opened...
Packaging and Menus
Using a clear armaray case ADV have provided us with reversible artwork of a very high standard making the decision over which side to use very difficult. The main side features a nicely composed piece of artwork for the front cover depicting the guns and sword motif of the series with Kaze and Makenshi wielding said weapons, with Lisa trapped in the midst of their dispute. This side features the relevant BBFC logos while the back cover takes a fairly standard approach featuring synopsis, credits and disclaimer notices.
The reverse side has a large image of Kaze adorning the front cover that utilises a deep red and black colour scheme which spills over to the back cover where you will find an image of a large beast and details of the episodes featured on the disc. The quality of the packaging continues with the four page colour insert which boasts character and summons profiles which elaborate on some of the characters histories, while a FF:U Correlation Chart helps to maintain an understanding of the connections between the characters introduced thus far.
The discs menus are a mostly static affair which makes navigation fast while the design is in keeping with the deep reds featured on the reverse sleeve coupled with artwork from the series and selected tracks from the OST.
Picture and Sound
Presented in the original 1.33:1 Full Screen aspect ratio the transfer here looks pretty darn good, and what with this being such a recent production created entirely within the digital domain you would expect as much. Colours are beautifully graded and reproduced without fault, blacks are pleasingly solid while fine details (admittedly of which there are few) are pin sharp. The only slight niggles come in the form of compression woes but these are so few and far between they're unlikely to cause you any bother, with the only noticeable flaw being the occasional sign of jaggies (where character outlines are not solid).
On the audio side we find the original Japanese language track presented in a very crisp Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track that offers some decent separation across the front speakers. An English dub is also provided, this time in full 5.1 surround and thanks to a generally decent voice cast (only Yu disappointed with a drab one beat performance) makes for a surprisingly valid alternative to the Japanese original, especially as the 5.1 surround is generally very well implemented with added ambience by projecting the music to the surrounds and making good use of directional effects during the action set pieces. Letting down the English option slightly however are some unbalanced sections such as the Fabular introductions where I found her voice to be drowned out by the ambient effects, and the presence of one or two minor (millisecond) dropouts (the Fabular introductions on episodes 1 and 3 are good examples of this).
Two optional English subtitle tracks are provided, one to accompany the Japanese language option providing a literal translation of all dialogue and signs, another to accompany the English dub providing signs and song translations. Both are to a high standard with an easy to read yellow font that showcases the R1 heritage, as does the Americanised spelling of words.
The series features a stylish opening animation so the inclusion of a clean version in the extras department is more than welcome. I cannot say the same for the clean closing animation however given that FF:U features one of the worst I have seen in quite some time, but for those who enjoy ZX Spectrum style Chocobo's running across the screen, this is for you!
Three animated galleries total just over ten minutes and offer production sketches, backgrounds and preliminary artwork showing a quite different vision of the series all beautifully presented with soothing orchestral pieces carefully selected from the series high quality original score. These really are superb additions to the disc as the sketches are annotated in English giving you the full benefit of the designs on show, whilst the backgrounds and preliminary art are simply gorgeous and complimented wonderfully by the music accompaniment.
An audio commentary with voice actors Jessica Schwartz (Ai) and Shawn Sides (Lisa) overseen by ADR director Charlie Campbell is present on the first episode and though initially a little dry with Charlie pitching questions to the girls covering their characters the mood soon picks up mostly thanks to the energy the ladies bring to the series. Topics covered include how the actors got into dubbing, their previous work and the actual process of recording the dialogue for the various series.
Rounding out the disc is a six-minute ADV Previews reel with trailers and opening credit animations for selected series on release now.
Though lacking in adult themes and any real substance at this stage FF:U offers some good old fashioned entertainment as we follow the children’s adventures in Wonderland. As a fan of the videogame series (between IV and VIII for those interested) I can definitely say certain aspects held more charm knowing where they originate from, but for the few out there who have never even heard of the series let alone played one of the games there is nothing here that will have you confused, and certainly nothing that requires prior knowledge to fully appreciate.
Definitely one for the kids but also one that adults can kick back to and enjoy while the DVD presentation and bonus features only add to the experience and make the recommendation easier.
7 out of 10
9 out of 10
8 out of 10
6 out of 10
Last updated: 19/04/2018 13:28:32