Final Fantasy: Unlimited — Phase 5 Review
The heroes of Final Fantasy: Unlimited remain trapped in the Ocean Puzzle conjured up by Pist, one of the Lords of Gaudium whose multidimensional challenges include slices of Wonderland's many regions in which Ai, Yu, Lisa, Kaze and the Comodeen must fight battles of wit and physical strength. Their goal remains on the other side, the Flying Water needed to give Cid's airship the energy source it needs to launch an attack on the Earl and evil ruler of Wonderland. The three episodes found on this volume all take place within a different square of the puzzle, combining light comedy with battles of immense power and further development of the numerous forces at odds with each other in the magical world of Wonderland.
With the quest for the twins' parents effectively on hold while the group navigate their way out of the puzzle, all character and story development falls upon the greater range of characters introduced over the course of the series. Episode 17 gives us another chance to delve into the strange psyche that is Cid, who when turned into a Frog at a time when his services are crucial to the Comodeen is found to be off daydreaming about Lisa and the shower room before convincing himself (with a little help from the underused Chocobo sisters) this is a simple case of the classic frog prince fairytale. Getting that kiss is no easy task and allows for an episode heavy on comedy of the light variety, with simple jokes at the expense of brute characters such as Knave going down well in amongst the physical abuse Cid as a frog takes. The payoff is another display of his expressive love toward his precious inventions that is both humorous and to the director and animation crew's credit a fine exercise in how to make something relatively boring such as fixing a vessel into an energetic and exciting sequence.
The next episode serves up another of those CGI enhanced epic battles the series' crew seem to have a talent for, matching two well balanced characters in a battle that eschews natural boundaries and showers the screen in a fireworks display of rich beautiful colours as swords clash and passions ignite. In this case all eyes are on Madoushi, a figure who seems to be of no threat to the heroes as he instead seeks out to complete his battle with Makenshi, one of the Lords of Gaudium with whom Kaze has a strong unspoken connection. Through this particular battle we learn that like Kaze and another of the Lords of Gaudium (the departed Fungus) Makenshi's world was also consumed by the power he now fights alongside, that of Chaos which is being used by the Earl to consume and control the world of Final Fantasy: Unlimited. That he saves the heroes of the story leads me to believe we'll see a change of allegiance at some point, at the very least we'll see his power of independence from the other Lords and the Earl play in favour of the heroes.
Focus is once again shifted back to the twins as they squabble in the final episode of this volume, leading to an accident which separates Ai from her party and leaves her stranded and in danger of the monsters Pist has unleashed upon the Wonderland location she finds herself in. They are not after her though, instead the young boy she meets by the name of Clear is one of the many parts Omega was split into and therefore a fragment of the powerful weapon the Earl wishes to claim and use for his dark purposes. Continuing the theme of the previous episode one of the most powerful forces in the series is shown to have purpose beyond that of the destruction they have thus far been associated with, and the connection Ai makes with the fragile Clear, however brief their time together leaves the story open for another of the Earl's sought after allegiances to be compromised (albeit with the chance of a stale sacrifice on the cards should the heroes face Omega in battle and Clear choose to help instead of fight).
Episode 17: Frog - The Smallest Great Adventure
Cid is turned into a frog and must undo the magic in order to escape the next cube of the ocean puzzle everyone is trapped in. Unfortunately his crew mates are unawares and while searching for him decide the frog is an enemy they must squash. Some amusing moments ranging from the traditionally perverse to the coward in wolf's clothing while Cid once again finds a moment to shine toward the end with a lavish display of his unique powers.
Episode 18: Madoushi - The Battle of Kiri and Kumo
Oscha is once again used by the Earl to undermine the other Lords of Gaudium, this time Pist is left in the dark as his Ocean Puzzle is used as the staging ground to test Makenshi. The heroes of the story are consumed by a red mist, leaving them paralysed as they watch a figure strikingly similar to Makenshi appear, Lord Madoushi, who defeats Kaze's Magun without blinking and is then challenged by the White Cloud who heeds the call of Madoushi's presence.
Episode 19: Ai - Meeting with Clear
As they squabble Ai is accidentally separated from Yu and the Comodeen, falling out of their craft and into the abyss below. Waking in another of Wonderland's many locations she happens across a young boy named Clear, who it turns out is part of Omega, the weapon feared by all and in search of by the Earl. With Pist on the hunt Clear must help protect Ai but in doing so reveals his doomed existence, that of bringing unwanted destruction wherever he goes.
Volume 5 features the striking visage of Lord Madoushi on the front side of the reversible cover, caught between the brooding face of Kaze and the wandering spirit of Makenshi. Reversing the cover reveals an eye-catching though overly complex image with Makenshi holding his face in the shadow of Kaze, while the back cover features the stunning beast Makenshi calls upon in battle.
The four page colour insert offers further character studies which reveal the real names of Makenshi and Madoushi in amongst general background information for them and other characters in the series.
Picture and Sound
The series continues to impress on DVD as the Full Frame presentation boasts strong detail levels, solid colour reproduction and deep black levels with very little in the way of edge enhancement or compression issues to note. At worst you’ll notice some minor ghosting as a result of the NTSC>PAL conversion and presence of repetitive animation sequences in Episode 17, but this is one of the few occasions where the conversion is actually noticeable.
Both the Japanese Stereo and English 5.1 Surround audio mixes continue to suffice, with the former being my preference and offering good separation across the front soundstage with voices, sound effects and the enriching original score coming through exceptionally well. The 5.1 English mix offers a slightly more spatial experience, putting the rear surrounds to good use in battle sequences.
Evan Slack (Yu) and Samantha Inoue-Harte (Chobi) sit down to provide commentary on episode 17 in what proves to be another frustrating track for animation rather than dub fans, even more so given the potential on show in this particular effort. As her name suggests, Samantha tells us through the standard biographical questions posed that she has lived in Japan for a number of years with the language being one of her first, add to the fact she is also an animator and a self-confessed fan of the videogame series going back to Final Fantasy II and you have the most qualified person of the commentary participants thus far to give some interesting insight to the dubbing process on a translation and localisation basis, combined with thoughts on the animation and adaptation of the videogame (which she does touch upon but never in much detail due to the questions being posed). It's not to be however as Samantha may dominate this track due to the reserved and less knowledgeable Evan but is still restricted to the promotional (ie. “come work for ADV as a voice artist because it’s so great”) slant these tracks have and will no doubt continue to take.
As predicted following the change of closing animation sequence from Episode 15 this volume is the first to feature a slightly different Clean Opening and Closing Animations section, with the closing sequence featuring more elaborate compositions and a funky new dance theme. The video-based artwork sections return with Production Sketches (4:30) having a very strong Makenshi focus with some delightful pencil drawings, while Key Animation Backgrounds (3:01) features some beautiful cel paintings that form the numerous Wonderland backdrops of the series. ADV Previews round out the disc looking at shows including Last Exile, Prétear, King of Bandit Jing, Rune Soldier and Angelic Layer.
The three episodes on this volume provide some gentle humour and stunning visuals via the battle sequences as the story is progressed along just enough showing the series is able to survive not just on the back of its central heroic figures, but also those of the secondary and villainous characters.