31 July 2012 | xamtaro
So.....who is the target audience?
The best selling video game series from Bioware gets the CGI anime treatment courtesy of the creative team behind Vexille and To. A semi-prequel to Dragon age 2, "DRAGON AGE: DAWN OF THE SEEKER" Chronicles a pivotal early adventure in the life of Cassandra (a side character NPC within the Dragon Age 2 game).
It is a time of great mistrust across the lands. While the "Chantry" religious order holds power thanks to their Templar forces, there is suspicion of a conspiracy within the leadership. An order known as the "seekers of truth" was formed to act as a check and balance to the power of the Templars. After rescuing a elf girl from rogue blood mages, Cassandra Pentaghast and finds herself embroiled in a clandestine plot when she is framed for treason and murder. It is suspected that some among the Chantry have been secretly aiding the blood mage order. On the run, she finds an unlikely ally in a Circle Mage called Galyan. Despite her hatred of magic users, Cassandra and Galyan must band together to clear her name and weed out the true traitors.
A simple story from the get go, Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker makes its first mistake by bogging it down in a lot of backstory. After a full 3 minutes of narration explaining the world of Dragon Age, the various orders, the difference between mage clans, the Chantry etc, it is still rather difficult to follow for most people except those already familiar with the Dragon Age games. Fantasy stories like Lord of the Rings slowly reveal their fantasy world as the audience explore it with the main characters. Dragon Age just throws you right in with a brief explanation. Here is a movie that cannot decide if it wants to be Japanese anime or follow more closely to the original game fighting mechanics. We have scenes of soldiers in full armor fighting like how you would expect knights to fight. Both feet on the ground, sword to attack, shield to block. Then you have Cassandra wielding dual swords, charging, leaping and kung-fu-ing IN FULL ARMOR in your typical over-the-top Japanese anime fashion. Suspension of disbelief can only be take so far when there is no explanation at all for Cassandra's superhuman abilities.
This brings us to the aforementioned action scenes and the overall visual standard of the film. The actual designs and detailing within scenes is breathtaking considering the show's modest budget. Lighting, reflections and other effects are rather good. The only downfall is in the animation of the characters themselves. Hair flop around in clumps like thick wet noodles, creatures and animals in motion have an unnatural stiffness to them. Motion Capture seems to be used for some scenes to animated the human characters and these show very smooth and fluid motion. The faster paced and more over-the-top combat scenes however seem to be key framed and that's where the character movements are stiff, jerky and unnatural. Closeups and jittery camera effects, along with the cel shading, help to hide all those technical shortcomings. Nonetheless, the keen eye can pick those flaws out easily.
Like the animation, the characters are also hit and miss. While the show does showcase some excellent vocal performances, some of the voice actors seem to struggle with keeping their accents consistent. Colleen Clinkenbeard especially delivers a passionate rendition of Cassandra's fiery personality. Sadly she cannot decide if Cassandra is American, British or Italian. Switching to the Japanese audio does not help matters as some roles seem miscast (Cassandra sounds too young) and the seiyuu are generally over-acting their parts. Inconsistency also extends to the soundtrack which switches between Gothic inspired medieval melodies and modern electronic riffs.
Pretty much every good aspect of Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker has a counterpoint. The story is engaging, the dialogue is snappy, the acting is solid. Yet the convoluted backstory and slipping accents weight down those assets. A lot of attention was paid to crafting and designing the characters and CGI sets yet little effort was put into actually animating the characters. Visually, this movie looks exactly like 2004's "Appleseed"(a science fiction CGI movie that used similar cel shading techniques). When your movie looks only as good as something from 8 years ago, either technology has come to a standstill or CGI animators are getting lazy.
This show could have been so much more. A skilled writer could have turned this into a witty jab at the ancient Church's power during the middle ages, or even a jab at religious extremism and zealotry. Alas, those would forever remain lost opportunities. It's mediocre visuals, needlessly complex narrative and reliance on backstory might alienate all audiences. Even fans of the game might be turned off by the weak portrayal of enemies like Ogres and how different Cassandra looks here compared to her in-game appearance. What could have been an animated fantasy epic with brains ends up as a run-of-the-mill excuse to cash in on the name of a video game.