Review: Amon Saga
Genre: Fantasy Action
What’s Incuded: Sword fights, Mass desctruction (a few cities get stepped on), Random Beasties (such as an Ape-Dragon), Magic (which is just…odd), Fantasy, Tragedy (a little), and an Alternate World.
The storyline is a quite simple to understand for a 1986 creation. Amon is a young warrior, wandering the land in search of the city of Valhiss – a traveling fortress atop the back of a mountainous turtle – to get his revenge. Within that city is the evil Emperor Valhiss, seeking to conquer the world. But he has a special captive – the beautiful princess Lichia, his way of gaining the possession of a map leading to the Valley of Gold. Amon is joined on his quest by a group of ragtag mercaneries all with their own personal missions.
Amon Saga certainly has promise from the standpoint of its pedigree, spawned from a story and art in which the great Yoshitaka Amano, the master behind the conceptual art for the Final Fantasy series as well as the character designs for Vampire Hunter D, was one of the contributors. The story is fairly standard fantasy fare, but from a fairy tale standpoint, everything you need is there as well; captured princesses, wandering swordsmen, and turtle-borne cities. The end result was not memorable, but (not surprisingly) very similar to Vampire Hunter D: somewhat old fashioned and far from original, but it still has some style.
Standing on its own, the story may not have been anything to write home about, but it did both capture a classic fantasy feel and solidly tie toether the variety of action scenes the movie was built on. To be fair, it did have a collection of cool little fairy tale moments (the ground trembling as Valhiss approached, climactic battles amid burning golden temples, and even a princess laying eyes, Shakespeare-style, on an unknown hero from the window of her bedroom prison). I also liked that the story didn’t seem to quite follow the standard fantasy pattern of “who ended up fighting who” in a dramatic battle, and how each battle would end – several encounters seemed more realistically messy. Also, despite the grand settings, most of the production had a surprisingly close feel – sparsely populated cities and relatively down-to-earth, small scale battles gave the sense of this being more of a personal Saga than a grand quest. This wasn’t entirely a good thing depending on how you look at it, but it made for a distinctive and somewhat more realistic story. The fairy tale feel also had its down side, a few plot points were much too contrived. The princess takes a swim…and out of nowhere pops a big bad monster to rescue her from.
There wasn’t much character development, but there were a variety of familiar yet fun folks populating the story. Amon was the classic loner with a dark past, and he filled that role well without taking the aloof hero thing too far (he still did display some emotion, and wasn’t totally immune to what was going on around him). That, combined with the fact that he wasn’t one of those ultimately powerful, “I’m too cool for these villians” guys (he wasn’t even notably tougher than most of the other hero-types), made him a pleasant change from the average loner. The rest of the ragtag band he gets caught up with were similar stories – classic fantasy stereotypes (the big, bad, good natured guy, the shadowy elven archer, and so on) but with enough personality to keep them interesting (well, except the elf, who was so shadowy he only appears three times and speaks just the once in the end two minutes). There wasn’t much to the villians, but at least they were properly menacing and seemed competent enough to put up a good fight without entirely outclassing the heroes.
Frankly, though, it was neither the story nor the characters that stuck in my mind; Amon was at heart an archtypal fairy tale built on action and style. From a purely technical standpoint Amon Saga was a little rough, but it stands above the average older action movie, with reasonably clean but still detailed art, a subdued pallete of earthy colors fitting the world, and above average animation. The action scenes were frequent and varied, ranging from bar brawls to creeping around enemy cities under cloak of night to grand battles with powerful swordsmen and sorcerers.
The action, though slightly hampered by older, less fluid animation, was still exciting enough for my taste and at the least kept things moving. I did really like the way the one big magical battle was handled. A weird, somewhat abstract representation of the powerful mental battle between a group of sorcerers. Some of the visuals suffered from the age and midrange budget of the production, with undetailed or just bland backgrounds, but Amano’s hand definitely showed through in places. A collection of very stylised scenes during the opening, and a handful of images like the massive city of Valhiss approaching through the mists captured a little bit of the incredible imagination and elegant, dreamlike style that make Amano’s sketches so memorable. These scenes weren’t nearly as frequent as I had hoped, but there were enough flashes of imagination and bits of pure artistic flair to distinguish Amon Saga from many of its peers. The character designs showed a little of Amano’s influence (particularly in the weird magicians), but tended much more toward realistic faces and builds, and the costumes were relatively plain with a few notably exotic exceptions (the princess’ hairstyle, for example).
I can’t speak for the Japanese, but the voice acting in English was a little broad, but all around solid, with a particularly creepy performance behind the evil sorceror and an appropriately otherworldly, booming voice for Valhiss. One down side to the dub was that in the few crowded scenes, the background noise (the din of battle or the rowdy crowd in a bar) seemed much too quiet, making these chaotic scenes feel oddly subdued. Though much of the production was quiet (which contributed to the more small-scale feel of the characters’ adventure), the music was appropriately dramatic and orchestral, with an end theme that started out sounding impressive but unfortuately ended up too modern and unoriginal.
All in all, I’d have to say that while nothing in Amon Saga stuck with me after the credits rolled, I ended up liking it more than I was expecting to. A combination of the flashes of visual creativity, not-quite-formlua characters, and plenty of action kept me interested, and I enjoyed the fairly tale story with its feet on the ground. It definitely wasn’t anything special, and I can’t strongly recommend it to anybody, but if you’re a big Amano fan, can’t get enough fantasy action, or are just in the mood for some old-school anime, it’s probably worth at least a rental.