New from Japan: Anime Film Reviews
OAV movie, 1986. Director: Shunji Oga. 68 minutes. Price & format: video $19.95 dubbed; DVD $24.95 bilingual. Distributor: Manga Entertainment.
One of the most prestigious artists associated with anime is Yoshitaka Amano. He began as a 15-year-old character designer for Japanese TV cartoons in the early 1970s. Today he is a fantasy artist of international repute far beyond anime. Among his recent American projects are the art design for 1001 Nights, a 1999 fine-art film commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and the full-color art plates for Neil Gaiman's 1999 de luxe fantasy novel Sandman: The Dream Hunters. Most previous Amano anime works like Vampire Hunter D are available in America, but Amon Saga, a July 1986 video feature, has not been; although those who have seen the Japanese release have said that it was a big disappointment.
Amon Saga is now available and the rumor is confirmed. Amano had wanted to try his hand at drawing an adventure comic book, and teamed up with writer Baku Yumemakura to produce this manga novel in the 1980s. This is an animated movie adaptation of that novel. Amano receives screen credits as co-author and character design supervisor, though the actual character designers are Shingo Araki and Michi Himeno working from Amano's manga art designs.
Amano's original art on the video cover is about the only thing Amon Saga has going for it. The adventure is a pedestrian chain of sword-and-sorcery cliches. The fantasy world of Granmall is being brutally conquered by evil Emperor Valhiss (who bears a strong resemblance to Jack Kirby's master supervillain, Darkseid) through his sadistic henchmen, warlord Denon and wizard Mabo. Amon, a handsome lone warrior, joins a group of bravos being recruited into Valhiss' army. Amon wants revenge against the three tyrants for killing his mother during their conquest of his homeland. Amon forms a friendship among several of his fellow recruits (a brawny giant, a thief, an archer -- all the stereotypical roles for a fantasy quest). The heroic band hack and slash their way through an hour's worth of monsters and sorcerous deathtraps to get to the villains, not incidentally rescuing Valhiss' beauteous prisoner, Princess Lichia, on the way. Amano's exquisitely detailed art (based upon roughly 10th century A.D. Central Asian and Hindi architecture and costuming) has had to be so simplified for this very limited animation production that little remains besides the outlines. Animation production credit is given to Cente Studio, though judging by the names of so many other studios in the credits, Cente's role must have been in the basic planning and the editing together of individual scenes farmed out to small animation studios all around Tokyo.
9- to 14-year-old boys may enjoy the nonstop action of a battle every five minutes against sea monsters, wolfmen, giant spiders, dragons, demonic sorcerers and lots of Romanesque swordsmen. Amon Saga is otherwise worthwhile only to completists of Amano's art. It is not a valid sample of his talent.
Fred Patten has written on anime for fan and professional magazines since the late 1970s.