Header Ads

Dragon Quest: Your Story (2019)

The Japanese animation industry is one place where 2D definitely still reigns supreme. Efforts to recreate the appeal of anime in 3D CG have been- it's fair to say- pretty mixed. Much of this is largely down to the decision by some animation studios to try not only to recreate the character design style but also the animation itself, complete with limited framerate. The result is often a hybrid that doesn't really work for fans of 2D animation or CG. Director Takashi Yamazaki (Stand By Me Doraemon, Lupin III: The First) has bucked this trend by producing CG movies that combine Japanese design sensibilities with a more classically westernised style of animation. In 2019 he turned his hand to adapting a hugely popular Square Enix JRPG game franchise for the screen with Dragon Quest: Your Story.

Dragon Quest: Your Story is based on the 1992  Super Nintendo game Dragon Quest V, and is written and directed by Yamazaki, with Ryuichi Yagi and Makoto Hanafusa as co-directors. It was released by Toho, with animation produced by Robot and Shirogumi Inc. It was released in Japanese cinemas in August 2019 and premiered internationally on Netflix on February 13 of 2020.

The film follows hero Luca as he follows in his father's footsteps and tries to rescue his mother from the grips of the villainous Ladja.  He roams the land battling monsters as he hunts down the Zenithian Sword and The Legendary Hero to wield it, who he believes to be his only hope.

Visually,  Dragon Quest is an absolute treat. The character designs do a wonderful job of capturing the appeal of the original designs while bringing them into a three-dimensional world. The original games feature the character designs of Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama and the decision not to use his style may irk some fans. If you're able to forgive that though, you may agree that the new style is perfectly suited to the film.

The characters have something of a classically 'anime' look to them while featuring much more detail in their faces. While the main character and his friends and love interest(s) look pretty archetypal, there's much more variety among side characters and background characters.  They all look excellent- except that for some reason every character has freakishly large hands. And once you notice, you can't unsee it. The animation itself is slick and characters lack the weightless feel common in some CG anime.

There's an absolute abundance of monsters and beasties for our heroes to take on and they all look suitably menacing. There's also more friendly critters, such as Lucas's pet sabre-tooth tiger, and of course the game's mascots- Slimes- make an appearance. Add in beautiful environments and locations and Dragon Quest does a first-rate job of bringing this rich fantasy world to life.

Your Story wears its video game origins proudly on its sleeves. Its backstory is even told through the original game engine, unfolding through textboxes and 16-bit sprites. Its story is taken directly from the game and is supervised by original creator Yuji Hora. It also uses an orchestrated version of the game's original music by Koichi Sugiyama.

This also proves to be one of the movie's big problems, as story-wise what works in the context of a game doesn't always translate that well to a more linear medium. The story takes place over a long period of time, starting off with the hero as a child, and following him to adulthood, through marriage and becoming a father. Many stories are able to successfully pull this off, but here it feels strangely paced and episodic, at times feeling less like a movie than a series of vignettes.

Multiple time-jumps in a relatively short space of time allow the film to cover a lot of ground but doesn't really do justice to any of the stories. There isn't really time enough to get to know any of the characters, or often get a handle on just what's going on as the film moves at such a brisk pace. It's hard not to think they would have been better served concentrating on just part of the story, or telling it through a longer form medium or series. It's no mistake that most game adaptations come up with an original story- one that is more suited to the film or series format.

Just when the film is heading to a predictable climax, it pulls out a baffling third act twist that is as unexpected as it is unnecessary. It has to earn some points for sheer audacity, but it adds unnecessary complications to the plot and shakes (if not breaks) the reality of the film's world.

Considering the game this is based on is nearly 30 years old- and that Dragon Quest is not nearly as big a deal outside Japan- it's fair to say that many people who are not familiar with the source material will be watching this film. There are times when outsiders may feel a little lost, as it seems to assume familiarity with the game and franchise. Certainly, fans of the franchise will get the most out of it, and may be willing to overlook its shortcomings- but it's harder to recommend to anybody else,

Ultimately, Dragon Quest Your Story is an exquisitely made film that should please its hardcore fan base. It's just a shame that its strange storytelling decisions and lacklustre script prevent it from ever being anything more than a pretty face.


IN A NUTSHELL:  Beautiful animation and a richly drawn world are let down by overly faithful plotting and poor pacing meaning non-fans may want to look elsewhere for their fantasy fix.