Been a while since I dusted off an entry in the ol’ junk bin… What shall I do today? The surprisingly good “Martian Successor Nadesco”? The incredibly mediocre “Scrapped Princess”? One of my poorly-contrived video game animes? Let’s see… I’ve got “Arc the Lad”…”Tales of Phantasia”… Oh, and this one! Let’s see what the title is…AH!
Crap, this is going to go down harder than “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”.
“Final Fantasy: Unlimited”
As you may have guessed if you looked past all of my blog posts regarding “Frozen” (…which are seriously my most popular posts, I probably need to think of another way to milk that cash cow…), I am a bit of a Final Fantasy nut…or I was before the “Second Beast” known as “Final Fantasy XIII” followed the “First Beast” known as “Final Fantasy XII”. So, naturally, when I saw an anime for sale called “Final Fantasy: Unlimited”, you can guess what my first reaction was…
“Is this going to be anything like that crap ‘The Spirits Within’ or ‘Legend of the Crystals’?”
The answer was yes, and then some! But I didn’t know it at the time so I bought it. Certainly looked promising on the back. My favorite part of the series was always the summons. And as I looked through a bit of the box art, sure it looked a bit weird…but I figured they were going for some mishmash of the cyberpunk that was “Final Fantasy VII” and the craziness that was Amano’s artwork. So, I took it home, opened it up, popped that bad boy in, and started watching.
Let’s be honest…the main purpose of most animes/mangas that contain “groups” is pretty much just to set up comparisons for when the “real” hero shows up and saves the day. “Dragonball Z” was nothing more than four incredibly long plots that were meant to stall everything until Goku could appear and waste the bad guy. (Even the “Cell Game” at least had that architecture.) “One Piece” is debatably nothing more than one long series of plot twists, MacGuffins, and, of course, random events designed to break up the crew and pit them against lesser bad guys to stall the inevitable when Luffy has to beat them into a bloody pulp. (Hell, the author didn’t even really try to cover it up during the “Skypeia” arc…but that’s a whole other blog post and can of worms…) You knew full well it wasn’t going to be Sailor Mars, Sailor Venus, Sailor Jupiter, Sailor Mercury, Sailor Saturn, Sailor Nepture, Sailor Uranus, Sailor Pluto, Sailor Sedna, Sailor Quaorar, Sailor Kuiper-Belt-Object 93, or any of the other eventually-interchangable-plot-wise Senshi who ended up killing the Big Bad in every arc…it was going to be Sailor Moon as soon as she could squeeze into that white ball gown. Probably the greatest weakness of Japanese storytelling versus American is that when there’s groups, victory usually comes as a result of groups working together, while in anime the group is pretty much there just to look somewhat awesome by beating up lesser henchmen, making the big bad look awesome by getting themselves beat up, and finally completing the cycle by having the main protagonist beat the big bad up to make themselves look awesome. It’s happened so often we as otaku have gotten used to it.
So how did the writers of this failure of a series manage to screw up the formula?
The main characters are the end result of Timmy from “Lassie” being genetically cloned into twins (and that ironically is not far from the truth of the actual series…). Years ago a couple of big summoned monsters showed up in the “real world” and got into a massive fight which caused many people to disappear, including their parents. They manage to board a “Phantom Train” (seriously, the one in “Final Fantasy VI” was cooler looking and that was just a train) that takes them into a world (pardon me, series of interconnected worlds) which makes Wonderland look like Des Moines, Iowa. Tagging along with them is the enigmatic but only-slightly-less-useless-and-just-as-annoying-and-easily-helpless Lisa.
How can we characterize Lisa’s “slightly-less-than-uselessness”? Well, the main characters are totally worthless, being nothing more than annoying children, whereas Lisa is a highly-talented-yet-stereotypically-inept-teenager who knows “Kigan Arts”, which occasionally are mildly effective against very minor threats. In other words, if you dropped these three into a savage jungle to survive for a year, two of them would be fat suburbanites who had never even seen a potted plastic plant before in their lives, let alone had the slightest notion of survival experience, while the other one…would have a spoon. It wouldn’t get them very far in the grand scheme of things, but it would make them vastly superior to the fat suburbanites.
Naturally, this twisted version of Oz is run by a Big Bad who has some subordinate villains, which include one of those vain, air-laughing women who is in plant form, a masked mime who has moveable scoliosis, the world’s most smug fish-man, a bishonen with horns growing out of his hair, and a fungus knight. And who is this dastardly, bastardly big bad?
Some fat kid.
Well, the fat kid is constantly sending out his henchmen to kill the danger-prone trio, who, in turn, rarely try to do it themselves but rather hatch over-elaborate plots with subordinate monsters to get them. This forces the kids to usually spend at least 10-minutes of every episode fleeing in terror as they lack any means to fight back or weaponry and, on the rare occasions Lisa attempts to fight back, her abilities do absolutely nothing. They need to keep running around until they run into: Mr. Deus-Ex-Machina!
…I don’t remember what his real name is, but that might as well have been it. In every episode, the plot is so contrived to eventually run them into this guy who looks like an odd blend of every Final Fantasy protagonist trope ever, which means his personality is that of a brick and he usually spends his time quietly brooding. However, he DOES have a summoning gun that fires “soil bullets”. No, not Miracle-Gro…in this world, “soil” is the distilled remains of souls. Remember “Final Fantasy IX”? It’s like after the Iifa Tree finishes boiling off all of the souls into mist, there’s a bit of gritty material left like after you’re done making coffee. That’s what “soil” is: soul grounds.
By combining the right combination of three soil bullets together in his gun (and it must be pretty hard, because although he uses three different ones in every episode, he never uses the same ones twice…trust me, I was keeping count), when he shoots it, he summons one of the various summons from the series (mostly from “Final Fantasy VI” as that had the greatest pool to choose from), who appear and totally waste the enemy…provided the enemy is one of the minor ones that got brought out by the henchmen. The henchmen never get wasted. And, in true anime villain fashion, they always take their defeats in stride…returning just as arrogant as before in the face of the same attacks that defeated them easily last time. But I suppose they should as they never die…
There’s lots of other plot details going on through various episodes, but strip away the “extras” and the occasional nods to the Final Fantasy universe with inclusion of chocobos (with their song, no less), moogles, and cactuars, not to mention the Big Bad keeps eating meals derived from iconic monsters like Malboros, every episode is basically just plot devices meant to stall the inevitable moment when the guy with the summoning gun kills the threat for the episode. Granted, there are a fistful where he doesn’t…but that’s ultimately the main purpose of the series. All of the bizzare side-characters they run into such as the werewolf kid, the rebels that feature a blond, young Cid, the insane frog-eating woman who has a fetish for dressing little girls, some woman who would probably be called Cosmos nowadays, and the all-devouring-purse-from-Hell (aside from it being directly from Hell, I’m not making that up)…all just plot devices to make the viewer expect something besides the phrases you hear in every episode that are burned into my memory from repetition by now although it’s been years since I watched it:
“It has moved. Soil is my power! The Magun has thawed! The appropriate soil to use against you has been determined!”
RALPH KRAMDEN: Just shoot the bastard, Norton!
There is an overall plot of a sort to it. Turns out King Fat-Joffrey is really Chaos (not sure how we go from a ten-foot-tall, multi-limbed, Keith-David-voiced demon to Royal Cartman…) who plans to, well, either conquer or destroy all worlds that are interconnected by that train. Since he’s Chaos-embodied, that means it doesn’t matter who destroys who, bad guys or good guys, because all of it creates more chaos for him to feed on. He just needs to keep the fighting and struggling going on…which apparently was the show writers impressing their vision upon him, because all they needed to do was keep creating plot devices and monsters to throw at the heroes to keep the series going until all 26 episodes were up.
That’s nothing new. It’s kind of what the various Zentai Ranger shows did. Of course, with this setup, it would be like watching five rangers run around getting their butts kicked by the villain-of-the-week until the giant Zord comes out and just steps on the bad guy, indicating they probably should have opened with that the entire time.
…On second thought, it’s exactly like the various Zentai Ranger shows.
Well no, that’s unfair. Because even if the Rangers needed to bring out the Zord the whole time to win, at least when it came out they were the ones who did it. In this series, it’s more like the Rangers are just there to get their butts kicked and run around screaming until some third party comes in and kills the monster out of boredom. That makes your protagonists look rather pathetic. It’s like watching a superhero show for the guy, only the main focus of the plot is on some side characters like extras in a Godzilla movie. The superhero is needed to always save the day but he’s not even a main character.
Oh, there’s lots of other details… Turns out horned bishonen is one of those anime double-agents who doesn’t reveal he’s with the good guys until the bad guy is about to succeed and powerful enough to slap him down with ease… The kids’ parents are still alive but were never their parents anyway because the kids were set out by King Fat-Joffrey into our world to grow up and then be harvested now and that’s the real reason the whole series has been going on… Lisa and even Cid get episodes devoted to them and the summoning gun guy is out for revenge for the destruction of his world… King Fat-Joffrey wants to eat Omega to gain ultimate power… Blah, blah, blah… There’s even some decent scenes. I personally liked it when the aforementioned purse somehow managed to devour an evil plant while inside it’s stomach…in one bite. (F**k the time-space continuum, Einstein.) And finally seeing a moogle and cactuars brought a bit of a smile to my face. But all it boils down to is stalling the heroes from breaking into his palace and having the summoning gun guy shoot the Big Bad with Bahamut…which is more or less how the story ends (except Lisa has to do it because all of his soil was gone so he and two other characters turned themselves into soil bullets to shoot the gun one last time)… But the series is so obviously padded and extended that it’s sickening. The entire last third of the series is the group caught in a trap designed to make them keeping fighting bad guys forever to fuel chaos…and the only reason they got out was a bunch of plot devices that amounted to the writers saying: “Oh, we’re at the next to last episode. We better wrap this up.”
The funny part is this has been done before. “Samurai Jack”, “Quantum Leap”, “Lost”, pretty much every cartoon from the late 80s, early 90s… They all had the goal of dangling a carrot in front of the faces of the audience making them think the next episode was going to be the payoff or the time to finally resolve the central climax that keeps the protagonist from ever ending the series. And guess what…it worked for multiple seasons. Heck, the fourth season of “Samurai Jack” had Jack no closer to getting back to his own time but it was still considered the best one! “Quantum Leap” just kept getting more and more popular until the writers flipped off the audience in the last episode with the biggest TV “f**k you” since the ninth season of “Dallas”! Somehow this series manages to wear out its welcome before the show it half over! Maybe it’s that it was so repetitive. Maybe because it wasn’t able to even give the illusion of progress. Maybe because the characters were so damn useless, bland, or unappealing that no one would care if they get stomped on.
Whatever the reason, this turned into 26 episodes of crap. I loaned the entire series to a friend of a friend back in college and didn’t get it back after I graduated. He passed away tragically at a young age…but I have never seen the need to reclaim that series from his next of kin.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5
Catches you in a 26-episode trap that has the illusion of feeling like eternity until you die of boredom.
What You Should Do With This DVD Set: Go out after midnight to the train tracks, wait for a phantom engine to appear and stop, toss it inside, and then turn away and never look back.
…Or, just tie the DVDs to the train tracks.