In the quiet village of Yamayura, Hakuoro, a masked man without any memory of his past, awakens to an unfamiliar world of humans with animal ears and tails. This is the world Hakuoro must live in now, and in time, he will not only gain a name, but also followers, allies, and an empire of his own. But will his newfound nation survive the machinations of opposing countries and the truth about his mysterious past?
Although it could easily be argued that I’ve written more than enough about Utawarerumono, it didn’t feel right to let the series go without some kind of final review to tie up all my feelings about it. This will be a little different than a standard review, simply because for me, Uta was a series of two halves, “before playing game” (episodes 1-12) and “after game” (episodes 13-26), with my perspective accordingly changed by experience with the source material.
Based on the trailer and early episodes, it initially seemed as if Utawarerumono would be the anime adaptation that the Suikoden video games never got- a pastoral fantasy of empire building, battles, and many named characters. It was this idea that promised such potential, but unfortunately, the series was set to deliver something rather different.
Although it only became abundantly clear in the ‘post game’ era, Uta was not to be so much an epic adventure as one that skirted (and often crossed into) the realms of cheese and unintentional hilarity. Despite being able to forge his own empire within the space of six episodes, Hakuoro seems more concerned with creating his own harem than in any kind of statecraft, whilst his opponents seem about as deep and effective as pantomime villains (for further examples, see my Uta parodies). Even the fantasy aspect was ruined somewhat when it was discovered that the Uta world was in fact the far future of a generic sci-fi era.
That being said, there is something oddly addictive about Uta. Perhaps it was the infinite possibilities that the setting seemed to provide, or maybe it was as simple as the beauty of the better character designs, but despite its many flaws, Uta demanded attention throughout its run. In the post game era, it became clear the story was not going to have the depth of the game (in fact, the pacing of the series’ second half was questionable at best), but nonetheless it became important to continue watching and see the game events and characters in animated form.
Visually, Uta is an extremely mixed bag. Backgrounds are usually well drawn, but character designs range from the aesthetically pleasing to the downright ugly, and action scenes are the most variable aspect of them all. When main characters are fighting, some effort is put into their swordplay, but battles involving generic warriors (all of whom have been cloned from the same man) are laughably bad. Woptar (lizard) mounted cavalry lurch around in eternally looping CG, whilst foot soldiers half-heartedly raise their swords and lurch back and forth on the spot.
Although it had its scattered strong moments, ultimately Utawarerumono was unable to deliver as anything other than a gateway to the game and parody source. I will always recall the franchise fondly, but not so much because the anime had a great deal in the way of merit, as because it could have been so much more.