When a strange impulse compels Prince Arren to kill his father, he finds himself fleeing for his life, unable to trust even himself. Through a chance meeting with the wizard Ged, however, Arren finds himself drawn into a whole new series of events- one that must inevitably end in a confrontation with the ambitious mage known as Cob.
With the directorial reins of this Ghibli film having been handed from the legendary Hayao Miyazaki to his son Goro, Tales of Earthsea was always going to be a film that attracted much comment and scrutiny, but for me it was something I could never really be bothered to watch- until the day family members unexpectedly came home with the DVD. By this late stage in the game, I was already aware of the mixed reviews the film had accrued elsewhere, but how would it fare on the Azure Flame “400 anime” scale?
Unfortunately, for all the hype that the creators and distributors might whip up, Earthsea is something of a disappointment- a film that will please casual anime viewers, but not one that will do much for committed fans. The framework of the story is the usual one of pure-hearted good versus ambitious evil, and whilst we can forgive the film for going down such a well-travelled route, there is still much to complain about. The reason why Prince Arren killed his father and the alternate personality he seems to possess are never properly explained, and in fact make less sense at the end of the film that they did at the beginning. Revelations involving other characters are equally sloppy, whilst throughout the film entire outlooks and ideologies are easily swayed by a few paragraphs of clichéd rhetoric. Even the customary final boss battle is something of a disappointment- quite a hard feat for such an overused gimmick.
Visually, Earthsea is up there with the other Ghibli films, offering impressive settings and well-choreographed action scenes alongside the usual simple but technically competent character designs. Background music is solid but largely unremarkable; however, overall the presentation does help to improve the viewing experience, offering a well-polished sheen that ensures some scenes are more enjoyable than their basic content would suggest.
Earthsea is one of those films that you watch more to say you’ve seen it than to derive a great deal of enjoyment from it, for whilst it isn’t particularly awful, nor does it really make it past mediocre. It’ll please family and friends who want to pick up a readily available DVD that’ll let them say they’ve watched some anime, but for the more discerning connoisseur, there are many other series, films and OVAs that your time could be better spent on.