Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker (Blu-ray/DVD), Early Review
By Marc | May 7th, 2012
The Fanboy Review is back with its second ever joint review! Join Alex and me as we take an early look at the first animated adaptation of the popular Dragon Age franchise.
Co-produced by EA and Funimation Entertainment, Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker made its debut in Japanese cinemas back in February and will be hitting US shelves on May 29. This is the first bit of animation that is a Funimation ‘original’ (rather than a licensed film/show.) How does their first original production hold up?
No packaging to review this time, screener didn’t include the retail packaging. What we can tell you is that this is a three disk set, consisting of a DVD with the English version of the film, a DVD with the Japanese version of the film, and a Blu-ray with both versions. The DVDs will be available in their own set without the Blu-ray.
Making its first appearance in 2009—which is still pretty new as far as we’re concerned—BioWare’s Dragon Age has gone from being a single video game, to a popular, crossmedia franchise. Today, fans of the original game can purchase a sequel, several novels andcomics, a tabletop RPG, and even action figures of some of the characters! It seems only natural, then, that this fantasy world would take a step into the world of television and movies: that’s where Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker comes in.
The story, which sits somewhere between high fantasy and swords & sorcery, details the past of Cassandra Pentaghast, a character fans will remember from the second game, and explains how she rose to her prominent position. We join Cassandra when she’s still a low-ranking yet promising member of the Seekers of the Truth, an order that exists to root out corruption and protect their religious order, the Chantry, from both external and internal threats. What begins as a battle against an evil order of mages and the rescue of a kidnapped elven girl quickly spirals into one such internal threat, leading to a story full of intrigue and conspiracies within the Chantry itself. Cassandra, who has despised all mages following a tragic event in her youth, is forced to team up with a well meaning magic user named Regalyan d’Marcall (Galyan to his friends), and must get over her own prejudices in order to protect what she believes in from the sorcerers who truly deserve her scorn.
Though this story focuses on a conspiracy, it’s also heavy on the action. There seems to be a sword fight every few minutes, often leading to gore and dismemberment, though never becoming pointlessly gratuitous. Our two heroes find themselves up against armies, sorcerers, demonic-looking beasts, golems, and more—and through it all, Cassandra never ceases to amaze by charging in head first and slicing through every enemy with her simple sword. They don’t call this girl a dragon hunter for nothing!
It all sounds like a recipe for a great flick, but, unfortunately, there were one or two flaws. The most obvious one for us was that while someone with no knowledge of Dragon Age can watch, follow, and even enjoy the film, it feels just a little bit generic when viewed from such a perspective. You’ve got swords, sorcery, dragons, elves—all that good stuff—but what sets it apart from every other fantasy story with the same? Neither of us knew the first thing about Dragon Age going into this, and without that knowledge, this film didn’t feel like it had any sort of hook. We couldn’t help thinking, “If you’ve seen one fantasy, you’ve seen them all.”
Now, maybe the above paragraph isn’t being fair. This film was made for the fans, not for clueless people like us, right? And for those fans there is a hook: it’s the same world from the games, and it explores the history of a familiar character. In fact, upon doing a little research into the franchise, we found that the Dragon Age world is a rich, intricate, fleshed out and very interesting place, which is an impression we just didn’t get from watching the movie alone. This is a shame, and we can only conclude that Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker isn’t the best place to start if you’re new to the franchise.
Another flaw unrelated to Dragon Age knowledge may have been the length. This is a full ninety minute long movie, and while the pace doesn’t exactly drag, there was a point where Alex thought, “This feels like it’s nearing the end,” only to find there was still more than a third to go. We can’t help but feel that some of that time could have been used to develop some of the characters some more; several were interesting and had potential, but we only learned the basics about them. The worst has to be the elven mage, Avexis, who, despite being integral to the plot, has zero lines from start to finish. The official website claims that she originally had dialogue and that the director chose to remove it and leave her as a strong silent type; unfortunately, we feel this left her as not much of a character at all. She’s nothing but a walking MacGuffin—minus the walking, since she’s just carried from one place to another until the very end.
However, it’s not all bad. The story is about Cassandra, after all, and with the help of Galyan, and likeable character in his own right, she clearly does grow and overcome some of her personal demons over the course of the film. Throw in an exciting climax that makes the somewhat slow build-up more forgiveable, and you’ve got yourself a good enough fantasy adventure.
One of the film’s stronger points is its animation. It’s all CGI, but there are moments—mostly scenery shots or close-ups of small animals—where Alex felt you could just about mistake it for live action. The human characters are a lot less realistic in appearance, but the way they move can be impressive, and one or two of the fight scenes had quite good choreography. Each character had a unique look and shape to them, and some of the locations, particularly the giant courtyard towards the end, were simply beautiful to look at.
Unfortunately once you pay more attention you start to notice issues. Very often everything looks nearly perfect and gorgeous, other times characters hair or armor have line stutter. And other times it appears characters have been pasted onto pre-existing backgrounds (looking alot like early Resident Evil games or PS1-era RPGs.) Much of this can be hidden by movement, but if you do notice, it can be a heavy distraction.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Japanese and English cuts of the film are slightly different, which leads to each getting it’s own DVD, and it’s own encode on the Blu-ray. Both get plenty of room to breathe on the Blu-ray and we don’t believe sharing a disk lead to any of the video problems, rather we believe they were issues with the production itself.
Japanese- AVC, 23984 kbps, 1080p
Both audio tracks get rich Dolby TrueHD tracks. The only oddity worth mentioning is that unlike most of their anime releases, Funimation’s English track here only gets 16-bit audio and not 24. There is a normal 5.1 Dolby track at 448k embedded in both, which we believe to be identical to the DVD audio.
The music was good, but not great. There were no pieces that stuck out, seemed catchy, or were memorable. However, that also means that nothing stood out as bad. It was fitting and subtle, and the people arranging it knew when a scene would be better with a bit of silence. As such, we wouldn’t recommend buying Dawn of the Seeker OST, but it gets the job done nonetheless.
The Funimation dub (as it’s called in the credits) for this release is a fairly strong one. It’s not the best voice acting you’ll ever hear, nor is it anything to write home about, but it’s not the sort of thing you listen to and say, “Oh yeah, that’s a dub all right.” In fact, Alex had to ask whether it was made in English and translated into Japanese or vice versa, which is always a good sign. The voices fit the characters, at least as far as we’re concerned, but it might be worth pointing out that they’re not the same actors who provided the voices for the games. Cassandra, for instance, is voiced here by Colleen Clinkenbeard, whereas her in-game voice was provided by Miranda Raison. We can’t say whether this will mean anything to the gamers already familiar with the character, but if not, you shouldn’t have too many complaints. There are plenty of actors who avid Funimation consumers will no doubt recognize, such as Chuck Huber (Android 17 and Emperor Pilaf in Dragon Ball), John Swasey (Dodoria in Dragon Ball and Crocodile in One Piece), and J. Michael Tatum (Zarbon in Dragon Ball Z Kai and Scar in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood); and they all do a good job with their respective roles.
As we mentioned, Alex wasn’t sure which audio track came first, and this remains a bit of a mystery even now. The credits call the English track the “Funimation dub”, but does that mean it came after the Japanese track? When we looked closely at both the English and Japanese versions of the film, we found that the lip flaps match the English track much better than the Japanese, which might indicate that the English audio was a pre-lay and the animation was made to match. As such, we’re not going to give this one a dub grade, but if we did it would no doubt get a good score.
The only thing that makes the Blu-ray’s extras different from the DVD’s is the production art gallery, an old staple of anime releases. On the DVD it’s a standard gallery that you can scroll through with your remote’s arrow keys, but for the Blu-ray they’ve made it a video stream, complete with background audio.
There’s also a trailer for Mass Effect, which is really just production art with audio over it.
Show: C+ (We can only judge this through our Dragon Age newbie eyes. After a second viewing Alex felt the pacing and flow of the story didn’t seem so bad—which also happened to be after his research—so perhaps even that is a result of us being clueless about some of the things the characters are discussing.)
Packaging: N/A (This early screener came with no packaging.)
Video Quality: B (Well done encode with some unfortunate production issues at times.)
Audio Quality: A- (Good quality audio, only hurt by the ‘genericness’ of it at times.)
Extras: B (There’s a decent mix of extras. The behind the scenes featurette was of particular interest, showing how much enthusiasm the creators have for this franchise.)
Overall (not an average): B- (A serviceable film for anyone looking for fantasy, would likely mean a lot more to a Dragon Age fan.)
©2010 EA International (Studio and Publishing) LTD. © Dragon Age Project. All Rights Reserved by FUNimation/T.O. Entertainment