The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Gedo Senki

Title: Gedo Senki aka Tales from Earthsea aka Tales of Ged
Company: Studio Ghibli
Genre: Drama
Format: Movie; 115 minutes.
Date: 29 July 2006

Synopsis: A kingdom is in turmoil; its king has been murdered, and Prince Arren has gone missing. Famine spreads across the land, and dragon sightings bring the citizens to near panic. A wandering wizard named Ged discovers the troubled prince wandering the desert and saves him from a pack of wolves. Afterwards, the two decide to travel together and investigate the evil looming over all the towns. One fateful encounter with a girl with a scar on her face leads them upon the machinations of a dark witch, who may be behind all the disturbances in the country, but what is the source of the visions troubling Prince Arren’s mind?

The Highlights
Pacing: Awfully slow and droll.
Setting: Typical fantasy kingdoms world; nothing stands out.
Finish: Equal parts confounding and appalling; brings the story down another level.

Gedo Senki, or Tales of Ged, is Miyazaki Goro’s first directorial project, and perhaps was to be a first step to taking his well-regarded father’s place at Studio Ghibli when the elder Miyazaki decided to end his career. But the rookie turned in a plain and uninspired film that is confused in direction and wanting in execution.

Being an adaption of Ursula K. LeGuin‘s modestly popular Earthsea novels, one would think that animating an already established story and fantasy world would ease the creative filmmaking process, but the movie has copious problems at just keeping the basics straight. Some events that force plot progression remain perplexingly unexplained, like the prince’s decision that lead him to running away from home in the first place. The characters do what the plot dictates, often with background figures being blissfully ignorant of everything. There’s a scene where Ged rescues Arren from a heavily guarded slave cart, but the other captives barely lift their heads to the action around them, much less speak. There’s another part where Arren wanders into a marsh alone and meets his doppelganger, which splits me between, “Why did he go alone into a marsh?” and “Why does he even have a doppelganger?!” Motivations are as mysterious as the magic system at work in this world, and while “reason by magic” is a long established convention in many fantasy tales, neither the magic nor logic is given any lip service in Gedo Senki. Further compounding these problems are conveniently changing power levels and scenes that curiously appear to serve no point at all. Lacking clear direction to offset these issues, the entire production erodes into a wandering and boring mess.

This sort of bare-bones storytelling style extends to its generic fantasy setting, with typical feudal western towns and farms, equally nameless as they are unmemorable. The good guys spend about half the film living on a small farm doing everyday farm work. This is where the pacing of the film really suffers. They plow fields and mend fences, and as I’m watching this, I could feel myself nodding off like I was back in high school waiting for class to end so I could go home and, I don’t know, watch anime.

However, it’s ultimately not the generic setting or dangling plot threads that kills this movie. It’s the lack of enthusiasm. There isn’t a single moment where I think, “Wow! That’s cool/poignant/funny!” I feel that Gedo Senki was only going through the motions, and as a result, it has no appeal and is a chore to sit through. Contrast with Ponyo, which doesn’t have the most intellectually demanding story, but it’s such a feast for the senses that it’s still a joy to watch despite some pronounced failings.

I cannot finish this review without mentioning the ending. While most of the film is merely hollow and boring, the climax takes it to a whole new level. As the magic plot devices come to fruition, Arren confronts the cardboard cutout of a villain atop a stone castle, and then arrives to one of the most stupefying pieces of deus ex machina I’ve ever seen. We’re talking on the level of all-time worst here. Since giving away major spoilers in a review is bad form, let’s just say I was left staring, mouth agape, brow furrowed, slowly exhaling “What?” to no one in particular.

“Wasted potential” is a phrase I feel gets overused, but it aptly describes how I feel about Miyazaki Goro’s directorial debut. The ingredients were there for Gedo Senki to be a compelling character study of a troubled youth in a well realized fantasy world, and halfway through I thought, I hoped, it could still turn around and be that movie. But that never materialized, the execution and focus to pull these elements together just weren’t there, and I was left only with a feeling of enormous disappointment. I can’t recommend Gedo Senki to anyone except the most hardcore Studio Ghibli completionists.

The Rating: 3

Reviewed by: kadian1364

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