Not So Fantastical Dragons

The Cover of Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals Episode III—Dragon Chapter.

The Cover of Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals Episode III—Dragon Chapter.

The designs of the dragons in Dungeons & Dragons have skewed my image of them to the point they are the de facto image of dragons for me. But, now I want to imagine them based on the dragon in Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals Episode IIIDragon Chapter.

Since the production of the OVA (original video anime) Dallos in 1983, it’s baffling to think how many OVAs have been released. But, it seems as though the production of OVAs has slowly evolved since their inception. Where many of the early productions seemed akin to feature length films, currently the moniker “short film” appears to apply much better. This doesn’t mean there are no more OVAs that are feature length films, but a majority of them no longer fit that title. Yet, there are very few OVA series reminiscent of film serials from the 1930s and ‘40s. After watching the first two installments of Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals, I failed to notice the similarity between the styling of film serials and this series. However, after watching the opening of the third installment of Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals (ファイナルファンタジー Fainaru Fantaji) Episode IIIDragon Chapter (Episode III—竜の章 Ryu no Sho), I couldn’t help but think of film serials from the 1930s and ‘40s. This was also an installment that was far more action-packed than the previous two and as such the pacing felt much smoother. What had me intrigued the most, though, were the designs of two creatures seen in the OVA series as a whole.

There are a number of definitions for a feature length film, but two of the most prominent are from the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences and the Screen Actors Guild. The Academy states any film over forty minutes is eligible for an award for a feature length film, while the Guild’s requirements are for over eighty minutes. However, most modern features generally have a runtime between seventy to two hundred and ten minutes, though these numbers vary. I mention this because when looking at OVAs it can be difficult to define different series and even episodes within a series. For example, looking at the Megazone 23 franchise, the first two installments of the OVA are certainly feature length films by both definitions. Yet, by contrast a series like Denpa Teki na Kanojo only met the requirements of the Academy. Nonetheless, more OVAs find themselves in the realm of short films—though it’s far easier to refer to them as episodes or installments.

This lack of uniformity within the OVA industry can make it difficult to classify series, especially considering some, such as the Key the Metal Idol series, don’t have standard runtimes. In spite of this, there are instances where an OVA series mirrors the practices of genre film or film serials and adapts their filming techniques. As I stated in regards to Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Ge, the OVA adapted Colombia Pictures famous Torch Lady and older Japanese film practices. I enjoyed how the OVA did this and to see other OVAs try their hand at it is refreshing to say the least. But, if there were an approach I would like to see in long narrative OVAs, it would be adapting the practices of film serials from the late 1930s, particularly the short recap of prior events. This is not to say OVAs don’t do this, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn most certainly did, but it’s not a widely used technique.

In this regard I greatly appreciated the use of a text scroll before each installment of Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals. However, it wasn’t until I watched the Dragon Chapter that I fully understood why the production team chose to use it. When looking back at the original release schedule of the series, March 21, 1994 to July 21, 1994, we have to consider a few pieces of information as to why such an intro crawl was useful. The first is, unlike today, where we can access large swaths of information thanks to the internet, the early 1990s was still an era when accessing information via the internet was difficult. Thus, having the intro crawl certainly made it far easier for viewers to understand the plot very quickly. Granted, the installments of the OVA series were released within a relatively short time span of each other, but this was where another important use of the intro crawl can be seen. As a modern audience we don’t fully appreciate this, but the intro crawl is a great way to inform audiences of past events in the series while at the same time getting them excited about the events to come. The Star Wars film franchise is a great example of this.

Prettz, Linaly, and Mid with Queen Lenna and a Blue Mage before entering the Dragons Layer.

Prettz, Linaly, and Mid with Queen Lenna and a Blue Mage before entering the Dragons Layer.

Examining the opening text crawl in Stars Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, we can see it was divided into three sections. The first section was no more than an introduction to the Star Wars universe. The second informed the audiences of what was at stake in the film and why we should care if the heroes failed in their quest. The final section was perhaps the most ingenious, though. Here we received a retrospective of the events leading up to the opening of the film. These three sections provided key pieces of information to express almost everything we as an audience needed to know before the film even began. While the opening text crawls in Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals were certainly not on the same level as the Star Wars franchise, they had the same purpose. Consequently, this made Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals engaging in the same way older film serials from the 1930s and ‘40s were. So, while it may seem frivolous to include an intro crawl in a series like Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals, after watching the Dragon Chapter, I felt they had a great impact on the viewing experience.

The impact of the intro crawl was most noticeable in regards to the pacing of the Dragon Chapter as well. Whereas I felt the previous two installments were slow in their buildup to the action, here very little time was spent on exposition. Granted, much of the world building occurred during the Wind Chapter and the Fire Chapter, removing the need for it in the Dragon Chapter. However, the extremely short expository scene in the opening minutes of the film helped guide the story into the action. It not only set up the final confrontation of the series, but also focused on the action for this installment. For example, when Prettz and company had their audience with the Queen of Tycoon, Lenna, we learned where the Ra Devil forces were coming from—the setup for the final installment—and what the characters had to do to get there—the events of the Dragon Chapter. Yet, it wasn’t just the setup that was executed well as the progression of the action itself was griping from the beginning and what few breaks there were only helped add to the excitement.

What I mean by this is about fifteen minutes into this installment there was a lull in the action. Reading this may seem disappointing, but consider, if an entire episode of a TV series was based on action it would feel as though it was just a rush of adrenaline. Thus, in Dragon Chapter the lulls provided a nice break to see how the characters worked through difficult challenges while providing ample time to segue into the climax of the installment. The Wind Chapter had a similar moment of the characters working through a puzzle to build to the climax when Prettz and Linaly entered the Air temple and the Dragon Chapter repurposed this idea rather well. However, in the Dragon Chapter, it came in the form of finding the shrine—or perhaps it was a temple, Japanese can be funny with its terminology at times—of a dragon, rather than retrieving the Air Crystal. While there may not have been much combat action per se, there was tension surrounding how the characters would access the shrine, which made the scene interesting in its own right and greatly helped smooth the pace of the action.

However, I will say I found the design of the dragon rather comical. In fact, all the creature designs in Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals were amusing to some degree. So we have an understanding of what I’m talking about, thus far only two creatures have been seen in the OVA series: the iconic chocobo and the dragon. I understand this is a personal preference more than anything else, but when looking at the rich character and creature designs by Yoshitaka Amano, the character and creature designer for the games Final Fantasy I through VI, and the unintelligent expressions the creatures had in the OVAs, the gap was startling. That’s not to say they weren’t creative in their design, but rather they were a departure from what fans of the Final Fantasy franchise are used to. It’s rather challenging to explain, but I felt it involved the creatures’ eyes more than anything else. They were very reminiscent of Rumiko Takahashi’s style of obtuse eyes, but modified to a degree. Fans of the medium will understand when I say, apply the eyes of Happosai from Rania ½ when he is up to no good to the chocobo in the Wind Chapter and the dragon in the Dragon Chapter and you will have a fair approximation of the image I’m trying to convey.

As the second to last installment in the Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals series, the Dragon Chapter was far more entertaining than the previous two. Having an understanding of film serials and feature films had an impact on the viewing experience, particularly with the opening text crawl. The quick segue into the action was appreciated as well since many of the expository scenes in the previous installments were rather monotonous and detracted from the overall action. While the designs of both the dragon and chocobo were humorous to say least, the departure from Yoshitaka Amano’s style was rather bold. I would have preferred a more regal design, yet I can’t help but feel the designs used in the series fit the overall tone of the art style. Though not the most exciting OVA I have ever watched, as the third installment in the series, Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals Episode IIIDragon Chapter was far more entertaining than the previous two.

Work Info
Title:
Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals Episode IIIDragon Chapter (ファイナルファンタジー Episode III—竜の章Fainaru Fantaji  Episode III Ryu no Sho)
Under: Madhouse, Square-Enix
Official Site: N/A
More Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_Fantasy:_Legend_of_the_Crystals

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