Dragon Age: Origins is one of BioWare's bestselling titles and continues their rich tradition of creating gritty worlds, complex characters, and mature plots. When I first heard about Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker and that FUNimation was going to be working closely with BioWare and Oxybot to produce it, I felt cautiously optimistic. Could this possibly be the first step towards properly adapting Western intellectual properties (IPs) into a Japanese medium? With too many flops and not enough solid, let alone exceptional, titles of this breed out in the world, it was hard to be too excited. Does Dawn of the Seeker finally turn the tide? Hit the jump to find out.
As anime has become increasingly popular in the West, fans have often fantasized about their favorite Western franchises getting the Japanese treatment. Unfortunately, what fans picture and what production studios produce are often entirely different, and usually not in a good way. There seems to be a very large disconnect between what producers and consumers consider desirable for anime based on Western IPs. Many different things have been blamed for this, from Western studios not having enough control over these projects to studios relying too heavily on anime tropes, and there isn’t a consensus on what makes a Western IP-turned-anime good or bad.
Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker follows Cassandra, a young seeker, as she hunts down a group of blood mages who are attempting to overthrow the Chantry. In the Dragon Age universe, all mages may be potentially assaulted and subverted by demons just for using magic, and this has cultivated a culture that is very harsh towards them. The Chantry is the dominant religious power in Dragon Age, and they employ the Templar to guard, watch, and if necessary, hunt any and all mages. Mages are either part of the Circle, a kosher group of mages watched closely by the Templar and Chantry, or they’re most likely blood mages, rogues who consort with demons and use dark magic. The Seekers, Cassandra’s group, are responsible for watching over the Templar and mages alike, and have nearly unlimited power to do so. The power play between blood mages, the Circle, Templar, Seekers, and the Chantry influences a very large portion of the politics of Dragon Age, and is the central conflict in Dawn of the Seeker.
One of the toughest things any adaptation needs to pull off is finding a happy medium between pleasing existing fans of the franchise and appealing to newcomers. Fortunately, this movie is very approachable regardless of the viewer’s level of knowledge about the Dragon Age universe, and does a great job of staying true to the lore. The information dump at the beginning felt a little overbearing, but people should catch on fairly quickly to the gist of the plot. I was a little disappointed that some of the details are glossed over, like how exactly the Templar and Seekers fit into the grand scheme of human society, as well as just why mages are so mistrusted. Regardless, the main ideas are presented clearly, and fans should be pleased with how true to the lore Dawn of the Seeker is.
Two of the strongest points about this movie are the action and animation. If you’re at all worried about the quality of either, don’t be. Oxybot did a fantastic job of chucking magic, dragons, and ogres galore at the audience. At times it did feel a little stale and uninspired, but those were rare moments in a bloody swirl of swords and staves. I was very impressed with how the abilities of each character matched what you would expect them to be in the Dragon Age universe. There were a few feats and acrobatic stunts that had me scratching my head in confusion, but by in large, both fans and newcomers alike should appreciate the fights in this movie.
Artistically, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Dawn of the Seeker. Oxybot has a great track record with Appleseed Ex Machina and Vexille, and they deliver high quality animation, textures, and renders. The only problem I have with their inclusion on the project is that Oxybot’s pedigree is founded on science fiction that deals in stylish mechs, glittering cities, and generally sleek visuals. Again, I can’t stress enough that Dawn of the Seeker looks great, but its style conflicts with the gritty Western fantasy aesthetic of the Dragon Age video games. This issue is definitely on the nitpicky side, but it’s something that nagged at me throughout the movie.
The biggest issue I have with this movie is the script. I felt like I was watching the pilot to a Saturday morning cartoon, and there’s a very good reason why. Dawn of the Seeker is written by Jeffrey Scott, a man who’s written for Dragon Tales, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Muppet Babies, Duck Tales, and more. The majority of his projects have focused on stories targeted towards young children and teenagers. Clearly he’s written some great stuff, I’m not going to talk smack about everyone’s favorite mutant turtles, but his repertoire is out of sync with the tone of Dragon Age.
There’s nothing wrong with the script conceptually, but in practice everything feels very black and white. What Dawn of the Seeker nails is the political strife between the three major factions within human society, but it doesn’t have the character depth and moral complexity to back it up. The game provided a very rich and complex political and social structure for numerous nations and species of people, but simply adhering to these foundations is not enough to make a great story. Even though the organizations are morally grey, save perhaps the blood mages, the individual characters can be all too easily pegged as good or evil.
Unfortunately, contrary to BioWare's renowned storytelling abilities, all of the characters are very two dimensional. Cassandra is a hotheaded but promising soldier, Galyan, Cassandra’s impromptu partner, is a smooth but serious mage, and Frenic, the big bad, is a morally twisted mage with a chip on his shoulder. Conceptually, there’s nothing wrong with these archetypes, but they weren’t handled in a way that was subtle or complex. I’m confident that a little bit of rewriting would be all that’s necessary to fix this issue. The plot definitely lends itself to exploring the depth of each character and the mature themes BioWare and FUNimation are clearly trying to explore, but you just can’t get away with simplistic characterization if you’re creating a one-shot feature film for a mature audience.
The voice acting and music were the standard fare you would expect from an epic fantasy. Both English and Japanese voice actors did a great job and the sound effects were solid (except for a few magic orb attacks that sounded like bullets being fired). I would have liked to see a little bit more style with the audio, but nothing struck me as being poor quality. My favorite tracks came from the end credits: “Desire for Need” (Roger Sanchez remix) by Seether and “Until the Last Day” by GACKT. Although, even these felt a little generic considering the well defined medieval aesthetic of the Dragon Age universe.
If Dawn of the Seeker were a pilot to an ongoing series, I would be a lot more excited about it. Considering the quality of the production, all of the script related issues can easily be led back into the sphere of BioWare quality many gamers know and love over the course of a single season. New episodes could easily provide depth to the principal characters, and all studios involved, true to BioWare's strong relationship with its fans, would be able to steer the show in response to consumer input. Anime adaptations fail for a variety of reasons, but Dawn of the Seeker comes painfully close to being the engaging, immersive, and explosive movie that everyone wants it to be. Judging by Dawn of the Seeker, the upcoming Mass Effect anime, Paragon Lost, isn’t something I have high hopes for. However, I hope they both sell well enough that BioWare and FUNimation feel comfortable continuing with anime adaptations, just as long as they work on capturing the magic of BioWare's storytelling.
What I loved:
+ Well done action and animation
+ Strict factual adherence to the Dragon Age universe
+ Solid stab at espousing common themes in Dragon Age
What I hated:
- Shallow characterization
- No foreseeable chance to fix easily rectifiable issues
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the distributor, Images copyrighted: BioWare/Oxybot/FUNimation