Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Imagine Dragoons: That Time Panzer Dragoon Was an Anime

I’m a big fan of Panzer Dragoon (the game), particularly its sequels. So when I recently came across a VHS copy of Panzer Dragoon (the movie) at a retro gaming convention, buying it wasn’t even a choice. I had no idea such a thing even existed – and yet it does – so obviously I needed it.
I’ve long ceased to own the requisite apparatus for playing back the newest (and probably only) VHS tape in my collection. But a cursory glance at the box and cassette revealed it to be an anime-style film, in color, dubbed in English, with an approximate run time of 35 minutes (though it’s more like 26). A further look at Amazon’s customer reviews for Panzer Dragoon (the anime) suggested it wasn't likely to be a very good film to begin with.

One customer, Sam, deemed Panzer Dragoon (the anime) “the worst fantasy anime ever,” or at least “the worst to be based on a videogame,” citing its animation as having “one of the most contemptible mixes of hand drawn animation and computer graphics EVER.” Dark Ren added, ”between the boring dialogue, and disappointing action scenes, I was wondering how this could get much worse,” while another unnamed customer obliged, “[the Panzer Dragoon anime] has the worst dubbing I've ever heard!!! My friend and I couldn’t stop laughing!!”

Undeterred, I still had to see it for myself. At the very least, Panzer Dragoon (the anime) had to be so bad that it's good, right? Well, that was the hope. Read more...

Although I couldn’t play the VHS tape, I did remember the internet exists so I just watched it on YouTube...

“That’s a…that’s a…DRAGON!!!”

…and I probably don't need to see it again.

The movie tries its best to elaborate on the events of the original game but as much as it awkwardly tries, it just doesn’t have anything significant to contribute. It often feels like Panzer Dragoon (the anime) is more content to tick boxes from its source material rather than craft anything resembling a coherent, fleshed-out story. Maybe that was the point. It was basically a one-off anime episode that I assume would have been created to help promote the game…or at least I would’ve assumed that if it didn’t come out a full year and a half after the game’s release.

There be dragons...and spoilers...ahead!

So many aspects of the plot feel like a series of boxes being ticked. There’s a good dragon and evil dragon fighting each other and they both vomit lasers everywhere (Pew! Pew!) – so that’s similar to the game. There’s an evil, sentient AI tower bearing a half-assed resemblance to HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey…or HAL-assed, if you will. Anyway, the tower has a creepy, robotic voice and it kills people, thereby establishing it as the film’s chief antagonist.

Also, fleets of those cool imperial airships (with the little wing thingies) show up only to be immediately destroyed, just like in the game. And at one point, there’s a scene where the main characters fly through the flooded CG ruins of an ancient city, which more or less resembles the game’s opening level. So, boom. Boxes checked. Faithful adaptation achieved.

“The wind, it’s so cold. So this is what the sky feels like!”

The protagonist is a hunter named Kyle (though in the game it’s Keil) who apparently sucks at hunting…and speaking because unfortunately for everyone, he has dialogue. Now I would expect most English-dubbed voice acting to be inherently terrible but his random, nonsensical outbursts and the dubious motivations behind most of his actions take him to a new, jarring level of obnoxiousness. Kyle is joined by his girlfriend Alita (or is it Alitha?) and his buddy Devidok but the latter character doesn’t really matter. I probably didn’t even need to mention him except he does have a funny name. Go on and say it – Devidok – it’s fun! Anyway, he dies.

Alita isn’t given much to do except get possessed and kidnapped by the evil dragon because…evil reasons? Lazy writing? But the stakes get higher still. Apparently Alita and evil dragon will unleash unmentionable, terrible things if they reach the talking tower. Unmentionable, only because the movie fails to actually mention what those terrible things will be.

Anyway, the evil dragon and possessed Alita take off towards the tower so Kyle naturally teams up with the other dragon to give chase. Of course, their budding dragon/rider dromance isn’t without some forced tension to keep things interesting – like when his dragon straight up murders a bunch of dudes with no immediately clear reason why…

“What are you doing?! Can’t you see this man is hurt?! Isn’t enough that you destroyed his ship? You’re just like the black dragon – killing to satisfy your bloodlust! Damn you!! I’ll save Alita on my own!”

It’s all good, though. They work it out in the next scene.

So yeah, the story is painfully weak and it fails to explain what’s happening with any coherence or clarity, nor does it convey any reasonable motive or logic behind most of what the characters say and do. It leaves the viewer to infer most of its major plot points by imagining what might happen if there was any emotional weight or drama behind its awkwardly-unfolding events.

In all, Panzer Dragoon (the anime) is equal parts boring and annoying and I really can’t recommend taking the time to watch it, which you can definitely do here. It fails to be bad in a way that’s entertaining and it fails to add any worthwhile context beyond what the original game had already established. At its worst, Panzer Dragoon (the anime) even undermines its source material by tearing down the veil that lets players assume the game’s lore may elude to anything more interesting than it actually does.

Like the ancient technological artifacts found in the universe inspiring it, Panzer Dragoon (the anime) is a nifty old relic. But as a piece of entertainment, I think your time is better spent on other endeavors, such as playing Panzer Dragoon (the game). Then again, if you’ve already made it to the end of this 1,000+ word article about a ho-hum VHS anime, then you may just value your time little enough to watch it, right here.

Also available on Laserdisc (in Japan)


- Brian (The Virtua Schlub)


fatherkrishna said...

Wow! A superb (if not tad disappointing) read there Brian! I was so hoping it was going to be good, or at least Have some redeeming features. How come I still want to watch it on youtube and even own a copy of the tape when it's just been subjected to such a damning appraisal? Gosh, I'm worried I'm not going to enjoy the Vampire Saviour anime either now! Sterling work from the Virtua Schlub, I'm now off to watch the film when I should be going to sleep..! ��

NebachadnezzaR said...

I can't really refute any of your critiques, but I still kind of enjoyed it, if only to see the blue dragon in an animated and detailed style. And, of course, the blatant fan service, like recreating the opening sequence for the game.

Father K, don't worry, Darkstalkers is a far superior anime, and so is Virtua Fighter by the way.