Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
When I originally worked on this post, over a week and a half ago, I had opened up with a comment about how my thumb was aching from too much Street Fighter IV, and that I was too cheap to invest in a Madcatz Fightpad controller.
One week later, the opening already became obsolete, as I ended up buying a controller after all (Blanka model. I really wanted Ryu, but it was all they had, and they were quite scarce at the time, so apples and oranges). So now that I’ve updated this opening accordingly, let’s proceed with the rest of the article.
Last time, I talked about the various animated adaptions of Street Fighter. Today, I’ll be talking about Final Fantasy, and its various animated adaptions.
It’s going to be a short list.
Sadly, the FF series has very little anime adaptions, which is a crying shame considering that it should be a cinch to bring the various worlds and characters to life. It would also fill in a much needed void for more fantasy-based anime. Sure, there’s Lodoss War, Escaflowne, and The Slayers, but after that there isn’t much to write about.
When word hit me that there was indeed a Final Fantasy anime (around the time I started getting into the series with FFVI, called FFIII during the SNES days), I grew anxious to learn more. All I had at the time was a small blurb in EGM (or was it their failed side-mag? I forget) as well as a couple of pictures. The internet wasn’t available at the time, so I was left wondering about this foreign relic for several years; we got the Street Fighter II movie, but this mysterious FF anime looked to stay exclusive to Japan.
At least until Urban Vision (who I think is defunct now) released it as one of their first dubbed VHS tapes. I was quite excited to finally see this thing in action, but I was also keeping the notion that maybe there was a reason it wasn’t released right away….
Taking place 500 years after Final Fantasy V (which would take even longer to arrive in NA, under the “Final Fantasy Anthology” collection on PS1, and it took even longer than that to play FFV with a good translation), an evil force is stealing the crystals of Planet R (don’t quote me on whether that’s canon) for evil.
It’s up to hot-headed motorcyclist/swordmaster Pretz….
And the cute but incredibly naive Summoner Linali to solve this mystery.
I’ll just get right to the point: This is a very bizarre adaption of Final Fantasy. Much like Street Fighter Alpha: Generations, this is what happens when you hire a director who’s more into the “artsy” side of Japanimation, and is asked to adapt a popular game series that was doing just fine without his “creative liberties”.
The designs for the two main characters are fine, pretty much standard FF fare, but everyone else and the world around them suffers from some weird Dune-esque stylings. You’ve got Chocobos who look like they had all their feathers plucked, hulking goblin creatures with the largest pair of manboobs you’ll ever see outside of Fight Club (at least I hope those are moobs; it’s much more disturbing to think they’re female), alien robots that speak a completely made up language (but whose boss communicates to them in English, sort of like Jabba the Hutt in reverse), and several other oddities.
The actions of the characters and the plot surrounding them is even stranger. Pretz and Linali manage to secure the Wind Crystal, which immediately decides to hide itself inside Linali’s butt.
Then there’s the fact that both characters are incredibly suicidal in nature; Pretz plays chicken with someone pointing a gun right at him, while Linali has a tendency to make literal leaps of faith, by jumping from areas that she seriously shouldn’t attempt jumping from.
There’s also the main villain. In addition to his butt ugly underlings, he’s also one of the most impractical looking villains out there, even worse than Ex-Death’s tree form at the end of FFV.
His master plans are just as perplexing; Taking the brain from the recently deceased Cid from FFV (because brains don’t rot once the person dies, right?), Ra-Devil plants the brain underneath his robot stomach and increases it five times its normal size, in order to absorb its “knowledge” of the crystals. Once he finally receives the crystals, he undertakes his “God form”, which results in him looking like a plate of leftover lasagna. If it was an homage to Tetsuo’s mutation in Akira, at least the former had a semblance of shape to it; Ra-Devil’s form is basically a bunch of mush that shoots electricity. I should stop making fun of Ex-Death’s final form as a result. I won’t, but I should.
Some of the weirdness pays off, though. One particularly memorable character, Valkus, bears more than a few resemblances character-wise to FFIX’s Steiner. I wouldn’t be surprised if he served as some sort of inspiration to the hot-headed, overly loyal soldier, especially because they also share a love interest with the respective bad girls of both iterations.
I also thought it was amusing how the background characters all resembled one another; I’d like to think that was a jab at Final Fantasy’s soldiers and townspeople all looking alike, just as how the Pokemon series poked fun at the hundreds of Nurse Joys and Officer Jennys of the world.
Truth be told, Legend of the Crystals is pretty entertaining, if you’re willing to forgive the fact that it’s supposed to be an FF anime. The animation is quite nice, there’s quite a few amusing situations here (thanks to the fact that the characters take a batshit insane approach to everything), and the dub is actually one of the best dubbed animes I’ve ever heard. Featuring recogonizble voice actors, mostly from the Tenchi Muyo series (Tenchi, Sasami, Washu), Urban Vision always did a great job with their english efforts, with their delivery and localization exceeding the original Japanese versions.
Also, fun fact: every single english VA from this series is used in Final Fantasy X, mostly as bit parts (Shelinda, Claska, Yunalesca, Luzzu). Another fun fact is that Linali’s Japanese voice played Tifa in Ehrgeiz.
Finally, for those who played through FFV, the original heroes do make a couple of appearances, mostly in flashback, ghostly form.
Faris even appears with her bare breast exposed in one sequence, probably meant to symbolize how she’s actually a woman underneath her male disguise. Or maybe it was a bizarre, artsy attempt at fanservice. You know, aside from Linali’s glowing panties.
When I had heard that a new FF anime series was being produced, I was overjoyed; even more so because Gonzo was the studio behind it, and at the time their pedigree was quite prestigious (especially with Last Exile, a wonderfully big budget epic that was very close to an FF adaption as copyright allowed).
That joy quickly faded away once the opinions started appearing online. Now to be fair, I haven’t watched this series aside from the first episode from a Newtype USA DVD (RIP), but that was enough to convince me that most of the negativity of Unlimited was spot on. That might sound unfair, and I still may end up watching the series in its entirety one day….but I’d much rather not put myself through it.
For one thing, Gonzo must have been paid in chocobo feed, because the animation in this show is anything but “big budget”; Characters are drawn in this weird, flat style with absolutely no shadowing, and their appendages (especially their noses) have a habit of vanishing in one frame but reappearing in another. At least Legend of the Crystals had a consistent animation style. FFU’s animation simply looks unfinished.
As for the characters, they stray very far from the Final Fantasy norm, which might sound like a good thing to some, but that doesn’t make them compelling in any way. The two main kids, Ai and Yu (wonder if the twist involves them having a long lost triplet named Mii?), aren’t very memorable from any other brother and sister character you’ve seen elsewhere, aside from the fact that they seem to love screaming “WONDERLAND” several times per episode.
But hey, Chocobos are actually yellow this time, so that’s a plus. The Cid in this adaption is also a young man, which is also an interesting idea were it not for his rather creepy obsession with his airship (which he calls “Darling” in a less-than-healthy tone).
And then there’s Lisa….
When people critique Tifa’s look in Final Fantasy VII, I’m always on the defensive side; I can’t find myself doing the same for Lisa here. Take a look at some of the show’s artwork (including that image I posted a bit back during Dissidia’s Do’s and Dont’s…you know the one), and it’s more than obvious that her inclusion was meant to lure in the adult crowd. It also doesn’t help that her personality, most of the time, is that of a complete ditz. This later turns out to be a bit of a facade, but I don’t exactly see the point in masquerading as a clueless bimbo to a pair of ten year olds.
She’s also supposed to act as a surrogate mother to Ai and Yu, but I get a much creepier vibe than that….
But if you happen to be among the “adult” demograph this show is trying to lure in, I should warn you that the promo art is about as cheesecake as it gets. Since the animation is so sporadic, Lisa’s curves are rarely represented the way the producers probably intended. You won’t find any torn clothes or Gainaxing around here (and the few times the latter occurs, it’s a sad low budget attempt).
But you will find a decent amount of soft tentacle action.
The kids get involved in the bondage action too, but I’ll spare you the shots. Between this, the phallac-shaped monsters of the week, and the very existence of Pist (yes, that’s a character), Final Fantasy Unlimited should at least appeal to the fetish crowd, though I’m not sure that was the director’s intention. Or maybe it is, sure, let them have whatever audience they can get. It wasn’t enough, anyway, because the series was quickly cancelled, leaving the unfinished story to be released as novels and drama CDs (which are, ironically enough, also unfinished due to lackluster sales. Well, they tried).
Frankly, there’s little positive to say about Final Fantasy Unlimited. The animation is crap, the plot revolves around a monster of the week premise, there’s very few actual nods to the series it’s supposed to be adapting, and the supposed “hero” of the show, Kaze, is even more of an unfriendly doucehbag than Cloud or Squall; he shows up at the last minute of every episode to deliver the final blow to the monster, then wanders off. Rinse and repeat until your ratings plummet.
Now I am told that the final couple of episodes are actually well done, and do a strong job of conveying several of the themes that make the FF series so beloved. I still doubt it’s worth suffering through this show, when you could just be replaying your favorite moment from the games. Or watch Legend of the Crystals again; Chocobos aside, it’s closer to an FF adaption as this series ever was.
“An anime adaption of Final Fantasy VII could never happen”, most fans would say.
“Yes, it can”, I’d usually reply. With the right care and budget, Square’s most popular entry in the FF series could come to animated life.
For a brief moment, during the core moment of FFVII’s big revival (that being the Japanese release of Advent Children), Square finally attempted this.
And guess what? They succeeded.
The first official signs of FFVII in animated form came from this promo commercial for Before Crisis, the Turk-centric cellphone game that is, to this day, still a Japanese exclusive (are our cellphones really that far behind Japan’s?). The promo mostly features the original characters made for BC’s story, but it also briefly shows Rufus, Rude, and Reno from the original game.
It’s nicely animated, but it’s not like a short teaser could really prove if FFVII can work in anime form. The real test came shortly afterward, with the release of a bonus half hour OVA, included with the Japanese version of Advent Children. Titled “Last Order: Final Fantasy VII”, it centered around Zack and Cloud during their escape as Hojo’s experiments, as well as flashing back to the Nibelheim Incident, the crucial point that jump starts FFVII’s story for all its characters.
An anime adaption of Final Fantasy VII, and it focuses on my favorite moment in the whole game, the Nibelheim flashback? You can certainly bet I was excited. I repressed my desires to see Advent Children early, and decided to wait for the official NA release, but I didn’t wait long to download Last Order, especially since it was apparent Square USA wasn’t going to include it.
This OVA did not disappoint; the events from the original game were told pretty much perfectly (minus a few changes that aren’t worth bitching about, including a quite interesting one that will be mentioned below), it gave us a look into what kind of bad-ass Zack was (he was only given about six minutes of screen-time in the original, yet that was enough to establish a big fanbase), and the animation was quite wonderful, doing an excellent job of flawlessly translating Nomura’s designs for this adaption.
There was also a great amount of detail on the facial expressions, something that I feel that anime still has an edge over CG. Tifa, for instance, is especially lovely, even when filled with sadness or anger. And Sephiroth…
Sephiroth is just scary in this feature. When he’s ready to stab Tifa, the look of delight he gives off is chilling, and neatly coincides with his smirk in the original game, after he dispatches that other person during the famous event from the first disc. For people who debated whether or not Sephiroth felt any emotion whenever he massacres people, this should tell you: Yes, and he enjoyed it too.
The anime has a bit more violence and brutality than what was seen in the original game or Advent Children (at least the original cut), especially during Seph’s encounters with Zack and then Cloud. Cloud gets stabbed twice instead of just once, which makes his adrenaline rush all the more poignant (but also adds a bit of confusion, where in this version, Sephiroth willingly jumps to his doom). Strangely enough, though, Tifa doesn’t have a scratch on her after being attacked by Sephiroth. Between this and the bloodless death of that other character, I wonder if Square has some sort of policy where their female leads can’t be seen critically wounded.
Anyway, regarding the most major change in this OVA….
In this version, Tifa actually regains consciousness to witness young Cloud coming to her rescue. The dialog during this moment is actually taken from the original game, during Disc 2’s reunion of the two while they fell in the Lifestream. This certainly isn’t canon, since it was vitally important that Tifa would not know that Cloud really was there during the events of Nibelheim, but regardless, it’s a cute moment between the two. It was probably added to lighten the depressing moments to follow, but it’s still an appreciated touch of fanservice for fans of this coupling, and should erase any doubts about their relationship.
Naturally, I was eager for more FFVII animation, and my desire came somewhat true with the announcement that Advent Children: Complete would include another OVA feature. Titled “Episode: Denzel”, this feature is an adaption of the “Case of Denzel” short story that was part of the “On the Way to a Smile” series of novellas. It’s also being animated by A-1 pictures instead of Madhouse, a company I’m not familiar with, but one that I’m hoping can get the job done (they’re also doing the Valkyria Chronicles TV series, which is looking quite promising so far).
Unfortunately, I don’t share the same excitement that I did with Last Order. The reason is because Denzel’s story doesn’t feature any of the FFVII cast (though Cloud and Tifa may make an appearance at the very end), and focuses entirely on Denzel wandering the ruins of Midgar, emo’ing around until he’s eventually picked up by Cloud.
It’s especially unfortunate, because I really, really wanted “Case of Tifa” to be adapted instead. Not only is the entire cast featured, but it’s a wonderful story for fans of the original game, and has lots of dramatic, personal moments that would have been very interesting to see in animated form (including a drunk Cloud). Maybe that’s still a possibility, but until then, if you wanted to learn Denzel’s origins, but didn’t want to read a bunch of text on someone’s fansite, this anime is the way to go.
Considering how popular the series is, it shouldn’t be a suprise that the FF games have been referenced more than once in other animes, mangas, or TV shows.
The manga series Genshiken features a small homage, where two of the main characters head to a cosplay convention dressed as Tifa and Yuffie, respectively. The Tifa cosplayer is embarrassed at all the attention she’s getting, as she’s quite a dead-on looker for the character. I’m not too familiar with this series, so I’m uncertain if this scene made its way to the anime adaption. Regardless, it’s a funny moment, although both girls are a bit more curvaceous than they were originally designed.
Another manga, Descendants of Darkness (which I know even less about) features most of teh FFVII cast making an appearance in the background.
The author behind Love Hina is an unapologetic FF fan, putting in more than a few references and cameos in the manga. There’s also that rather infamous doujin by the same artist, featuring Aerith, Yuffie, and a corded telephone. I’ll just leave it at that….
There’s also Digimon (which was a pretty decent Pokemon ripoff back in the day, but has now gathered a very disturbing group of fans), which has been theorized for years of using FF as an homage for its characters. One character, Mimi, has been considered an homage to Aerith.
A much more obvious source of inspiration is Mimi’s digimon, Togemon. Not only does it almost practically resembles FF’s beloved (hated?) cactus creature Cactuar, it even has an attack named “10,000 needles”.
And while not cited as often, I personally always saw a bit of a connection between Myotismon and Kefka. Remove the vampire mask and add some facepaint, and they’re pretty much twins.
And of course, there’s official manga adaptions related to Final Fantasy, including manga series based on Crystal Chronicles, Final Fantasy XI, and of course Kingdom Hearts, but it would take too long in this post to mention. Maybe if I’m fortunate enough to find some scanlations, I can discuss them in more detail in the future.
On the television front, there’s Robot Chicken’s FFVII Parody, which is very amusing and does a great job of capturing the quirks of the original game (midi music, weird NPC glitches, a spotty translation).
There’s also the anime series Welcome To The NHK, which features a two-parter where Sato discovers an MMORPG that is more than an obvious parody of Final Fantasy XI, right down to the opening movie.
The cameos only increase as Sato falls in love with a Mithra-inspired character, and starts having a really disturbing (and sadly, quite accurate) obsession with the online world.
Of course, any MMORPG veteren should be well aware of how this online romance will turn out.
And finally, there’s Captain N’s final episode, which places Kevin and friends into the world of Final Fantasy.
I’ve never actually seen this episode, but it’s somewhat ironic that FF ends up as the final adventure for this Nintendo-sponsored series. I won’t go and say that Square’s shift to the Playstation was the primary downfall of the Nintendo 64….but I bet it didn’t help, either.
Anyway, as far as adaptions go, I suppose they got the gist of the first game down, since it did have a prince, a witch, and an evil warlock. But as far as any resemblance to characters, it doesn’t exist. Captain N has always been guilty of taking liberties with famous videogame characters (just look at Mega Man, aka “Bobby Hill in Green Spandex”), but it doesn’t help that the show’s budget pretty much tanked by the third season.
And that concludes things. Well, there’s also a Two and a Half Men episode where Charlie Sheen’s fat-ass nephew is dying to rent the “newest Final Fantasy” (which turns out to be FFX, although once he starts playing it, the music turns out to be the battle BGM from FFII, PS1 edition), but I can’t find a clip online, and I don’t feel like putting too much effort searching for it.
So instead, I’ll leave you with this.
* Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystal images taken from Hardcore Gaming 101
* Manga cameo images taken from FF Compendium