It's extraordinarily easy to come to judge an anime via its name, trailer, or even the art design of the entire production. I've been caught red handed back in the day for dismissing series that could have been very good simply because the aesthetics didn't catch my interest.
In both Japanese and English, The Legend of the Legendary Heroes is probably one of the single most generic titles for an anime series in the last twenty years. At first glance, the character designs don't seem particularly special and the standard medieval fantasy setting does little to inspire confidence in the show.
Twenty four episodes later and I'm getting ready to start reading the books that it's based on. What the hell happened?
Follow me after the break to find out.
Ryner Lute is your ordinary lazy student, attending the Roland Empire Royal Magician’s Academy. His classmates make fun of him to his face, never missing a chance to point out just how unskilled he is. Ryner is more than he appears to be however, and after Roland goes to war with the neighboring country of Estabul, he watches on as his friends and love ones are massacred. Years later he’s recruited by the new king of Roland and former classmate Sion Astarl to go search for ancient relics that supposedly hold powerful magics within. Forced to partner up with a powerful, dango loving swordswoman named Ferris, Ryner sets out on a journey that will unexpectedly shape the fate of the world.
Based on a popular light novel series of the same name, The Legend of the Legendary Heroes has all the makings of a complete dud. One look at the above synopsis would probably do little to entice a potential buyer into spending their hard earned money on these box sets. I probably would have never given this series a chance if the review assignment hadn’t fallen on my lap. Above all else, this is probably the biggest obstacle that Legendary Heroes has to overcome; at first glance, there’s absolutely nothing exciting about it.
Yet this is how Legendary Heroes tricks you into letting your guard down. Within the first few episodes, characters are introduced with surprising speed and then killed in extremely gruesome ways. Director Itsuro Kawasaki (Rental Magica, Sengoku Basara) brings a shocking and grim reality to the world of Legendary Heroes, which contrasts to great effect with the character designs that look as they were plucked straight out of the mid-nineties. For as much humor as the incomparably lazy Ryner brings to the narrative, his internal struggle with the killing machine inside him is equally as interesting, leading to some of the best sequences in the show. His character arc is easily the heart of the story, and he’s one of two people I ended up rooting for consistently.
The other character that really grew on me was Ferris, the blonde haired swordswoman with an unhealthy dango obsession. Her back and forth with Ryner is entertaining early on, but I feared that she’d be little more than the stoic female sidekick. Fortunately, those concerns were unwarranted and she gets her own arc throughout the series, coming to grips with what exactly Ryner is to her as well as what she personally wants to do. Some of Ferris’ best character moments are when she is forced to reevaluate why she was traveling with Ryner in the first place.
That’s probably the most surprising thing about Legendary Heroes; it can be genuinely moving and sincere, which is rare in anime these days. The show isn’t about appealing to its viewers via fanservice or contrived harem romances; it’s content with letting its characters play off one another. I would argue that at its best, Legendary Heroes often reminded me of the original Slayers TV anime, only significantly darker. Both shows are about their characters, first and foremost.
Which is probably a good thing because the actual story can be pretty slow moving. Legendary Heroes takes a big chunk of its first half setting up the relationships between neighboring nations and establishing the political strife in the world. I found it interesting and enjoyed that kind of world building, but it’s arguably not very well paced. The second half does a better job of piecing together the plot elements, but getting to that point might be a struggle if you don’t care about any of the characters. Another complaint is that there are entire episodes in which we barely ever see Ryner and Ferris at all. The secondary characters are generally pretty engaging, but I found myself wanting to know what the two heroes were up to more often than not.
The other big problem that comes with the territory of being a light novel adaptation is that The Legend of the Legendary Heroes doesn’t have a proper ending. The last episode concludes just as the story really begins to hit its stride. Upon some light investigation, I discovered that the anime series covered what amounts to the first half of the novel run. I know a lot of people hate these kinds of non-endings, but I definitely prefer them to the alternative; the anime writers craft a completely different story. By keeping things open and relatively accurate to the novels, there’s always the chance that they go back and animate the rest of the series. Still, if you can’t stand shows that don’t explain everything by the final episode, you might want to steer clear.
Additionally, the animation isn’t going to turn any heads. It’s functional and certainly not awful, but this is by no means a big budgeted blockbuster affair. The aesthetic in the first half of the series is also woefully bland, save for the strangely colorful armor that Ferris wears. The second half does a lot to fix this problem, changing up most of the cast’s wardrobe and making things a bit more visually interesting.
Musically the show fairs a little bit better, boasting the kind of sweeping music you’d expect from a fantasy series like this. Unfortunately none of it is particularly memorable, but it doesn’t have to be. Legendary Heroes is cast quite well, with Ayahi Takagaki (Durarara!!, Gundam 00) and Jun Fukuyama (Durarara!!, Black Butler) filling the roles of Ferris and Ryner respectively. The English side of things doesn’t fair too bad either, boasting Luci Christian and Ian Sinclair in the lead roles. The English dub is solid, so whatever your language preference, you’ll be well served here. Both BD/DVD sets also include two episode commentaries a piece, which are always interesting for fans of the development process. The other extras include the typical trailers and creditless opening/ending videos.
The Legend of the Legendary Heroes is a solid series with a really strong lead duo and in many ways reminded me of the older fantasy anime from the 90s. It never quite reaches that same pinnacle, but it makes a genuine effort at it. The non-ending might prove to be a bit of a turn off for a lot of folks, but those of you willing to sit down and give Legendary Heroes a chance might be surprised by just how much you end up enjoying the crazy adventures of Ryner and Ferris.
8.0 – The Legend of the Legendary Heroes may not break any new ground, but it has heart and its leads are full of charisma. Worth checking out for fans of the genre.
[Reviewer’s note: For those of you craving a sequel series, there are ongoing efforts to translate the novels starting from where the anime left off. Google is your friend.]
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