If you’ve ever felt tired of me constantly heaping praise on shows, or only watching shows that I get to constantly heap praise upon, well here’s your change of pace. While there is praise to be a’heapin, there’s also flaws to be a’scoldin. And I just sharpening my scoldin tongue.
Which, actually, was quiet painful, so you know. Just one of the many things I am willing to do to please you, my precious readers.
Maybe we should move on before things get weird.
Released in 2010 from studio Zexcs, The Legend Of The Legendary Heroes manages to have the second dumbest name anyone can give a fantasy themed anime series, beat out only by Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? But only barely, because both of those are horrid names for shows that actually offer a lot of good material.
Based on a series of light novels by Takaya Kagami, Legendary Heroes follows a large cast of characters as their lives intertwine, and begin to shape the fate of an entire continent. Besides being an example of a good light novel adaptation, the characters and the plot are very well constructed, for the most part. I’ll get into that a bit later.
Rather than do a full synopsis for the show, which would be extremely time consuming, I want to touch on the parts of the show that work, then the parts that don’t, before getting into the animation, music and so on. For this particular series, it really is a better approach. Mostly because there are a lot of plot threads, and sub-plots running through this thing, with pretty much every characters having their own. Since there’s a big cast, summing it up would be difficult and long winded.
First off, the world building done for Legendary Heroes is absolutely amazing. It feels like a real world, a place people live, and one worth saving. Which is more or less the overarching plot of the story, when we get down to it. The world needs to be saved, and how the various characters go about trying to do that leads to much of the conflict of the series. There’s also a deep mythology behind the world, which is always nice, but leads to most of the problems as well.
Okay, so, everything takes place on a single continent, home to several nations, which are constantly in a state of war, or threatening to be. The nobles of these nations are fine with that, as is most of the royalty. The common folk, less so. This is the backdrop against which much of the story is built, and what informs pretty much every single character, so it is a big part of the story.
My biggest praise, however, has to go to the use of magic in this show. Every nation has their own approach, and their own spells. Each magic is a closely guarded secret, as magic is primarily used by the military for combat purposes, which actually makes a lot of sense. I mean, tell me that any nation will let random folks wander around throwing fireballs willy nilly about the countryside, and I’ll sell you some ocean front property in Colorado. The use of magic in Legendary Heroes is one of the most well thought out and interesting ideas of the entire world setting, with each nations magic looking and sounding different, but retaining just enough commonality that you can tell it sprang from a single source.
As for the characters, there’s a lot, so I’m going to focus on the main trio. First off, there’s Ryner Lute, the most powerful mage in the entire country of Roland, when he isn’t trying to sneak away for a nap. Ryner is actually an incredibly lazy person, who wants nothing to do with responsibility, and actively avoids getting involved with people. Mostly because he is the bearer of what is known as the Alpha Stigma, cursed eyes that allow him to analyze magic in an instant, and be able to cast any spell he sees even partially completed.
Which would be awesome, except for the part where every bearer of the Alpha Stigma in history has succumbed to the madness it brings, and gone on a rampage of destruction, until they were killed. As such, anyone bearing the Alpha Stigma is now seen as a monster, and most are killed as children the moment the ability presents.
Ryner avoided this fate by being trained, as a child, to be a weapon in the service of Roland. However, with that particular war over, nobody knew what to do with him, so he was shipped off to a military school under close supervision. This was where he first met the second of our main trio of characters, Sion Astal.
Sion was the son of a commoner, by the king of Roland. However, this also meant he was an embarrassment. His childhood was misery, with more added on after his mother passed away from a long illness. Galvanized by this, Sion sets out to take his rightful place as the king of Roland.
An orphan like Ryner, Sion ends up at the military academy, where the two meet and become friends. Sion is aware that Ryner bears the Alpha Stigma, and wants to reshape Roland into a country where he could be free and not be seen as a monster. However, the royalty and the nobility want Sion dead, and during an ambush by allies from a foreign power, Sion sees Ryner lose control of his Alpha Stigma, wiping out fifty powerful mages as if it were child’s play.
Somehow, Sion is able to talk Ryner down, and rather than succumb to the power, Ryner recovers, though his status as an Alpha Stigma has now been revealed, and he is sent to rot in a solitary cell until his execution can be arranged.
Before that can happen, Sion achieves his goal of becoming king, by being praised as a hero who headed off an invasion from the same foreign soldiers sent to assassinate him. This allows him to amass enough good will from the commoners, and powerful allies, to overthrow his father and get his butt in the throne. Using his new power, he has Ryner released, and sends him on a quest to discover relics from the dawn of human civilization, the Hero Relics.
Accompanying Ryner in this quest is our third main character, Ferris Eris, the eldest daughter of a sword clan. Obsessed with dongo, and making Ryner’s life a living hell, Ferris is the most skilled swordswoman in all of Roland, capable of taking on large numbers of enemies, and even mages. She has a taciturn personality, and a rather warped sense of humor, but is a good person at heart, leading she and Ryner to bonding quickly as friends, if somewhat antagonist ones.
The rest of the cast largely revolves around these three, as it is their stories that drive much of the narrative. Which isn’t to say anyone is a one dimensional character. Everyone we meet is well fleshed out, be it one of Sion’s cabinet members, or a guard who only appears in a single episode, everyone feels like a person who has their own life going on outside the main narrative.
Which, by the way, revolves mostly around Ryner coming to understand what the Alpha Stigma really is, as Sion begins to find that making compromises is an inescapable fact of being king. While Ryner learns it is possible to not only avoid going mad, but to even control his abilities, Sion sinks deeper into the shadows of governance as he navigates duplicitous nobles, foreign powers, and his own aides, who often have their own designs on him and the throne.
It’s in those two stories that most of the strength of Legendary Heroes really rests. Sion’s battle to hang on to his morals, a battle he is doomed to lose, is a powerful and tragic story of a good man, who wishes to do good, co-opted by necessity. Ryner, on the other hand, is a well crafted story of a monster who wishes only to be human, and slowly finds that this dream is not beyond his reach.
Most of that comes at the hands of Ferris, who despite her antagonistic attitude towards Ryner, comes to believe in him strongly, and is even able to talk him down from a frenzy at one point. While the relationship between Ryner and Sion is the backbone of the story, the relationship between Ryner and Ferris is the heart.
Also worth noting is that they are just friends. While some may interrupt some of the things she says to him as revelations that she has stronger feelings for him, that is ultimately a very debatable subject. She considers herself his best friend, first and foremost, and goes to great lengths for him on that alone. Ryner sees her in the same light, and actively learns to control his own powers so as to never cause her harm. They are presented as equals, and as friends, and frankly, that’s a pretty refreshing thing to see.
Unfortunately, this is where the good news ends, and the bad news starts.
While the plot of the series is generally very excellent, there’s a number of places where things kind of go wrong. In part, I suspect, it was in order to reach a specific end point by episode 24, but many events get compressed very quickly when they shouldn’t have.
At one point, there is an uprising among the nobles of one of Roland’s vassel states, lead by Lady Noa, who was at one point the daughter of the king, before Roland more or less took the country over. We are told Lady Noa is brilliant and a natural leader, but the way everything gets compressed to fit the entire arc into a single episode, she mostly comes off as kind of naive.
Another thing that doesn’t get fleshed out like it should is the mythology of the world. While we get a lot, we don’t get all we need, and it plays a huge role in the story. Key details are with held, and when they are revealed, end up feeling as if they came out of nowhere just to service the plot. Set up was done to reveal these things, but it was done in a very vague way, and by the time it comes to fruition, viewers will have likely forgotten all about the set up.
This leads to certain plot developments feeling as if they came out of nowhere. What’s worse is that the purpose behind these plot twists is never fully explained, so they just seem even weirder and more out of left field.
The last big problem with the show is that it ends without the main story being completed. It’s clear there was an intention for a second season, but it never came to be, so the story just stops very abruptly, right after most of these seemingly nonsensical plot twists are revealed. It gives the second half of the show especially a very rushed feeling that the first half didn’t have.
Well nether good nor bad, there’s some other aspects of the show I wanted to touch on really fast. The first being that there is a lot of comedy in this. Ryner and Ferris get to do the bulk of the work on that front, but many of the other characters get comedic moments as well. For the most part, the comedy works, too, though it does get a little tired after a bit, as they tend to rehash the same jokes a little too frequently.
Another aspect of the show is that everyone has a tragic backstory. I do mean everyone, too. Nobody in this world appears to have a life that isn’t drenched in misery and pain. For Sion and Ryner, it kind of makes sense, given that the tragedy of their childhood is what drives them to try and make the country, and the world, a better place. For everyone else, it sometimes gets a bit overkill, especially since the purpose some of these characters serve in the story is only hinted at, and never fully revealed due to the story not being completed.
That, and it can get a bit tough to feel bad for every character you meet when they all have a tragic backstory.
Oh, yeah, some characters are introduced, and then their purpose is left totally undefined. Ferris’ older brother, for one, and Ryner’s father for another. Both appear, and disappear, from the story, and apparently play key roles, though what that is is never revealed. In the case of Ferris’ brother, it’s apparently to be creepy as fuck. In the case of Ryner’s dad, I’ve no idea, as he murders Ryner, then vanishes, and Ryner comes comes back to life, all without any real explanation. His dad is then never seen or even mentioned again, but since there was only a couple episodes left, I guess that’s understandable.
The frustrating thing about Legendary Heroes is that there is a genuinely epic story in there, with really well crafted characters, that ends up going nowhere as an anime. Why, I’ve no idea, but since it’s been almost seven years now, I’m not holding out much hope that we’ll get more anytime soon.
Guess I could always go read the light novels. Jeeze, though. Reading. What a pain.
Said the writer.
In terms of animation, Legendary Heroes is almost always excellent. There’s a few dips in quality here and there, most notably episode 18, which looks like it was animated by a totally different studio, and not a good one. The rest of the show, however, is very well done. The backgrounds are especially lovely, and really sell the fantasy world aspect of the show.
Character designs are solid, if a bit anime ordinary. Sion has a long braid of silver hair, Ryner makes with the exaggerated facial features often, and so on. I will grant that Ferris is not an overly busty female lead, so there’s that. While overall well made, the character designs for the most part are pretty typical.
The magic sequences are much better looking, with the previously mentioned unique style and appearance of each played as a visual shorthand to a persons country of origin, as well as different philosophies towards the use of magic. It’s one of the stronger elements of the world setting, and is used to excellent effect in terms of animation.
The series was directed by Itsuro Kawasaki, who was involved in episode directing and storyboarding shows like Noir, and both seasons of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, as well as directing the Tsubasa Chronicles movie, which I’ve not had a chance to see, so I can’t speak to how well it was done. Kawasaki seems to know how to direct, however, and uses camera work and lighting to great effect, frequently forecasting character conflict with clever framing.
The writing was primarily done by Kiyono Yoshimura, who did writing for such series as Last Exile, Trinity Blood, Witchblade, Linebarrels of Iron, and Riddle Story of the Devil, so I’m not sure what happened with the script here, as usually she’s very good at getting nuance and foreshadowing down. It could be difficulties in adapting the light novels, or a desire to reach a certain point in the narrative before the end of cour. It’s hard to say. Regardless, the dialogue is well handled, and expertly written, as I would expect from her at this point.
The music was overseen by Miyu Nakamura, whose only other major credit is Utawarerumono. Why, I can’t imagine. The music for Legendary Heroes moves from grand, to quiet, to personal, with superb subtly and grace. Every moment of the soundtrack is well crafted and perfectly fits the scene, without overshadowing it, but elevating it to more than it was. There’s a specific piece, which I don’t know the name of, that’s just a very softly played piano tune, with a very slow tempo, that is heart breaking when it appears. Nakamura has a clear grasp on how to structure a soundtrack, so the lack of extensive work is a bit baffling.
Overall, The Legend Of The Legendary Heroes is a flawed execution of what could have been the greatest fantasy anime made in many years, held back by rushed pacing and an incomplete narrative. As a lover of fantasy, this saddens me, in part because I grew to care a great deal for the well crafted characters, but also because there’s a dearth of truly new and interesting fantasy worlds out there. This one comes so close, and misses by so little, it is a true shame.
Finally, the English dub was handled by Funimation, and in keeping with the reputation they’ve built, is quite excellent, and features many of their more noteworthy actors, including Ian Sinclair in the lead as Ryner, and J. Micael Tatum playing a character that could give Black Butler’s Sebastian a run for his money as lovable monster. Whether you watch the dub, or the sub, you’ll be treated to excellent voice work, which is always a plus.
Despite the drawbacks of Legendary Heroes, I can’t help but recommend it. There’s so much to appreciate within the story, it’s a shame for it to get no attention at all. While it has its flaws, a lack of an ending among them, the world it builds and the characters it populates it with are worth seeing, even if their story doesn’t always get to make sense.
Here’s to hoping someone will give this one a decent adaptation someday. It truly is worthy of it.