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The first Anime Monday of 2014 has arrived! It’s around this time of the year when we’re all making new resolutions to better ourselves (diets, exercise, less suckiness, etc) . While we might fail miserably at some of our endeavors, rest assured Anime Monday will be here through it all. This week’s installment we will discuss Legend of the Millennium Dragon.
Somewhat ironically, Legend of the Millennium Dragon is a rather poor way to start the year. Released in 2011, this is a formulaic film that has potential but squanders it at almost every turn. The film begins from the perspective of a group of samurai under siege. Strange, dark entities called Oni (demons) wreak havoc upon an entire village until Gen’un, a powerful monk, destroys them in a rather spectacular fashion (implosion!). Unfortunately, those first five minutes are about as good as it gets. We’re introduced to Jun Tendô, a young boy who is sensitive and good-hearted. When riding his bike he almost runs two children over. He stops to ask if they’re ok and to apologize, but is chastised by the mother. Already feeling low, he knocks over a whole row of bicycles on a rack. Instead of going on his way, he goes about righting each one. Then an Oni appears out of the nether, and chases him into a temple. There Jun is met by Gen’un who transports them 1,200 years back in time. Gen’un reveals Jun’s true identity as the descendant of the Magatama clan and the Savior. Jun is asked to awaken a dragon Orochi and use him to eliminate the Oni once and for all. Except Jun is just a kid, and he’s hesitant. Then he meets the Oni and discovers that they are not evil and Gen’un is not entirely what he seems to be.
There is nothing inherently wrong with adhering to a formula, but Legend of the Millennium Dragon is unimaginative to the point of frustration. It’s reliance on the Hero’s journey structure hinders its ability to even play with the genre. The twist is hardly a twist as it is one that has been done before in numerous other films. Perhaps Legend of the Millennium Dragon’s biggest fault is not unoriginality, but its excessive amounts of exposition. Film is a visual medium, and as such, one of its cardinal sins is opting to tell the audience something instead of showing it to them. This is a concept that the film’s writers seem capable of doing in their introduction of Jun Tendô. Nobody tells us that he’s caring and compassionate; they show it to us through his interactions with his friends and the children he almost runs over. Which makes the rest of the film all the more perplexing. Scene after scene is filled with characters explaining some new aspect of the film. Gen’un gets a lengthy expository act, then the tribal leader of the Oni goes on a storytelling sequence that counteracts everything Gen’un told us. Afterwards, the sole female in the film, Mizuha gives Jun a tour around her village and that begins yet another long-winded talk on the etymology of the word Oni. By the time the film reaches the hour long mark, which is about two-thirds of the runtime, it’s still laying down the groundwork. It’s a bad habit of which the film just cannot rid itself. As it enters its final act, the film insists on interjecting dialogue for characters to either narrate the action taking place or explain new pieces of narrative information. It is downright exhausting.
While the film fails almost entirely from a narrative standpoint, the animation is decent and helps to ease the tedious viewing of this film, if only slightly. Backdrops have a nice painted quality, and action sequences are done justice. Some of the characters resemble Mii avatars from Nintendo’s Wii, which is not necessarily bad. As a family-friendly anime, the style make sense and it is pretty cute. However, a little more detail wouldn't hurt either as a lot of the characters look extremely similar with hairstyles and clothes as the only means to differentiate them. This film uses computer animation as well, which was a point of contention in last week’s Anime Monday. Thankfully, while it is used quite a lot, it is mostly in the form of camera movements that are seamlessly integrated with the animated look.
Now, that you've read this, I hope you can agree with me that for the most part, Legend of the Millennium Dragon is a complete dud. Anyone who has seen the film can commiserate alongside me. If you disagree, well too bad (that’s what the comments section is for). I made the careless, offhanded decision to watch it. Luckily, you can successfully cross one item off your New Year’s list of resolutions by resolving to never lay eyes on this underachieving and undeserving anime.