Utawarerumono: The False Faces

Utawarerumono: The False Faces

A nameless protagonist wakes up in the middle of a vast, snowy plain he doesn’t recognise. Not only that, but he is suffering from amnesia and doesn’t even remember who he is. Suddenly, he gets attacked by an enormous insect-like creature, but is saved by a girl with animal ears and tail named Kuon, who decides to name him Haku. From then on, Haku travels with Kuon and finds himself re-learning a life that he can’t remember.

IMG_3795.PNGUtawarerumono is essentially a fantasy anime set in a world of people with animal ears and tails that appears to be on the cusp of war. There’s action, a decent amount of plot and a cast of extraordinarily cute characters. When the characters aren’t battling the wild creatures outside in the wilderness the pace is buoyed by the occasional slice-of-life scenes that offer the chance to get to know some of the supporting characters better.

Due to its origins, this anime has a RPG-ish construction with a hint of harem having initially begun as an adult tactical role-playing visual novel back in 2002. However, the series has so far stuck to a clearly laid out plot that doesn’t overly hint about burgeoning romance, which I am relieved about. There is the occasional tendency to lean towards random fanservice moments, but nothing has progressed further than that so far and doesn’t look to veer into the plothole of complete nonsensical harem shenanigans.

Part of this might be due to that our male lead, Haku, is an adult. He’s not an adolescent that consistently finds himself in awkward situations with girls, overreacting, being clumsy and usually making things more difficult for himself. He doesn’t rush straight into conflict or drama without thinking first, he takes a step back and considers what he is about to do, making decisions only after evaluating possible outcomes. Considering the fact that this anime has a particular focus on battles and strategy it only lends credit to him as a protagonist and makes him a believable and more sympathetic character. Also, considering he is a male character surrounded by the usual cluster of girls and women, this is refreshing. When younger female characters cringe and blush at simple things like his closeness, kindness or elongated eye-contact, he asks them confusedly if they are okay, or completely ignores the behaviour. Considering the initial set-up, I was surprised to see such a mature reaction when I was expecting to see a more commonplace anime reaction (which only occurs when you separate him from his food, which I can relate to).

I could tell straight away that the production values for Utawarerumono were higher than usual. It has good animation and intricate character designs. Whilst these are not over-the-top elaborate they are clear and well-defined in a way that means that the characters don’t need different coloured hair or outrageous personality quirks for the audience to be able to separate them from the rest of the cast. It takes its fantasy theme very seriously and so we have some beautiful scenic backdrops whilst Haku’s group are travelling and some detailed and decorative backgrounds whilst they reside in built-up areas such as towns and villages. I also detect the occasional appearance of an orchestral score, which is a nice touch since it adds an almost epic element to their travels.

Even so, Utawarerumono isn’t completely immune to the traditional tropes of this genre of anime. We have a male protagonist that doesn’t have much of a past (a direct result of the character having lost his memory – at least this anime explains the reason behind their main character’s stunted personality) and begins to collect a small harem of women as the series progresses. It’s no big mystery guessing which character will be joining Haku’s group next as their roles are apparent and very clear-cut from the beginning. I’m not sure yet whether all this is a little too convenient to be true or whether this anime is one that won’t be full of many surprises because of its up-front cast. In the same vein, I notice that there’s not a big focus on any antagonists, which means they aren’t intended to pose too much of a threat to Haku’s gang. It’s clear that the main focus is the quests and antics of the main group as they progress through the story, the large group getting big doses of character development at the expense of their enemies being rather one-dimensional.

Overall, I’ve found Utawarerumono to be one of the more interesting series’ in this Autumn 2015 line-up. It has an interesting and engaging storyline, compelling characters (Kuon is a strong female lead, and is voiced by the talented Risa Taneda, who also voices Erina Nakiri in Food Wars and Kaori Miyazono in Your Lie in April) and continues to grab your attention with its varying character perspectives. It has been laying strong foundations for itself since the introductory episodes as it expands to new regions, new threats and new allies. I look forward to seeing more of what this one has to offer.