Final Fantasy: Unlimited

Final Fantasy: Unlimited

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Twelve years ago, a mysterious pillar of darkness erupted into the sky off the coast of Japan. Giant dragon-like beasts emerged from the darkness, first wiping out the naval force investigating the disturbance and then taking out one another in a spectacular magical battle caught on videotape by a Japanese couple on the mainland.

In the present day, their twin children Ai and Yu live in a largely-deserted metropolis where the subway has only one destination: ‘The Inner World’. Following in their parents’ footsteps, they encounter strange creatures, powerful magic-users and, of course, those fluffy-chirpy yellow birds that all Final Fantasy fans know as chocobos. But where have Ai and Yu’s parents gone? And what are the motivations behind the joining of the worlds?

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Over the many years, the Final Fantasy  franchise has established itself as the go-to title in the RPG genre, and nearly everyone who has touched a video game system has played at least one incarnation of this game. However, a good game series doesn’t necessarily translate into instant success in other fields (I’m looking at you Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Advent Children).

And then we had Final Fantasy: Unlimited back in 2001. As the franchise’s first full-length television series… I guess things could be a lot worse. The FMV mastery of the Final Fantasy games translates quite well into the 3D CG animation field, and this is in effect from the first minute of this show. To be fair, it’s quite impressive considering when it was all released. Spell-casting and mechanical effects are rather beautifully rendered and really make some of the scenes come to life almost effortlessly.

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Sadly, the traditional 2D cel animation of the characters is some of the worst I have seen, and the rest of the Final Fantasy franchise is probably to blame. Since all the other characters they draw are so brilliant, these ones are mediocre at best in comparison. The artwork and character dimensions mean that this one quickly establishes itself as a children’s show rather than a TV series for Final Fantasy fans to enjoy. The style is more along the lines of the things you will see on Sunday morning television. The first time I watched this I think I was fourteen, and even then I remember trying to find a reason to keep watching this series (which I was purchasing as DVDs to watch with my younger brother). The actual references to the games was few and far between. Without the chocobos, perhaps people could have watched this without knowing that it was part of the Final Fantasy series at times. Especially when the drawings and animation took a dip from average into the realm of really, really bad.

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While the premise is interesting, it’s evident from the beginning that this is Final Fantasy for kids or beginners. Rather than dwelling on the mystery of magic and action involving powerful beasts, we get to watch Ai and Yu and their various group members get into elongated chocobo shenanigans usually involving the yanking of Ai’s pigtails. Adult characters seem to be either glorified babysitters, ciphers, or weird, creepy villains that tended to not do anything but brood for a majority of their screen time. Since this was coined as a Final Fantasy project, I had a certain level of expectation and I found myself being pretty disappointed on the whole. This is one of the first anime that I watched that made me realise that not all of them are great.

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The action sequences could’ve used a lot more polish and benefitted from being more dynamic. There were times when I saw ‘bad’ creatures just sit there and made noises whilst a character prepares to summon Phoenix or Typhoon. I do allow for some time for transformation sequences, etc – but this just felt past the point of ridiculousness. There were points where I could almost feel the production staff stretching the episodes out to fit the full duration. It got painful. And the creatures themselves! After seeing dragons at a very early point, we seem to be constantly subjected to the most random beasts with little to no detail or imagination put into them. Like I mentioned earlier, the spell effects are this one’s only redeeming feature.

Still, there are a few amusing in-jokes and Easter eggs, like having the famous victory played after the end of a battle, and numerous references to the earlier Final Fantasy games in one form or another. The main characters are likeable and cute, and the music isn’t too bad. Bonus points for the adorable (if obviously no-budget) end sequence, especially if you’re a chocobo fan. Thankfully, I am.

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Looking at this title again many years after its original release, it seems like the creators and  animators weren’t as Unlimited as they thought. My main bugbear with this one was the simplistic 2D animation and a non-Final Fantasy juvenile (sometimes shallow) plot. I expect that this will be the problem with many other FF fans that watch this thinking they’re in for something more than they actually get. To this day, I still think it’s a shame and wonder if they’ll ever re-visit the possibility of doing a TV series and actually develop something that fans of the franchise aren’t disappointed with.