So, anime, it's a thing. It exists, and it cannot "un-exist." Some people love it, but most people love to hate it. Before we talk about the wild and wacky adventures of Prettz and Linaly, we first need to have a bit of a history lesson on anime. The anime industry is a subject in and of itself, with practices and monetization systems that do not work or fly anywhere else. One such strategy, the "original video animation" (i.e., OVA), has stood the test of time as physical sales of entertainment decline. For those unaware, an OVA is an animated film or series of episodes sold exclusively in home video formats. Outside of the world of anime, the format is derisively called "Direct-to-Video." OVAs have been a reliable source of income for anime studios as Japan has, for the most part, resisted the broad trend towards streaming and digitization. However, the "quality" of OVAs, in general, is a recurring joke among people who follow anime. Seriously, flipping a coin and trying to guess if it will be heads or tails has better odds than predicting if an OVA will be any good.
Another topic we need to get out of the way are the two "Great Anime Booms." For those too young to remember, there was the mid-1980s anime boom that saw an explosion of domestic anime studios in Japan. This boom also saw major television networks both in Japan and globally set aside large swaths of programming blocks for animated entertainment. More importantly, the 1980s anime boom saw the development of relationships between American and Japanese animation studios. The most notable examples being the alliances between DIC Entertainment and TMS Entertainment as well as Warner Brothers pairing up with Sunrise Studio. The second and more significant "Anime Boom" was the 1990s anime rush, which saw the meteoric rise of Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon, and Toonami on Cartoon Network.
What sometimes gets forgotten is the weird lull in the anime industry between those two booms. Following the release of Akira in 1988, the anime industry was thrown into a bit of a flux. The first issue was the transition from traditional animation to digital paint, which caused several long-time animation studios to struggle to adapt to new practices and demands. This issue resulted in many "splinter studios" being founded by young and up and coming talents who left their jobs after butting heads with the "old guard" of yesteryear. And in comes
Now, if you are more familiar with the Madhouse that brought you One-Punch Man, then buckle up, because . The Madhouse we will be looking at just got done making Ninja Scroll. They are an odd mishmash of "Old Guard" traditionalists and young innovators. We are still four years removed from the one-two punch that shot Madhouse into mainstream relevancy: Trigun and Cardcaptor Sakura. The Madhouse that made Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals was scrappy and hungry to prove itself, but it was also a mess. It was trying to adapt to the changing appetites following the release of Akira, but it was managed by the proteges of Tezuka, who maintained old-school sensibilities. I say all of this now to make it abundantly clear that Legend of the Crystals is an anime chimera. It is an egglaying mammal like the platypus. It is a writhing beast that should not be. It is an aberration with no form. It is horrifying. It is poetically beautiful.
But Wait... How Do I Watch This Thing?
Before we transition to my close reading of Legend of the Crystals, we first need to make something abundantly clear. This film, if we can even call it that, is stuck in copyright "purgatory." The English dubbing, hilariously enough, had its rights expire ages ago when Urban Vision went bankrupt, and Square-Enix did not re-acquire the rights in bankruptcy court. So, Square-Enix, a company NOTORIOUS for enforcing the DMCA banhammer, has allowed at least one version of Legend of the Crystals to fall into the "public domain," but barely. If you were wondering, the rights to the original Japanese OVA release have also expired, but Japanese copyright laws are a fickle beast. With that in mind, I want to remind you: I'm not your daddy. Under no circumstances would I advocate piracy on a video game forum. However, I will casually mention that a simple YouTube search for "Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals" will result in full uploads of the English dubbing and original Japanese release. And before any of you attempt to scour eBay in hopes of tracking down a DVD copy of Legend of the Crystals, I regret to inform you this thing has been out of print since 1997.
That said, I want to warn you; I do not think you should watch the English dubbing of Legend of the Crystal. That's not to say it is "bad," per se, but more a product of a very particular era of anime dubbing. I say that, because Urban Vision took the voice team behind the Toonami dubbing of Tenchi Muyo, and grafted them onto Legend of the Crystals, and , it does not work even the slightest! To clarify, I hold Matt K. Miller in the highest regard as he is a foundational figurehead in the world of anime dubbing. However, he is horribly miscast in this thing as his typical comedic sighs and shriekings do not fit the gruff and dead-pan script for Prettz. The same can be said for Sherry Lynn, who plays Linaly, a fantastic voice actor who struggles to capture their character's child-like naivety. Though, John DeMita doing John DeMita things with the gruff general archetype, is the one shining star with the English dub.
Then we have the Japanese release, which is only marginally better in terms of voice acting, and you are going to have to deal with a questionable fan translation. Before we get into that, this fan translation has one of the worst font choices I have ever seen. When I was a participant in the fan-subbing community, I was a stickler for using sans fonts, but whoever did this fan translation went crazy with some cursive bullshit that made me want to eat my goddamn eyeballs with a fork. Beyond that technical nitpick, this fan translation is also a by-product of a bygone era, albeit one I find hilarious. You'll be graced with "sub notes" wherein the translators provide extra context to vocabulary terms they did not want to localize because that would "hurt" the spirit of the original script. You'll also find this thing filled with typos, and it reeks of something that an undergraduate would have done in their spare time. As they say, choose your poison!
Part 1 "Wind Chapter" - Do You Like Your Clammy Clam Classics?
Let's set the scene for this dumpster fire: it is 200 years after the events of Final Fantasy V. A new evil emerges from the "Black Moon" named "Ra Devil," and they seek to capture the four elemental crystals of yesteryear. Before you ask, NO, there is no goddamn "Black Moon" within the scope of Final Fantasy V's story, and there is most certainly not an interdimensional space wizard named "Ra Devil." But we are just getting started with Legend of the Crystals having no bearing on the source material it seeks to compliment. The lack of interest in genuinely honoring the video game can be blamed squarely on the OVA's director, Rintaro. Again, I want to clarify I respect Rintaro as a creative mastermind in the anime industry. He directed one of my all-time favorite anime movies, Metropolis (2001), and that film takes several liberties with its source material. Nonetheless, the attempt to frame this trash as an "official" Final Fantasy project is laughable at best. First, here's what the show claims to be a Chocobo!
Some eagle-eyed viewers might be able to point out that these pink fleshy creatures are an homage to the original Yoshitaka Amano concept art for Chocobos. Sure, I'm willing to admit it's a clever nod to Final Fantasy continuity. Still, in the end, it's wrong and worse, that concept art was for Final Fantasy II! But, enough prattle about needless nitpicking, let's talk about the main characters. The two dominant driving forces of the story are Linaly and Prettz. Linaly is a descendant of Bartz, which raises dozens of canonical questions I cannot even begin to list and is escorting her grandfather to the Wind Crystal. Prettz, on the other hand, is your classic "boy next door" character who has a crush on Linaly and is your typical anime try-hard. To further highlight this fact, the movie awkwardly jump cuts to a fight scene between Prettz and a giant mantis-like creature. Prettz offs the beast with relative ease after pulling out a samurai sword, but the scene feels entirely disconnected from the main story.
I will warn you; the first act is the best part of this OVA. The artwork here is an excellent showcase of anime from the early 90s. The blending of picturesque backgrounds with traditional limited animation was fun, and I can't deny feeling a bit nostalgic while watching the show. Unfortunately, the character work here is "wanting." Prettz and Linaly are two of the most generic-looking 90s-era anime characters I have seen in a while, and the rest of the cast do not fare any better. I also suspect someone in the character animation department was into "thicc women" as there are a ton of them at the S&M pirate den as well as the evil-doers moon base. But let's return to Linaly for a bit. She's all legs and wears an incredibly short skirt, and around the ten-minute mark, you are introduced to the third protagonist of Legend of the Crystals: Linaly's panties.
I do not want to debate the necessity of fanservice in anime, so I'll be short with this point: Linaly is twelve-years-old and her fanservice AIN'T SUBTLE! Luckily, Madhouse treats the fanservice in Legend of the Crystals much like classic Doraemon, but HOT DAMN does it stick out like a sore thumb! Oh, and how could I forget about the S&M pirates, because that's a thing! When did the jolly pirates of Final Fantasy V decide to wear leather jumpsuits and arm themselves with an array of whips and chains? I have no idea, but that's not even the worst continuity break in act one! No, the Wind Temple from Final Fantasy V has magically become a floating Petra! Worse, when Prettz and Linaly uncover the Wind Crystal, it enters Linaly body and causes her butt to glow whenever they get in trouble. Imagine the Sting sword from Lord of the Rings,
Part 2 "Fire Chapter" - What If This Became A Cheap Dragon Ball Knockoff?
Linaly and Prettz are apprehended by another leading player in this cavalcade of confusion: Valkus. Valkus is a general of the Tycoon air force and accuses Linaly of stealing the Wind Crystal. Just as he is about to arrest the two, the S&M pirates return and kidnap all three mid-conversation under the liege of their "queen," Rouge. Rouge takes them to her pirate hideout, which is on a mountain which does not exist in the world of Final Fantasy V. This nitpick might sound minor, but on several occasions, Legend of the Crystals shows the actual overworld of Final Fantasy V on the screen. Even worse, it also plots out the journey of the characters on the ACTUAL FINAL FANTASY V map and then transitions to incorrect locations! Every time this happened, I felt like I was about to suffer a brain aneurysm.
When the characters go to the pirate island, Rouge strips Prettz to his underwear and tortures him. I guess that means there's some gender equity in this goddamn trainwreck of an OVA, but it is highly discomforting. Likewise, as Valkus watches Rouge beat Prettz senseless, he falls in love with her. Yup, your subplot in this movie is an uptight general realizing he's a masochist and wanting to join a clan of S&M pirates. That is a thing that happens in this anime, and it is oddly one of the few plot elements that "work." However, as Valkus ponders his feelings, We are two chapters deep, and finally, have a character from Final Fantasy V! However, Mid is a ghost and appears before the characters as a child despite being more than 200 years old.
Mid apologizes for hiding the Wind Crystal in Linaly's body but says doing so was necessary for preventing it from falling into the hands of "Ra Devil." When or how Mid got his soul captured by the Wind Crystal, I'll never know. Still, he clues us as to why Ra Devil is all "bad news." The proverbial "Lord of the Black Moon," has been on a quest to achieve immortality and believes the crystals can allow him to achieve this goal. There's even a quick jump cut to Ra Devil, whom we see commanding an army of automatons and appears to be a cyborg. Oh, and real quick, I caught another error on the part of Madhouse. While Mid recounts his past, we see a brief flashback. During this flashback, we see what Legend of the Crystals "claims" to be Cid Previa. However, Cid in Legend of the Crystals looks a lot like Galuf's Yoshitaka Amano character art. I assume someone flipped the Amano character art and got the two confused, but this is a funny "oopsie" nonetheless.
|Legend of the Crystals Cid||Final Fantasy V's Galuf Concept Art|
Valkus and Prettz eventually break out of their prison cell and confront Rouge. Prettz pulls out his samurai sword and uses it to destroy everything in Rouge's room. What ensues next is a ten-minute chase sequence wherein Prettz uses his motorcycle to try and break out of Rouge's pirate den. It's an elegant chase sequence with a few visually stunning moments, but when Prettz and Linaly find the exit, Rouge confronts them. As she prepares to duel Prettz, Ra Devil's robot army attacks, and ANOTHER ten-minute chase sequence plays out before Valkus' airship arrives and saves the day, but not before the robots manage to blow up Rogue's island and sink it into the desert abyss. While technically impressive, the decision to follow one elongated action scene with another shows the lack of discipline guiding Legend of the Crystals. And before you ask, NO, I do not know how you blow up a mountain!
Part 3 "Dragon Chapter" - OH MY GOD THE PLOT TWIST IN THIS THING! HOLY SHIT!
Valkus leads Prettz, Linaly, Mid, and Rouge to Castle Tycoon, but before they arrive, we have another weird juxtaposition to Ra Devil at the Black Moon. If you are hoping to have a better understanding of why Ra Devil wants to achieve immortality or what his thought process might be, you are shit out of luck. Whenever Ra Devil speaks, he makes his usual evil guy speech and shows off a different part of his cybernetic body. If any of this is giving you Akira vibes, oh boy, we are just getting started. You know, because when I think about my favorite Final Fantasy V moments, I think about cybernetic body horror! Back at Castle Tycoon, the characters get an audience with the queen of the castle. Oh, and for whatever reason, the palace of Tycoon has become the Taj Mahal. Not sure how that one worked out the way it did, but that's a thing!
OH, SHIT! AND NOW WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT MID'S TRAGIC BACKSTORY! While the queen greets the characters, she declares them as the new "Warriors of Light." However, the term triggers Mid, who divulges more information about his past. First, he fucks up and says his grandfather, Cid, played an "instrumental role" in defeating Exdeath. After dropping that whopper, he reveals his grandfather died shortly after Exdeath's defeat, and as he mourned at his grandfather's grave, Ra Devil appeared before him. Now, what was Ra Devil's reasoning, you might ask? Why, he thought he could resuscitate Cid by hooking up his brain to a fancy jar full of green goo. And what does Ra Devil do to Mid after he extracts his grandfather's brain? Whelp, I shit you not! This OVA has the villain murder a child! For fuck's sake,
Alright, so here's where we stand with Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals. The story's crux depends on our ability to stop an evil android wizard on a moon from using a zombified brain to unlock the secrets of immortality. That's the plot. On top of that, the only two connections we have between this OVA and Final Fantasy V are the aforementioned zombie brain and a ghost boy. Both of whom, might I add, can generously be called "characters" from Final Fantasy V. Lenna, Bartz, and Faris are nowhere to be seen in this shitshow. The best part of all this exposition diarrhea is how everyone else just rolls with it. Mid says all of this shit, and everyone buys into it as if there's nothing to be doubted. Also, it has been 200 years since the events of Final Fantasy V. Does this OVA mean to suggest that the characters of Final Fantasy V allowed Ra Devil to steal Cid's brain, kill Mid, and fuck off to the moon?
The queen, unfazed by Mid's backstory, sends the characters to a nearby dragon temple at Tycoon. She claims the temple has protected Tycoon for "hundreds of years," to which I could not help yelling, "SINCE WHEN?!" And it is here when Linaly develops a new ability. When presented with a switch at the temple, a laser beam is shot from her butt to trigger the dragon's entrance. While Linaly and Prettz solve "butt puzzles," everyone else is busy fighting off the forces of Ra Devil, which have mounted a full offensive on Tycoon. The robot forces are victorious in apprehending Linaly and whisk her away to the moon, but not before the dragon at the temple assumes its final form and ferry's Valkus' airship through the void of space. I'm not joking. They tie a literal rope around the dragon's neck and have it drag their airship to Ra Devil's lair.
Part 4 "Star Chapter" - What If This Became An Akira Knockoff, Body Horror And All?
Hey, remember when I suggested that Ra Devil's biomechanical design was a shameless rip off Akira's visual motifs? That's going to double in the final act where the characters confront Ra Devil on the moon. So far, I would describe Legend of the Crystals as a "light-hearted" adventure with moments of perversion. That changes with the final act with Madhouse trying to get on the mid-90s cyberpunk train. We find Ra Devil in a sorry state with computers and machinery keeping him alive. As he places each of the crystals, Linaly included, he announces he is ready to "become God." As a wave of electricity flows into his body, he belches blood and laughs maniacally as his organs undulate. We see his open rib cage with dangling intestines and throbbing heart.
The Akira comparisons continue when the scene transitions back to Prettz in pursuit of Linaly. The music that plays is shrieking Japanese shrine music, which might be "trope appropriate," but I found it to be shamelessly derivative of Akira. The blown-out city wasteland the characters explore on the moon? It's 100% a low-rent version of Neo-Tokyo after its second destruction. Hilariously enough, Ra Devil, now named "Deathgyunos," functions very much like a JRPG boss as it assumes different forms every time the characters encounter it. It is also here when the story ramps up the casual sexism. Linaly and Rouge get kidnapped twice, and both times Valkus and Prettz rescue them with the expected bravado and chauvinism.
And then we have the big reveal of Cid's brain. In the 200 years Ra Devil has had Cid's brain in a jar, it has swollen to the size of a skyscraper. Now, you and I would be horrified to see a zombified brain so big. Mid is not you or me, and when he sees his grandfather's brain, he proceeds to hug it and jump up on it like it is a birthday bounce castle. So, we have this mechanical abomination belching blood with its organs dangling about, and there's a scene where a young ghost boy hugs his grandfather's brain like a plush toy. I just... I just don't even. I just don't know what the fuck this OVA is trying to accomplish. In fact, there are moments during this final act that straight up do not make sense. There's a random scene when Ra Devil manages to hypnotize Linaly, and she ends up beating the shit out of Prettz, but Mid solves the issue by breathing ice into her face.
Deathgyunos screams in anger as the characters reverse his immortality, which causes him to spew blood and guts all over the place. Again, think of Tetsuo from Akira, but with none of the execution or originality. Mercifully, Prettz stands before a weakened Deathgyunos and, in a quick duel, slices him in half. Mid reappears and thanks the party for their work and ascends to the afterlife. For some reason, Cid is also visible and holding his goddamn brain as he smiles at the characters. The movie then jump cuts back to Linlay's grandfather, who joins Linaly and Prettz in the trek back to their village. As they casually return to their homes, Rogue reappears and with Valkus as a new addition to her pirate crew. Valkus, perfectly content with his new life, bids Linaly and Prettz farewell, and the film finally ends. Holy shit, I hope that was as good for you as it was for me.
Why Do I Love This Awful Thing?
This goddamn thing is a mess. It is an anime blender job with no clear direction or aesthetic that makes it even marginally competent. The fucking story also changes genres on you two-thirds of the way! And yet, I fucking love this trash fire of an OVA. If I had to pinpoint an anime that crosses the line between "so bad it is good," this would be on my shortlist of examples. It is utterly baffling in parts and downright incomprehensible. I have seen each of its parts and inspirations before, but never in the span of a single show or film, and that is what makes it so memorable. Legend of the Crystals is "The Homer" but in the form of an anime. It is a Frankenstein's monster that shocks in ways I thought not possible.
Rarely does a game or movie leave me speechless, and by hook or by crook, Legend of the Crystals is one such thing. Don't get me wrong; this is a bad anime. One could be forgiven in calling it comparable to Chinese Water Torture. But at the end of the day, if you want something to put in your catalog for a "bad movie club," and anime is fair game, this is right up your alley! They don't make anime like this anymore, and while my brain says that is a good thing, I've never trusted it and would say I wish there were more shows like Legend of the Crystals. So, have at it. If you want a good laugh as the world continues to descend into flames, this might be the show to watch to "take the edge off."