Anime Review: Windaria

When the urban city-state Paro attempts to sabotage the dams of the costal city Itha, the two states go to war. Although their respective leaders, Prince Jill and Princess Ahnas, love each other, neither side wishes to surrender. Jill continues to fight out of a sense of duty to his people, while Ahnas fights to protect the citizens of Ithas. Meanwhile Izu, a farmer who dreams of becoming a hero, is recruited by Paro agents to sabotage Itha’s dams once again and flood the entire city. He takes on the assignment, hoping to make a name for himself, but is forced to leave behind his lover Marin.

Plot

Windaria does a few things right, but a lot of things wrong. To understand what goes wrong, you have to look at what the movie gets right. I like the basic story elements. The first half is mostly about Paro and Itha’s war, which breaks out despite Jill and Ahnas’s efforts to stop it. Because of political pressures on both sides, Jill and Ahnas are forced to fight out the war, even though the two are in love. The second half is about Izu, who promises his wife Marin that he’ll return to their village after going off to work as a spy for Paro. Izu loses his way and falls to decadence, forgetting about his promise to Marin.

When reduced to bullet points, the story sounds great. The problem lies in the execution. Instead of fleshing out these individual elements into a full narrative, the movie still delivers each major event as if it was in a bullet point. The connecting narrative is almost nonexistent, with much of the movie’s run time being padded out by tangentially relevant scenes. Long shots of scenery, a few action set pieces, and seemingly interminable stretches of nothing happening dilute the story ingredients. However, even a tighter edit wouldn’t completely save the plot.

The other major problem with Windaria is the lack of story development. The reason Jill is forced to continue the invasion of Itha is vague at best, and what I got out of it was “politics are a bitch.” The Jill/Ahnas story is never connected to the Izu/Marin story, and at points it feels like you’re watching two separate movies being intercut into one. If one storyline had fed off the other (both branch from the war story but that’s about the only intersection), then the resolution to the Jill/Ahnas story would not have gotten lost in the middle of the film. There’s also no build up to Izu’s descent into decadence – the whole episode feels like he’s just being put into random situations to lengthen the film.

I really like the way Izu and Marin’s story is resolved, especially since you see what’s going to happen early on, but it doesn’t hit you until the very end. It was a nice twist, but the characters aren’t developed enough to have the impact it intended. There’s also a supernatural subplot that gets snuck in throughout the film, but it just feels tacked on and artificial. Windaria could benefit from a stronger focus on characters rather than self-indulgent shots of the fictional world. The subplot with Druid and the captain of the “ghost ship” should have been more prevalent or dropped altogether. This film is a great example of good ideas turned into a mess of poor pacing and lazy writing.

Characters

For a story that hinges on character relationships, the characters are surprisingly underdeveloped. The early film centers around Jill and Ahnas, heirs to the leadership of Paro and Itha respectively. The tragic romance between the two would have been more potent if they had been portrayed as sympathetic human beings. Yet we see barely anything of them, their motivations, their daily lives, or even their romance. When you see them meet on the battlefield, there’s an odd lack of context. Sure, it sucks that the two are forced to fight, but the audience has little investment in the result.

Meanwhile, Izu and Marin are portrayed as initially neutral farmers. Izu is motivated by a desire for glory and wealth, but it doesn’t explain why he completely leaves his old life behind without so much as checking up on his village. He’s always a bit of a self-absorbed prick, so are we supposed to feel contempt for him at the end? Maybe, but that’s not how the last scenes are played at all. There’s just something disingenuous about crafting a tragic romance when the lead character can leave behind the person he loves so easily. Izu loves his dreams more than Marin, and that makes him less effective in this movie.

Marin herself is barely more than a charicature, someone who is devoted but is treated as little more than an accessory. I like the way her story is developed but again, the character just isn’t there. Windaria‘s cast is woefully inadequate for its plot. This is probably another result of the director’s fixation on his fantasy world, which comes at the expense of all the stuff that matters.

Technical

Rleased in 1986, Windaria sports good production values although there are a few reused animations. I mostly like the visual designs. Itha is a well-realized costal town, whereas Paro is a grimier, somewhat militaristic looking mountain city. The character designs have an 80s look in terms of the proportions and the softness of the features, but there’s still something elegant and timeless about the look overall.