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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Arion: It's Not That Hard to Kill a God...

Seeing as this month's reviews have been all Saint Seiya movies, I have decided to end this month off by keeping with the same mythology and reviewing another movie... I hereby posthumously declare this "Greek Movie Month"! Anyway, one of my favorite YouTube video posters is Johnny Millenium, a.k.a. the Happy Console Gamer. Though he is all about video gaming he's also a big anime fan and in his, as of this review, most recent video he showed off his recent pickups and one of them was an anime art book for an "anime that no one remembers at all" called Arion. He talked about how much he loved this movie, and the artwork looked really great. His enthusiasm about the movie made me want to watch it, and after some searching I was able to find it with English subtitles (unofficially, of course). So is this obscure movie as great as Johnny says it is?  Let's see...

Arion was originally a manga that ran in Monthly Comic Ryu magazine from 1979-1984 and was the creation of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. If that name sounds familiar, it should... Or at least his art style should, as he was character designer of multiple shows within the Mobile Suit Gundam UC universe, not to mention being the character designer of Zambot 3, Brave Raideen, the Crusher Joe anime, and Choudenji Robo Com-Battler V, among others. The man is right now still working on Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, a manga re-telling of the original One Year War. But Arion is nothing like the man's most well known works, as there aren't any giant robots nor any sci-fi elements; Arion is hardcore Greek fantasy. In 1986 Sunrise decided to turn Arion into a theatrical movie, more than likely due to Gundam making Yasuhiko a recognized name.

Arion is a little boy, the child of Poseidon, God of the Seas, and Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest. Poseidon left his family early in Arion's life so that he could start his war against Zeus over control of the land. Zeus has also cursed Demeter with blindness as punishment for Arion's birth. One day, Hades, God of the Underworld, visits Dememter and tries to convince her to help him fight his brothers. She refuses, saying that she's contempt with her life with Arion, but Hades tricks Arion to come with him, promising a cure for Demeter's blindness that doesn't actually exist. Before he knows it, Arion has been kidnapped and is brought to the underworld, where he is forced to become a strong warrior and is told the truth: If he wants his mother to see again then he has to kill Zeus. Years later, Arion is sent out to go after Zeus and it is here that Arion's epic adventure begins, one which will reveal the secrets behind Arion's very being and determine the fate of the Titans themselves.

If there's one thing that this movie does well it's tell a story that you can't always predict. Just when you think you have a feeling where this movie is heading it suddenly takes a sharp right turn and leaves you wondering what's going to happen next. For example, early in the movie Ares, God of War, is introduced and you get the feeling that he's going to be a rival-of-sorts for Arion; hell, he even has a Char-like mask! But then Arion kills Ares and you're left surprised (it's not a big spoiler, as it happens within the first 30 minutes). You think Hades, in all his tricky scheming, is going to be a major player throughout the movie? Wrong, as he's killed not too long after Ares is. This constant surprising is actually really cool and it makes you truly want to keep watching the movie. Admittedly, though, the last part of the movie is a bit traditional and expected but there's still a couple of twists left to keep you guessing.

This movie also has a fast pace to it, and it really makes you feel as if Sunrise was adapting the entire 5-volume manga into a two-hour movie. Thankfully, the right thing was done and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko himself was made the director, so even though it looks as if the movie might be rushing through some parts, it never feels like you're missing any of the larger details. If anything, the manga itself might help explain some minor story elements, but the movie itself is easily watchable by those who have never read the manga before, like myself. Also, this movie goes with the idea that the Greek pantheon are super-human but can be killed fairly easily. When you start watching the movie this comes off as almost uncomfortably awkward, but as the story continues you see that it actually works very well for the story it tells.

The overall production of this movie is excellent and holds up beautifully. Sunrise theatrical productions can look truly amazing, and Arion is a great example of that. There's a lot of details put into many scenes, especially during fights, and the movie in general still looks great 25 years later. There's also a little bit of Miyazaki-esque elements put in, such as little comical moments during more serious scenes, and it really helps the movie out a lot. Yasuhiko also adapts his own character designs for the movie, and you can tell he uses Osamu Tezuka's "Star System" a little bit: Arion looks like a mix between Amuro Ray and Kamille Bidan, Apollo looks a bit like Paptimus Sirocco, and Athena looks like Kycillia Zabi, for example. The music, done by Joe Hisaishi (of Studio Ghibli fame, among others), is equally as excellent and fits in with the epic Greek setting so well. The ending theme, "Pegasus no Shojo" by Kyoko Gotou, is a nice little love song that ends the movie off fittingly. The voice work is done by a star-studded cast, including Bin Shimada (Ares), Hirotaka Suzuoki (Apollo), Shigeru Nakahara (Arion), and Mayumi Tanaka (Seneca). Tanaka's performance of Seneca, Arion's little partner, is particularly excellent as Seneca comes off as the Greek equivalent of Dororo (from Osamu Tezuka's manga of the same name), right down to Tanaka's voice work making it nigh-impossible to tell if Seneca is a boy or a girl. This movie truly does deliver both visually and audibly.

Honestly, this movie doesn't have too many faults. The most obvious one is when you realize that the movie seems to intend on telling the manga's entire story, like I mentioned earlier, so at times you wish you had a little more detail revealed for some scenes but at the same time there's a lot of depth that I could go on and on about, like how the movie does have a few incestual overtones to it, though for the time this movie movie takes place in it's hardly surprising. If anything, the biggest complaint I have about this movie is that it's never been licensed! It's amazing that a movie as well-done and enjoyable like this was never licensed; this could easily have been one of those "go-to" movies to introduce people to anime back in the 90s and early 2000s. Instead, it was given one DVD release in Japan back in 2001 and has seemingly gone into obscurity, which is truly a shame.

So I must thank the Happy Console Gamer for recommending Arion, as it truly does deliver an enjoyable experience. Sure, there are movies that I could easily recommend over this, but the excellent animation, interestingly twisty story, great music, and enjoyable characters definitely make it hard to not recommend checking this movie out. We might never see this movie licensed at this point, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't hunt for it. In fact, the Happy Console Gamer mentioned in his video that if he had the money he would bring it over himself... Johnny, I'll be waiting for it!


  1. Arion isn't really all that out of the ordinary for YAS' manga. He's done manga based on the lives of Jesus, Nero and Joan of Ark. You're right about the star system part his Kei (Dirty Pair) looks just like a female Amuro Ray (First Gundam.)

    Arion is my favorite of the three movies he's directed and one of my all time favorite movies. It deserves more attention. Thanks for giving it some.

  2. Sounds and looks interesting! Thanks for the solid review--I'm going to have to check this out soon.