Based on a popular console game, despite a bombastic scene-setting intro, Dragon Age - Dawn of the Seeker plonks viewers into a busy scenario that likely makes more sense to seasoned gamers. In a world of demons and dragons, wizards and warriors (wouldn’t that sound better coming from a throaty-voiced narrator?), magic is strictly regulated by a religious organisation known as the Chantry. Their ongoing battle against rogue evil sorcerers called Blood Mages is fronted by the Seekers, an elite order of super strong, magic resistant knights including our surly heroine, Cassandra Pentaghast (voiced by Colleen Clinkenbeard). Our story begins as a band of Seekers rescue a young Elven girl named Avexis (Monica Rial), whom the villains have infected with dragon’s blood in order to abuse her beast-controlling powers. In the middle of the night, Cassandra discovers her mentor, Byron (John Swasey), absconding with Avexis whom he claims is endangered by a traitor in their midst. Byron is killed leaving Cassandra reluctantly partnered with Circle mage Galyan (J. Michael Tatum) as they attempt to unravel a deadly conspiracy.
These days it is not uncommon for animators to make the transition to live action filmmaking, but Fumihiko Sori is interesting in that he juggles careers in both fields. His past works include Ichi (2008), a female twist on the Zatoichi franchise, zany comedy Ping Pong (2002) and CGI science fiction epics Vexille (2008) and To (2009). Following the curious self-flagellating politics of Vexille, Sori is on safer ground with this pseudo-medieval fantasy adventure. While the project was initiated by the North American creators of the Dragon Age game series, the plot does reflect Sori’s past interest in complex political conflicts albeit placed in considerably more juvenile and at times borderline incoherent context. Though the production design sporadically impresses, particularly the monster-laden climax, the same old problems that plagued Sori’s past CGI efforts: hopelessly inexpressive characters coupled with an emotional void that leaves the impression of watching someone else play a console game for ninety minutes.
In two-dimensional form, anime have tackled complex, Dungeons & Dragons style fantasy epics before. Notably the landmark Record of Lodoss War (1990) which was also based on a popular RPG and drew considerable acclaim in Japan and the United States although it was oddly maligned on these shores. Proving the superiority of two-dimensional anime over its straggling CGI counterpart, the vapid animation fails to engage the viewer in the plot’s arcane struggle even though it basically boils down to good guys versus bad and the identity of our mysterious conspirators proves obvious from the get-go.
Perpetually frowning heroine Cassandra has a very meagre back-story but the dull animation does a poor job conveying even this simple arc, so she never progresses beyond being a one-dimensional badass. Her abrasive nature and seeming indifference to other characters leave her particularly hard to warm to. Nevertheless, the voice actors give livelier performances than the production deserves. The action set-pieces with Cassandra slicing and dicing her way through an array of big scary beasties are adequate though, on occasion, oddly sluggish yet without any emotional investment in these characters the plot amounts to a load of sub-Tolkien waffle. The climax packs plenty of flash-bang-wallop, but does not know when to stop and dawdles past the conclusion to set-up a sequel with that hoariest of clichéd lines: “a storm is coming.” When Anne Hathaway said it in The Dark Knight Rises it was a spine-tingling moment. When a CGI elderly priestess mutters it here, it is simply groan-inducing.