Utawarerumono: The False Faces is an indirect sequel to an anime created quite some time ago out of an adult visual novel. Don’t get scared away! It surprised me to find out this was based on an adult visual novel – it just seems so tame. There are a few references to some sexual themes, and a few characters are obsessed with yaoi, but overall it feels relatively low-key.
But back on topic… Utawarerumono is an anime about a man who awakens on a snowy mountain wearing a hospital gown. Suffering from amnesia, he is discovered by a cat-eared young lady named Kuon who takes responsibility for him since she found him. She names him Haku and escorts him to town, where they find that he is strangely weak compared to those around him, even children… and literally everyone else has some animalistic characteristics.
Utawarerumono’s greatest strength lies in its cast – and I am not implying everyone has super-strength, although they seem to. Kuon and Haku have this great dynamic, with their personalities conflicting in ways that make them interesting. The one odd part of it is how quickly Haku and Kuon’s relationship seemingly builds. They have so little on-screen time to get to know each other that it feels kind of miraculous that they care so deeply. But the rest of the show’s characters are all very interesting, and there are some really fascinating interactions between some of the characters. In a lot of ways, it is Haku and his precious laziness that make most of these interactions work, even when he is not directly involved.
The show seems to suffer from a bit of a strange and unfortunate dichotomy. It somehow feels both too slow and too fast at the same time. As a result of these issues with pacing, the show seems to lack direction and focus. In a mere ~12 episodes, you’re introduced to nearly a dozen main or major characters, and you’re expected to understand all of them. While they are, for the most part, fairly easy characters to build attachment to due to the way they’re written, none of them really get the development they deserve. While we had hoped that the show would continue on the pace it had set in the first few episodes, it seemed determined to rush too many characters in, and their development lacked… that’s not to say they weren’t great characters. There was just not enough screen time…
The end result was that we ended up with little besides character development, and yet still somehow very little character development. It’s a strange middle ground, where the pacing just doesn’t quite work, and it tries to be too many things. Fortunately, what action we do get is actually relatively good and we get some intriguing combat scenes, particularly in the early half of the first season. There’s also a lot of really solid humour throughout, which helps to ease the pacing issues a bit… and there are some mysteries that I really hope get some more time moving forward, which is very important for a first season of a show. You’ve gotta leave some bread crumbs, and Utawarerumono does just that.
The show’s presentation is exceptional. The characters are well-drawn and interesting on a visual level, and they’re all incredibly well voiced. The voice actors do a good job of maintaining character, and keeping each character’s unique vocal traits intact without sounding overly rehearsed – which is sometimes a problem on characters with frequent vocal ‘tics’. Additionally, the show’s visual effects are quite good. And, even though it didn’t quite make the cut for my 2015 Best Anime Openings, Fuantei na Kamisama – Utawarerumono’s opening song – is simply incredible. The one glaring flaw, the elephant in the room that I have been avoiding talking about so far, are the animations. With well drawn characters and amazing visual effects, it is such a pity that the animations feel awkward and canned.
That being said, for a first arc, this show does a very good job of building expectations and setting up characters to succeed in later seasons. It is unfortunate that this season had to feel so awkward in order for them to set that foundation, but now that it’s there it should be easier for them to build something exceptional. Hopefully, the upcoming season will live up to these expectations as the show is continuing immediately into Winter 2016… and I will certainly be watching.