The Japanese Role-Playing Game, or JRPG, has brought forth its tropes of spunky teenagers out to save the world, of exotic vehicles in impossible geography, of sword-fighting at such skill as to be on par with automatic weapons fire. Production I.G., famous for xxxHolic (reviewed previously) and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (which is awesome, by the way), now present us with Sands of Destruction, an anime adapted from a popular JRPG for the Nintendo DS.
The game boasts an impressive pedigree, with the acclaimed author of Chrono Trigger and many of the Xenogears developers behind it. In what might have proven to be a novel twist, the premise is not that the teenager heroes will save the world - it's that the heroes want to destroy it. Savage "Beast Men" have conquered the world, and humans are second-class citizens. Morte, a young girl who has lost everything in the wars, now wants to find a way to use the Destruct Code to end all life on earth.
Meanwhile, Kyrie was a human masquerading as a beast-man to get a decent job in the city. His life takes a different path when Morte ruins his disguise, and together with Toppy, a teddy-bear who fancies himself a hero, they flee the city. Morte's strong personality and the weird visions of the Destruct Code orb guide her on her quest to find a way to destroy the world.
News reports describe the Sands of Destruction game's original concept being very dark, with a bleak plotline involving feral Beast-Men rounding up humans in concentration camps, to be eaten as cattle. Fearing a significant loss of market share by getting a mature rating, the game's setting was dialed way down, back to typical cliché levels. The television show fares even worse, with most episodes having simple plot lines that would be very much at home among the younger set, and nothing even as dark as Bleach. The Beast Men's regime doesn't come off as particularly bad until you get to the last three episodes, and even then it's only the big bads who look evil.
In fact, there's hardly anything scary about the Beast Men, who are mostly rendered very cutely, as are human models with kemonomimi ears or a token tail. The main character Toppy is a "dwarf bear", who happens to look exactly like a teddy bear. (Toppy insists that no one call him a "bear" ... and yet he ends every other line with the Japanese word for "bear", like he's bilingual in Pokénglish. So do the other dwarf bears. Yeah, it's cutesy and it gets old.)
The animation is standard for TV fare. Cost cutting techniques such as the crowd-shot freeze frame, the limited animation of flapping mouths, and the long flashback, are in abundance. (The prison episode is particularly annoying, in this regard.) The world could best be described as "generic J-RPG": buildings are faux-European, the character designs are interchangeable and dull, and the technology is boringly unimaginative. Clocking in at only 6 and a half hours, Sands of Destruction tells all of a J-RPG's story, and a few extra quests, and then concludes satisfactorily.
Bottom Line: If you liked the Sands characters from the game, you're going to see a different portrayal in the anime. As a foil to Morte's tomboyishness, Kyrie is emasculated to the point of comic relief. Their pursers, the World Salvation Committee, get much less screen time, and their efforts are played out with much, much more humor in the anime than the violent interactions found in the game.
Recommendation: As an introduction to anime, Sands has great production, brisk pacing, and likeable characters. (Oh, and less button-mashing than the game.) But if you're looking for imaginative introspection into bleak fantasy, consider Full Metal Alchemist or Ergo Proxy, instead.
Funimation has all 13 episodes of Sands of Destruction in one boxed set, and they also include "interviews with the cast" as some extras - basically, production art with some limited-animation sketches thrown in.
A master of the Fast Draw technique, Norman Rafferty is a treasure hunter and swordsman-for-hire who is searching the world for the "ultimate power" that will allow him to confront his troubled past.