A pet peeve of mine when it comes to television has always been when I see a show with an interesting or unique premise, one that intrigues me enough to get me to pay attention - and then the show takes the idea and completely trashes it in favor of something far more pedestrian. It could be a unique setting or a compelling character concept; but regardless of what it is, it always seems that someone, at some point will step in and decide that it's too intriguing or intelligent to use, and all the potential it has is wasted as it's replaced by something that is decidedly less interesting and mediocre. And this just about sums up my thoughts on Utawarerumono: an interesting, compelling premise that completely fails to deliver.
Utawarerumono, aside from having the most unpronounceable name of any anime I've ever come across, is a twenty-six episode series that begins with one such interesting premise. The story starts off with the main character awakening in the house of a healer named Tusukuru to realize that he cannot remember anything about his life or who he is. Tusukuru gives him the name "Hakuoro" and, with nowhere else to go, he becomes a member of the small village that the healer lives in together with her granddaughters as he tries to sort out his past. Now, at this point, I was fairly intrigued. Yes, the whole "protagonist has amnesia" setup has been done before, but just about every premise under the sun has been tried in one form or other. And, if done well, an amnesiac protagonist can lead to interesting an unexpected character development.
Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the creators of Utawarerumono didn't really seem to know what sort of story they want to tell. The initial premise is abruptly dropped for no apparent reason, and only shows up again for a few episodes in the middle of the series where nothing is really resolved, and then again at the very end. Instead, the bulk of the series goes in a completely different direction, with Hakuoro leading a rebellion against the malevolent emperor of the country. Now, this isn't unforgivable, and the rebellion plot could have been compelling enough on its own, but then the focus of the series is shifted again when Hakuoro's rebellion succeeds in overthrowing the emperor, leaving him in power. Everything seems to break down at this point, and the series muddles along in an often confusing and unfocused mess of plot threads that could briefly be summed up as "Hakuoro and his country get into wars."
While the story is decidedly disappointing, the series could have at least partially made up for it by crafting interesting characters. Yet again, however, Utawarerumono falls short in this category as well. In fact, a good deal of my frustration with the series can be traced to Hakuoro himself: He has the characterization of a rock. He seems to have about two emotional states, "indifference" and "I am somewhat distraught by the unfortunate circumstances that have befallen me." Maybe it's just me nitpicking, but for someone who lost all memory of their former life and identity, I'd expect at least a little bit more of an emotional range. The ensemble of supporting characters is likewise disappointing; none of them ever evolves beyond their stock character archetypes, and their development falls victim to tired clichés and predictable tropes. And the antagonists somehow manage to be even worse. I won't go into it in too much detail, but suffice it to say, when your villain fills all of his non-speaking screen time with maniacal laughter, they cannot be expected to be taken seriously.
I have spent a lot of words pointing out the flaws in this series, but it isn't truly terrible or completely unwatchable. The animation is good, and the dubbing tends to be decent. And if you can ignore the shallow, predictable characters and unfocused plot, the show is at least tolerable. But decent production values can hardly make up for its many flaws, and ultimately, Utawarerumono proved to be more frustrating for me than entertaining. It's hard to find something to like in a show that squanders its potential so thoroughly.
Bottom Line: A pedestrian anime series with a confused, muddled plot and clichéd stock characters. While it never dips into the realm of the truly terrible, there isn't a whole lot to keep anyone interested for long.
Recommendation: Unless you really can't find anything else to watch, don't bother with this series.
Even though Josh Viel didn't really like this series, he still thinks that mask Hakuoru always wears is pretty cool. Do those come in black?