Record of Lodoss War is a thirteen-episode OVA series first released from 1990 to 1991 by Kadokawa Video. Very heavily steeped in western high fantasy tropes and themes, the series is an adaptation of a work by Ryo Mizuno, author of a series of novels that were born out of a pen-and-paper RPG. The first of several animated works set within this fantasy universe, it was followed by productions such as Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight, Legend of Crystania, and Rune Soldier.
Because of Lodoss War’s origins in pen-and-paper RPGs, it’s not entirely inaccurate that some might consider it Dungeons & Dragons: The Anime. The first episode, actually a prologue chronologically set nearly halfway into the narrative, plays out almost like a standard game session, complete with a host of archetype “player characters.” There’s the human warrior Parn, the high elf Deedlit, Etoh the novice priest, Slayn the mage, Ghim the axe-wielding dwarf, and Woodchuck the thief. As this eclectic bunch marches through the ruins of an old dwarven tunnel, they find themselves faced with a giant, fire-breathing dragon that they have to overcome if they want to see the other side.
But while criticizing it for its adherence to well-worn fantasy role-playing tropes is fair, to leave it at that would be a disservice. As the series progresses, the characters develop against the backdrop of the constant conflicts that threaten to tear the island-continent of Lodoss apart, and the characters grow beyond the bounds of the RPG party line-up they’re introduced as. The story also takes a number of twists that complicate the storyline well-beyond its initial basic premise.
To give a brief overview, the story proper begins with Parn, the son of a knight that died in disgrace, attracting trouble when he rescues the village mayor’s daughter from goblins, killing one of them in the process. But after the goblins march on the village in an unusually organized retaliation, he and the others that helped stave off the attack leave in order to understand just what on Lodoss is going on. They soon learn that Beld, ruler of the dark island of Marmo, has staged an invasion of Lodoss and intends to conquer the entire continent. The party then heads for Valis, one of the most powerful nations on Lodoss, and assist King Fahn.
Meanwhile, the conflict is being overseen by Karla, a five hundred-year-old witch whose sole desire is maintaining “balance” on Lodoss by any means necessary. And so when King Fahn and Emperor Beld meet on the field of battle and Fahn is slain, Karla evens things by sending a spear through Beld and then striking him with lightning for good measure. This act puts the warring factions both back at square one, just as a new threat emerges.
While Beld is busy plotting the conquest of Lodoss, his court mage Wagnard enacts plans of his own. Seeking supreme power, he plots the resurrection the Kardis, the goddess of destruction that sleeps deep under the surface of Marmo. In order to accomplish this, he requires the sacrifice of a high elf, and thus kidnaps Deedlit. The final episodes of the series focus on Parn’s quest to rescue Deedlit before the resurrection ceremony is complete and all of Lodoss is doomed.
This overview doesn’t account for a variety of other events that occur over the course of the story, including the more personal character moments. There’s certainly a lot of archetypical and stereotypical behavior from the cast, such as Ghim and Deedlit’s dwarf/elf verbal sniping, Woodchuck finding trouble thanks to his thieving ways, and Parn rushing headlong into everything with sword drawn before he has the experience poi—er, practice to hold his own against the more powerful enemies he comes across. But then there are the circumstances behind Karla, who in actuality has no body of her own and has taken possession of a priestess Ghim is determined to save. Upon losing her chosen vessel, she soon finds a new one in Woodchuck, and is free to continue using Lodoss as her personal chessboard.
Though the plot does, in a number of ways, feel at times like a transcript of an RPG session, there’s more to Record of Lodoss War than rolling twenties. And while there may be those that are too ingrained in the world of RPGs to see beyond its tropes, particularly in its first episode, those that stick with it will find an entertaining tale filled with action and fun characters. Particularly as the stock party set-up evolves and the plot’s greater complexities take root.
Backing up the story is its visuals, which rank among the highest points of Record of Lodoss War. The characters are all well-detailed and defined, from the harsh appearances of worn, world-wary figures like Ghim and Woodchuck to the slender, delicate appearance of Deedlit. The color palette, subtly muted, adds to the detail of the world, from the forests, caves, cities and castles of Lodoss to the hellish landscape of Marmo. It’s an art style that works well for the series and which helps it stand out among other fantasy productions that are brighter and more apt to oversaturate rather than make any effort to subdue.
Lodoss War’s soundtrack is similarly high quality, with a range of songs that fit the tone of the series from its most action-packed moments to its quieter scenes. The opening theme, “Adèsso e Fortuna: Honō to eien”, is particularly noteworthy, blending well with the opening animation to help establish the look and feel. Taken together, the audio/visual aesthetic is highly appealing and uses its production values to great effect.
As a whole, Record of Lodoss War is a high-quality production. Its primary narrative faults can be traced back to its RPG origins, but despite that, the characters, action, look and feel of the series help elevate it above jokes about D20s, resulting in something as fun to watch as it is beautiful. It easily ranks among the classics of the fantasy anime genre with a story as entertaining now as it was back in the ‘90s.
Record of Lodoss War was released on DVD in North America by U.S. Manga Corps, a Central Park Media label, in both subtitled Japanese and an English dub. The series is not rated, but is recommended for ages 13 and up by the publisher for violence.
Oprainfall Bonus Fact!: Norio Wakamoto, the Japanese voice actor of Woodchuck, also portrays the villain Metal Face in Xenoblade Chronicles.