Anime of the Past: Fire Emblem

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

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Fire Emblem

Fire Emblem is a two-episode OVA originally released in 1996. Produced by Nintendo and KSS and directed by Shin Misawa, it is based on Fire Emblem: Monshou no Nazo, the third entry in the series and a partial remake of the original game. With its 1998 English language release, the OVA is also the first property bearing the Fire Emblem name to see official North American distribution.

Fire Emblem is the tale of Prince Marth, who is forced to flee his homeland following the betrayal of an ally and the death of his father. With the enemy at the gates of their castle, Marth’s sister, Elice, uses magic to transport him to safety, allowing herself to be taken prisoner. Years later, after Marth has grown from boy into a young man, he leads his remaining forces and a number of allies on a quest to reclaim what’s his and liberate both his kingdom and his sister.

Fire Emblem

A young Marth and his sister Elice, fleeing the enemy.

If you’re wondering how they could possibly fit the entire narrative of a Fire Emblem game into two episodes with a total running time of approximately an hour, well, they couldn’t. More to the point, the attempt isn’t even made. The second episode ends a scant few chapters into the storyline with the defeat of mountain bandits, the rescue of a beautiful cleric named Lena, and the recruitment of the mercenary Navarre; a far cry from the confrontations with the ultimate villains Gharnef and Medeus, much less anything that occurs in Monshou no Nazo’s second story. I don’t know the reasons behind why the OVA ends this way; it may be that production was cancelled after the second episode, or perhaps it was only intended to be a simple introduction to the game. Whatever the case, it’s disappointing that more of the story wasn’t adapted.

That being said, there are a few interesting footnotes to relate. For example, Hikaru Midorikawa, the voice actor that portrays Marth, later provided the character’s voice in both Super Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl. His voice is used in both the Japanese and English language versions of both games. Also notable is the characterization of Marth himself; the anime paints him as a naive, somewhat spineless boy that riles his father after refusing to kill a deer he wounded while hunting and who later draws disdain from the nobles of Talys, the nation in which he and his remaining allies take refuge as he grows.

Fire Emblem

Julian, Lena and Navarre play prominent roles in the second episode.

At the very least, this characterization doesn’t seem to match with that given to him in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. In the game, Marth shows resilience and bravery, even while young. And though the game’s plotting is thin, it demonstrates no hint of the disdain that characters in the anime target at him. The anime also works quite a bit to establish the relationship between Marth and Talys’s Princess Caeda, but of course, nothing comes of it due to the incomplete nature of the story.

If there’s anything else that can be gleamed from the OVA, it’s the nature of its localization. Without an official game translation to fall back on, the translators didn’t do a bad job. However, it is still jarring to go back and watch the anime, where both the English dub and the subtitles refer to characters as “Mars” or “Sheeda.” They’re technically correct, as far as direct transliterations between Japanese and English are concerned, but they don’t feel correct. I imagine that it’s the same sense one would get when trying to play an old fan translation of the original Fire Emblem immediately after playing the official English language release of Shadow Dragon.

For a story with as many characters, relationships, rivalries, and battles as any Fire Emblem game has, to leave this adaptation incomplete with so much story left to tell is a disappointment regardless of whether or not it was only meant to be two episodes long from the start. The anime interpretations of the major characters that appear are drawn well and demonstrate fair personality for their brief screen time. This is especially nice given that the characters of Monshou no Nazo are relatively thin, lacking the level of depth found in later Fire Emblem casts.

Fire Emblem

Caeda gets plenty of screen time in the OVA, but like everyone else, her story is cut too short.

Though what’s present is certainly entertaining, it’s hard to say if the final product would have been able to rival other classic fantasy anime of its era if a more complete story could have been told. There just isn’t enough material to make a proper judgment; if Fire Emblem were to receive a report card, its grade would be marked “Incomplete.” It’s likely for this reason alone that the OVA never received a North American DVD release and will remain a footnote in the franchise’s history.

Fire Emblem was released on VHS by ADV Films in 1998 in both subtitled and English dubbed editions. It is not rated, but contains violence.

About Justin Graham

Justin joined Oprainfall through…belligerence. (Note to others: This is not a good way to get noticed. This sort of thing only works once.) When he’s not writing about games or waxing nostalgic about anime older than a large portion of the site’s audience, he can be found playing JRPGs or beating up lots of dudes in Dynasty Warriors.