Funimation brought a copy of their new movie, Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker to the massive screening room of C2E2 2012 for a throng of appreciative anime fans and gamers. This full-length animated film was produced in association with EA and BioWare to be a canon entry into the Dragon Age franchise. Though unrated, the film could be PG-13 with the copious amount of blood and death in it, but would probably rate lower since there is no foul language or sexual content.Taking place before the events of Dragon Age 2, Dawn of the Seeker features the character of Cassandra Pentaghast, who appeared in the second game's framing story but here take a leading role as young member of the Chantry Seekers, an elite force within the reigning religious order. In the course of the story she is forced to temper her combative nature in order to uncover the plot of a circle of Blood Mages with nefarious intent.
The Dragon Age lore-light approach this movie takes also makes it accessible to newcomers. Though this also lets the movie tell its tale via a dutiful checking off of fantasy adventure storytelling beats: palace intrigue, narrow escapes, imperiled innocents, sneering villains and giant monsters, though plenty of action keeps things from getting bogged down.
Its best features are its leads and a critical role reversal that refreshes some expectations that might be had for this kind of film. The headstrong veteran warrior, dragon slayer and serious ass-kicker Cassandra, voiced by Colleen Clinkenbeard, finds herself allied with the more passive Regalyan "Galyan" d’Marcall (J. Michael Tatum), a young mage with limited combat ability. Thrown together by circumstance, as they develop as a team and a pair they never betray their natures. Their vocal performances are also well done, befitting the professionals behind them, but the dialog they are given, in particular when its time to make a profound announcement, is stilted and borderline corny.
However, what is going to strike viewers the most is how the animation looks. There is little getting around the fact that the bulk of the characters, the world and the action looks alternately simple and stiff. While most of the creatures including the dragons look astonishingly well-rendered in full 'cutscene' CG and the magic effects are very well done, the humans share a pseudo-cel shaded look and are each 'lit' in a strange fashion that just shines a spotlight on how unreal they all look. The surrounding world is unremarkable outside of the impressive temple structure in the film's climax.When the lights came back up, a small panel featuring three of the films' principals was convened: ADR Director Mike McFarland was joined by voice actors J Michael Tatum and Colleen Clinkenbeard. Prompted by the Funimation moderators, McFarland described the work that went into the film during pre-production. He read up on the lore of the games and talked to the creative team that developed them. Tatum said that he just patiently listened to anyone who knew anything about Dragon Age while Clinkenbeard, who was portraying the only character to have appeared previously, went deep to adapt her voice and her performance to fit the canon. She described what she discovered about Cassandra’s unique "Italian/French and a little Chinese" accent and used as a model the actor Isabella Rossellini.
On the subject of unique challenges encountered in the production, McFarland revealed that this film was a first for Funimation, it was the first time that they had worked from scratch and not adapted a Japanese production for the west. This meant that he and his staff had to develop the tone and pacing of the dialog themselves. Clinkenbeard then reminded him of the cameras they used to recorded the actor’s mouth movements as they made their initial recordings of the dialog so the animation could be drawn to fit. Tatum recanted a story of how the overseas animation studio even rendered his non-verbal speech, including things like halting breaths, that would have otherwise been cropped out but he felt added to the character’s cautious nature.
Asked to elaborate on his character, which is new to the franchise, Tatum replied that it was different but liberating to portray a character that's not a tough guy or a fighter in an action film. He also said that the response he got from the game’s developers was positive and that fans might be seeing Galyan in an upcoming Dragon Age game.
A question from the floor was asked about the choice in animation styles. McFarland replied that the choice was made to work with Fumihiko Sori (Appleseed) and T.O Entertainment, whose signature look is the blending of CG and anime with “strong light sources.” Funimation’s strong relationship and Sori’s enthusiasm for the project is what ultimately sold them on the partnership.
Another fan asked if the Funimation staff took any advantages given the freedom of being the original production staff for the first time. McFarland replied that while they had some freedom "the reigns weren’t “loose,” just because we have some flexibility didn’t mean that they had to use it." Tatum did enjoy being able to imbue more personality to his character.
The next question was if any of the panel had actually played the source games. McFarland had played through Origins, but only a little of Dragon Age 2, and didn’t play them as much as intensely watched the cutscenes for clues to the world, the accents of the characters and how the different factions treated each other. Tatum played both but admitted that he “sucked at them” and that he had a very low tolerance for frustration. Clinkenbeard said that since she was a girl she just watched others play, a statement which was met with a resounding chorus of boos. She then revealed that she does have a history with RPGs, having played Baldur's Gate and Champions of Norrath and has the intent to give Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim a try.
Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray May 29, 2012.