Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Legend of the Condor Hero

I first saw this anime years ago through AXN-Asia. Back then, I wasn't so interested in wuxia, or anime for that matter. Martial arts did not have that much hold for me either. Wuxia, being a Chinese martial arts sub-genre, it's no surprise I did not jump out of my seat when I saw the anime preview. It was a surprise really when or why I decided to pick this show.

The Story

Legend of Condor Hero is the story of a young orphan boy named Yang Guo (Youka in the Japanese version) who is raised by the great hero, Guo Jing, and taught the Taoist philosophies in the famous martial arts school, Quanzhen Sect ("All True" Sect) whose headquarters are in Zhongnan Mountain.

Yang Guo, however, then a rebellious 14-year-old, does not fit in among the extremely conservative and traditional Taoist priests. As a result, he is targeted by his teachers with insults and abuse until such a time that he finally decides to run away. He meets first an eccentric old man, named Ouyang Feng, who is actually a feared martial arts master but who, however, suffers from amnesia and, believing Yang Guo to be his son, teaches him a powerful technique.

In another part of Zhongnan Mountain, there is another martial arts school whose teachings are secret from the outside world. This is the Ancient Tomb Sect, and it is here that Yang Guo meets Xiao Longnu ("Little Dragon Girl"), the heiress of the school. Xiao Longnu becomes Yang Guo's teacher but because both of them are about the same age (Xiao Longnu is two years older) and have lived together most of their lives, their feelings for each other becomes more than just that of a teacher and her pupil.

Through a series of tragic events, the two are separated and Yang Guo embarks on a journey in search of his past, his love, and ultimately his awareness of the true self.
Watch OP Clip
Watch Legend of Condor Hero Episode Clips

The Good Stuff

For a while, I was obsessed with this story. So much so that I even scrounged around for old wuxia books about it and read the online Chinese text of the original novel.

Legend of Condor Hero
is based on the second novel of the Condor trilogy, written by wuxia author, Jin Yong. The title of the novel is Shen Diao Xia Lu (or lit. The Divine Eagle and its Companion, but more popularly translated as The Return of the Condor Heroes).

The novel is set in the beginning of the Mongolian invasion of ancient China and the decline of the once mighty Jin Dynasty (Jurchen).

Yang Guo, along with many of the main characters in the story, is from South Song, a small country of independent-minded citizens who once put up arms against the invading Jins and are now preparing to make their last stand against Kublai Khan's Mongolian horde at the capital, the walled city of Xiangnan.

While the story mainly relates how Yang Guo is able to overcome the obstacles of his love for Xiao Longnu (Confucian teachings forbid romantic love between a teacher and his student) and redeem his family name, once tarnished by his father (a Song citizen but adopted into the Jin royal family) who betrayed his country, the story also takes you right in the middle of a war. As such, it provides you with a fascinating look at one of the most turbulent moments of Chinese history.

In the end, Legend of Condor Hero is a historical epic laced with romance and heroism in a time of war. A good combination. What's even better about it is that it takes true-to-life characters from right off history books and breathes life into them, thus lending a certain level of realism to the story.

"Legend of Condor Hero" The Complete Saga DVD Box Set @ Amazon
More "Legend of Condor Hero" products @ Amazon
"Legend of Condor Hero" DVD Box @ Play-Asia
"Legend of Condor Hero" Series @ Play-Asia
"Legend of Condor Hero" DVD Box Set @ Right Stuf
"Legend of Condor Hero" The Complete Saga (DVD Box Set 1) (English Dub) (US Version) @ Yes Asia
"Legend of Condor Hero" Animation Series @ Yes Asia
"Legend of Condor Hero II" (END) (DVD) (Hongkong Version) @ Yes Asia

The Bad Stuff

Unfortunately, that is all that the anime is good for. While the art is not that bad, production values are very low.

Considering that Legend of the Condor Hero is marketed as a martial arts anime, one would expect a lot of excellent fight scenes. However, most of the time, these fight scenes are recycled.

Not only that, the animation quality disgracefully fails at properly rendering the martial arts techniques. In many scenes, we get nothing but still pictures of characters in awkward-looking positions.

It's the worst thing for any martial arts film.

The series is also unfinished. The first season, composed of 26 episodes, takes you about one-fourth of the original story and ends at a cliff-hanger. The second season, released two years later, and only in Chinese-language version, takes you to about half of the story and again ends at a cliff-hanger. Until now, there is no word whether the series will ever get finished.

The music, perhaps, is the series' one saving grace in terms of production values. The opening is called "Blasa" by Yae, a rousing, acoustic track that hints at an epic of grand proportions. The ending theme, called "Yuu" by NoR is a haunting melody that reminds you of beautiful views from the top of the mountain. The Cantonese version even has Andy Lau, a popular Chinese actor who himself has played the role of Yang Guo in a live-action adaptation of the novel, singing the opening song.

Final Word

I won't go so far as to recommend this series as a must-watch. It is, however, a very good story and, to some extent, entertaining. The production values will most definitely turn you off, if you are very particular about that sort of thing. But if you are willing to overlook that aspect of anime and instead focus on the good parts, then you are in for one compelling ride.

That said, I do recommend the novel, if you find that you like the story. The anime deviates a lot from the original. There is a complete fan translation available at Wuxiapedia. Of course, this being only a fan translation, it's not really the best way to experience the beauty of this novel or the language used by Jin Yong, but it is a start. And who knows, you might even want to buy the actual novel afterwards or get interested in other wuxia works (hint: Gu Long is another awesome author).

Official (Nippon Animation) (Taiseng Entertainment) (Jade Animation) (TVB)
Anime News Network


ashu said...

condor heroes has a real marvellous storyline it must be watched by all anime lovers,and should spread the word about this brilliant anime