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Content warning: Light violence
What’s it about? Shiloh awakens from a mysterious dream where he’s summoned by a fairy queen. The dream is strange to the young man, who has never traveled far from his hometown. On his way to deliver produce from his orchard to the town reverend, he encounters Elazul. The mysterious adventurer accosts the locals for information on the whereabouts of someone precious to him. Finding a lead that takes them to a nearby cave, the two set out to rescue her.
Legend of Mana has a magical quality to it that most will summarize as nostalgia, but to me it’s something deeper. It’s the summer of 1999, and I’m sitting up awake, alone in my grandmother’s home at 5 a.m. in the morning. I had just gotten off the plane to Japan the day before and jet lag meant my body thought it was 1 p.m. when it was in fact the crack of dawn.
In an era before 24/7 television, the TV was a rain of static as I flipped through the same 9 channels in vain. It was then I saw my first glimpse of Legend of Mana. A wordless looping two-minute trailer of the game with no voice-over played on repeat for what seemed like an hour, and in the liminal haze of a quiet and still summer morning, it felt like I was transported to another world. I yearned to know more about it. Who were these magical characters? What other battles would there be? I played Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana before on SNES, this had to be an amazing game.
An amazing game it was, and it remains so 23 years later.
This anime is aimed at people like me, an obvious nostalgia bomb so SquareEnix can cash in on the older Mana games, since 2006’s Dawn of Mana tanked the entire franchise into a relative obscurity that relegated new games such as Rise of Mana to iOS and Android. “Remember when Mana games were good?” SquareEnix seems to be asking as they go back to the golden age of the 30-year-old franchise.
And so I came into Legend of Mana -The Teardrop Crystal- not expecting a lot. This is a show meant to stoke the fires of millennial fans like me who still wish for a new season of Gargoyles or an official translation of Mother 3. And the show does exactly that, but what’s most important is that it does that and more.
Teardrop Crystal seems to have some considerable love poured into its production, because while production values certainly aren’t going to rival the cinematic spectacle Chainsaw Man, Akiba Maid War or Spy x Family will be this season, there is plenty of attention to detail paid to bringing the late-1990s JRPG to life. And part of that is perhaps unavoidable. Its source material is so visually rich with world building and aesthetics that it’s impossible to make a Legend of Mana anime without hitting some of its most charming elements, including a cast of genuinely weird spooky-cute characters like whatever Rev. Nouvelle is.
But it’s more than that, and I know I’m gushing, but please bear with me because there are so many feelings I have for this show.
It’s how the show isn’t a Xerox copy of the original game. While the Mana series is defined by the paintings of the late painter Isono Hiroo, Isono didn’t work on Legend of Mana’s key art–and yet he is paid homage to in Teardrop, as the show’s artistic direction includes his distinct method of painting foliage.
It’s the decision to sparingly use renown video game composer of Street Fighter II Shimomura Yoko’s music rather than cranking the Home and Domina theme at max volume from the get go, and the adaptation of the Swedish theme song they used into Japanese for the ED. There’s bits and pieces about this show that show they put effort in, and I’m glad for it because it’s not overbearing.
All that rolls into a show that is, at the same time, welcoming to people who never even played the PSX game of yesteryear. What you need to know is that Shiloh and Elazul are about to embark on an adventure to save Pearl. The show introduces you to the concept of Artifacts and how they uncover a larger world. As for the content warning I mentioned above, Elazul accosts a local barmaid and pulls a sword on the protagonist. Very mild stuff, and I don’t foresee this show to get too gory or grotesque with its fight scenes.
As far as first episodes go, this worked well enough, although it does bog itself down in the outset to play some nostalgic notes to depict Li’l Cactus and the apprentice mages Bud and Corona (Lisa if you played the localized version). It could have cut back on the whole “Shiloh has an orchard and a ranch full of monster pets,” since this could very well have no narrative significance down the line, but it’s cute… I guess.
Boiled down to whether this show captures the attention of the uninitiated, I think it could have done better. The characters are all individually interesting and you can guess something greater will happen, but Elazul’s quest to find Pearl fails to inspire any grander sense of adventure itself. And Shiloh’s own foreshadowing dream and chat with Nouvelle hints at something greater, but the set up is, admittedly, bog standard fantasy fare in the outset.
And that is to say, the Jumi story arc in Legend of Mana is probably one of the best storylines in the game. I’m on the edge of my seat in anticipation, but I also can admit: if I showed this to someone who hasn’t played the game, I will probably get a tepid “so what?”
Also to note, Legend of Mana had a very generic protagonist and let players choose their flavor of boy or girl. I, having wild gender dysphoria, always chose girl and named her things like “Chiaki” or “Buttface.” The show has decreed the canon protagonist is floppy-hat himbo man and his name is Shiloh. I refuse to believe it. That’s wrong. Give me hair stick girl. You tease her in the intro. Also please name her “Buttface.” It’s the right thing to do.
You can probably tell I’m going to be watching this show regardless of whether it’s good or bad (not that this has stopped me from watching other bad shows), but I’d say give this a three episode try on my recommendation if you’re not feeling the first episode. I promise this is probably going to be great. At least, that’s what I would say if my CR sub doesn’t run out this week. I’m not going to renew it until they have a talk with SAG-AFTRA.