by Timothy Georgi
Welcome to Wonderland!
A mysterious pillar of blackness materialized in the middle of the ocean creating a gateway to another world. The gateway didn't just come by itself. It brought with it two beasts of amazing power, a white snake and a red dragon. As the two beasts materialize, they begin a fierce battle which is settled as the two appear to destroy each other, vanishing into thin air. All that remains is the gateway of darkness.
As the story begins, we fast forward 12 years from the day of the appearance of the gateway, what has been dubbed the Day of Conjunction. A brother and sister, Ai and Yu, are searching for their parents that had disappeared while studying the strange black pillar and embark on a journey that is filled with strange people, bizarre locations and mysterious occurances. Ai and Yu had heard tales from thier parents about a strange subway train that, if you showed up at the right time, would take you into Wonderland, the alternate universe inside the mysterious pillar of darkness.
The kids are determined to find their parents, so they get tot he train station as the strange train appears. Once inside, they encounter a stranger, a young lady named Lisa. Lisa befriends Ai and Yu and they head into Wonderland together. Just what Lisa is looking for is still a mystery in Volume 1.
Once inside Wonderland, the trio come in contact with all sorts of bizarre things, from battling baddies to buildings made out of plants and fruits. The most mysterious of all is the stranger they find just after they arrive. He's a warrior that seems to always be in the right place at the right time to help keep them out of a jam.
In true Final Fantasy fashion, we're presented with a story laced with intrigue and generous amounts of mystery. Viewers are handed a bunch of different questions that can only be answered as you keep watching the series... What is Lisa doing in Wonderland? Who is the mysterious stranger? Why does he keep appearing just when Ai, Yu and Lisa need him? And where in the world DID Ai and Yu's parents disappear to? You have to keep watching to find out.
One of the staples in the Final Fantasy world provides an aire of fun and craziness to FF:U. In the first episode, our trio happen upon a Chocobo which brings some much needed comedy to the series. We're also treated to some slightly cheesy use of the trademark Final Fantasy battle victory music as enemies are defeated. The simplistic animation style mixed with cel-shaded 3-D graphics are a little hard to watch at times. As with many anime series that try to use mixes of different animation styles, the combination of traditional animation and computer generated imagery in FF:U is still a little hard to watch. The vast difference between the computer graphics and the hand-drawn art are very difficult to incorporate together in a series like this. There are a few times where the mix looks alright, but most times the two styles of animation clash.
As you watch the episodes unfold, it's like playing a FF game without being able to use a controller or like you're in the middle of a demo running you through the entire game with no way for you to control anything. You're taken through the travels of Ai, Yu and Lisa with the typical FF battle sequences reminiscient of FF games of the early 90s. The storyline stops, a battle between one of the "good guys" and one the the "bad guys" ensues and when the battle is over, we return to our regularly scheduled search for Ai and Yu's parents.
With this first DVD, the storyline doesn't feel like it's nearly as developed as some of the latest video games in the Final Fantasy series and the action has a tendency to be a bit over the top, but hard core Final Fantasy fans will probably want to check this out just for the sake of being part of the Final Fantasy world. Hopefully as the series progresses, the purpose of the journey will become more solid. Overall, it's not the hottest thing to hit the video shelves, but can be a lot of fun at times and, since we are talking about Square here, the storyline will most likely get better as the series progresses. All you Final Fantasy fans that just can't be without anything FF, you'll want to grab this one up. If you're not into the FF scene, you can probably take it or leave it. Either way, the trip into Wonderland will go on.