Dungeons & Dragons: The Complete Animated Series
Terrence Briggs · December 27, 2006 | I had not seen the Dungeons & Dragons animated series until its Fox Kids run in 2000, long after any nostalgia would have washed over me. That Fox Kids run came on the heels of the first Harry Potter film, which made sense to me at the time. (Dungeons & Dragons' kid wizard, Presto, bares an archetypical resemblance to Potter, after all.) Just goes to show what a floundering network lineup will do to whip up interest.

I confess that I was far from impressed with the episodes aired on Fox Kids, and this 27-episode collection only solidifies that lack of impression.

Dungeons & Dragons: The Complete Animated Series
Animation production by Toei Doga
Distributed by BCI Eclipse, 2006
Originally broadcast in 1983
594 minutes

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Watching this series requires you to mentally adjust your aesthetic to a standard many animation lovers fear: 1980s television animation. That means you must prepare yourself for many things: the comic stylings of He-Man's Orko; the relaxed visual pace of Transformers; the realistically rendered action figure character designs; the stiff, poorly-timed, consistently off-model, bargain-basement Japanese animation; the timbre of American vocal thespians Peter Cullen and Frank Welker, and the murky photography of film through a telecine.

Enjoying this series requires you to develop dungeon-tunnel vision. Focus intently on the scripts, for that is your only hope. Heck, you could just read disc 5's teleplays with Adobe Acrobat and use your imagination to save yourself the grind of enduring the finished product, but as any old-school video game role-player will tell you, grinding for experience is all part of the game.

The concept is a bit of postmodern genius: Real-world kids role-playing as heroes of a fantasy world. There's definitely no "pretend," however. Like the Narnia kids before them and the W.I.T.C.H. teens after them, these are Earth youths magically transported to another dimension and forced to deal with legitimate threats. Their Yoda-like guide is Dungeon Master. Their episodic troubles are matters of fate. Their series-sustaining carrot is the hope that they may some day return to Earth.

But... we discover that Dungeon Master (or any commander of magic) has the power to return our heroes home. Fate won't allow it; work must be done here. So the 27 episodes are really just fetch quests. Get this. Return this to that. Help this creature. And so forth. Various episodes offer the tease of a possible way home. One episode avoids making the trip home a false climax and does something greater: Making it the catalyst for genuine drama and character development.

About those characters: Our party of protagonists consists of three guys, two gals, and a My Little Pony-looking baby unicorn that's apparently female, so things seem progressive enough on the gender front.

About "development": That's where the progress ends. A gender card must be pulled on the character designers. The teen guys are modestly clothed, but the teen girls are not. Redhead thief Sheila wears thigh-high boots and a barely-there skirt that would be more at home on Ghost in the Shell. Acrobat Diana saunters about in a two-piece cloth bikini. Even the barbarian grade-schooler Bobby is wearing more than that! Chalk it up to bored character designers.
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