First season review: HERE
Ancient Books of Ys II follows our young hero, Adol, as he is whisked away from Esteria and up to the floating land of Ys where the Black Pearl, the source of evil that spawns monsters, is located. Those on Ys are a hopeless and down trodden people whose lives are ruled by fear. The monsters on Ys are more powerful and intelligent than the brainless beings seen on Esteria in Ancient Books of Ys and terrorize the people by arbitrarily taking sacrifices from the small villages that dot the land. As a result, the people have become submissive and willing to appease the monsters with their sacrifices in return for being allowed to live. The situation is bleak and begins to look worse as the monsters begin to demand and take more sacrifices with the villagers helpless to do anything but look on and hope they are not next.
While its predecessor focuses on keeping its story simple and to the point, Ancient Books of Ys II, with its more serious outlook, turns it attention to creating a short, yet dramatic and exciting OVA. With only two hours to tell its story, the pacing in this OVA has a much faster pace than Ancient Books of Ys where Adol took his time collecting the books and the darker aspects of the show were balanced out by some of the lighter moments with his friends. This time around, Adol doesn’t have time to waste dawdling around and immediately starts to tackle his current quest, which involves reaching the Black Pearl, saving everyone on Ys, and reuniting with the goddesses. Adol no longer has time to mindlessly hack his way through hoards of easy monsters, and he is presented with monsters who, despite his skill in sword fighting and ability to use magic (which he comes to rely on almost entirely), present him with a major challenge and often take some time to defeat. This departure from an a video game style of fighting means less monsters and longer fights. The fights become more interesting and exciting since the monsters put up a good fight and force Adol to use his head more. His use of magic also adds another interesting factor to the fights since he is very much a novice when it comes to using it and has to build up his confidence with it as a fighting tool. The faster pacing works well with the dreary tone of the show since it doesn’t allow for a lot of comic relief, resulting in a story that keeps the action and drama coming at a quick rate but isn’t completely overwhelming.
While the fast pacing makes for an overall exciting and emotionally driven story with an intense ending, it also leads to some rushing at the end that leaves something to be desired. My main gripe is that the end introduced a lot of ideas, all coming into play at the same time and becoming major players in the events that shape the ending. This only makes the ending fee like it is trying to cram in as much as it possibly can, without paying too much attention to seeing those ideas through or making sure they actually fit. For instance, the creators attempt to stuff in some last minute characterization that doesn’t quite fit in and doesn’t really build up any of the characters it was aiming to. If anything it only confused me and left me wondering why some of these things weren’t brought up earlier. There was also an idea concerning the monsters and their feelings about being born into the world as evil beings that I suppose is meant to make the viewer more sympathetic towards them, but I feel it came out of left field didn’t fit well into the story. Overall, I feel the fast pacing makes for more of a fun watch, but leads to rushing as the creators try to make the story more complex, rather than keep it simple.
One of those concepts that was introduced later on, but that plays somewhat of a large role throughout the OVA is the concept of destiny and what exactly one’s destiny is. Adol’s ideas on destiny are influenced by his feelings at the moments and change from him accepting that he has a set destiny to him rejecting any notion of a set destiny. The goddesses believe that everything is destined and that they have been and will always be confined to theirs’ as goddesses who much watch over and protect for as long as they live. All while, Lord Dahm, the main villain, sees one’s destiny as liable to change depending on the circumstances and decisions made. This concept provides some food for thought and is what fuels the plans of Lord Dahm concerning Adol. While I think it’s an interesting idea to bring in and adds some more depth to the characters, I feel it was sort of rushed in near the end with everything suddenly having to do with destiny and what one’s destiny was. I would have liked for it to have more of presence during the rest of the series so that I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the sudden focus on it in the last episode where it proves to be a major idea.
The characters manage to carry the story well, and the ones presented are mature and have some depth to them. Adol, remains in many ways, the same kind of hero he was on Esteria. He is still extremely passionate about his cause, hotheaded, and liable to be carried away by his emotions. However, while he doesn’t undergo any significant growth, he is expanded upon as a person. He is seen to have some weaknesses and be liable to make mistakes. His passion, for example, becomes something of a double edged sword to him: it motivates him on his quest as a hero, but can also mean he can be carried away by his emotions in the heat of a moment which can lead him astray. He also takes on a more serious demeanor, giving him a greater air of maturity that adds on to his image as a hero.
Adol is joined on his journey by a young girl named Lilia. She is the only person who believes in and trusts him when he initially comes to her village, and sets out determined to help. Her innocence as a child means she has not yet been corrupted by the feelings of despair and hopelessness that permeate the people around her, and that she is willing to trust in anyone regardless of outward appearance. However, Lilia displays few characteristics of a child and is seen to be courageous, strong willed, determined, and willing to make sacrifices for the sake of others. While she still has her moments of weakness and indecisiveness, those only make her more relatable and likable. Overall, I enjoyed Lilia as a character, but felt let down by the last minute twist the creators tried to force on her which attempted to build her up to be something she clearly wasn’t throughout the series, and it fell flat. The villains in Ancient Books of Ys II, Lord Dahm and his right hand, Dares, proved to cunning and menacing pair who aren’t afraid to manipulate or sacrifice for the sake of their plans. While they aren’t particularly fleshed out, and, Lord Dahm especially, don’t go much beyond the whole “I want to rule the world” motivation, I liked them for the most part and think they did a good enough job as villains. The goddesses, this time around, have even less of a role in the series and only occasionally provide indirect help to Adol. Close to the end of the OVA, the creators attempt to give them some development, but it fails and only feels out of place since it comes so late in the series and out of nowhere.
The side cast in Ancient Books of Ys II is more interesting to watch since they aren’t just cardboard cutouts and do nothing. Each person has been touched by the dismal situation they find themselves trapped in, and each person Adol encounters has a different reaction to him and their situation. Some of them, particularly Keith, a human who was turned into a monster who pops up occasionally, have a lot of heart to them and receive some development that makes them more sympathetic. The side characters are a varied bunch who pleasantly surprised me with how they were built up and the contributions they make to the story.
The animation in Ancient Books of Ys II becomes better in comparison to its predecessor’s. Gone are the poofy hairdos and choppy movement; they are replaced with a more ’90s style of animation. The character designs are more detailed and their movement is much better in terms of fluidity. The characters have more serious designs that make them look older and more mature (especially so with Adol whose character design completely changed). The backgrounds still look nice, and finally match the characters in terms of detail. Meanwhile, the color palette is full of dark colors that match the oppressive tone of the OVA. Sound-wise, I am still a fan of the the spirited performances (minus the screaming) given by the voice actors who do a good job being dramatic. The music doesn’t stand out as much as it did before, but still employs a lot of electric guitar and drums in its compositions, with the occasional softer piece.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Ancient Books of Ys II. It is a pleasant surprise in that it provides a more interesting story line that explores its characters more and gives us a darker, though not as developed, setting. While fast pacing allows for a more exciting ride that doesn’t drag or feel particularly boring at any point, it also rushes with its ending and leaves a few questions unanswered. Adol becomes a greater hero who is seen to have flaws that could jeopardize the completion of his job, but you can’t help but cheer him on and wait to see where his decisions will leave him. I would definitely recommend this to those who have watched the first season because it spins a much more interesting and complex tale, acting as a testament to the idea that some things do improve with time.