Wizardry, directed by Shunya Fujioka. 50 minutes. February 21, 1991.
Dungeons & Dragons™, according to Wikipedia, was the first role-playing game and the start of the role-playing game industry. It was launched by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974, and was immediately popular with American gamers. During the 1980s, it was heavily merchandised and became a worldwide phenomenon.
The Wizardry role-playing games, inspired by D&D, began with Wizardry: The Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord in 1981. They were up to Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant by 1992, the year that this Wizardry OAV was released in Japan, based on The Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord.
Reportedly the games were more popular in Japan in the 1980s than in America, because the Japanese did not get the jokey American pop-cultural in-jokes, such as Murphy’s Ghost (as in “If anything can go wrong, it will”), and it seemed more seriously dramatic to them. The OAV was produced by TMS Entertainment and released on VHS by Shochiku Fuji.
The titular Mad Overlord here becomes King Trebor (of Llylgamyn in the American games), whose magic amulet of great power has been stolen by Great Wizard Werdna. (I am tempted to say “evil Great Wizard Werdna”, but anyone called the “Mad Overlord” doesn’t sound like a very Good Guy either.) Werdna has built a ten-level dungeon under Trebor’s castle to hide the amulet in while he tries to unlock its power to conquer the world. Many questers have died trying to find it before he succeeds …
(Trebor and Werdna – two of the in-jokes; they are “Robert” and “Andrew”, the names of the creators of Wizardry spelled backwards – are the only specific character names in the rulebook. Presumably all the other names in this OAV were created by the Japanese anime staff.)
In a prologue, a party of three questers – Alex, a traditional European swordsman, Shin, a traditional Japanese samurai, and Hawkwind, a traditional ninja – have found a treasure in a dungeon. It’s apparently only a minor treasure.
They relax afterward in Gilgamesh’s Tavern to plan their next quest. Morgan, a friendly rival quester, says that the monsters in the dungeons are getting tougher to fight. There’s a rumor that even Werdna may appear. Everyone seems to be talking about Werdna. (This OAV translates dungeon “levels” as “floors”.)
Alex explains as they enter Werdna’s dungeon about Great Wizard Werdna stealing the magic amulet from King Trebor, who has called on all questers to go down to the tenth level in the dungeon to retrieve it.
(Note the superscript explanations of the different spells the questers use. These are in English, although this OAV never had an English-language release as far as I know.)
They are attacked by zombies, and Alex’s leg is hurt. They are saved by Joeza, an elderly wizard, and Albert, his young apprentice (the OAV’s cocky comedy relief). Their large pointed ears mark them both as elves. Joeza uses his magic to heal Alex.
Joeza explains that he, Werdna, and King Trebor used to be a team until Werdna betrayed them all and stole the amulet. Its spell will give whoever breaks it power to control/end the world, and Werdna has already unlocked it halfway. Joeza has been tracking it for years, growing old; this is his last chance. Albert proposes that they join forces, but Shin and Alex say that they’re only going down to the ninth level after treasure. They agree to stay together for that long.
On the ninth level, they find that another party has all been killed (is that Morgan’s body?) by giant Greater Demons except for Sheer (Shiela?), an elf warrior woman. The Greater Demons are controlled by Flack, Werdna’s evil clown whose spells can turn someone into stone. Shin kills him despite Sheer’s protests. She says that Flack was her only clue that could lead her to Randy, a warrior who is her lover. He disappeared after having been taken over by the Muramasa Blade, a phantom demon sword of immense power that will take over anyone not strong enough to control it.
The three questers decide to accompany Joeza and Albert to the tenth level after all, since Sheer is also going there to look for Randy. She has a song that may cure him. Meanwhile the Vampire Lord, Werdna’s henchman, warns him they are coming. Werdna (dressed in what looks like a Catholic archbishop’s ceremonial robes – apparently designed for this OAV; American drawings just show a black hood with two glowing eyes looking out) will leave it to him. (Despite saying this, Werdna appears to prepare to confront them personally.
Werdna’s iron gauntlet, shown here but not explained, is in the Wizardry rulebook. King Trebor has the other gauntlet.)
The questers find Randy. He is under the spell of both the Muramasa Blade and of Werdna. He cuts off Shin’s arm. Sheer is forced to kill Randy with the Tiltowait spell. Joeza reattaches Shin’s arm with magic.
The questers burst in upon Werdna and the Vampire Lord, but Werdna has just unlocked the amulet. The Vampire Lord is killed by Shin, but Werdna kills Albert. Joeza restores Albert’s life, but at the cost of his own. Werdna succeeds in unlocking the full power of the amulet, but Shin gains the power of the Muramasa Blade and advances upon Werdna. He cuts Werdna in half, and Werdna falls upon the amulet which explodes, destroying the tenth level, then goes dark.
An epilogue shows the questers at the graves of Randy and Joeza. Sheer buries the inert amulet at Joeza’s grave. Shin offers the Muramasa Blade to Sheer to bury at Randy’s grave, but she tells him to keep it.
The animation under the closing credits implies a romance between Shin and Sheer. The questers ride off, totally relaxed; Sheer is riding sidesaddle and Hawkwind is unmasked. The final credit is to Andrew Greenberg and Robert Woodhead, the creators of Wizardry.
I could never understand the need for a masked ninja among the questers, but that’s how it’s set up in the rules for Wizardry. As I said, the amount of English superscripts in this (not including the subbing, which was added later) was apparently for the Japanese market, since I couldn’t find any indication of an American or a British release.
Next week: Forgotten Anime #47: Joker: Marginal City (1992)