Amon Saga, directed by Shunji Ôga. 75 minutes. July 19, 1986.
From the sublime to the ridiculous …
The sublime being the last two weeks’ Gunsmith Cats and Area 88. Unfortunately, they ain’t all that good. I remember how eager I was to see Amon Saga because of Yoshitaka Amano’s art design and the publicity that the story was his, and how disappointed I was when I finally did. Aside from Amano’s art, this was a very stereotypical, predictable, badly animated, and above-all boring sword-&-sorcery adventure. Not only are the English voice-actors wince-worthy bad, but the voices don’t begin to match the nonexistent lip movements.
Evil villain kills young hero’s mother. Young hero learns to become a master swordsman. Hero (now grown up) goes to kill the villain for revenge, only to be sidetracked by discovering The Girl, whom the villain has kidnapped. Hero rescues The Girl, which gives him a more socially redeeming reason for fighting the villain in a big climactic duel, and a reason for going on after he’s achieved his goal.
The setting is a parallel dimension with both humans and fantasy creatures in the pseudo-Middle Eastern world of Granmal. Emperor Valhiss rules the Valhiss Empire from a castle/fortress atop the back of a slowly-moving REALLY BIG tortoise. Amon, a white-haired young swordsman, comes into a rough mercenaries’ bar-hangout and gets into a brawl with the hulking, steel-capped Gaius that everyone else joins in. It’s the scenario where, after they pound each other to demonstrate how macho they are, they become best friends. Three of the other mercenary brawlers are later identified as Alcan, Ho, and Vikin.
The giant tortoise comes to town, and everyone stops fighting to go see it. Denon, Valhiss’ captain, climbs down from the tortoise and announces that they’re hiring new recruits for their army. They want only the nine best men, determined by throwing down nine rope ladders from the tortoise’s back. The first man up each ladder will be chosen. Naturally all the mercenaries, not all of them humans, try to kill each other to reach the ladders. Amon is the last one to climb a ladder. Note how he literally cuts his opponent in half the long way – that’s a REALLY SHARP sword! He finds Gaius and seven others from the bar, Alcan, Vikin, Dynus, Mahiko, Zen, Zon, and the green-skinned Ho, who become the new recruits.
Cut to Emperor Valhiss’ chief rival, King Darai Sem of the Kingdom of Vindorana. Vindorana has a fleet of ships that sail across a vast sea of grass instead of water. (I was immediately reminded of the very similar sea of grass in Philip Jose Farmer’s 1960 s-f novel The Green Odyssey, one of my favorites that I’m very disappointed to see has been almost totally forgotten today. It’s 500% better than Amon Saga.) King Darai Sem has a map leading to the hidden Valley of Gold that Valhiss wants so he can finance building an army big enough to conquer all of Granmal; so Valhiss has had Denon kidnap green-haired Princess Lichia, Darai Sem’s beautiful daughter, to exchange her for the map. Darai Sem wants to declare war on Valhiss to protect the freedom of the rest of the world, but he can’t as long as Lichia is a hostage.
Valhiss, in his baths at night, asks Denon if Darai Sem has given in yet. Denon says no. Mabo, Valhiss’ old sorcerer, is seen to be Denon’s enemy, trying to undercut him. Valhiss says to stop arguing; that they can afford to wait for Darai Sem to make his move. (Valhiss is revealed to always wear a suit of armor and mask – even while he bathes? — that suspiciously resembles Jack Kirby’s original depiction of Darkseid. This is convenient for the animators, since Valhiss’ true face never has to show his lips moving.) Amon, who has sneaked into Valhiss’ central tower, is detected but escapes, getting his first glimpse of Princess Lichia in comfortable captivity while doing so.
The next day, the tortoise has stopped long enough for Valhiss’ army to go bathing at a forest pool when they see Princess Lichia and her retinue passing by to a neighboring pool – a REALLY BIG pool with a giant fish monster in it. The monster attacks Princess Lichia; Amon attacks the monster; the monster sneaks up(!) on Amon; and Amon is saved by an arrow from his reptilian teammate, Ho, the Dragon-Tailed, which distracts the monster for long enough for Amon to kill it. Lichia is properly grateful to Amon.
My main problems with this scene were: (1) how small was Valhiss’ world-conquering army for it to all go bathing together? Pretty small, if Amon’s nine-man team of “thugs” was expected to make a significant difference; and (2) since Emperor Valhiss’ private baths showed that there are baths atop the tortoise, doesn’t Princess Lichia get one in her luxurious confinement? Are she and her retinue (including a fat, elderly nanny) expected to climb down from the tortoise every time they want to get clean?
A brief conversation between Gaius and Alcan establishes that the nine-man team is being kept from any action. They aren’t told why.
Darai Sem gives in to Valhiss and sends a messenger to him with the map to the Valley of Gold, and to bring Lichia home. Denon takes the map but says that Valhiss has decided to keep Lichia. The messenger attacks Denon, who easily defeats him. Valhiss tells Lichia that he will keep her for as long as her beauty lasts. He will return her to her father when she’s old and no longer beautiful.
The nine new soldiers are summoned to the emperor’s hall. Denon tells them that the intruder in the central tower “last night” must have been one of them, and they suspect that he was a spy sent by Darai Sem. He orders Darai Sem’s messenger, in a pit, to reveal which of the nine is the spy. When the messenger protests that he doesn’t know, Mabo releases a monster to eat him. Denon tries to turn the nine warriors against each other by offering a year’s salary to whoever tells him the identity of “the spy”. As soon as they finish loading water and supplies, they will move on Vindorana.
That night, Amon sneaks out of the barracks again to return to the tower. (Note how Amon passes a sleeping guard. Valhiss runs a sloppy castle.) Amon is followed by two awake guards, but Gaius takes care of them. Amon confronts Valhiss to kill him in revenge for the death of Amon’s mother. Valhiss laughs and throws Amon into a dungeon with the beast that ate the messenger.
Guards guard Lichia’s chamber since there is an intruder in the tower. It turns out that Darai Sem really does have a spy among the nine warriors, and he helps Lichia escape. They are stopped by Denon, who unmasks the spy as Alcan. They duel while Lichia continues to escape. Amon kills the beast in a fight that bursts from the tower and covers Denon in rubble. Amon, Lichia, and Alcan continue to where Gaius is preparing Valhiss’ flying horse-dragons for them all to fly away (not Vikin, who comically falls off).
Amon, Lichia, Alcan, and Gaius are around a campfire. Amon reminisces about how Valhiss killed his mother when he was about nine years old, and Ekuna, the wandering swordsman-poet spent years training him to be a master warrior, only to regret that he did so. “The young peacock spreads a thousand wings to slay a thousand devils and a thousand demons living in a thousand valleys and over a thousand hills. He knows no treasure; he knows no fame. In search of his destiny, he travels on and on.”
The four decide that they have to go to the Valley of Gold to head Valhiss off. A problem is that Valhiss now has the map, but Lichia says she knows where the Valley is. But they are attacked by werewolves, and while the three men fight the werewolves, a giant golden knight kidnaps Lichia. The three follow them to a deserted Lost City where they find the golden knight alone as an empty suit of armor. Lichia is found by three wizards. Denon and Mabo lead soldiers to kill the traitors, but the golden armor comes alive to fight them. Mabo confronts it. While they fight, Lichia reappears to lead the three warriors off to the three wizards.
They explain the background. The Lost City is the remains of the Royal House of Vindorana, and they are the three wizards of Vindorana. Long ago a lone landship had been wrecked just off Vindorana. There was one survivor, a knight. At that time Vindorana’s Princess Lichia was dying. None of her wizards could save her, but the young knight did. The knight and Princess Lichia fell in love and were married, and the King of Vindorana sent them on a ship filled with gold to the knight’s home. The knight was Darai Sem and the Princess Lichia was the present Princess Lichia’s mother. Several years later, Valhiss and his army defeated Vindorana and destroyed everything, killing everyone, while looking unsuccessfully for the secret of Vindorana’s gold. A generation later, Darai Sem and his men, and the young Princess Lichia, his daughter, came back to re-establish Vindorana; and Valhiss had Lichia kidnapped to force Darai Sem to give him the map to Vindorana’s Valley of Gold.
Alcan and Gaius tell Amon and Lichia that Valhiss and his army are using the map to find the Valley of Gold. The four race there. Valhiss, Denon, and Mabo are about to enter a cave leading to the Valley of Gold when the four protagonists and the three wizards challenge them. A ten-minute battle ensues that I won’t describe blow-for-blow, but a highlight is that Amon is unexpectedly saved by Ho the Dragon-Tailed. Finally all the Bad Guys are killed, and the Good Guys escape just as everything caves in.
In an epilogue, Darai Sem pledges to use the gold to restore Vindorana. Lichia is ready to wed Amon and make him the new king, but Amon, Gaius, and Alcan prefer to ride off into the sunset. Ho reveals that he was really a guard sent by Ekuna to protect Amon.
For a master swordsman, Amon spends the whole video being defeated, usually by Valhiss, and being saved at the last instant by Ho the Dragon-Tailed. Amon Saga was made at about the same time as the first Vampire Hunter D, and there were unmistakable similarities in D’s and Ekuna’s costuming, and the manner at the end in which both D and Amon spurn The Girl to go traveling on and on.
Amon Saga was produced by Tohokushinsha Film, the 1986 OAV distributor. It wasn’t released in America until May 29, 2001, by Manga Entertainment. I wondered at the time whether it had been Manga Entertainment’s equivalent of Streamline Pictures’ Crimson Wolf – a stinker that the American licensee had had to buy in order to get something else that was what it had really wanted. The American anime companies had been in no hurry to acquire it.
Next week: “Forgotten” OAVs 14.