Final Fantasy Unlimited – or “FUF,” as I want to call it, considering its logo – was a Final Fantasy TV show that ran for 25 episodes from October 2001 to March 2002. The show, produced by Studio Gonzo, was supposed to run longer, but its budget was garroted in a back alley by the failure of The Spirits Within and the financial implosion Square went through as a consequence. Unlimited’s release overlaps with the NA release of the FFX (it debuted after the game in Japan), as well as fellow Marathon game Mega Man Battle Network 1.
I suppose if we had wanted to be strictly chronological, we could have held off on watching FFU until we were done The Spirits Within (the immediately previous Final Fantasy product), but there was no force in the world that could have convinced Kyle and I to watch twelve and a half hours of bad TV in one session. Instead, we started watching FFU during meal breaks somewhere in the middle of our playthrough of FFV if I’m remembering correctly, and carried on well until the days of FFVIII. Bear in mind that that span of games includes not just FFVI, VII and Tactics, but also the entire Compilation of FFVII and the overextended Persona 1 nightmare, and you can probably guess that we didn’t catch every meal break.
After Legend of the Crystals, the previous Final Fantasy TV program, you might come into “FUF” expecting a complete, unmitigated disaster, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Unlimited, despite… everything. Absolutely everything. Plus, how could you do worse than LotC? FFU is one of those products where I can see what they were hoping for and appreciate it for that, in spite of the many, many, many-many faults. This is unlike LotC, where I can’t see what they were going for to begin with, so you can see why I might consider FFU to be a superior product in a limited field.
In any event, the sooner I get on to the content, the sooner you’ll understand what’s coming, so let’s begin with a look at Episode 1.
Episode 1 – Wonderland: Journey into the Darkness
Every episode of FFU begins with images of a gun and a sword, which transform into the show’s illegible logo. You can’t escape the FUF. The first ep then cuts to contemporary Japan. The show doesn’t specify where in Japan until fourteen episodes in, but it’s the real-world island town of Sado, right next to the Sea of Japan. The night is shattered as a pillar of purple light crashes into the bay. The pillar can be seen for miles, the show singles out three onlookers: first a young girl outside of town, and then a married couple inside the town. While we learn nothing about the girl at this stage, the couple are Drs. Marie and Joe Hayakawa, both scientists, voiced by Katie Gillette and Brendan Walsh, respectively. Gillette was a relative newcomer at the time (her only other voice credit was five years earlier), but she would later go on to voice Sara in New Fist of the North Star. Walsh, meanwhile, is primarily a live actor, known for a few bit parts in Malcolm in the Middle and Downer’s Grove. The couple talk, and from their discussion and her appearance, we learn that Marie is pregnant. After a while, the pillar surges with a burst of light and sprouts what I can only describe as a branch. From that branch comes a great terror from beyond the void: early 2000s television CGI!
The monster that’s emerged is a red-and-black dragon, with helicopter rotors in its wings and, silliest of all, a three-barrelled pistol for a nose, ala Vincent’s Cerberus a few years later… if it were a nose. The Japanese Self Defence Forces know this is too tacky to live, and so engage with ships and planes, though the dragon strikes them down with beams of purple energy not unlike the pillar. Just then, another figure emerges from the pillar: a white dragon with spines and a long, sharp nose. The show will go on to imply that its head is supposed to resemble the sword from the logo sequence, but because this newcomer is more traditionally dragonic than Magnum Nostrils over here, it’s a lot harder to tell. The two dragons fire on and seemingly obliterate one another, followed by a cut to what I can only describe as a “snarling eyeball.”
From here we move to main titles, which are very rough. I wouldn’t be surprised if these titles had been arranged only early in the production process, since they feature only silhouettes and literal sketches of the main cast, straight off the concept artists’ desks. And those are the minority! The majority of the titles are made up of abstract visuals, and also one strange, blurry video of a real-life crow?
After the sequence, we get our introduction to Fabula, a goddess-like figure who shows up after each title sequence to recap the previous episode and preview the next. Fabula’s often-incomprehensibly-breathy voice is provided by Claire Hamilton, whom some will know as the voice actress for Gandrayda in Metroid Prime 3. Since it’s not possible to do a recap in the first episode, and maybe too spoilery to do a preview, Fabula spends this sequence serving an actual purpose! She narrates that we’re going to skip forward twelve years, and addresses her location as “Wonderland,” and the pillar as “the darkness of Chaos.”
In our first visual of twelve-years-later Sato, we follow two small children through the alleys. Oh, and we learn that the giant pillar of darkness is still glowering in the harbour. We even get a few signs of the pillar’s impact on the city. The show implies it hasn’t hurt anyone since the day it appeared, and as a matter of fact it’s become something of a tourist attraction, no matter how ominous it appears! This is one of the most interesting idea in FFU in my opinion and it’s a shame we get to see so little of it.
The two kids talk as they go, and if you can pick up what they’re saying, you’ll learn that they’re siblings. That’s a big “if,” because the audio sounds like it’s gone through a blender. If you’re hoping the audio clarity will pick up once we stop following characters at a distance, think again. These kids talk too fast, never enunciate, and they often interrupt or talk over one another until all you hear is babbling. Unsurprisingly, this was the brother’s actor’s first role, and you can tell. But to my surprise, the sister’s voice actor’s career goes back seven years! She’s definitely the better of the two actors, but whether through fault of her own or through fault of the voice direction, we’re still not dealing with very high calibre of voice acting here, which means that our lead characters are often incomprehensible. Yes, these two are our leads, and the trouble with their voice acting reflects on the entire product.
The poor actors I’ve been dragging are Evan Slack, who hasn’t been in in much else, and Jessica Schwartz, who went on to become a writer and comedian and is even credited on IMDb as a stunt double in 2003’s Secondhand Lions. Surprisingly, despite Slack’s brief career, the two of them did go on to do one more project together: the English localization of the OVA for Moeyo Ken. Schwartz was also in Tekken: The Motion Picture with Claire Hamilton.
Just to compound our audio issues, we soon learn the characters’ names: Ai and Yu Hayakawa, twin children of the two scientists from the intro. Ai is the sister and Yu the brother. Yu’s name is sometimes spelled “Yuu” in sources, and “Yuh” in Episode 24, but generally the Internet uses “Yu,” and so will I. I thought the naming pun was clever at first – “I” and “You,” get it? – until I came to realize just how frequently having names like “I” and “You” would confuse already muffled English dialogue. I’m sure the names are just fine in Japan but here, ugh, we’re just getting started. Maybe the English localization should have flipped it about, and named them after Japanese words for “I” and “You?”
From their discussion (what little we can make out) we learn that Ai and Yu are twins, and they’re going to a dilapidated old subway station, where a number of people have been disappearing. They’re looking for their parents, who had apparently gone this way in the past and actually came back, though the kids conveniently overlook the fact that all the other missing people haven’t. Indeed, we won’t be hearing about any other missing people for the rest of the show, so I suspect they didn’t get very far!
The two sit down as though waiting for an everyday subway train, but are soon confronted by a strange, monstrous train with special effects for an engine and a drill-headed locomotive. Biological eyes on the side of the train look at them before a door opens from the solid metal flash of the side of the vehicle, and the twins reluctantly get in as the train threatens to leave. Though they don’t realize it, they are joined by another figure, who slips into the train at the last second
Let’s talk about this third character. So far, the show’s been doing a good job of setting the atmosphere, problems with the voice acting aside, but now it’s time to meet Lisa Pacifist. You may have noticed that the first problem with Lisa Pacifist is that her name is “Lisa Pacifist.” The second issue with Pacifist is that she is a contorted stick-woman, even for a stylized anime, whose wide shoulders and breasts taper off to a waist so thin (and one often drawn narrower than it’s supposed to be) that when she puts her hands to her sides a few second after her introduction, I swear her arms must have crossed in the process. She has a face so narrow that her anime eyes seem to be trying to escape her head. Lisa Pacifist isn’t just cursed with an awful design: she’s also frequently drawn off-model (more frequently, at least, than anyone else in this ugly, ugly show) and that makes an existing problem considerably worse.
The third problem with Lisa Pacifist is that she tries to make a call to some kind of secretive organization after entering the train, only to discover that her phone no longer works. You don’t say! The underground train, which is probably magical and probably leads somewhere magical, doesn’t get cell phone reception! Who’d have guessed? A grand first impression for our third major character. That may be more of a problem with Lisa’s entire organization rather than just her, and I’m sure they tried to make this communication device of hers work on the train and at its destination, but I don’t feel any sense of confidence in a character if their second on-screen action is to fail at something they must have planned for at length.
Oh, and I should probably note outside of my complaints that Lisa is clearly the young girl that witnessed the dragon attack during the prologue, before I forget about that entirely.
Pacifist’s voice is provided by Shawn Sides, probably best known for the role of King in the Nadia franchise. She seems to have mostly left the industry in 2003, though came back to do voices in DC Universe Online in 2011 alongside Claire Hamilton, who apparently can’t be avoided.
Lisa and the kids spot one another on the train, and after a few harsh words from Ai, Yu explains his and his sister’s character motivations. We confirm that the twins are the children of the married scientist couple from the intro, and learn that their parents have since gone missing. Yu presents Lisa with a book their father wrote called Day of Conjunction, which Yu’s been lugging around because it has a photo of his parents on it that he and his sister can use when talking to others about their whereabouts. Apparently this family from the early 2000s don’t have any photographs in their house? Yu tells us that his parents discovered that the pillar of darkness was connected to another dimension called Wonderland, and that the train can take you there. Yu treats this like it must be new information to Lisa, even though a discovery this earth-shattering would be common knowledge by now and naturally she already knows, but I suppose he’s just being polite.
Lisa’s thoughts tell us that that Day of Conjunction is about “the physics of Wonderland,” which I always found baffling, though I admit I’m being petty. I mean, sure, that’s probably an interesting topic, but not only does the book seem to be too short, but if Dr. and Dr. Hayakawa really are the first people to make it back from Wonderland, you think their book would have more of a general focus? You could probably write a book three times as long after going through the first twelve episodes of the show, just making blunt observations and taking a few photographs, and it would still be scientifically revolutionary! But apparently these two walked among magical fields and caverns with unknowable mysteries and species, and their first interest was to see if Galileo’s feather test worked here like it does on Earth? Well, I’m certainly happy you found the your dream profession!
Long story short: since their parents disappeared on a second trip to Wonderland, Yu and Ai explain that they used the burgeoning internet to work out how their parents got to Wonderland, and did the same. Unfortunately, Lisa isn’t willing to give her own backstory in turn. In fact judging by her body language, she only gave up her name up as a flub (which means she’s made two mistakes in her only three on-screen actions), and spends the rest of the soon-to-be-interrupted conversation trying to bullshit an excuse for being here. This continues until they’re interrupted by the strange movement of the train.
The train comes to a stop vertically inside of a strange structure that looks like a cross between a brass-knuckle knife grip and a pistol grip – you’ve probably noticed the recurring motifs we have going on here. This “subway station” connects to a seemingly infinite set of spiral stairs. The trio climb the stairs, and while they’re there, the twins asking Lisa why she’s here a second time. This time, when Lisa doesn’t answer, Ai says “I bet she’s looking for her boyfriend!” Lisa does not respond. But hold that thought, because even though Ai seems to have plucked this idea out of thin air, it’ll be coming back!
The party continues climbing until they find themselves in what looks to be a playground in an abandoned city. This is our first look at Wonderland, but it looks much like any similar place on Earth at first glance. The only thing irregular about the scene is the sky: orange, with a worrying spiral pattern in the distance. As you can see in the screenshot below, they sort of forget about the sky before too long, but it’s a stylish first impression this time around!
In one sequence after another, the trio see the sights. The slide in the playground transforms into a swarm of flies, the buildings are actually plants that stretch like mountains over a crevasse, and so on. Despite Lisa’s insistence that the trio stick together, Yu wanders off and discovers a chocobo pecking at the grass. Yes, a chocobo, and not some kind of naked chicken horror like LotC! He tries to win the chocobo over with a chocolate bar, leading to the awful wordplay: “choco-choco-chocolate bar!” Any English speaker can tell you that “chocolate” doesn’t have a syllable break after “choco,” so it’s clear Yu is only doing this to play with the word “chocobo,” which I’ll remind you he doesn’t even know. Chocobo sounds were provided by Samantha Inoue Harte – indeed, I believe she voices all chocobo that appear in the series, though the credits aren’t helpful on that point. Harte is a long-serving “additional voice” actor, with a number of animation and behind-the-scenes credits to her name as well.
Unfortunately, the chocobo isn’t interested in Yu’s choco-late, but when Ai arrives he does takes an interest in her pony tail, which vaguely resembles a Gysahl Green. It will do this in nearly every episode, sometimes multiple times, and I suppose it’s the sort of thing the kid audience might find funny, though it doesn’t do much for me. Chasing after the chocobo as it drags his sister in all directions, Yu trips over something. When he looks up, he discovers a man: unconscious and trapped in an overgrown plant wall. The man is dressed in a black cape, wears a pair of broken shades (which accidentally make it look like he’s wearing an eyepatch), and has scar across his face. In the Final Fantasy world, this gettup is no less common or threatening than whatever the fuck Lisa’s supposed to be wearing, so the trio wake him and strike up a friendly conversation.
This is Kaze, who never strictly introduces himself, but bear with me. Kaze is voiced by James Brownlee, his first role, though he would go on perform in live action, including one of the leads in a comedy short called Rich Man, Poor Man. He also has a bit part in Machete, and while I haven’t yet gone to the effort of figuring out which “Gangster” he played, I’m thinking that there’s a good chance that if you want to see the voice of Kaze from FFU be brutally murdered by Danny Trejo, the option may be out there. Kaze wakes, and doesn’t seem to know where he is any more than our main trio, and claims not to remember anything – only that he is looking for some “scoundrel.”
The conversation is interrupted by a strange mushroom-like blimp, which drops a crystal on top of the trio. Lisa remarks that she senses some kind of “bad energy” coming from it (more on that later) and they flee the scene. They’re forced to abandon Kaze, as he’s still stuck in the overgrown wall.
The crystal hits ground, and seems to seed a gigantic mushroom monster that attacks the trio. I like this idea, this “air-dropping monsters” sort of thing. It’s used a handful of times more, but only a handful, which is a shame (although admittedly, if it had been too common, it might have turned into some Power Rangers-level repetition, so maybe I should appreciate their restraint!). The mushroom creature forces Lisa to reveal that she has a form of magic at her disposal called “kigen arts,” which she deploys using a simply hideous stock animation. We’ll learn more about kigen arts in the future. For the time being, despite a slow zoom into an awful, distorted face and a lot of sparkles, Lisa isn’t able to do any more than generate a small magical shield to protect herself. We later learn that she’s not actually very good at this, but I don’t think you needed to tell me that! Thankfully, after a lot of effort, Lisa is able to toss the mushroom away.
(I should also point out that Lisa says “kigen arts” so quickly that it almost always sounds like “Kingdom Hearts,” but that’s probably my problem, rather than hers.)
Unfortunately, it seems Lisa’s toss wasn’t enough to defeat the mushroom, and it outright transforms into an Earthworm Jim-looking thing with an eyestalk instead of an earthworm, and a massive codpiece just for good measure. It chases a trio essentially off a cliff, such that they’re clinging to the side, and jumps off the cliff to the ground to confront them, being so tall that it towers over them even there. But just when everything looks bleak, the trio notices Kaze has been freed in the scuffle, as he is standing dramatically on a precipice. A gust of air whips aside his cloak, which reveals that his right arm has been modified below the wrist to carry a golden cylinder, which begins to glow. Kaze, seemingly surprised, whispers, “It has moved.” And then, to the Final Fantasy fandom’s surprise and no doubt alarm, he shouts: “SOIL! IS MY POWER!”
This begins Kaze’s stock animation sequence, which transforms the golden cylinder into an elaborate cannon. This begins with a strange propeller blade, which draws something in from the environment (this is presumably the “soil” he’s talking about, but that’s just a guess). This two-to-three minute sequence (sometimes sections are cropped) is clearly where the money went, so they decided to re-use it in nearly every episode. The completed gun incorporates iconography we’ve already seen in other places: the spinning drill and power source of the train, for example, and the three-barrelled look of the red dragon. At the end of the sequence, Kaze proclaims that “The Magun… has thawed.” This may take a few episodes to actually comprehend, however. “Magun,” is a made-up word that we haven’t heard before, and “thawed” doesn’t remotely describe what just happened to it! Because these words just don’t go together, they’re hard to parse. They say that one of the reasons it’s so hard for computers to comprehend human voice is because they don’t understand context, and you can see that here yourself: “The Magun has thawed” just doesn’t make sense as context, and so what you’re likely to hear is “The [mumble] has [murble]d” for about nine episodes before it finally clicks. Yu tries to clarify this by saying “Magun?” but since that still doesn’t sound like a proper name, he might as well have said nothing at all!
Then Kaze begins the second phase of his stock attack. He points dramatically at the monster and declares: “The soil charge triad to use on you has been decided!” Yup, those are definitely words. He then reaches into his belt and pulls out three canister-like bullets, containing a coloured substance that we later learn is a concentrated does of the “soil” he keeps babbling about. He loads each of these into the Magun, and they vary by episode. Today’s are:
The soil charge triad to use on you has been decided!
The origin of all things: Mother Black.
The heat that will scorch all creation: Fire Red.
And finally, the critical point of everything: Burning Gold.
During this, we cut to Ai who – I swear – says: “Dirt gun?” I’m not 100% certain if that’s what she’s saying, because of the aforementioned mumbling problems in this show, but it seems like a pretty good thing to ask!
Kaze then turns the Magun on the monster and shouts:
Burn up! I summon you! Phoenix!
He then fires, and the three soil charges merge inside the mushroom monster, before forming the summon Phoenix, causing the entire boss to explode from the inside out. Phoenix then flies off into the sky, and I do mean “into,” as the sky outright smashes on contact like glass, and then suddenly reforms. After this dramatic and awe-inspiring sequence, the show then unironically plays the traditionally Final Fantasy victory theme, which never fails to get a laugh out of me and Kyle. It is never, ever tonally appropriate.
So: the Magun. Personally, I like it, partially if not largely because it feels like something that could actually translate to game mechanics. I picture it something like Breath of Fire III’s dragon gene-mixing system, whereby you mix three items in an attempt to get just the right effect, though you pay a hefty price in MP for doing so. It also helps that the Magun is always the most important part of any given episode of FFU, even if it’s both repetitive (there’s the Power Rangers problem again) and if it’s only the most remarkable part because everything the other main characters do is so staggeringly incompetent and boring. Yeah, remember when Lisa threw a three-storey monster over her head with her Kingdom Hearts powers, and how that was at least partially competent? Virtually never again.
It seems Lisa and the others have climbed up the cliff during Kaze’s distraction. Yu suddenly announces, “He is Kaze!” with no explanation for why he does so. “Kaze” is a Japanese word meaning “wind” – English speakers are probably most familiar with it as a component of “kamikaze,” meaning “divine wind.” I have no idea where Yu pulled the name, except for the brief moment where the Magun fired off a cloud that “spun” into the three soil charges? Later on, characters will begin to address Kaze as “The Black Wind” (“kuro kaze,” though this is later turned into “Kuroki Kaze” to make a proper name).
In the distance, we spot a strange harlequin figure, whom we later learn to be named Lord Oscha, which is apparently pronounced “Oscar,” to the point where one of our future episodes is actually titled “Oscar.” We zoom in on his eye under his mask, coming to recognize it as the eye we saw after the two dragons fought, as he says: “Unliiiiiimiteeeeeed!” We’ll be hearing more of him in the next episode, but this odd character is voiced by Brian Jepson, yet another veteran of Metroid Prime 3 and DC Universe Online, although he’s probably better known as Joe Asakura from Gatchman in the 70s.
This is where the episode ends, bringing us to our chocobo-themed end sequence, which is followed by Fabula’s first prediction of the next episode. She’s the first to make it clear that Kaze’s name is a name, instead of… whatever Yu was doing. And that wraps up our first episode of Final Fantasy Unlimited!