(Dofus – Livre 1: Julith)
Director – Jean-Jacques Denis & Anthony Roux, Screenplay – Anthony Roux & Olivier Vannelle, Producer – Frederic Puech, Music – Guillaume Houze, Animation Director – Yosimichi Tamura, Art Direction – Xavier Houssin. Production Company – Ankama Animations/France 3/Pictanovo/Cine+/France TV.)
Jahash and Julith, guardians of the White and Black Dofus dragon eggs, fought a long and hard war, which ended when they abruptly fell in love. All went well until Julith unleashed the Black Dragon again and Jahash sacrificed himself to stop this. Ten years later, Julith returns to the city of Bonta and snatches the Black Dragon egg. Elsewhere in Bonta, young Joris is an orphan cared for by Kerubim Crepin. Joris and his fellow orphan Lilotte hatch a plan to sneak in to the stadium where the star Gobbowl player Khan Karkass is holding tryouts. Seeking only to have his ball autographed, Joris is instead thrown into the midst of the tryouts where he impresses Karkass as an excellent ball tosser. Karkass’s head is spun by the arrival of Bakara, Jahash’s sister and the heir to the throne of Bonta. He follows Joris home, hoping to get to meet her. Julith then attacks and tries to drag the black dragon soul out of Joris, something he was not aware resided in him. He discovers that Julith is his mother. In the aftermath, Kerubim realises they must enter the Ecaflip dimension and journey to the temple there to retrieve the White Dofus egg before Julith obtain both eggs, which will allow her to conquer the world.
Dofus is a French multi-player online role-playing game. The original world appeared in 2004 and has since expanded to other languages. In the game, players join guilds and go on fantasy quests through the game’s virtual world. There have been a number of spinoffs, most notably the animated tv series Dofus: The Treasures of Kerubim (2013), which consisted of 52 thirteen-minute episodes centred around Kerubim Crepin and his young ward Joris, which alternated between Kerubim recounting his youthful adventures and the escapades of the Joris in the present. The tv series then spawned this feature-film spinoff.
I had no familiarity with either the Dofus online role-playing game or the animated series before I sat down to watch Dofus – Book 1: Julith. This could have been helpful in terms of explaining some of the background of the characters and their relationship to one another but in truth it is all fairly easy to pick up and you absorb into the world in no time. The film falls into character types that are familiar to anyone who has watched a reasonable degree of anime – the young pre-adolescent protagonist hero with great powers he is unaware of; the aging mentor; the black hat villain(ess); the quest for the artifact of world-destroying power and so on.
The look of the animation kept reminding me of Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards (1977) with its mix of simply drawn talking animal and elven fantasy characters. On top of this, the directors also throw a reasonable amount of epically sized mass destruction and animated power blasts. This is okay but we have seen enough anime for all of this to slip into pretty but forgettable eye candy as soon as each sequence kicks in.
Far better is the engagement of the characters. The film comes with a more than reasonable sense of humour. The level of fantasy seems pitched down to children’s animation but the sense of humour is often something adult. Young Joris and his quest to save his adolescent love engages you in the way that child-like characters in these films usually do. The best piece of characterisation is that of the pompously self-important sporting hero Karkass Khan and his seemingly unfazed pursuit of the princess Bakara, which gives the film its greatest moments of amusement throughout.
(Screening Courtesy of Sparks Animation Festival)