I recently watched the first season of a French animated series called Wakfu. It was fascinating.
On the surface, it appears to be nothing more than an especially well-animated children’s action-adventure series. Indeed, it’s worse than that: It’s based upon an online roleplaying game, and to that extent, it’s basically a commercial for that game. We’ve all seen adaptations of video games before. They’re shallow, pandering, lacking substance, and are never intended to do anything but advertise the product, right? And on some basic, fundamental level, the story of the main characters is pretty much precisely that.
However, there’s something else going on here.
The main villain of the series is a character named Nox. Nox does what only the best of villains do, and what all great villains are remembered for: He utterly steals the show from the main cast, overshadowing them entirely. Visually, he’s fascinating, looking and moving like some sort of clockwork mummy. The voice actor that they have playing the role in the French version is inspired; there’s a level of manic desperation to everything that he says and does that bespeaks some greater depth to the character which is only gradually revealed to us.
Without having any desire to spoil any of the key plot points of the series, it’s difficult to discuss his arc in any meaningful way, but I can share a key insight into the character that I had been trying to figure out how to phrase for some time.
Nox is a character from an entirely different genre of show than the rest of the cast.
See, where the rest of the cast is basically in this show which is a fun, lighthearted, comedic action-adventure, Nox is like the protagonist in a Greek tragedy. Whenever he shows up, suddenly, the entire tone of the series changes. It’s not fun anymore. It’s not lighthearted. He drags everyone around him into the nightmare which is his life. He’s this intrusion into a world of bright colours and high adventure. A dark and terrible shadow cast upon the land in a physical and emotional sense.
By the conclusion of the season, he has utterly taken over the narrative. The big finish is truly an exercise in tragedy; shocking, poetic and heartbreaking in a way which would have seemed inconceivable if the story had simply continued to follow the thematic elements and narrative of the main protagonists. Nox, however, is such a larger than life character that he does not permit this. He’s an emotional black hole into which the rest of the cast is drawn, and from which not all of them emerge alive.
It’s remarkably deft storytelling that the producers of the show have pulled off, and as it plays out, it’s astonishing to look back upon where it started and to see the arc of the plot. The audacity of taking this bright and cartoony video game commercial and transforming it into this vehicle for a story of such pathos and drama. The vision necessary to pull it off. It’s nothing I would have expected at all.
Moreover, when the series IS a lighthearted and comedic action adventure, it’s GOOD at being that. The term “all ages” comedy gets tossed around a lot, but in general it’s awkward and stilted; either a children’s story which has a few clumsy double entendres for the parents in attendance, or else something so bland and inoffensive that it’s only all ages in that all ages of viewers will be equally bored and insulted by it. In this case, however, I actually found myself laughing out loud any number of times at the humour (and even where it didn’t exactly “hit” for me, I didn’t find my sensibilities offended by them). The absolute gorgeousness of the character designs, animation and direction were enough to keep me visually enthralled the rest of the time.
It’s a series I can find almost no fault with in its native form. Sadly, it seems that it’s now being dubbed into English, and there’s a clumsy, amateur quality to the voice casting which is kind of agonizing to listen to (as is sadly all to often the case with dubs). If you can find some of the fan made subtitled versions from some reputable and above-board source, I unreservedly recommend it.