There's something quite breathtaking about viewing an Ankama Animation production. Gorgeous worlds, memorable characters, epic scores, and fantastic writing have helped to showcase them as the French equivalent to Studio Ghibli. For nearly a decade, their work on the Wakfu series (based on their popular massive multiplayer online game) has brought seas of fans, helping to place France as a top dog in the animation quality department. Finally, after honing their craft in the television realm, Ankama has taken over the big screen in the first of three films based on their first MMO title Dofus.
Dofus - Book 1: Julith takes us roughly a thousand years before Yugo and the rest of the Brotherhood of the Tofu even existed. In the land of Bonta, a war broke out between their citizens and the people of Brakmar. Their leaders -- Jahash Jurgen and Julith (Laetitia Lefebvre) -- fight tooth-and-nail against one another, only to fall in love and reach a peaceful resolution. However, Julith betrays Jahash, sending both to fight one more time to the death. Ten years later, Julith returns, stealing the Ebony Dofus dragon egg in the hopes to finish what she started.
Enter Joris (Sauvane Delanoë), an orphaned Huppermage who is being watched over by the elder Kerub (Jean-Claude Donda). He spends his time emulating Gobbowl champion Khan Karkass (Emmanuel Gradi), much to the dismay of his Ouginak girlfriend Liotte (Claire Baradat). However, on the day he somehow impresses his hero, Joris meets Jahash's sister Bakara (Elisabeth Ventura), and soon finds himself in the middle of a battle that not only places the fate of Bonta on his shoulders, but also reveals the truth behind his family.
What I appreciate most about Ankama Animation and their head writer Tot is their ability to balance light-hearted fare with some truly dark elements. Humor-wise, there's plenty of laugh-out-loud moments the first Dofus movie dishes out, be it watching Joris take on a bunch of Gobbowl tryouts with his speed and quick reflexes, to some of the jabs Bakara dishes out to the heartthrob Khan. (A visualization of his heart being smitten by Bakara is perhaps one of the best gags you'll see this year in animation.) However, the film knows when to act mature, especially when dealing with a character's death and the emotional turmoil of finding out who Joris's true parents are.
It's when the heat of battle occurs when Dofus - Book 1: Julith really shines. Watching as the heroes take on Kerub's corrupt brother Atcham (Bernard Alane) presents the viewers the chance to see the strengths and weaknesses of the characters. When Joris lets the literal beast within him take over, a level of badassery is unleashed that brings to mind the Season Two finale of Wakfu. A young kid giving his all in a fight, pushing himself towards victory upon an opponent who underestimated his abilities, ending with a sweet final blow and some destruction amongst his surroundings. (Considering his nickname is JoJo, the power Joris contains shouldn't be too surprising.)
I am constantly in awe of the fact that Ankama Animation uses Flash to bring their stories to life, as the beauty it presents can sometimes be on the same levels as a Mamoru Hosoda movie. Blending both Western and Eastern visuals, the Roubaix-based production company brings forth some of the most gorgeous 2D-styled worlds that breathe a very immersive essence. The attention to detail in the characters is also impressive, especially when seeing either Khan or Bakara take a slight dose of pain in a temple trap. (However, in regards to Khan's design, why so much bulge?)
The level of quality in the French voice acting is up there with some of anime's finest. Delanoë's Joris captures the spirit of the wide-eyed kid with an unexpected weight on his shoulders, with Baradat's Liotte acting as the heartfelt peppy BFF with a good dose of spunk. Lefebvre delivers the right amount of sympathetic evil in her role as the antagonist Julith, while Ventura's Bakara winds up being one of the funniest parts of the movie thanks to her one-liners and attitude. Always stealing the spotlight in each scene, Gradi's Khan is pure Lust For Life-era Iggy Pop coolness with a Jack LaLanne style of finesse and mentality.
To paraphrase Khan, Dofus - Book 1: Julith never goes below awesome. With its beautiful animation, brilliant writing, and some of this year's most memorable characters, Ankama's first official foray into the movie industry is a winner in every way, shape, and form. While it might be a challenge to actually view the film (it's currently only available on Steam as of this writing), the minor hurdles you'll have to jump to view will be worth witnessing what may very well be the best animated film of 2016. If this is what Ankama planned for the first Dofus film, imagine what'll be on the horizon for Book 2...