In a statement that will shock approximately no one, there isn’t a lot compelling fantasy anime. While a couple of exceptions exist (and get the hell out of here if you’re thinking Slayers), the genre is under represented in anime and lacks any sort of series to even champion the notion that it should be better represented.
Fantasy has struggled to escape the shadow of its two most famous examples: Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). Sure, one begat the other, but both have dominated the genre so heavily that they’ve created tropes so overused people mistake their inclusion as a “requirement” to be considered fantasy. Lodoss War, typically the go-to example for a “decent” fantasy anime, is no different, although the reasons for its well-worn stereotypes are due to its origins in the tabletop game. This doesn’t excuse their existence in an otherwise well-animated but unexception series, but at least it makes for a more interesting explanation that’s slightly more interesting than actually watching Lodoss War.
Lodoss War began life as a serialized novelization based on the D&D campaign of author Ryo Mizuno and his friends, which wasn’t as weird as you think–apparently novelizing role-playing game campaigns was actually a thing in 1980s Japan. So, the characters of Lodoss War were based on actual characters played by real people. If it’s been a while since you’ve watched the 1990 OVA, here’s a quick recap on the basic cast of the main characters: Parn (fighter), Deedlit (elf), Etoh (cleric), Slayn (magic user), Ghim (dwarf), and Woodchuck (thief).
The basic versions of D&D considered demi-human races (dwarves, elves, halflings) their own class. You were either a magic user or an elf, you couldn’t be an elvish magic user unless you moved up to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, first published in 1977.
When D&D was first written by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974, it included three character classes (fighter, cleric, magic user) to help players define their characters. Later editions expanded the options, adding demi-humans and additional classes, like thief or paladin. Gygax and Arneson’s own settings of Greyhawk and Blackmoor served as the first “official” settings for D&D, but Dungeon Masters were largely expected to create their own worlds for players to adventure in. In an game where world particulars were unique to the table they were played at and largely the product of a single person’s creativity, character classes allowed players to have some rudimentary grounding in what the hell they were doing.
Not only did character classes serve as a way to quickly explain who their characters were to other players (“I’m a dwarf. I’m grumpy, wield an axe and like ale.”) but they allowed a sense of familiarity when playing, even if players were jumping between homebrew campaign settings. So yes, character classes are effectively fantasy stereotypes, but within the confines of the game they serve a valuable purpose.
As a result, one of Lodoss War’s major problems arose because it was an adaption of a tabletop game played between friends. Is that an excuse for lazy storytelling? No, but at least there’s a reason why it feels like you’ve met those characters before. So, so many times before. It also serves as a reminder of one of the most important tenets of tabletop role-playing: