Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 18th 2004
DVD 1: A Plague of Demons
The Roaring Twenties were a time of great decadence in American history, but few people know that it was also a time of great spiritual unrest. Along with jazz, bootlegging, and the Charleston, it seems that demon summoning has become the new national pastime, particularly in New York. That's where Sister Rosette and the Magdalene Order come in: armed with holy bullets and a centuries-old tradition of exorcism, they're America's last defense against the forces of Hell. Unfortunately, Rosette's gunslinging skills are coupled with a tendency to screw up her missions! Even more worrisome is that Rosette's partner, Chrono, is a devil who uses his dark powers for good. When Rosette and Chrono are sent out to protect the miraculous "Apostle" Azmaria Hendric, they get more than they bargained for as the demonic Viscount Lerajie threatens to take Azmaria's life and at the same time settle a score with his old acquaintance Chrono.
Perhaps the most controversial thing about Chrono Crusade isn't the quasi-religious imagery, but the "non-typo typo" title. Romanized as Chrno Crusade in Japan to avoid conflict with the video games Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, it then became Chrono Crusade when it was licensed in the U.S. to make better linguistic sense—just ask the Greeks. There is, of course, also the fandom-consensus reasoning that newcomers to the series might think "Chrno" was some kind of mistake. Typographical hair-splitting aside, Chrono Crusade turns out to be a rollicking adventure series with first-rate visuals and a unique setting. And that's something that holds true regardless of the letter "o."
Let's get a few historical matters straight: there is no actual Magdalene Order in Christian lore, and they certainly weren't running around shooting up demons in 1928. In fact, the "Azmaria's Extra Classes" segment on the DVD reveals that the Order is more "exorcists dressed up as clergy" than "nuns with guns" (an overused description of the series that you will see just this once). However, for creating this unusual flavor of Christian mysticism and choosing 1920's New York as his setting, creator Daisuke Moriyama wins first prize for originality. The first four episodes of the series are fairly linear, but by Episode 3 they dive into serious matters and hint at a much deeper back-story. The high-energy blend of action and humor, aided by Gonzo's breakneck animation style, will pull even the most attention-impaired viewer into this alternate Jazz Age.
A lot of Chrono Crusade's appeal comes from its distinctive characters. Rosette is practically a female version of Fullmetal Alchemist's Edward Elric: talented, kind at heart, but also brash and arrogant (how she ever got into a religious order is anyone's guess). Her extroverted personality is the kind that fans are drawn to, along with a burden of responsibility that will surely have an impact in episodes to come. Partnered with her is Chrono, the classic "good guy who's technically a bad guy" that calls to mind Alucard from Hellsing. The difference is that Chrono's attitude is hardly sinister, but he still has to face the devil within himself—an issue that reaches critical mass in Episode 4. Even the personalities of side characters like Rosette's superiors, Sister Kate and Father Remington, are defined in a matter of just a few scenes.
By now, anime fans should be quite familiar with Gonzo's extremely polished visual style. Using bold linework and a rich color palette, the studio creates a vision of the Roaring Twenties that alternates between bright and moody. The character designs, although cleanly drawn and pleasing to the eye, adhere so strongly to the guidelines of today's mainstream anime that they look mass-produced rather than the work of an artist. Fortunately, the unique costumes and period props save the characters from being completely paint-by-numbers. Also, unlike the average anime series, animation quality isn't sacrificed for the sake of backgrounds and characters. Don't expect any skipped frames or still shots in the action scenes; in fact, Gonzo's technique of sweeping the "camera" through an area at high speed gives a sense of motion that no number of speedlines could capture. On the other hand, the studio is so in love with its own technology that makes use of CGI more than it needs to. This makes for some great effects, like the occasional soft lighting, but it also causes a clash of visual styles between 2-D characters and props that look a little too fake (like the seal that Rosette wears around her neck).
ADV's dub production of Chrono Crusade hits some good notes, but throws in a few embellishments of questionable value. The dub script, although somewhat different from the direct translation, aids the flow of the English dialogue, however, the unique period setting prompted the producers to add in some timely colloquialisms like "duck soup" and "let's git while the getting's good." Viewers watching the dub will probably be split between enjoying the colorful vocabulary of 20's America and wanting to throttle the writers. The voice actors clearly have a great time with this, but are far from perfect—Rosette's dub VA, for example, times her lines well but errs on the side of sounding squeaky rather than sweet. This becomes even more pronounced as she becomes excited or angry and screeches her way through intense moods. A more careful study of the Japanese voices on the show would probably set things right in this case.
From the uplifting opening song to the sweet ending ballad, the music of Chrono Crusade rarely disappoints. Composer Hikaru Nanase makes full use of instruments—orchestral or synthesized—to create a dramatic score that emphasizes the swashbuckling action of the series, despite relying a little too heavily on strings. The high point in the first four episodes has to be Azmaria's soprano solo in Episode 3, which may be as close as we'll get to the sound of heaven without having to resort to Mozart's choral works.
The world of Chrono Crusade may be historically inaccurate and far-fetched, but it's also so concrete that you can't help but believe in it. Being in a religious order has never felt so exciting—or so dangerous. With animation that's always on the move, a confident visual style, and the beginnings of a gripping story, this first disc of Chrono Crusade is a delightful trip into an America that never was.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Likeable characters and high-energy adventure in a unique time and place.
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