This week, a unique erotic historical fiction film that has completely slipped through the cracks.
Reviewby Theron Martin, May 3rd 2006
In a rebuilt post-apocalyptic future, vampires have returned to the world and established an Empire, which is constantly opposed and warred against by the forces of the Roman Catholic Church still based at the Vatican, though a more sinister group with their own motives, the Rosencroitz Foundation, lurks in the background. In this world Father Abel Nightroad serves as a constantly-funds-challenged agent of “Ax,” a special Vatican-sponsored unit which investigates and deals with vampire-related matters. In the course of his travels he comes to the aid of two young women and a girl, and in the process reveals that he's something more than human himself, something that even vampires might fear.
The “movie” version of Trinity Blood, which FUNimation will be showing in a few select theaters around the U.S. on May 5th, was actually constructed by running the first four episodes of the TV series together between a single opener and closer. This results in a pair of stand-alone stories (the first two episodes) followed by a double-length third part (the second two episodes) which seems to lead into the rest of the series since, unlike the first two parts, it ends with a definite sense that the story is just getting started. This is probably exactly what FUNi intended, as the movie is really nothing more than a promotional tool for the release of the full series this fall. Still, if you're fortunate enough to live in an area where it's playing then it's an inexpensive way to get a good sampling of the series and see if it's worth buying later on.
Trinity Blood is Gonzo's latest project to hit the American shores, and it's every bit as flashy and impressive-looking as one would expect from a Gonzo production. The rich, elaborate costumes of the nuns and high Church officials are particularly eye-catching with their vibrant colors and stylish designs, and to a lesser degree the costuming for everyone else is also sharp. Character designs are also widely-varied, with some major characters (particularly Catherina) having more severe looks than one would normally expect for characters in their roles. CG-enhanced backgrounds provide for some beautiful artistic and architectural designs nearly as eye-popping in places as Gonzo's efforts in Gankutsuou, while the long red scimitar-like weapon that Abel produces when he reveals his true form is also quite inventive, if completely over-the-top. The animation does take some shortcuts in the fight scenes and seems a little awkward in places where it's just showing characters walking but is otherwise good. Overall the movie is a visual treat, although for all its style it lacks a certain amount of freshness.
And that's where the problem with Trinity Blood lies: the lack of originality it has shown so far. This movie presentation looks like a conglomeration of elements borrowed from nearly every other major series Gonzo has done to date. The fantastic airships look almost like they flew right out of Last Exile or Vandread, for instance, while various characters and costume designs were clearly patterned off of sources ranging from Kiddy Grade to Chrono Crusade. The set-up is also hardly original, with the “hunter of hunters” masquerading as a normal good-guy human and revealing his true nature only at the climatic confrontation of each story (and out of sight of more innocent protagonists) being a hold-over from innumerable other supernatural series from the past couple of decades. To balance some of this out the series goes out of its way to try to make its fight scenes look cool and stylish, but it would have been better-served by making good fight scenes rather than “cool” ones. The only thing distinctly different is the presumption that, at this point in the future, women are allowed to become Bishops within the Church.
It also doesn't help that Abel is not even in the top 50% when it comes to interesting and distinctive vampire hunters. His practice of hiding his true nature behind a sweet, bumbling veneer which always grouses about his perpetual penniless status is doubtless intended to make him endearing, but it more often comes across as fake and annoying. This kind of thing has been done elsewhere and done better. Although being paired with a human-looking android enforcer is unusual as vampire-fighting tales go, Tres's robotic nature (and occasional behavior inconsistent with being an android) doesn't deliver much interest, either.
Fortunately the storytelling includes more interesting supporting characters. Jessica, the pilot-wannabe heroine of the first part, is much more appealing and credible than Abel, as is Esther, the heroine of the third part and apparent regular cast member. Esther is also the only character so far to display any degree of depth in a story stocked with standard one-dimensional personalities. Her situation isn't that original, either, but unlike the rest of the writing it is handled well.
Although the heavily-dramatic orchestrated musical score should sound great in a theater and would be appropriate for a true dramatic action movie, it's overblown by series standards, which can make it sound pretentious. The gentler piano-based tunes used in more peaceful scenes work better, but on the whole the score is overwrought. The opener and closer for the movie both use the same music as their counterparts in the series, but whether or not the graphics are the same cannot be confirmed.
Aside from the artistry, the greatest strength of the movie is its English dub, which sounds as smooth as if the title was originally made in English and consistently features quality voice work. Casting feels dead-on, with the highlight performance being Colleen Clinkenbeard (probably best-known for Eclaire on Kiddy Grade and both Rose and Hawkeye on Fullmetal Alchemist) as Esther, who delivers an effort which sounds distinct from her other roles and fully captures the troubled nature of her character. Troy Baker (Archer from Fullmetal Alchemist) also does a commendable job of handling the varied vocal styles of Abel Nightroad. How accurate the dub script is, and how well the performances reflect those of the original seiyuu, could not be determined since only a dubbed version of the movie was available, but evaluated solely as a stand-alone effort it's a great job.
What has been shown of Trinity Blood so far isn't Gonzo's best or most original effort, but it does have a sharp enough look and good enough dub for the movie to be worth checking out if you can. For the series as a whole to be worth watching, though, the storytelling and character development need to improve.
Overall (dub) : B
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Sharp visuals, great English dub.
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