Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 21st 2010
BLURAY - The Complete Collection
Several hundred years after an Armageddon-level war, the world is dominated by two great powers: The Vatican and the New Humankind Empire, which is controlled by vampires – or Methuselah, as they prefer to call themselves. Through this setting wanders Father Abel Nightroad, a seemingly poverty-stricken itinerant priest who is actually secretly an agent for the Special Operations Section of the Vatican's Ministry of Holy Affairs, which reports directly to Cardinal Sforza, sister and one of the chief advisers to timid young Pope Alessandro XVIII. Even more secretly, Father Abel is also a Crusnik, a nanomachine-empowered superhuman who is a “vampire who feeds on other vampires.” While working on various missions for the Vatican, Father Abel butts heads with agents of the Order of Rosen Kruez, a shadowy “third power” who seeks to sow chaos and destruction for their own purposes. Along the way Father Abel also makes the acquaintance of Sister Esther Blanchett, a troubled young nun who must overcome personal tragedy and the blood on her hands to unwittingly become a critical player in interracial relations and international politics. Of course, Father Abel (and others) must keep her alive that long, and he has his own problems when an old and powerful nemesis emerges.
Spectacular visual merits, flashy action, plenty of style, vampires, and plot elements involving peaceful vampire/human coexistence – Trinity Blood certainly has all of the elements necessary to have been successful in the States, so much so that it aired on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim back in late 2006 through early 2007. Thus it is hardly a surprise that Funimation picked this one for a relatively early appearance in its progression of Blu Ray rereleases of its catalog series. But was the end result worth the effort for anime fans slavering for some good BR content?
Well. . .
The Blu Ray release does offer the picture quality in 1080p High Definition, but it is an upconvert; this series does date to 2005, after all, before producing anime specifically for display in HD format became commonplace, and it has apparently not gone through any kind of restoration. While there are fewer trouble spots here than with some of Funimation's even earlier BR rereleases, videophiles may still note some of the problems which seem common to these upconverts and those expecting to see a substantial improvement in video quality will be disappointed. With no new scenes or Extras (the textless songs and collection of historical references included on the third of three disks were available in earlier releases, as were the interviews and character files in the included booklet), this version offers little to entice anyone who already has the complete series in some previous release form. Newcomers and those who never previously got around to purchasing the series may find this to be a more attractive release, however.
Evaluating the content of the series is an entirely different matter. Gonzo's effort here certainly has the power to dazzle, with its inventive, intricately-designed CG airships and Crusnik transformations, elaborate architecture and interiors, and gorgeous costuming. Most distinctive is its beautiful use of color, especially in the contrasts; even when some characters shift to dark-colored outfits in the mid-to-late stages of the series, the richness and texture of the coloring still impresses. Female character designs tend to favor long, severe faces with pointed chins for adults, which makes several of them look pretty without really being attractive; certain female characters with a predilection for showing off their cleavage having unflattering outfits to do it with certainly does not help. The big exception here is Esther, whose more rounded face, strikingly auburn hair, and progressively-designed nun's habits (whether blue-based or white-based) give her a decidedly softer impression. Her overall effect is vaguely moe and she is certainly one of the most visually appealing female characters Gonzo has ever produced. While none of the male characters quite equal Esther, they fare better on average, with Abel having a definite dashing visual appeal whether being serious or playing the buffoon and others looking sexy in suitably manly fashions. The series does throw in a little bit of fan service but is much more intent on impressing with its vastly more numerous and graphic action scenes, though the animation supporting it is only a little above average. In some places the character rendering quality drops off noticeably, especially during the bulk of one mid-series episode, but fortunately this is not a common occurrence.
The visuals and action scenes alone might carry the series for some, but the writing is both the series' greatest strength and most glaring weakness. When clicking on all cylinders, the storytelling is very, very good – nearly the equal of anime's best, in fact. It can deliver some pretty potent drama, including scenes involving learning to set aside the destructive impulses that a thirst for vengeance can bring about, coming to terms with interracial cooperation, and dealing with a rebellion that has a firm moral ground despite its objectionable actions. It also has some strong relationship building and a great sense for dramatic flair. The naming conventions are also interesting, mixing distinct Biblical references (Cain, Abel, Seth, Esther, Solomon, Methuselah) with Renaissance references (Medici, Sforza), Middle Eastern references (Suleiman, Baybars), and other random historical and literary references, including characters named William Wordsworth (after an English poet) and Lohengrin (after a character in a prominent Wagner opera) and the Order of Rosen Kruez (a reference to the legendary founder of a secret society of mystics called Rosicrucianism). Place names frequently revert to archaic versions, including Albion, Londinium, Byzantium, and so forth. This diverse use of naming conventions does get the series in trouble at one point, however, as in one scene in episode 22 a member of the Order of Rosen Kruez refers to Esther's name as meaning “star” in “the old language of this land” (referring to Albion) when, in fact, that meaning comes from Persian.
The plot in the series progresses irregularly, as it starts with two one-shots, then introduces Esther and the Order of Rosen Kruez, then sets Esther aside for a while to deal with some other brief story arcs (which do eventually tie into the more prominent arcs, though in some cases this does not become apparent until much later) before bringing her back to co-main-protagonist status for related arcs involving the Empire's secret emissary to the Vatican and the secret diplomatic foray into the heart of the Empire and its involved regicide scheme. The series then closes out with an only vaguely-related arc involving Albion and the appearance of Cain in which Esther is also a key player. This is the result of the anime being based off of two six-volume series of light novels, with stories from one of the series being sprinkled in amongst plot arcs based on the other series. The occasional awkwardness in story flow which results from this can be overlooked if the series is viewed in select chunks but definitely interferes with the anime's efforts to establish a grand overarching plot.
The plot, writing, and storytelling in this anime version have bigger problems lurking within them, though. One of the biggest is the slipshod treatment given to the backstory, as its lack of fleshing out utterly fails to explain several key points that are explained in the novels, giving the impression that familiarity with the novels was expected for Japanese audiences. How vampires and the Crusniks came to be, why Abel was once referred to in the past tense as “the enemy of humanity” (and what convinced him to ultimately side with humans), why Abel apparently wasn't in the picture for several hundred years, why Cain apparently went insane, how the woman in the flashbacks fits into the picture – none of this is explained at all in the anime, and why Abel so badly wants to kill Cain in the series' later stages is only vaguely implied. (Everything makes vastly more sense if you go online to look up these details after watching the series, but that shouldn't be necessary.) The anime also suffers from some breakdowns in internal logic, such as how one important Empire official could possibly serve the Empress for 300 years and not know what she looks like, how such a timid kid could get elected Pope, how a massively powerful airship could come onto the scene in late episodes without anyone noticing, and an appalling lack of security in many places which can only be explained away as story convenience. Pope Alessandro is annoyingly pathetic, and Esther, though she starts out as a strongly conflicted character with a willingness to use violence if necessary, sadly devolves into a more typically timid, emotional “heart of the story” type who often needs to be rescued as the story progresses (which stands in stark contrast to her much more gung-ho portrayal in the manga version). And the climactic battle at the end? Let's just say that there is a good reason why its resolution left many fans fuming despite a glorious start.
The soundtrack tries quite hard to give the story a proper dramatic feel and/or play up the action scenes – much, much too hard, in fact, as the soaring orchestral numbers with their vocal arias are often way over-the-top. The soundtrack works much better with its lower-key numbers, but its predisposition to switch over suddenly to hard-core mode on a whim can be jarring. Both the opener and the closer, which remain constant throughout the series, are more of a match for the lower-key side; while the former does also have a cool groove, neither stands out much.
Funimation's English dub has a few quirks that could be points of irritation. Some of the casting choices are iffy (Carrie Savage does not seem like a good fit for a prominent role as the Duchess of Moldova, for instance) and the English script takes such great liberties that characters in English sometimes seem to be saying almost the opposite of what the subtitles read; of course, it is also possible that the subtitles were not worded and/or translated well, as the dialog generally makes more sense in spoken English than in the subtitles. The English dub also insists on following the inaccurate Japanese pronunciation of Carthage by calling it “Carthago,” which seems odd given the script's willingness to adjust other things, and drops any hint of archaic speech patterns in I.O.N's dialog. The dub does, thankfully, change “Orden” to “Order” in the references to Rosen Kruez, however, and the voice acting is quite good; if anything, the emotions of characters carry through better in English, and Troy Baker does a phenomenal job of modulating his voice and speech patterns to handle Abel's many moods. (I clearly overlooked this performance when handing out my Best Male Dub Performance award back at the end of 2006.) Overall, the good aspects outweigh the negatives, which are mostly just picky points anyway.
If you are a lover of vampire series and have never gotten around to this one, Trinity Blood is worth a look. Certain aspects of its ending may not be satisfying, and additional research is strongly recommended for full appreciation, but it looks good enough, and entertains well enough, to make its negatives tolerable.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Spectacular visuals, Esther's character design, sometimes very effective drama and dramatic flair.
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