Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Oct 27th 2006
Armageddon has come and gone, bringing with it the vampires: blood-sucking superhumans of apparently extra-terrestrial origin. In time the world has more-or-less stabilized, divided into two mutually antagonistic factions: the humans, led by the Vatican (to the horror of Protestants everywhere) and the vampires (who refer to themselves as Methuselah). Wandering through the midst of this fragile situation is the ominously-named Father Abel Nightroad, an unassuming priest and Vatican secret agent who just happens to be two trophic levels above humans.
When creating a story in a field crowded with similar stories, one should be careful to distinguish oneself from the crowd of look-alikes. Trinity Blood's problem is that it has no such distinction.
This isn't to say that it isn't a slick piece of entertainment. It is animated by Gonzo, a name that is synonymous with "slick," and the creators dig deep into the pot o' overused story bits for some tried-and-true narrative hooks to keep viewers onboard until the main plot kicks in. Vast conspiracies, ancient orders with evil ends, ill-defined world-threatening forces, and a lead character with a dual nature and dark past; they may be as old as Arizona rock formations and politicians' jokes, but they're still enough to keep you floating in the tide, waiting for the big waves to hit. The creators also have the good sense to allow each episode to boil slowly, building a full head a steam before blowing it off with a cathartic bout of blood-letting. When the time comes for gory justice to be visited upon as episode's wrongdoers, the bloodshed—though short—is satisfying. The writers also manage to sneak in a few emotional sucker-punches along the way. Anyone with a soft spot for kids will feel the ol' heartstrings a-twanging during juvenile witch Elis's interrogation, and the conclusion of the last two episodes forgoes extensive action in favor of an emotional climax. Unfortunately, every positive aspect seems to have a negative counterpart. The slower pace of the opening episodes also allows plenty of time for brain-shreddingly boring political wrangling that is steeped in bombastic speechifying, stabs at world-building that devolve into meaningless name-dropping babble, and obtuse references to those "dark forces." And for every effective appeal to emotion, there's at least one "feel sad here!" moment that collapses under its own hammy weight. The balance of sentimentality and action also causes problems with Nightroad's dual nature. One moment he will be preaching the value of life, and the next he's cutting someone in half with a scythe. At best his behavior is puzzling, at worst, hypocritical. Characters, while sufficiently fleshed-out to make them identifiable, are as flat as the Kansas skyline. Nightroad, sans his split personality, has nothing to distinguish him from any other bumbling-yet-supremely-competent hero. The rest of the show shares in this flatness. It's quite entertaining, but lacking in individual character.
Anyone familiar with other Gonzo works knows what they're getting here. Present and accounted for is Gonzo's trademark blend of 3D and 2D animation (although calling a strategy that purposely plays off the disjuncture between the two a "blend" is questionable). Also distinctly Gonzo are the round-faced women and angular, lean-jawed men. Luckily Trinity Blood escapes the budgetary curse that seems to kick in after two episodes on other recent Gonzo outings; all of the episodes on this disc are of comparable quality, animation-wise. Mecha, flames, explosions and other 3D effects are carefully animated while the 2D elements suffer in comparison. The movement of characters is occasionally stiff and unconvincing, as when a man's torso in one scene slides off screen as if equipped with wheels rather than legs. The art follows this trend. Mecha and backgrounds are distinctive and rendered in utmost detail. Character designs, while admittedly attractive, lack variation, although amends are made via distinctive color schemes and carefully designed (if occasionally silly) clothing. Female designs are particularly interchangeable. Other than eye color and hair style, many of the women look exactly the same.
The music is very much like the show itself: clean and competently executed but lacking the edge to make it truly stand out. To match Trinity Blood's mix of the sci-fi and gothic, the music includes classical and choral pieces, including piano solos for those "feel sad here!" moments, but also breaks out the guitars and synthesizers for the action. The only real standout track, however, is the gothic choral music that accompanies Abel's transformations. The opening and ending songs are appropriately gloomy and reasonably enjoyable, but are unlikely to set the charts on fire.
The dub is pure Funimation, which is to say fast, loose, and excellent. The dub script sacrifices fidelity in the name of flow, resulting in a dub that occasionally varies quite drastically from the original Japanese. Nevertheless, it retains the spirit of the original, translating characters and events over largely intact. The few times that it does substantially change the meaning of a scene (in one case failing to explain why a character pulls his own heart out) are worrisome, but hardly fatal. In exchange, we are treated to a dub that is blessedly short on the awkward pauses and weird phrasing that plague some of the more faithful dubs. Performances are well-matched across the languages, with Father Nightroad being almost indistinguishable in Japanese and English. The quality of the performances is quite good overall, even surpassing the original in places. Elis's interrogation monologue may be touching in the Japanese, but in English it's heartbreaking.
The only extras on this disc are trailers, textless songs and a text gallery of relevant historical facts.
With Gonzo on board, it's no surprise that Trinity Blood is shiny, attractive, and—on the whole—entertaining. Unfortunately the entire enterprise manages to feel slightly lifeless. Is it because of the silly naming conventions and occasionally preposterous writing (do I get a prize if it turns out that Abel has a former comrade-turned-antagonist called Cain?)? Or is it because the filmmakers know, deep down, that this has all been done before?
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Slick entertainment, excellent dub.
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