Background: While most people still seem to think all anime is limited to a handful of genres, typically giant robots and colorful cartoons of gals with multicolored hair pouncing on a dweeb or two, there really is a vast range out there that encompasses a whole lot more. One of the genres that have grown in stature in recent years is the horror and adult themed material that an older, often brand new, audience seems to enjoy. I've been privy to several such series in the past as a reviewer and fan of anime, sometimes finding the clichés too much to get into and other times finding something completely new. Today, I had an early look at such a title with Trinity Blood 1: Collector's Edition and found a lot to enjoy as I watched the four episodes of the show. Here's what I found:
Movie: Trinity Blood 1 is the first part of a story set in a post apocalyptic future where Armageddon nearly destroyed the Earth. 500 years later, the survivors had largely reestablished mankind's place on the planet but with one exception; the emergence of vampires. Earth is divided into two main nation states in this manner, the vampires on one hand and the humans on the other. The humans are led by the Catholic Church, as corrupt as ever and led by a weak pope bullied into action by those surrounding him. A fragile peace exists between the two groups and it is threatened by the rise of a secret society called the Rosen Kreux that will stop at nothing to start a new, more perfect society. They have allies in both nation states and are led largely by vampires but they owe no loyalty to either side, killing anyone they need to to further their goals.
Small pockets of terrorists on both sides attempt to change the order of the universe but the Rosen Kreux is the primary reason why the Church formed a group called AX in order to maintain the balance at all costs. AX is a group of secret agents led by Lady Caterina Sforza, Duchess of Milano and sister to the pope. Their most powerful agent is Father Abel Nightroad, a seemingly bumbling figure of a man (much like Trigun) who transforms into a being called a Crusnik, a vampire's vampire that drinks their blood when the ability is called forth, as needed. He travels the land on missions from the Vatican, ever fearful that unleashing too much of his power will cause him to lose control and become a threat himself. He is backed up by an android named Tres Ique, a terminator fashioned expeditionary marshal codenamed Gunslinger complete with tremendous firepower and self repair abilities as well as programming that instantly allows him to determine Papal doctrine and attack those who violate the word of the law. The Church's army is led by Francesco De Medci, a Cardinal and half brother to Caterina who has the ear of the Pope, often leading him into extreme positions.
Earth itself has lost most of its technology, with pockets of advances coexisting with the dirigibles and almost medieval technology that most people rely on. The Rosen Kreux employs various factions and promotes the self interests of talented individuals to wage a campaign against the Church. The episodes in the first volume were 1) Flight Night where the basic premise of AX is established as a vampire terrorist group, the Fleurs Du Mal, takes over a large airship with the intention of crashing it into the Vatican; 2) Witch Hunt where Abel is sent on a mission to capture a small mutant girl with special abilities from the Fleur Du Mal. If he can't safely capture her, his orders are clear that she's too dangerous to live; an order he doesn't accept which makes him become Gunslinger's newest target; 3) The Star of Sorrow 1: City of Blood where a futuristic Switzerland of sorts becomes a battleground for the forces of the Church and those of the Vampire Empire; introducing Sister Esther as a nun with a taste for vengeance; and 4) The Star of Sorrow II: Hunter's Banquet where a bit of old world satellite technology is used to nearly reignite the war as Abel and Esther try to save the day.
Okay, the fusion of lighter elements with the darker ones was pretty interesting for me although I'll be the first to suggest that the use of catholic elements wasn't much to my liking. I'm not particularly religious but some fans are and my experience is that such people are easily offended at what are no less than swipes at their beliefs. Still, I like the idea of the human forces employing whatever means necessary to fight the forces of evil nearly as much as I like the way that neither side was truly portrayed as completely pure in their intentions. The first volume barely scratched the surface of the potential for the series but the way it explored the duality of Abel's nature, the machinations of the people in power, and the use of the themes outweighed the heavy borrowing of stereotypes and situations from other anime titles. There was no main thread by this point and the episodes seemed to mostly stand alone (except for the third and fourth as they were part of a duo) but I suspect that having seen most of the leads established at least a little bit, the bigger story elements are going to really start coming out in later volumes of the six part series.
The technical aspects aside, the Trinity Blood 1: Collector's Edition was worth a rating of Highly Recommended for all anime fans of darker vampire hunter type stories. The use of CGI was a bit clunky at times but aside from that, the story was interesting, the characters familiar yet also possessing some twisted traits, and the premise as good as many others on the market so I hope the show lives up to the quality of the original producing company, Gonzo; a company that I've found to make some of the very best anime available today.
Picture: Trinity Blood 1: Collector's Edition was presented in the same 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen color it was shot in by director Tomohiro Hirata for release in Japan last year in 2005. There was some grain added to give it a slightly gothic, film look and there were some issues with the way the CGI combined with the more traditional animation techniques but the visual qualities supported the story rather nicely. The use of dark scenes was something of a bludgeon at times but I have to admit that as much as the darker themes were addressed handily this way, the DVD mastering looked nearly as good as some of FUNimation's best works to date.
Sound: The audio was presented with the standard choices of a 2.0 Dolby Digital track in the original Japanese or the newly minted English language dub. For my tastes, the vocals were a different experience on each track so I can thankfully say that it was interesting to listen to both of them. The Japanese lead voice actor playing Abel nightshade, Hiroki Tochi, was exceptionally well suited for the part as was the English language actor for Tres Ique, Chris Sabat(?), but the vocals seemed to be handled nicely across the board. The music was appropriately moody and suited too with the special effects sounding slightly stronger on the dubbed track.
Extras: The limited edition added some nice extras to the package for me. First off, the box might not be high on most people's minds when picking up the limited edition but in this case; it really was a charmer. It was very heavy and used wood instead of the flimsy cardboard so prevalent in such releases, making it a must have for the serious collector and fan. The 24 page color booklet was also really nice as it had interviews, artwork, character descriptions, and lots more to appreciate. The addition of a few small tarot cards was okay but not really all that special, with a clean opening & closing, some background in the form of a glossary of terms, and some trailers to other shows.
Final Thoughts: Trinity Blood 1: Collector's Edition will satisfy those of you that want to see an ultra violent vampire show, those into futuristic battles between super powered individuals, and those that enjoy stories taking modern situations and projecting them forward with a clear vision more than anyone else. The humor elements were not as pronounced as Trigun nor were the horror elements as obvious as Hellsing but Trinity Blood 1: Collector's Edition is going to cause more than a few waves for the anime loving audience given the quality put into the DVD release from both sides of the Pacific. Future volumes will determine the quality of the series as a whole but it certainly started on a high point for this reviewer.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.