Background: There has long been a large following for fictional accounts of Vampires, Warlocks, and other supernatural beings. The reasons vary more than I care to explore here but the bottom line is that such works run a wide gamut of quality, regardless of how they are presented. Earlier this year, I came across one of the best examples of the genre in anime (it even placed highly on the Best of Anime 2006 list); the futuristic tale of Trinity Blood 3: Collector's Edition, a show where humanity survives thanks in large part to the efforts of the Catholic Church with a struggle between the organization and a large group of vampires that seek to subjugate the survivors of a past war. As stated in Trinity Blood V1 and Trinity Blood V2, the political machinations of the series were interesting but not so much as that of the lead characters. The emphasis is on a group of traveling priests and nuns that fight the demons as they seek to instill an uneasy peace with a third group trying to rekindle the war to its own advantage. Some of the characters are a bit more worldly than others but the idea is actually well thought out and pays homage to the Church without dwelling on matters best left to yourself, with a lot of action resulting from their exploits.
Series: Trinity Blood 3: Collector's Edition is the third 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 in order 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. Abel is the central character to most episodes but is joined by Sister Esther and others as needed while the larger pieces of the puzzle fit into place with regard to the Rosen Kreux continually sowing dissention and terror into the populace of both societies. His dark secret is known only to a select handful of people, notable that he must carefully control his power or become victim to it himself, plunging forever into the darkness of the abyss like those he fights in the name of the Church.
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 third volume of the series were 9) Overcount 1: The Belfrey of Downfall, 10) Overcount 2: Lucifer's Choice, 11) From The Empire, and 12) The Ibelis 1: Evening Visitors. Picking up where the last volume left off, Abel was feeling down about not being powerful enough to save those around him from the weapon employed by his enemies. He sought to quit the order and let others try to instill order to the world yet finds himself drawn back into battle with a powerful upper echelon leader of the Rosen Kreux while his friends battle a traitor from within seeking vengeance for not having been picked as successor to the last Pope. With scant seconds to locate and dismantle his weapon of mass destruction, each member deals with the betrayal differently, including a very powerful Duchess fans will know on sight.
This covered the first two volumes well enough to get an idea about but the second two, while not dealing directly with internal strife, were equally moving on another level. Each of them dealt with Abel working cooperatively with agents of the Vampire Nation; in one case, a near immortal whose distain for anything human blinds her to the suffering she causes in the name of her cause and in the other for the machinations of vampires against one of their own emissaries on a mission for his queen. This forces Abel to have to take an unpopular route by fighting his own people as he sets to fix a misunderstanding, one that could plunge the two nation-states into the darkness of war if left untended. Needless to say, the bigger picture is held clearly in his mind, even as he must chastise even his closest supporters for jumping to conclusions, conclusions that could spark off events as desired by the dreaded Rosen Kreux.
Once again, I found myself getting into the action as well as the intrigue of the series, with the characters finding they cannot do it all by themselves and growing as a result. As more pieces fall into place for the bigger issues to settle in, it becomes abundantly clear that Abel has his work cut out for him as he seeks to redeem his own failings while battling beings from all three factions that fail to see how their actions are impacting others. The members of the church tend to be narrow minded about what they are doing, as do the vampires, with the trouble making Rosen Kreux continually scheming to realign the Earth in their favor. I rated this volume in the series as Highly Recommended too, fans knowing exactly why I found so much to like with the mix of comedy, action, and intrigue going on in this multi-layered piece of fiction.
Picture: Trinity Blood 3: 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. There was a corresponding use of well lit scenes this time too that helped balance the lighter material (while thematically obvious, they were still well handled) too.
Sound: The audio was presented with the standard choices of a 2.0 Dolby Digital track in the original Japanese or the newly minted 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround 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 fold out package (complete with cardboard sleeve) was designed to fit nicely into the heavy box from Trinity Blood 1 but had some nice artwork too. The 24 page color booklet was also really nice as it had interviews, artwork, character descriptions, and lots more to appreciate, including character backgrounds that fleshed out their motivations a whole lot (nearly rendering the booklet as essential for a full understanding of the episodes) so don't skip it or rely on the edited version of the show if you're a fan of the show. 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 as historical artifacts, and some trailers to other shows. There was also a FUNimation catalog included in the case for other quality shows by the company.
Final Thoughts: Trinity Blood 3: Collector's Edition continued the fine tradition of the series that was rated as the #3 pick in the Best of Anime 2006 List recently. FUNimation and Gonzo have long proved to be an effective team worth keeping an eye on and the Dallas based company showed that they are devoting a lot of effort to keep fans happy with the series. The technical matters were handled very nicely and the thematic issues that arose from the evolution of the situations and characters also proved to elevate my hopes that it would get even better with time. Some of the CGI effects during the transformation were a bit out of place but as Abel risks his soul by increasing his Crusnik form's level of power, the stakes by the enemy increase as well with the viewer as the ultimate winner yet again.
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, Best of Anime 2005, and Best of Anime 2006 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.