Background: Last 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, 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, Trinity Blood V2, and Trinity Blood V3, 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 were 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 4 is the fourth 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 fourth volume, Trinity Blood IV, were 13) The Ibelis II: Betrayal Blaze, 14) The Ibelis III: A Mark of Sinner, 15) The Night Lords I: Return of the Envoy, and 16) The Night Lords II: Twilight of the Capital. Picking up from Trinity Blood V3, Abel and Esther are finding themselves on the wrong side of the Inquisitors that seek to bring in the envoy believed to be responsible for the earlier bombing. Of course it's all a set up but they aren't willing to listen to our heroes since their minds were made up long before (and those who follow religious doctrines aren't always known for their open-mindedness). As with the last volume, betrayal is all around them though and no is to be trusted, even Abel's baser instincts cause him to cross the line when the smell of delicious Methuselah blood is shed and pushing him ever deeper into his enhanced blood lust mode. His regrets at what he is and how close he came to dispensing with his ideals plunges him deeper into depression while Caterina attempts to deal with the problem as best she came from her vantage point while her political enemies continue to push for an opening to remove her from influence. The second half of the volume shows the mirror side of the action when Abel and Esther escort Eon back to his homeland, despite his belief that he'd never be allowed to go back. Simply put, the Rosen Kreux have even more influence in the Empire's capital and they have determined the headstrong youngling (who is a favorite of the Empress) to be a threat since he refuses to see the larger picture, a picture where the sacrifice of his life for the supposed "greater good" over the will of his leader is brought forth. Some characters from earlier in the series arrive to assist the group but once they are set up by guards friendly to the terrorists, the chase is on in a whole new way. Abel is positioned to deal a serious blow to the Empire but recognizes that doing so would play into the hands of the real enemy, further destabilizing the world as it continues to slide into anarchy.
The cover put it like this: "The object of the enemy is revealed: to sow the seeds of suspicion and unrest among the people of the world, to inflame the hatred and distrust between the two races. As the order of Rosen Kreuz up the stakes, cooperation and goodwill between the Vatican and the empire grow imperative. Adept at intrigue and manipulation, insinuated deeply within both sides of the struggle, this new order leads all in deadly dance. For AX operative Abel Nightroad, when friend becomes foe, foe will become friend. But can one man save the world when so many seek to destroy it?" There was a sense of sameness to this volume but it was done to show how our protagonists are walking a dangerously thin line; walking a path that no sane person would care to take. If a serious tragedy occurs on either side of the cold war line, the enemy will win and be able to push the world back into the chaos of war, a war that the humans would find resulted in many more deaths than their opposition thanks to their fragile nature. With few willing to step up to the plate and assist, Abel and Esther find that saving the prince may prove tricky, exposing him to more danger, but ultimately important to keep the balance the terrorists are doing their best to destabilize.
If you've been watching the series to date, you'll know that the political intrigue is as important as the battle scenes and both are offered up in healthy doses here yet again. I would have preferred better extras or another episode to balance out the value ratio but the characters, as flawed as they have been portrayed (on purpose of course) have grown on me to the point that I still think the series should be Recommended or better. The detail that went into director Tomohiro Hirata's vision in the latter episodes of this volume were especially satisfying and a few viewings were needed to catch it all (I'm still finding things by the way) but some seemingly minor plot points end up playing increasingly large roles as the show progresses, a calculated move by the creative staff to boost the edge of the show for true believers. Admittedly, the CGI effect of Abel's transformation could have been handled a little more fluidly but I still found myself enjoying every minute of the show, albeit with a sharper eye on some of the slow spots here.
Picture: Trinity Blood IV 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: I got in the regular version of the show and all it had for extras was a clean opening & closing (as textless songs), some background in the form of a glossary of terms as historical artifacts, and some trailers to other shows.
Final Thoughts: Trinity Blood IV was less of a bold step to furthering the series than some of the earlier episode's in volumes Trinity Blood V1, Trinity Blood V2, and Trinity Blood V3 were but I enjoyed the way some relatively minor details were either fleshed out or at least explained better as to why they should be paid attention to. The fantastical elements of the series are typically handled in such a way that they embrace the medieval themes as well as the futuristic setting (mankind having fallen but partially rebuilt over the generations). If you haven't checked the series out, begin at the front in order to understand some of the nuances it offers but start nonetheless since it really has been a lot of fun to watch unfold.
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.