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"Trinity Blood Chapter 1": Up to its Neck in Thrills

I’m no great fan of horror films, but I confess a soft spot for vampires and zombies. Perhaps they are compelling because they are not quite as divorced from humanity as most horror monsters, and thus in a sense more tragic than beastly.

Great buy!Anime has of course had an intimate relationship with horror ever since the late 60s/early 70s when the likes of GeGeGe no Kitaro and Devilman debuted. The preference seems to be for bizarre creatures, so villains as ordinary as simple zombies haven’t gotten much attention. However vampires have proven a fairly popular subject, and have headlined a number of series over the years, most notably cult favorite Vampire Hunter D. I suspect that the elegant, aristocratic nature of vampires and their often tortured love lives appeal to Japanese audiences, and both are prominently on display in the thrilling 2005 series Trinity Blood.

I’m a big fan of the D films, which are creepy without being overly grotesque, dripping with atmosphere, and full of breathtaking action and art design. Being a modestly budgeted TV series Trinity can’t quite match the scares or atmosphere, and the action scenes, though well done, are limited. However the art design is superb, and the relentless political intrigue highly engrossing. Not unlike the Lord of the Rings, Trinity is a story of empires and alliances and double-crosses, with humanity’s survival hanging precariously in the balance.

The story begins far in the future when, following a devastating world war, a horde of vampires emerges to challenge humanity for control of the earth. The vampires, or Methuselahs as they prefer to be called, absorb a large section of the planet into their eastern empire, which is opposed by the forces of the free world led by the Vatican. Somewhere in between a mysterious criminal organization known as Rosen Kreuz Orden attempts to exploit the conflict for its own benefit, often employing the dreaded Fleurs de Mal terrorist group.

Goku couldn’t shine my shoes.

In this universe the Vatican is a massively powerful political and military entity with legions of troops at its disposal. Among its most elite warriors is the humble but formidable priest Abel Nightroad, who bounces from one hot spot to another trying to keep the Methuselahs in check and the casualties down. He’s often partnered with the fearsomely lethal android Tres Iqus, who is much quicker to shoot than dwell on moral ambiguity. The Vatican is governed by the young and uncertain Pope Alessandro XVIII, who typically defers to his older siblings: the wise Cardinal Caterina Sforza and bloodthirsty Cardinal Francesco di Medici.

Chapter 1 begins with “Flight Night,” in which a Fleurs de Mal Methuselah hijacks a passenger airship and threatens to crash it into the Vatican unless his murderous comrades are released from prison. Next in “Witch Hunt” Nightroad and Tres try to keep a powerful telepathic girl out of the Fleurs de Mal’s clutches, but clash when Tres decides a bullet is the most efficient solution.

The disc concludes with the epic two-part “Star of Sorrow,” which sends Nightroad to the divided city of Istvan to keep the tenuous peace between its human and Methuselah populations. His mission is complicated when he strikes up a friendship with the young nun Esther Blanchett, who seeks revenge on the city’s Methuselah ruler Gyula for his brutal persecution of the church. Gyula himself has a score to settle over the murder of his charitable wife by Vatican accomplices.

I warned you I don’t kiss on the first date.

A number of real world issues are touched on in Trinity, from “Flight Night”‘s 9/11 inspired terrorist plot to the Cold War references in “Star of Sorrow.” In the latter story Istvan stands in for Budapest, and Gyula’s excesses are a reminder of the political and religious oppression of the Soviet bloc. This episode also has something admirable to say about today’s struggle with terrorism, in that Nightroad urges both Esther and Gyula to abandon their quests for bloody vengeance in favor of helping build understanding between their peoples.

Trinity‘s view of Christianity is generally but far from completely favorable. The church’s kindness is demonstrated by the adoption and loving care of the orphaned Esther, but its less tolerant aspects surface in the militant tactics of Francesco. Gyula considers the church useful for controlling the people, by giving them hope when there is none.

Similar to City Hunter‘s Ryo Saeba, Nightroad constantly switches between wise, resolute warrior and hapless goofball. Unlike Ryo though he seems to have little interest in the opposite sex, although I suppose the priesthood frowns on such things. There is a running joke about his tiny expense budget, and nothing puts a smile on his face like a free meal. It turns out he is a Crusnik, or a vampire who preys on other vampires, and when he gets really angry he goes Super Saiyan and shreds enemies with a huge sickle that looks like a Cracker Jack prize.

This may violate my lease, but the time for Raid is over.

The constant supply of intriguing new characters like Gyula keeps things fresh, although there are many names to memorize. The voice actors in both languages do a great job apart from the Japanese Francesco, who ludicrously thunders every line as if he were Hitler ranting on the Reichstag podium.

Though none of the fights are long enough to really dazzle, there are some nice moments here and there. Nightroad’s frantic battle with the Methuselah in and around the airship is quite tense, and Tres does a lot of stylish gunkata à la Equilibrium.

Gonzo’s animation is economical when it can be, and impressively fluid when it needs to be. The European setting makes for lots of beautiful background detail, especially in the baroque palaces of Alessandro and Gyula. On the negative side it’s rather tacky Gonzo didn’t create original animation for the opening credits, and the few CGI elements often blend poorly with the 2D environment.

Hello Kitty Rosary Beads?? This must be heaven!

Both the opening and closing songs are very catchy, and one has to give props for the use of veteran goth rock band Buck-Tick. It’s not often you see an older act like that used in anime.

Disappointingly, the only special feature included is some interesting background text on the historical names and places used in the series. For example Esther is so named because like her Persian biblical namesake she strives to save her people from genocide.

Trinity Blood is a fascinating series that will hook horror and sci-fi lovers with its rich storyline. Personally I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the next volume. Sorry, a bit obvious I know. At least you didn’t have to hear my Bela Lugosi impression.

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