NOTE TO READERS: What we reviewed for this article was only a screener of the full-length animation. No Bonus Features were included with the screener. I also went a bit mental with the screen grabs which you will see at the end of this preview. Enjoy.
A folklore professor becomes unwittingly possessed by the ancient Japanese demons of Thunder and Lightning. But when The Bureau of Paranormal Research & Defense dispatches a team of agents to investigate, a cursed samurai sword sends Hellboy (Ron Perlman) to a supernatural dimension of ghosts, monsters and feudal mayhem.Now while pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and fishboy Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) battle one very pissed-off dragon, a lost and cranky Hellboy must find his way home. Even if he can survive the perilous journey, how much crap does a guy have to put up with from the two most vengeful and ferocious spirits of Japanese legend?
In this first animated feature from director Tad Stones (Buzz Lightyear of Star Command), and Creative Producers Mike Mignola (creator of HELLBOY comics) and Guillermo del Toro (writer/director of the HELLBOY movie), originally aired in October of 2006 on the Cartoon Network, we are privey to the world and works of Mike on a more user friendly scale. Known for delving deep into mythos and occult themes Sword of Storms doesn't stray too far from the well worn path of the collection of graphic novels and the feature film. However, it is in the presentation that this animated feature is made more accessable to its viewing audience and that is what make or break the series in regards to longtime hardcore Hellboy fans.
Mike Mignola's style of story telling has always been unique and it was only further emphasized by a very distinct visual style as well. While there are whisps and flirts with that original design in Sword of Storms what the viewer gets is more of a straightfoward after-school animated cartoon style. It isn't neccessarily detremental to the enjoyment of the feature it may distract the familiar. That isn't to say that it isn't lacking in style in its own right. It's just that at points in the feature you go from really cool sequences to rather silly moments that feel out of place and awkward. If one wants to watch a Mignola inspired animation that is true to his visual style then you must look to AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD. What Sword of Storms will do is bridge the gap between familiars and those uninitiated in the Hellboy universe. And that is alright with me. Hellboy is a fine universe to discover, when you are ready for it.
Sword of Storms did make me second guess who the target audience is. Considering the content and presentation of the feature I could help but wonder how everyone will respond to it. How will Hellboy fans deal? Are they willing to accept a cartoon version of Red? Is Sword of Storms targeted towards a younger crowd? If so, is the occult really suitable? The presentation would suggest that the creators are targetting a very young audience but do they really need to be exposed to such themes and content yet?
The voice talent is tip-top. Everyone did themselves a favor when they enlisted the talents of Ron Perlman and Selma Blair to do their characters voices, Hellboy and Liz Sherman respectively. Gone is David Hyde-Pierce but we finally get to hear the actor behind Abe Sapien from the live action film speak for himself when Doug Jones gets to do his own voice. Both Ron and Doug do a fantastic job with their roles. Blair sounds a bit strained and out of place, but only sometimes. Peri Gilpin, of Frasier fame uses her voice acting experience to lend another familiar voice to the pool.
The animation swings from brilliant to poor. When the animators cut corners it is obivious as the frames per second ratio dives suddenly. I am being a picky bitch, but I would expect more out of such a favored franchize. What you can expect though is action sequences that are second to none and would rival live action movie fare. The opening sequence is worthy to be compared to any blockbuster film.
What I wish I could watch were the Bonus Features. Perhaps then there might be an explanation as to how familiar and unfamiliar this feature is in comparison to the Hellboy universe and why the creators chose to do it this way. Alas, I will have to wait a couple more weeks like the rest of us.
Runtime: 77 minutes
Widescreen Presentation enhanced for 16x9 TVs
Original Production Art
A New Breed: Creating - The New Hellboy
A VIEW FROM THE TOP - The "Heads" sequence
Audio Commentary Featuring Hellboy Creator Mike Mignola, Supervising Producer/Director Tad Stones and Director Phil Weinstein
Conquering Hellboy - The Actor's Role
Hellboy Goes East: A Revealing look at many of the inspirations, backstories and secrets of Hellboy: Sword of Storms. This includes: Tale Spin - A deconstruction of the ""Spider Lady"" sequence; Prop Perfecture - A look at how ordinary objects animate to life; Origins - The filmmakers are inspired by Japanese mythology; Samurai Songs - Hellboy's music to live and fight by
Keepers of Hellboy: A Comic Con 2006 Panel Discussion
To Hell And Back - How Mike Mignola Created Hellboy (Part I)
DVD Rom - Live Transcript; Live Transcript Search; Synced Storyboards; Enhanced Script to Screen; Documentary Sync; Kill count - which keeps track of each of the major characters' kills; Character sync; A ""Key Moments"" list; Weblinks
Hellboy: Blood and Iron is due out this year.
Hellboy Animated Sword of Storms is up for pre-order right now over at Amazon and is due to hit the streets on February 6th.