Friday, February 26, 2010

Dante's Inferno: An Animated Epic (2010) review: Blazes a trail of Blood, Guts and fiery passion.

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: Deeper than most video game anime, thought provoking tale about repentence and forgiveness, perfect cast with extraordinary voice acting, non-stop bloody action, extremely powerful first half

The Bad: convoluted narrative, inconsistent visual styles, weak second half,

Current Availability Status: Edited version available in an DVD store


Would you traverse the fiery pits of hell and face down the devil himself to save the soul of an innocent loved one? But what if you found out that another's suffering were caused by your own misdeeds? Dante's Inferno, an anime movie adapted from the video game(itself inspired by the classic "Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri) chronicles the epic journey of the titular troubled Knight, a veteran of the Bloody Christian Crusade, who returns home to find his wife murdered and her soul spirited away by the devil Lucifer. Claiming to have been steadfast in his faith and his love for his wife, Beatrice, Dante travels through the nine levels of Hell, guided by the spirit of Virgil the poet, to challenge all sorts of horrors beyond imagination just to return her to salvation. But perhaps the greatest horror lies within Dante himself and the sins of his past that he so vehemently denies.

Like most anime adapted from video games, the story is a straight forward one for which its only purpose is to conveniently propel Dante from one level of Hell to the next; Seven levels named after the seven deadly christian sins, each level of Hell has its own blade fodder troops and "stage boss". Throughout the linear and somewhat simplistic main story, the more intriguing back-story is fleshed out in flashbacks. It seemed that Lucifer challenged Beatrice to a bet that Dante would never betray her trust or fall into sin while he was away fighting the war. Naturally The pure-hearted Beatrice, so full of faith in her husband, accepted that bet with her soul as the prize. As the show progresses and as Dante gets nearer to his goal, Lucifer delights in utterly shattering Beatrice's faith first in God, then in mankind and ultimately in her husband who's sinful past deeds ,stitched to his chest in the form of a blood red cross, indirectly led to her tragic death and damnation.

Animated by 5 animation studios and 6 directors, Dante's Inferno no doubt suffers from some inconsistency. The first half of the film generally displays top notch quality that stands toe to toe with the best anime movies in the market. From Film Roman's exceedingly fluid prologue to Manglobe's richly detailed gothic artwork and then to Dong Woo Animation's comic book styled portrayal of the characters, all of it done with meticulous professionalism that brings out the nightmarish feel of the underworld. Sadly the work by JM Animation and Production I.G (yes the same production I.G that made Ghost in the Shell and Sky Crawlers) leave much to be desired in the second half of the film. Either it is fluid highly stylised animation but artwork that is low in detail, or beautifully detailed art with stiff character movements. Even the mouth movements are not synced to the dialogue.
*For a more in-depth analysis of the animation styles, scroll all the way down*

Where the technical aspects start to falter as the film progresses, the narrative and script never lets up. The main characters are fully developed and easy to relate to supplemented by some of the finest voice acting to ever bless the animation scene. Graham McTavish is perfect in his debut role as our tragic hero Dante effectively conveying his anguish, desperation and inner turmoil. His powerful yet nuanced performance complements the rest of the cast with Vebessa Branch(Commander Zhanna from the game Red Alert 3) as Beatrice, Peter Jessop(Wesker in Resident Evil) as Virgil, Steve Blum(Wolverine from "Wolverine and the X-men") as Lucifer and Mark Hamil(Star Wars) as the narrator all delivering some of the most splendid voice work ever.

Anime from video games, much less so an anime movie, tend to favor "true-to-the-game" style action and characterisation over any other deeper themes. Not the case here. Dante's Inferno weaves in a heartwrenching tale about faith, forgiveness and redemption. It tells a cautionary allergory about how the sinful would use their religion as a shield to mask their hypocrisy and everything that goes around comes around, something like karma. In the end, you might even say it tries to impart a couple of very christian values especially in the way that Dante overcomes his ultimate foe at the film's climax.

Not many may appreciate the unnecessarily convoluted narrative which keeps flashing back and forth from past to present and back again, or the inconsistent visual styles. The characters tend to fall into hero/damsel/villain/hero's guide stereotypes even though the stellar voice cast play their roles with such burning passion. On first viewing, Dante's Inferno may satisfy fans of violent horror anime like Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust or Hellsing. The bloody action never fails to please though the more conservative types may be put off by the religious musings and some sexually graphic visuals (that level is not called "Lust" for nothing). It might seem like all style over substance at first but if one were to read in between the lines, Dante's Inferno thought provoking tale that delves deeper than your average video game anime.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you want to see a competent animated adaptation of a popular video game that manages to surpass the quality of its source material
Avoid it: if you are easily turned off by extreme violence, nudity and/or feel uncomfortable with religious themes.

Entertainment: A
Story: B
Characters: A
Animation: B-(on average)
Art: B-(on average)
Voice work (english): A
Replay Value: A-
"Brains": A-

*fan rant/in depth analysis of the animation styles*

Film roman's work opens the movie and where it lacks in artistic detail, it makes up for it by having the most fluid character movements in the whole film. Designs maintain the simpler contemporary western animation style similar to other Direct-to-Video animated movies like Planet Hulk yet preserves the game's dark gritty setting. Some CGI is used for certain objects like the gates of hell but they blend in perfectly with the 2D animation.

"Sweet Mother of Jehosephat! I'm about to lose my lunch........"
Upon entering the level of Limbo, Studio Manglobe(famous for their work on Samurai Champloo) takes over animation with director Shukou Murase (whose works include animation design for Gundam Wing and directing the anime series Ergo Proxy) at the helm. Dante in this segment is the closest to looking like a real person. Boasting the most incredible amount of art detail, a nightmarish Gothic feel and great looking character designs, Manglobe's segment is impressive to behold. No small cutesy characters, big kawaii eyes or bright cheery colors that so many Japanese productions suffer from.

"You will regret it if you ever 'cross' me"
From gritty Gothic the show transits to the amazing animated visuals of Dong Woo Animation (justice League Unlimited, Masters of the Universe 2002) and director Jong Sik-Nam(Batman Gotham Knight: Deadshot). Balancing beautiful artwork with slick animation, a leaner meaner Dante slashes through the levels of "Lust", "Gluttony" and "Anger" which are rendered in a stylish American graphic novel look not unlike 2009's "Tales of the Black Freighter" from Warner. Dante himself is now a tall, lanky man with almost androgynous features and long wavy hair, almost like an anime "pretty boy" or bishonen. Sadly from here on, the animation takes a slow dive in quality.

"Me Hulk no sissy boy! Me Hulk am STRAIGHT!!!
JM animation handles the next 2 segments and one thing they can never get right is the mouth movements of characters. The first segment, taking place in the level of "Violence", boasts a buff, muscular Dante and a stylized design more suited for a Saturday morning action anime than a dark gritty horror piece.

"Yes. For the last time, I DID lose weight. I've been through hell for heaven sakes!"
This is followed by the level of "Fraud", supposedly the start of the film's climax. But by now, Dante's look has changed for the worse again. Now he's a scrawny, bald headed islander looking like he came from the land of the "Orang Laut"(a brown skinned south east asian society).

"That's MISTER tubby to you!"
Lastly, Dante's Inferno animation goes out with a sad fizzle thanks to a sub-par rush job by Production I.G. It boggles the mind how the studio responsible for Ghost in The Shell, Sky Crawlers and other beautifully animated productions could turn up such a thing. The final showdown with Lucifer is an appropriate closure for Dante's spiritual journey but the animation presented is only mediocre, the artwork simplistic and the character designs, laughable. Dante is now a disproportionately wide oaf who looks more fat than muscular, easily conjuring up memories of sumo wrestlers, and Lucifer himself conjures up memories of some lost Digimon. The film would have definitely benefitted from a consistent visual style or maybe just getting one animation studio to do the entire movie.

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