Hellboy + Obakemono = Nerd Bliss

Tsukumo-gami from Sword of Storms
Normally, seeing my favorite things come together three separate times in one week would be downright eerie, but I don’t think Hellboy: Sword of Storms counts. For one thing, it’s old news. It was aired on Cartoon Network back in October, and due to a TiVo mishap, I’m just now catching it on DVD. For another thing, nerdy white American guys who think Japanese stuff is just radical is hardly some eclectic, obscure branch of fandom — it’s basically a demographic.

It’s not that hard to find fans of Hellboy, either — start by looking at the production of the comics or any of the adapations or spin-off projects, and just about everybody involved will confess to being a Hellboy fanboy. So the people making these things really love the source material. In the case of The Amazing Screw-on Head, you end up with a slavish recreation of the comic. That was an admirable effort, but came out a little bit cold, and also revealed the problems that can come when you try to adapt a very graphic comic art style to animation.

The new series doesn’t do that; they made a conscious effort to give it an art style different from the comics. According to the documentaries included on the DVD, it had to suggest Mignola’s style but at the same time he wanted something that would be more modern and streamlined. On top of all that, it had to be animatable on a television production’s budget. Personally, I’m not floored by the result — I think it’s fine, but if they were going to simplify the characters anyway, I wish they’d taken them a little bit further. The character designs regress into Disney Television Animation mode more than I would’ve liked. There are hints of the comic style all over the place (especially the hands, which is a good touch), but the characters frequently look too traditional and too “safe,” like something you’d see on any other TV action series cartoon.

Of course, this is criticism from a guy who knows pretty much nothing about art. And my disappointment that it didn’t go further doesn’t mean I disliked the movie; I’d even say it’s about as good as a TV-animated Hellboy series could possibly turn out. Watching the making-of documentaries, you could really tell that they put a lot of thought into the production, and that they made the right choices all along. And throughout the movie, you can really see what they were doing, even if you don’t entirely agree with how they did it.

As far as subject matter, it was obvious that I was going to be all over it. Most of the movie works like a survey course of The Obakemono Project. (Of course, it also wipes out my plans for NaNoWriMo this year, even though I swear I had the idea a year before I even heard about this movie). Mike Mignola and Guillermo del Toro mention that the original idea just came from wanting to see Hellboy with a samurai sword, and seriously, who wouldn’t want to see that? There are plenty of cool moments taken from the comics, from Japanese folklore in general, and images from classical Japanese art — there’s a great bit with the Gashadokuro, a giant skeleton that was also referenced in Pom Poko.

Apparently the second in the Hellboy Animated series, Blood and Iron, came out last month. I can’t blame the TiVo for missing that one; I was simply unaware that it was coming out. If anbody saw it, let me know how it turned out, because I’m going to have to wait until June to see it.

2 thoughts on “Hellboy + Obakemono = Nerd Bliss”

  1. I couldn’t agree more about the character design issues. But, it ties into how I felt about the whole show. It all just felt wrong to me. You mentioned that Screw On Head was a bit cold, but I gotta tell ya, I was engaged and laughing through the entire thing. It had a great cast, sharp writing, and a great style. I thought ever bit of it was dead on. They just got it.

    It pains me to say it, but at any moment in Sword of Storms, I was just feeling pretty let down, or just plain bored. Tad Stones may understand the material, but didn’t deliver an entertaining show. I shouldn’t be feeling that way about anything Hellboy.

  2. Yeah, I can totally see that. I think my reaction wasn’t all that different; I’m just inclined to give more points for “I like what you were trying to do, even if I don’t like what you did.” The screenshot I picked is a perfect example — I’m all over the concept of the tsukumo-gami and throwing them into a modern setting with paranormal agents who aren’t that alarmed that they’d show up. The fact that the end result looks like a segment from a TV-animated version of Beauty in the Beast is a little bit of a let-down, but not a deal-breaker for me.

    I think with Screw-On Head, I was disappointed because I had such hight hopes for it and was let down to see that it just didn’t translate well. Individual stills looked perfect, but when you animated them for TV, it just ended up looking like the old 60s Marvel Heroes limited-animation cartoons. And the script was either a direct interpretation of the comic book, or it added something that seemed out of place to me. (The only thing I really l iked was the animated Lincoln viewer screen).

    I look at Screw-On Head as a noble but unsuccessful experiment (although if it did somehow get picked up as a series, I’d watch it closely). The new Hellboy Animated stuff is far from perfect, but it has more potential to be on-going and to do stuff the comics can’t.

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