- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2007

The comic book permeates all levels of popular culture. This sporadic feature reviews some recent examples from the world of digital video discs (compatible with DVD-ROM-enabled computers and home entertainment centers) and also includes a recommended sequential-art reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

Trinity Blood: Chapter VI, Collector’s Edition’

(FUNimation Entertainment, rated TV MA, $34.98)

The conclusion of Tomohiro Hirata’s stylish 24-episode supernatural anime saga based on Sunao Yoshida’s post-apocalyptic conflict between vampire and human arrives on a four-episode single DVD with the barest of extras.

New fans of the series will have monumental decisions to make before they even pop the disc into their player.

Do they purchase the edition and then go back and buy the five others for a roughly $180 investment to see the entire epic, or do they just try to catch the episodes replayed on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim?

Or do they wait for the obligatory boxed set of the entire series to arrive for a much cheaper price sometime in the distant future?

I cannot offer an answer to this mighty quandary. I only report that “Trinity Blood” is a beautifully baroque-looking, intense cartoon mixing themes of horror, science fiction and religious hypocrisy with plenty of bloody and stunning yet violently choreographed death scenes.

The series pits a re-energized Catholic Church against the Methuselahs (undead), both potent warring political forces in a futuristic world, as the Vatican dispatches agents not only to quell any vampire threat but to eliminate the terrorist group Rosen Kruez, which fights to bring chaos and evil to the world.

The lead character, Father Abel Nightrode, a hybrid agent working for the Ministry of Holy Affairs, hunts the most dangerous vampires and feeds upon them in a transformation that will drop the jaw every time you see it happen.

This sixth-chapter disc is highlighted by flashy ground and air battles and a confrontation between Abel and Cain (leader of the Rosen Kruez).

Best extra: Slim pickings on the DVD. The best is a “Historical Artifacts” feature that provides some text nuggets on key elements of the story, such as background on the origin of the name Petros and meanings to “City in the Mist.”

More impressive is the disc’s package, containing five beautifully illustrated “Trinity Blood” tarot cards and a 24-page color booklet that introduces some of the creators and the characters of the show along with more stunning pieces of artwork.

This type of package content is offered in all of the Collector’s Edition DVD chapters of the series to make buying the releases pretty much mandatory for the hard-core fan.

Read all about it: Tokyo Pop offers five volumes’ worth ($7.99 to $9.99 each) of translated manga (Japanese comics) based on the “Trinity Blood” novels. They embellish many of the episodes seen in the anime and extend the adventures of Abel Nightrode and his brethren.

‘Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes’

(Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, not rated, $14.98)

A 2006 cartoon based on Marvel’s first superhero family only made it through seven of 26 episodes in its original airing on Cartoon Network but is being trickled to fans via single-disc DVD releases.

Reed Richards, Johnny and Susan Storm and Ben (ever-lovin’ Thing) Grimm get new costumes, a distinct Japanese style, angular design and a fairly sharp sense of humor in shows that had enormous potential to introduce a new generation to a fun and colorful team.

The four episodes on the DVD are a selection from the series that have the Fantastic Four battling Dr. Doom, the Hulk, Mole Man and legendary robot friend of the team H.E.R.B.I.E. (Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-type, Integrated Electronics).

Fox has no excuse — other than greed — not to have put all 26 episodes in a boxed set. The fans deserve it.

Best extra: There is absolutely nothing on the disc, or in the package, for the fan of the comic or show. Combined with the paltry quartet of episodes and the possibility that the entire series may be shown on Cartoon Network next month, this release is a fairly worthless purchase for the DVD connoisseur.

Read all about it: Marvel Comics offers a monthly ‘tween-friendly comic book devoted to its famed family called Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four ($2.99 each).

‘Afro Samurai: Director’s Cut’

(FUNimation Entertainment, rated TV MA, $39.98)

A big-budgeted, star-studded Americanized anime series based on the comics work of Takashi Okazaki moves from Spike TV to the digital video medium. This two-disc set offers the five-episode run embellished with even more violence, nudity and profanity than seen on its original broadcast.

Hip and very cool animation, in the most Quentin Tarantino of ways, highlights a story of revenge set in futuristic feudal Japan. It stars Afro, a man of few words, who is on a mission to find his father’s killer, the No. 1 warrior in the world.

Samuel L. Jackson lends his voice as the lead character and frenetic companion Ninja Ninja, and Ron (Hellboy) Perlman handles the vocal role of Justice, the fellow Afro must defeat.

Mature adults attracted to this type of thrill-kill violence will be mesmerized by the show’s look, which combines the design of the animated “Boondocks” with the dramatic tension of HBO’s 1990s cartoon “Spawn.”

Best extra: A 23-minute character exploration by North American producer Eric Calderon offers great insight into the story, and a heavy-stock cardboard package with magnet cover leads to six pieces of intense interior art from Mr. Okazaki.

Read all about it: Mr. Okazaki’s graphic novel has not yet been translated into English, so until then, I suggest reading about another serious Japanese warrior out for justice with Dark Horse Comics’ 10 translated volumes of Samurai Executioner ($9.95 each in 4-by-6-inch, black-and-white format) from the creators of Lone Wolf and Cub.

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