- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Monster hunters Sam and Dean Winchester continue their paranormal activities in an animated series creepier than the pair’s live-action exploits on the CW Network’s popular television show.

On a pair of Blu-ray discs, viewers get Supernatural: The Anime Series (Warner Home Video, not rated, $54.97), a mature stream of horror, death and anguish, with an occasional laugh, developed by the prestigious Japanese anime studio Madhouse.

The series comes loaded with doses of deja vu for fans within the 22 episodes.

Specifically jogging the memory, 12 episodes are condensed versions of select shows spanning the first two seasons of the TV series. Each clocks in at about half the time of a CW show at 22 minutes.

Additionally, nine episodes are original stories, and one is based on a Wildstorm comic-book series

The anime- and manga-influenced cartoon style is incredibly moody, with muted color choices throughout, and slicker than any current U.S. cartoon.

Subtleties such as the use of completely black shadows, forced detail on characters’ eyes, realistic background locations juxtaposed against the looser hand-drawn characters, and creative use of blood drops fit well in delivering a haunting and nail-biting experience.

However, American viewers will need to get used to a few quirks.

For example, the series originally was recorded in Japanese and the English-language overdubbing  sometimes looks out of sync. I’ll note both stars of the show contribute with Jared Padalecki as the voice of Sam in all episodes, and Jensen Ackles as Dean only in the last two.

Also, classic anime design choices such as exaggerated emotional outbursts and occasional character deformities (bulging eyes, large mouths) to emphasize a point come off as a bit silly in such drama.

That stated, my highlights on the discs are plentiful and include the original episodes “Savage Blood” (Sam and Dean help some very cool-looking father-and-son vampires escape a hunter), “What Lives in the Lake” (it’s a sea creature from Japanese folklore) and my favorite of the bunch, “Till Death Do Us Part.”

Here, viewers get the back story of Sam’s introduction to his girlfriend, Jessica, at Stanford University, while Dean and his dad are on and around campus hunting for the ghost Bloody Mary. In a clever bit of storytelling, the parties never meet.

Fans also will appreciate the adapted episodes that focus on cool creatures and finding and killing the yellow-eyed demon. Check out the shape-shifter in “The Alter Ego” (from Season 1, Episode 6, “Skin”) and compare the two-parter “All Hell Breaks Loose” to the TV episodes of the same name, just to name a few.

Additionally, I’ll mention that without the constraints of a TV special-effects budget, these cartoon creators take full advantage of the unrated medium with gory monster transformations, graphic murders and a 1967 Chevy Impala that has a life of its own.

On a separate topic, it wouldn’t hurt DC Comics, Warner Bros. Animation and producer Bruce Timm to revisit the use of Madhouse for one of its not-so-stylish, direct-to-DVD PG-13 cartoon releases.

Just scour YouTube and take a look at what Madhouse did with parts of Batman: Gotham Knight as well as what it is doing with the X-Men, Wolverine and Iron Man series for Marvel Entertainment.

Best extras: Mr. Padalecki, Mr. Ackles or both introduce every episodes with a quick 10 seconds’ worth of indifference. It’s nice to see the fellows, but Mr. Ackles is especially uninspired with the work.

Next, enjoy roughly an hourlong behind-the-scenes look at Madhouse’s creative process with lots of footage from meetings, animators in action and interviews featuring many of the production principles, including the two directors, Shigeyuki Miya and Atsuko Ishizuka.

It’s mandatory watching for cartoon fans, as it exposes the methodical work ethic of Japanese animators and the reverence shown for the medium.

For example, the moment with an artist discussing the matching of sweat droplets in frames is insane.

Also, the discs contain plenty of extra interviews with the show’s creator, Eric Kripke, the TV stars and more from the anime directors.

Read all about it: DC Comics imprint Wildstorm offers three trade paperbacks’ ($14.99 each) worth of Supernatural sequential art loaded with background on the Winchesters. Look for Supernatural: Origins, Supernatural: Rising Sun (anime episode included on the disc) and Supernatural: Beginning’s End, which compile miniseries released between 2008 and 2010.

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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