We caught a peek at the Supernatural anime series from Japan, out later this month, with the two-part episode "All Hell Breaks Loose." Based on the season ender in the American series' second season, it pits our monster-hunting Winchester brothers against their first Big Bad, the yellow-eyed demon who killed their mother.
For the English-language version, Sam and Dean are voiced by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, who play them in the live action series. There's a moment of disorientation seeing these familiar voices — and the series' iconic Kansas theme song — associated with a wanna-be-Hellsing style. But as soon as one of the demons vomits smoke, the black eruption from his mouth consuming the screen in a psychotic whirl, it's obvious why this show translates so well across the Pacific. It's full of the demonic tentacular imagery that characterizes a lot of horror anime, and focuses on the half-terrifying, half-sentimental relationship between family members.
There are some changes, though. Bobby looks sort of like a 1950s gumshoe, with a pork pie hat and trenchcoat. Seems as if the rural midwestern flannel look doesn't fit in a Japanese show. And there's a random Caribbean dwarf witch thrown in, just in case you wanted some super-squashed anime characters for amusement. But Azazel, the yellow-eyed demon, looks far more impressive in animated form than he ever did in live action. His eyes burn in a shadowy face, and all his teleportation and magic looks far scarier and more mystical (though what you lose is the understated weirdness of the live action show's demons and angels, in their rumpled suits and cropped haircuts).
Sam and Dean work nicely, though there's a lot more crying and hugging in the anime than the live action show, if you can believe that. Dean does a lot of emo hunching and shaking and sobbing, while Sam tells us how he feels with his anime hair rather than his forehead.
Overall, the translation works beautifully, and it's a pleasure to see this quintessentially American story retold in a way that highlights enduring themes. Plus, all the effects that the live action show could never do — decimating an entire forest, hurling vast globs of fire through the air, ripping out somebody's guts — are rendered gorgeously, just the way you always imagined them. The story sticks fairly closely to the original, though enough has been changed that the tale feels new again.
Supernatural the Animated Series is out on DVD in the States later this month.