If Sister Maria had wielded a Glock instead of a guitar, Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger thinks the result would be something like this.
Our reviews of Chrono Crusade: A Plague Of Demons (Volume 1) (published October 14th, 2004), Chrono Crusade: Holy War (Volume 2) (published January 13th, 2005), Chrono Crusade: The Devil To Pay (Volume 4) (published May 26th, 2005), and Chrono Crusade: The Complete Series (published April 3rd, 2011) are also available.
Bring peace to the lost lambs. Give rest to the fangs of the wolf and call the hammer of death unto the devil!
It has its quirks and annoyances, but Chrono Crusade is among the most exciting and engaging anime I've seen lately. By combining the glossy action and horrific tone of Blood: The Last Vampire with The Sound of Music's perky-nun-on-the-run vibe, Chrono Crusade crafts a bloodfest that is as endearing as it is brooding.
Facts of the Case
In New York's roaring twenties, all is not calm. Rich dilettantes swill martinis and conduct Satanic rites for amusement, often summoning devils in the process.
Rosette Christopher is an exorcist in the Magdalene Order; her task is to perforate devils with sacred lead without destroying too much public property in the process. Naturally, the Devils aren't keen on receiving these blessed gunshot wounds; chaos often follows in the wake of these confrontations.
Rosette is aided by her trusty sidekick, Chrono. Chrono was once the most bloodthirsty and powerful of Devils, but he was outcast as a Sinner. When young Rosette's little brother Joshua is taken away, she desperately enters a pact with Chrono. Her life force drains in order to give Chrono strength to fight.
While head nun Sister Kate and Minister Remington try to unravel the twisted schemes of the über-devil Aion, Rosette and Chrono take young Azmaria under their wings. Azmaria is an Apostle, entrusted by God with the power to manipulate the Astral Line that supplies the world with living energy. The trio runs afoul of a devil hunter named Satella, who is also searching for lost family. Their personal agendas must wait, because Aion's hordes never stop their gruesome assault. Will Rosette's decision to bond to a Devil be her salvation, or will Chrono erupt in a seething orgy of violence and slay them all?
With Blood: The Last Vampire, Production I.G. gave us a haunting ballet of horror and violence that was as stunningly animated as it was sketchy on plot details. Gainax gave us Neon Genesis Evangelion, a grotesque perversion of Christian mythology that was, if anything, too rich in plot detail.
GONZO Digimation has straddled these two approaches. Chrono Crusade is reminiscent of Blood's horror, violence, and fine animation while it adopts Neon Genesis Evangelion's strategy of perverting Catholic dogma for dramatic license. Though the action is not quite up to the show-stopping levels of Blood, nor is the theological and psychological intensity on par with Neon Genesis Evangelion, the mix is pleasing in its own right.
My enthusiasm for Chrono Crusade comes with disclaimers, which you'll find in the handy Rebuttal Witnesses section below. Nonetheless, Chrono Crusade does lots of things right, which I'd prefer to focus on now.
The first couple of episodes hit the ground running. Though they include some trademark anime hijinks such as popping eyes, zany crashes, and weird emoticons, these episodes also create dark, brooding tension laced with the illicit thrill of nunsploitation. Rosette is competent from the get-go, stalking devils and capping them in the face in a shower of black gore. As standalone action scenes, these get the blood pumping while introducing us to the alternate 1920s New York City.
Many an anime has given us a demon-hunting beauty who squares off against the monster of the week. Though it is shiny and smooth, Chrono Crusade would have gotten stale fast had it continued in this vein. Fortunately, wisps of real story and characterization creep in around episode three. Through fractured narrative we learn about Rosette's back story, why she fights, and most of all why she sacrifices her own life force to keep a notorious devil alive. This story and the way it is told are tied together with fragile bonds, so I can't go into much detail. Suffice it to say that Chrono Crusade provides a detailed background. Depending on your level of buy in, this story is either barely enough to keep the action sequences on life support or capable of moving you on a deep emotional level. I found the story slow in parts, but it was able to give otherwise generic action scenes richness and depth. Rarely did an episode pass without my clenched fists or taut shoulders giving testimony to my emotional buy-in.
This story also kept me guessing about what would transpire. Dualities are constantly introduced. Chrono is a bloodthirsty demon, but also kind and gentle to Rosette. Is he laying low, feeding off of her misfortune until he can collect enough power to knock Aion off of the throne of dark power? Or is he a remorseful Devil with wisdom and peace in his heart? Questions such as these are answered in the course of the tale, but I appreciate their mere existence.
Religious trappings infuse the action and story with dark elements. The Japanese are not generally a Christian society, but they recognize the potency of Catholic dogma for spicing up a racy tale. For some reason, the casual disregard for religious traditions shown in this series adds another layer of interest. This is not a serious exploration of religious thought; it is merely a stepping off point with an inherent structure for horror.
GONZO is known for going beyond the call in their action scenes. Indeed, action and biblical foreshadowing are the high points of Chrono Crusade. Concussive waves of energy distort the background while fiery bullets whiz by. The computer effects aren't always seamless, but they rarely seem cheesy. Some of the character designs are incongruous with the world depicted, but few shortcuts are taken. A trio of church-music-like themes lends an alternately forbidding/chaste/rapturous feel to the show. The music is repetitive, but it didn't grow old.
ADV has done a good job with the technical aspects in this release. The veteran English cast does a great job of translating the tone and intent of the original track. Tiffany Grant turns in a mature, world-weary performance in Satella that I found particularly interesting. The 5.1 mix remembers to use its surround and bass channels. The Japanese track is emotionally resonant, but the mix sounds hollow—even downright tinny in places. Rich visuals are aided by a detailed transfer that has strong black levels, though some brief scenes seem to lack contrast. In general the show looks great and sounds good-to-average.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The story grabbed me, but I wouldn't hold it to a high level of scrutiny. Suspension of disbelief will be your best weapon when watching Chrono Crusade. One thing is for sure: Chrono Crusade doesn't have a strong enough plot line to support filler episodes, and there are a few. Filler episodes are necessary sometimes, but for some reason they're particularly noticeable in this series.
Nonstop action can hardly mask the glacial pace of character development. If it weren't for the fractured nature of the revealed plot details, we'd beat our heads into a wall waiting for more information to surface.
But the biggest thorn in Chrono Crusade's side is its incongruous tone. If you did a free word association with "apocalypse," "Satan," "devil worship," "mob war," and "insanity"—all of which are front-and-center in Chrono Crusade—I doubt you'd pair them with "madcap," "zany," or "slapstick." Neon Genesis Evangelion showed us that judicious humor amidst grim surroundings is a nice juxtaposition. Judicious is the key word: pratfalls bring Chrono Crusade down. The show would function much better as a straight-ahead action drama, with perhaps the occasional throwaway remark for humor. But Rosette waving her arms in a zany windmill while her face turns purple just doesn't jibe with Devils and mobsters ripping each other apart in the streets. Had Chrono Crusade gone the route of The Devil Lady: The Complete Collection and played things straight, we'd be talking about a classic anime instead of a promising show with an annoying tendency to stray. If Go Nagai can keep a straight face, anyone can.
A final annoyance is the lack of extras, although this practice is in keeping with ADV's other Thinpak complete collections. Good riddance to clean credits, animatics, and photo galleries if they give ADV more disc space. But the previous Chrono Crusade discs just happened to contain really interesting extras like "Azmaria's Extra Classes" and "Chrono Crusade Chronicle." Judge Hattaway's reviews (linked in sidebar) will show you what you're missing. In this case, the loss hurts.
Ever since I watched Blood: The Last Vampire, my heart has longed for a similarly atmospheric tale of horror and violence with a compelling story to go with it. Chrono Crusade comes the closest I've seen since that day, and it throws in hot, gun-toting nuns to boot. If horror or action anime quicken your pulse, I urge you to give Chrono Crusade a try.
Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? Sister Rosette is sentenced to an eternity in heaven, where God shall have mercy on her soul.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
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