If you go to your local DVD store and head to the anime section, it’s not uncommon to see anime versions of Western films, video games or comics, such as Batman: Gotham Knight, Dead Space: Downfall and The Animatrix. However Supernatural is the first Western TV series to receive the anime treatment, creating a spin-off based upon the first two seasons of the series. As a big fan of anime and the Supernatural TV series (just renewed for a ninth season) I’ve been looking forward to the UK release of this anime for a while. So do the two come together to create a hellish mess, or are they a match made in heaven?
For those that don’t follow the original series, Supernatural is about two brothers; Sam and Dean Winchester, raised as demon hunters by their father John, constantly living on the road since childhood. The brothers grew apart during their teens with Sam wanting to live a normal life outside of the ‘family business’. But they’re brought back together when their father suddenly goes missing, just before Sam’s girlfriend is killed by the same demon that murdered their mother many years ago. As the boys travel they discover signs of the devil’s rising and the mysterious ‘yellow eyed’ demon has a big plan in store that somehow involves Sam and several other ‘special’ humans…
Supernatural’s unique selling point is the sibling relationship; it’s at heart a horror series with a very detailed mythology, great action scenes and superb supporting cast but it’s reinforced by the great chemistry between Sam and Dean. It’s their sense of humour and the dynamic between Dean’s stern nature vs.Sam’s gentler character that makes Supernatural a superb watch. Although it started with low ratings it has since become very popular, so of course a Japanese take on it will judged by all current fans as well as any who have yet to dive into the original series. Thankfully; the anime takes all the best elements of the show, creating a very rewarding and enjoyable mini-series. It’s not just a carbon copy of the series packaged up in pretty animation, it brilliantly shapes the series into a new, parallel spin-off with many story elements from the original whilst also expanding on several of the side characters and background story that were either left uncovered or only briefly looked at in the TV series. So the anime serves as a perfect companion for already made fans wanting to get a little more from their fandom whilst being a lovely introduction to those who have yet to take the plunge into the original series.
The twenty-two episode anime series is roughly split down the middle between anime adaptations of episodes from the TV series and original stories, with one episode based upon the Supernatural comic ‘Rising Son.’ The episodes adapted from the TV series are well handled; although some of the character development is sped up to fit within the timeframe and a lot of the boy’s investigation is often reduce to ‘dumb luck,’ they’re still very faithful to the original tone and emotion of each story. The anime exclusive stories are also surprisingly high quality; some of them would translate very well into live action as well, should they choose to do so. Although they contain some of the minor clichés of anime such as playing up Dean’s ogling at women and fan-service from the female cast, the writing is still very impressive, expanding the mythology and characters’ back stories brilliantly. My personal favourites were ‘Ghost on the Highway’ which focuses on the famous Impala with great dialogue between the brothers, and ‘The Spirit of Vegas’ which has them encountering a Japanese spirit of poverty whilst in the gambling capital of the world.
Being an adaptation, some changes are expected to be made; whilst the main stars look very much like the original actors, a lot of the side characters go through some design changes. Most of them are perfectly acceptable; for example John and the yellow-eyed demon are still recognizable. However the same cannot be said for Bobby Singer; he looks and sounds nothing like his live action counterpart and it’s such a shame as the original character is one of the most beloved and badass characters in the series. On a more positive note, it’s really nice to see the title card kept brief as in the TV series, the same goes for the font used in the opening credits which is a nice touch, plus the series staple ‘Carry On Wayward Son’ is the ending theme. Also, the magic used in the anime takes advantage of its capabilities with spells and demon attacks being bigger and more elaborate than in the TV series without going completely overboard, such as the shape shifter’s transformation being gorier, and there’s even a giant robot formed of abandoned cars.
Both the Japanese and English dub have interesting casts and are worth listening to; the Japanese dub has Yūya Uchida and Hiroki Touchi, who voice Sam and Dean in the dub of the live-action series plus Japanese rock star Gackt (a self-confessed fan of the series) lends his voice for a side character as well. The English dub has Jared Padalecki voicing his character Sam perfectly; sadly Jensen Ackles was only available to voice his character in the last two episodes so Dean’s voice is mostly provided by Andrew Farrar. Although Andrew struggles in the first few episodes he really comes into his own by the second disc, you almost forget the original actor is not voicing him and Andrew does very well in Dean’s more emotional scenes on the last disc before Jensen takes the helm back.
The three-disc set comes with healthy extras across the series; a two-part making of featurette, Japanese trailers, episode introductions by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, plus interviews with the original actors, Japanese dub actors, directors and series creator Eric Kripke. Be wary of the Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles interview as it contains spoilers for seasons 5 and 6, so avoid if you’ve yet to watch that far into the series.
Supernatural: The Animation is a very well put together series, regardless of whether you’re a fan of the original TV show or not. The horror stories and character development hold up very well on their own despite the cut down of time, the original stories are very good quality and the production values are high. It makes a great companion to the original series that’ll help any Supernatural fan with the gaps in-between DVD releases and will be a nice little intro to help non-fans check out the original series. It’s not to be watched in place of the original as the TV series goes beyond the anime with more fantastic stories, either way it’s highly recommended.