Hellboy Sword of Storms cover

STUDIO: Starz Home Video
MSRP: $19.98
RUNNING TIME: 77 Minutes
Feature Commentary w/ directors and creator
"To Hell and Back" featurette
"A New Breed" featurette
"Conquering Hellboy" featurette
"A View From The Top" featurette
"Keepers of Hellboy" featurette
"Hellboy Goes East" featurette
DVD-ROM content

The Pitch

like Sandman:
The Dream Hunters
, but with Hellboy, and no Yoshitaka Amano."

The Humans

Selma Blair! Doug Jones! Peri Gilpin!

The Nutshell

investigating the location of paranormal activity surrounding a rare samurai sword,
Hellboy is sucked into a story-world that casts him as the hero of a Japanese
quest fable. While he faces neatly-timed obstacles of Eastern influence, in the
real world his team-mates on the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense face
an ever-increasing threat from Japanese demons of thunder and lightning who had
been imprisoned in the magic of the vanished sword.

This can only be the work of fanboys… Hundreds and hundreds of lonely fanboys.

The Lowdown

have been times in this wicked world that I have been challenged to provide an
answer for why I believe what I believe, that being that Hellboy is a wonderful
character, and the media in which he appears are delicious in all regards. What
strikes me as odd is that I’ve had to defend these beliefs against people who
are fans of the Indiana Jones movies. Where Indy exists in a world in which
religions appear to be true, Hellboy lives on an Earth in which all mythologies
are fact. Faeries exist, as do zombies, and ghosts, Baba Yaga, Rasputin, and
more. The stories of Hellboy take the best elements of mythology — their magic
and morals — and sets them up against a character we can use as an audience
touchstone: Big Red in his unchanging, cranky, mildly tortured demeanor. It’s
Bullfinch’s Mythology with Guns.

there’s a world of myths not so often recognized by our Western sensibilities.
It’s a world without Odin, Freya, St. George, or frozen tundras. The legends of
the Japanese haven’t infiltrated our collective unconscious to the same degree that
the idea of Norse blood-gods have. That’s the hook that got me all giddy for Hellboy
Animated: Sword of Storms
. Its setting is unfamiliar, its paranormal
critters brand spanking new for me and for, I suspect, a lot of the intended
audience. From a more business-oriented point-of-view, it was a good decision,
since Japanese cartoons are becoming more popular amongst our urchins.

There’s a Visine for that.

exposure to these Japanese monsters creates a genuine contrast for Hellboy, whose
brute-strength maneuvers seem entirely foreign in a land famed for its
delicacy. Likewise, his reliance on the fist instead of finesse is the source
of both humor and lovely fight animation. His behavior, and his demeanor
(captured note-perfectly by Ron Perlman,) provide exactly the entrance into a
foreign myth that the audience needs.

The alien
elements could easily have the potential to overwhelm with their unfamiliar
logic, but are mitigated by the fact that the narrative becomes that of the
traditional quest, though populated by things new to the audience’s
imaginations. Hellboy searches for, at first, a sword, and then for a way to
rejoin his friends in the real world. And, as we’ve seen in Grimm Bros. fairy
tales, he faces a string of seemingly disconnected obstacles that all manage to
communicate a different portion of a final moral.

In the
abstract, I like that narrative choice quite a bit. As applied, though, I do
have one complaint: it removes Hellboy from his interaction with his friends. He
only gets a few minutes, bookending the show, in which to pal around with Abe
Sapien, Liz, and the other agents. For the remainder of the time, he’s alone in
the parallel world of Japanese myth, while Liz and Abe try to find him. The
positive note in this structuring is that Liz and Abe are a great pairing, and
embody a mild co-dependence not frequently seen on the Cartoon Network, as well as a growing affection.

The true source of Britney’s instability: Mr. Bottoms, the Unlucky Umbrella.

As an
entry into the localized mythology of Hellboy, Sword of Storms delights
and impresses. Its progression may feel like The Chained Coffin, but
its particulars are wholly original. Its treatment of unfamiliar mythology is
handy enough to create a sense of malice behind the sustained joy of discovery,
and Hellboy’s reactions to his surroundings remain the
high point of the adventure heroism. I had
more fun with Sword of Storms than I did with either of the Clone
cartoon volumes; I hope this is the first in a string of these
animated features (the second feature, Blood and Iron, will hit soon,)
leading up to Hellboy 2.

The Package

It was
shown on TV first, but the image is in 1.78:1 widescreen. Both the sound and
the visuals are of impressive quality, and it’s not hard to get lost enjoying
the scenery. The character designs are simplistic, but the world they inhabit
is invested with quite a bit of detail.

The first
bonus you’ll notice upon opening the box is the 32-page Hellboy comic. The
story, "Phantom Limbs," isn’t a Mignola original, but it’s fun. It
concerns a group of civil war ghosts and a thirsty demon. It lacks a bit of the
coherence that skilled writers have brought to the comic pages, but it’s still
a great inclusion.

She’s totally an eyelid girl.

On the
disc is a damn great commentary track, featuring Hellboy-creator Mike Mignola,
supervising producer/director Tad Stones, and director Phil Weinstein. These
are three guys that plainly loved working on the project, and still enjoy
spending time with the characters, despite the very real opportunities for
burnout. Technical things are discussed, such as animation techniques, as are
considerations of the mythology of note, the involvement of the cast from the Hellboy
movie, and Guillermo Del Toro’s contribution as creative producer.

Then you
get a raft-load of featurettes, including: "To Hell and Back," a
history of how Mignola created the character; "A New Breed," on
evolving Hellboy to media beyond the comic page; "Conquering
Hellboy," which concerns the actors preparations for their roles; "A
View From The Top," behind-the-scenes information of a key monster
sequence; "Hellboy Goes East," which covers an expansive list of
inspirations for Hellboy’s first trip to Japan, as well as additional
behind-the-scenes information about the cartoon adaptation; and "Keepers
of Hellboy," a filmed panel discussion with Hellboy and B.P.R.D. creatives
from Comic Con 2006.

It’s also
got DVD-ROM content, notably a set of storyboards.

A great
little adventure in the reconfigured traditional mode and a disc full of love
and affection. Amen.

8 out of 10