Most remakes are like big contradictions; they're made for fans of the original series looking for more, but as a fan you'll probably be expecting what's going to happen more often than not, and you'll inadvertently end up bummed out about it. A complete newcomer to the series on the other hand, unaware of the important events that shape the plot, may derive much greater pleasure from watching, but they are also much less likely to be drawn to the series since they haven't seen the original to begin with.
On comes Supernatural: The Animation, created by Madhouse Inc. animation studio, responsible for such fantastic animes as Death Note and Monster, with the likely intent to open the orient up to a great series that has garnered quite the cult following. By the time I'm reviewing this I have watched the entire first season of this anime, dubbed in English for the impending North American release and I have to say that I'm actually really impressed.
It should be understood that anime (and animation in general) is rather different from live action TV. Most western TV shows like Supernatural employ a 1-hour time slot, including commercial breaks, but a time slot for Japanese anime as well as most serialized western animation is 30 minutes. As a result, some of the episodes do seem rushed and incomplete. Certain plot points are glossed over to reach the conclusion more quickly. If you only watch the first few episodes you may feel that the series has been 'dumbed down', or a lot of detail and vibrancy has gone lost, and you'd be right. Part of what made the original Supernatural so effective and haunting is its firm foundation within reality. Special effects had always been subtle and elegantly simple, like the faint, static-like flicker of ghosts, the black smoke of demons against the darkness of night, or the way things always seem to appear or vanish just an inch off-screen, to the point that any phenomenon you see could be legitimately shrugged off as a play of light or an optical illusion. A lot of animation however goes in a different direction, where the artistic freedom bestowed by the animation genre allows for much more bombastic and impossible sights. Let it be clear that this is not the Supernatural you may know, but fortunately, the core of the original series - the relationship between the Winchester brothers - is also at the heart of the anime.
Contentwise, the first season of the anime (I'm not sure if further seasons are being planned or not) spans the main plot from the first two seasons of Supernatural. While some monster-of-the-week style Episodes that made up original Supernatural's first two seasons had been remade for the anime, there are also new and very entertaining ones that should drive even the most jaded fan to the edge of their seat, but where this anime really shines is the parts where it further expands the storyline of the main series, fleshing out events of the past and further exploring the history of the Winchesters. Some of it is a bit different, and some of it is new entirely, but if Kripke would declare it all canon I wouldn't have a single problem with it. Like the original series, it took me about a third of a season to really get hooked, but once you're hooked, you won't get unhooked.
Visually and aurally, this anime is artful and well-animated, but then again studio Madhouse has always had a thing for 'realistic' anime. The characters are drawn in authentic proportion, move well, and objects and people are animated with a proper sense of weight and mass. Character design is great for the most part, but Dean stands out in special. From the first time I saw him to the last time the credits rolled, I never once questioned that this was Dean, even though Jensen Ackles only got to voice him in the last two episodes, bummer. The shortcomings of the animation medium are visible still, but rarely detract from the overall experience. Most of the faults are the result of a lack of budget, as it is with most anime; eventually I got a little tired of hearing the two or three main tunes from the aggressively small soundtrack, and hearing that Kansas song at the conclusion of every episode felt rather indulgent, since in the original it was used to signal the penultimate episode of the season. There's also something surreal about still shots where only a character's lips are moving but well, that's animation for you. The fact that this anime is based on a live-action series probably highlights such shortcomings even further, especially in areas where the original excelled, and one of the most outstanding visual features from the original series were the fantastic locations. There simply weren't any utter scenery wow-moments as there were in the original, like the many gorgeous motel rooms or that incredibly creepy house full of redneck cannibals, or the ruined mental ward, or Bobby Singer's place...
If you're a fan, check it out! If you're not, but like animation or horror genre anyway, definitely check it out. 3 stars
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