What They Say:
In 15th-century Sweden, Hope, the beautiful daughter of Matthias – a skilled mercenary who is in actuality Lucifer, the Lord of Lies – is accused of being the devil’s consort following a hellish incident witnessed by local villagers. Sentenced by the town priest to be burned at the stake, Hope is visited by the malevolent Pagan as she writhes in pain. Unable to think clearly, she accepts Lucifer’s offer of life in Hell over a hideously painful death… only to discover that there are far worse fates than dying. Lucifer’s grand plan to corrupt a soul of pure innocence meets unanticipated resistance, as Hope rejects Lucifer’s scheme and eventually finds herself transformed into the powerful warrior Lady Death, who challenges the Lord of Lies for control of Hell itself.
The language presentation for this release is pretty solid as it features a pair of DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks, one in its original English as well as another in its German adaptation. Both mixes are pretty strong, especially when it comes to the music, but the sound effects draw you in to a full surround sound stage very quickly into it. There’s a design set to be loud here that works in what it wants to do simply because it the feature wants to go big with the scenes that it deals in. It’s not a mix that strives for subtly, though it has some good moments of ambiance and incidental music that gives it that little extra nudge. While it’s not a hugely impressive mix, it’s a solid one that uses the 5.1 channels to good effect and is problem free when it comes to dropouts and distortions.
Originally released in 2004, the transfer for this feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The feature is filled with lots and lots of big, bold colors that doesn’t have a lot of nuance or shading to it, instead at times going for a little of what you’d expect out of an MS Paint sense of color design, so the encoding gets to work in relatively low numbers for a lot of it, spending most of its bitrate in the mid teens than anywhere else. When it goes big with a lot of movement it does bump up higher but it’s not a film that’s going to look fantastic with its sense of color design, detail or general depth. It’s a very flat film by design
Released in a standard sized Blu-ray case, the cover here uses the familiar artwork of Lady Death in action pose as she holds out her holden sword to attack, which is almost done in a 3D style with the way it’s all laid out. The artwork is decent, certainly making it look like the character from the comics but with the animated twist you’d expect, while the logo is kept surprisingly small overall along the top, especially with its silver coloring against the black. The back cover mostly goes for a black look to it with some blood splatters along the right where we also get a few shots from the show itself. The summary is very, very detailed. Almost to the point where it makes you wonder if it’s telling you everything and leaving no surprises. The production credits are below it but are hard to read with the red on black print while the technical grid along the bottom is easier to read and covers things clearly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is a mixed bag in a way because it has some very appealing visuals to it with our lead character sprawled out mostly naked that occupies a huge amount of the screen but also because it goes plenty dark with all the tombstones behind her to add just that much more to it. It’s got a solidly dark feel but the lack of any kind of music just kills the mood in a bad way since it’s a simple static screen. The navigation strip along the bottom, which also doubles as the pop-up menu, has the similar kind of feel where it’s stone work that has blood splattered on it to keep it in theme. The layout is quick and easy to use and I definitely appreciated the inclusion of SDH subtitles for the English and German language tracks on here. The film defaults to the English language which is pretty much to be expected.
The release has some good extras to it for the fans and with it being an original production, you’d hope that they would have held onto a lot of stuff. The main one that runs the longest is the director’s commentary which goes into a fair bit of detail about what went into the movie. The first two extras beyond the commentary both run about five minutes each as one delves into a look at the backgrounds of the film while the second focuses on character designs. It’s not a screen by screen piece but a video segment so it plays with it a lot in how it unfolds but there’s a lot to like in seeing the evolution of it all. The last extra here is a twenty minute piece that goes into the making of Lady Death and it hits all the usual behind the scenes production aspects, and is subtitled as well which is rare for these kinds of pieces. It is interesting to see how it was transitioned from comic to animation form and the way they went through it with the animation company that is credited with work on Gargoyles and Batman the Animated Series from the early 90’s.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When ADV Films announced the production of a Lady Death original animated movie, I had to admit that it made sense to work down familiar and popular comics properties that were accessible and open to the anime crowd at the time while attempting to bring in some crossover appeal as well. Lady Death wasn’t a book I read when it came out in the early 90’s since I wasn’t too much of a Chaos Comics fan, though I rather enjoyed the release of Chastity. Lady Death definitely had a following and like other comics of that nature at the time, it reached outside of the standard superhero fare and gained an audience outside of comics in general. With its themes and the sex appeal of it all as well, it’s an ideal property to experiment with and to see how the whole process works. Unfortunately, the show simply didn’t do well upon release in terms of reaction by both fans of what ADV Films was releasing at the time and Lady Death fans themselves since it just didn’t meet expectations.
The film revolves around the character of Hope, a fifteenth century European woman who has found that things in her life are most definitely not what she thought they were. Everything, as the tagline goes, has gone to hell quickly for her with the death of her lover Niccolo and the revelation that her mercenary father Mathias is actually a demon in disguise. All of it pushes the commoners and church officials in the town to deal with her in the only way they know; to burn her at the stake. She can’t believe what’s happened, what her father is and the way Niccolo died, even as the demons lie to her about everything. Yet they make her an offer as well, to give her a chance of life in Hell if she agrees to their bargain rather than dying outright.
Hope’s transformation into Lady Death puts her through the wringer and we see a lot of fun going on down in hell that involves death and chaos. Her attempts at revenge brings her to quite a number of demons, and that becomes the main focus of it all as she wants to make good on the promise to herself. She does get some help along the way, since it’s no fun to just watch her talk to herself as she finds her way across it all, but it’s all pretty basic material. Each new conquest of hers brings more to her side, especially as she doesn’t give them much choice as she rallies the denizens of hell against Lucifer and all that he has caused her.
Lady Death isn’t a deep show in the slightest and that’s carried over into the animation itself, which feels like a cleaner, brighter version of a Bass-Rankin production from the seventies and eighties. It’s too clean and too bright considering the environs and it lacks a really good feel for animation in general that feels very off-putting. It doesn’t hedge from the violence, but it it comes across for lack of a better word as cartoonish more than anything else. It may be bloody and there may be maggots crawling out of the dead body’s eye sockets, but it’s the whole direct to video feel where it’s trying to be edgy but was already dated when it arrived. The Lady Death mythos has a lot to offer, especially when you look at the original comics with its character designs and style, but the animation really doesn’t seem to capture it at all.
With the changes made from the comic that pushed Hope more as a heroine of sorts more than the self interested woman that she is, it’s easy to see why it pushed away the comic fans and why it didn’t appeal to the anime fans. The show did do well on release in terms of sales because of its name value and general appeal, but it’s one that is simply hard to get into on just about every level. The only thing that kept me entertained with it is the voice acting as they all have a lot of fun with it, especially Mike Kleinhenz as Lucifer. He’s half a step away from playing Satan from South Park and just has the ego and humor down well enough to make him good, campy fun. Everyone else does alright, and Christine Auten as Hope serves the role well, but the scripting and story just doesn’t give them anything to really work with besides cliches and predictability.
Strangely, I think this almost works better watching it in German with subtitles. It just feels different.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Interviews with Director and Cast, Original Trailers, Promo Videos, TV Spots, Tease
Content Grade: C-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Released By: Aesir Holdings
Release Date: September 27th, 2011
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.