Supernatural: The Anime Series may be treading familiar ground, but it's an entirely new look at the first two seasons of the show. Sam and Dean's early journey to find their father was the timeframe chosen to place these episodes, and it's a smart choice. Those episodes were much lighter on the continuity, and we'd yet to get mired in the incredibly complex apocalyptic saga to come.
But the anime does more than just retell those stories. Of the 22 episodes packaged in this set, 12 are adapted from the original series, while one was adapted from a comic book. The rest are wholly original, and allowed for the inclusion of some Japanese myths. But even those stories familiar to hardcore Supernatural fans might surprise. These are liberal adaptations that sometimes included dramatic changes from the original text, though the spirit remains the same.
That said, be warned that the first of the original stories is actually rather terrible. But don't let "Ghost on the Highway" turn you off to the other originals in the package. It's an unfortunate coincidence that the worst of their original stories also happens to be the first one you come across. Check out some of the other ones for the Japanese poverty god in the funniest episode in the set, a look back to when Dean was on the road with John Winchester while Sam was still in college, and even a peek into Jake's life in Afghanistan as it ties to an investigation back at home. Those are just a few example of when the anime expands on some of the mythology and characters from the live-action series.
Also, the anime episodes run about 22 minutes, which means keeping things moving at a pretty hasty clip. What you're left with is a much more action-oriented adventure series than the emotional saga of two brothers hanging onto the only family they have left -- each other. It might make for a less meaty series emotionally, but it doesn't cut back on the fun at all.
Helping us feel connected throughout is the inclusion of Jared Padalecki as the voice of Sam Winchester in every episode. Due to scheduling conflicts, Jensen Ackles was only available for the two-part finale, which is a shame, but he does appear alongside Padalecki in short intros for each episode. The guy who voices Dean throughout most of the anime does a passable impression, but you can tell it's not him.
Nothing, however, will pull Supernatural fans out of the tale more than the shocking appearance of Bobby Singer. While Sam and Dean look like anime-inspired versions of themselves, Bobby looks nothing like Jim Beaver. In fact, other than Sam and Dean, none of the characters really resemble themselves, but none of them look so ridiculous as Bobby. The look Beaver perfected suits the personality and the salvage yard he lives in. The chubby guy with the fedora he is here looks completely out of place.
The other thing you'll have to get used to is the pacing of the dialogue. Fans familiar with anime will have little trouble handling the rapid delivery and strange pauses, but people new to the genre might be scratching their heads. Because the Japanese language has a different cadence than English, dubbed versions usually resort to this rapid-fire delivery to match the words with the moving lips.
Aside from the differences, though, the animation is rather decently done, and it's certainly a fun way to get some extra time with the Winchesters. Plus, with Sam there throughout and Dean showing up by the end, the whole project is given an air of legitimacy. It doesn't feel like a Supernatural project for completists only.
Even though this is an English-dubbed version of the anime, for the extras you're going to have to be prepared to read as there are subtitles galore. If you're interested at all in the making of an animated series like this, "The Making of Supernatural: The Anime Series" is a must-watch. This feature-length extra takes you through every single step of the process, and it's a fascinating journey.
The bulk of the extras, though, are rather extensive interviews with the Supernatural talent on both sides of the Pacific. You get interviews separately with Padalecki and Ackles, as well as a combined chat. While the focus is heavily on their knowledge of Japanese legends, anime in general, and their thoughts about their animated counterparts, there is talk about their own supernatural experiences. Supernatural creator Eric Kripke is next, talking about how freeing animation is when it comes to stories of fantasy and imagination. He has his own ideas about where he'd take a sequel series of the anime, and talks a bit about the live-action series as well.
To balance this out, we get interviews with the Japanese directors of the series, Shigeyuki Miya and Atsuko Ishizuka, who talk about their goals in bringing Supernatural to the world of anime. Closing out the interview package are the Japanese voices of our leading men, Yuuya Uchida (Sam) and Hiroki Touchi (Dean). The pair are the voices on the Japanese dubs of the live-action Supernatural, so their inclusion on this set was an important one for Japanese audiences. Their interviews are cool, but wouldn't it have been neat to have them talk about their takes on the characters with Ackles and Padalecki?
While I can't say Supernatural: The Anime Series is essential viewing to hardcore fans, it's certainly a fun take on the characters and a recommended watch. It does a great job of fleshing out some details from the live-action series, and offers enough unique twists and turns of its own to make for a very entertaining series. Fans of anime should find plenty to like in this series as well, as it can stand up respectably next to horror/adventure series in the popular format. All in all, I'd say it's definitely worth experiencing, and a welcome addition to any Supernatural library.
Length: 484 min.
Distributor: Warner Home Video
Release Date: 7/26/11
Starring: Jared Padalecki, Hiroki Touchi, Yuya Uchida, Andrew Farrar, Jensen Ackles
Directed by: Shigeyuki Miya, Atsuko Ishizuka
Produced by: Eric Kripke, Masao Maruyama
Written by: Naoya Takayama, Eric Kripke, Akemi Moriyama, Yoshitaka Shishido, Tatsuro Inamoto, Sera Gamble, Sumino Kawashima, Raelle Tucker, Cathryn Humprhies, John Shiban, Sumino Kawashima, Peter Johnson, Rebecca Dessertine, Yoshinori, Matsugae, Michael T. Moore