With the recent release of the Hellboy reboot in cinemas this month, to mostly negative reviews, we take a look at a lesser-known animated Hellboy film, Sword of Storms, released in 2006, the first of two direct to DVD tales (the other being 2007’s Blood and Iron) to feature the demon defender.
With a story and art style based on the Hellboy comic by Mike Mignola, and featuring much of the voice cast of the original live-action adaption, this 77-minute feature manages to deliver both the supernatural mysticism of the comics as well as the action and pacing of the film.
Setting our tale on the backdrop of a Japanese-lore-themed villain, the animators were able to play with the comic art style and amalgamate that with the older, pre-18th century styles of feudal Japanese art. The backgrounds, most notably in the colourful spirit world sequence, give us some of Sword of Storm’s most gorgeous visuals.
This style comes into play very early on in the film and with a short runtime, the film spares no time in introducing our protagonists with what Hellboy does best: a fight sequence against a horrific beast. This blends beautifully into our main plot, before carrying us forward into a series of plot-driven battles and introducing many of us to the folktales and legends of Japan.
This is a refreshing, more faithful-to-the-comics adventure, leading away from the tiresome Nazi plots of the films. The overall tone of the film being much different to what I had come to expect from Hellboy led me to feel a greater sense of engagement with the characters on my rewatch.
The voice cast deliver an excellent performance and breathe life into the characters, many of whom didn’t get the screen time they deserved in the live-action versions (looking at you, Abe Sapien). For me, Ron Perlman is Hellboy. He delivers each line with such character and personality that it carries our hero through each scene and from one fight to the next.
That brings me on to the animation of the feature. When the action happens, it is a delight to watch; but personally, where the animation truly shines is in the character interactions. From the choices of camera cuts to the fluidity of motion, the work and attention to detail that went into this production is astounding.
I talk about personality; the expressions on our characters faces and the simplicity of style work hand in hand to not only deliver emotion, but to show us the thoughts of Hellboy and co., and that which fuels their actions.
These ingredients all blend together into the dish that is Sword of Storms; a meal that packs a punch in every bite. Sure, we know how a story like this will turn out. Bad guy shows up, the good guys stop them and peace is restored. Sword of Storms is much more than this A to B: it’s the ride that the animators and writers take us on in the process.
So, if there’s only one Hellboy film you see this month, make it Sword of Storms; you won’t be disappointed.