Despite both these series being animated by Gonzo, one of the most consistently excellent animation studios in Japan, I had the impression that they would be very different. Perhaps it was because of the artwork I had seen: Chrno Crusade had cute pointy-eared demon boys and gun-toting nuns while Trinity Blood was all hugely elaborate costumes and haughty, imperious expressions. But when I began watching both series together, I was struck by how similar they were, not only in terms of subject matter but also in style, in pacing and characterisation.
One thing that anime tends to do well is make religion, and religious rituals and folklore in particular, look cool. Even stuffy Christianity can be grandiose, epic and exotic, from hidden vampire-hunting religious orders (Hellsing) to achingly cute teenaged girls and their daily lives in a Catholic school (Maria-sama Ga Miteru). More obliquely, the weird and funky stuff in Abrahamic religions have inspired the scenarios of Neon Genesis Evangelion and 666Satan and there are echoes of Catholic images of angels and purgatory in Haibane Renmei – and these examples are only the tip of a sizeable iceberg. The number of Seraphim Blades or Satan Strikes is uncountable.
Chrno Crusade and Trinity Blood have the coolness of Christian myth, as well as more recent ideas like vampires and little girl visionaries, very much to the fore. While both are obviously only loosely inspired by the more thrilling aspects of the faith rather than really interested in an accurate rendition of canon belief (Trinity Blood has Cain, Abel and Seth as major characters – but Seth is a girl, while the influences of Revelations on Chrno Crusade leads to a scene involving the Resurrection of the Dead – but rather than all mankind being judged, this involves some zombies!), they succeed in using tenets of Christianity to make exciting lowbrow entertainment, very much in the same way that Occidental consumers lap up kung-fu movies about warrior monks, or based on Journey to the West.
Chrno Crusade (named that way, apparently, mistakenly, not to avoid confusion with the Chrono Trigger games) is the story of a nun named Rosette Christopher, and is given a very interesting setting – the roaring 20s in America. This means that there are exciting car chases in Model Ts, and impressive period firearms, though the setting is really mostly cosmetic, and gives a nice noir look to some of the scenes. Rosette’s partner is Chrno, a demon who, having lost his horns, is reduced to the form of a cute young boy, but can transform into a powerful, muscular hunk DNAngel-style when given some of Rosette’s life-force. This isn’t often needed, though, because Rosette’s order of nuns are trained sharpshooters, fighting demons with their holy bullets. One day they meet a young prophetess who can miraculously heal ailments with her singing voice, one of the shepherd girls who witnessed the Fatimá prophecies (though she is called Azmaria Hendric and looks less like the peculiar-looking Portuguese girls and more like a pretty Albino), only to find there are dark forces looking for her, dark forces who may just happen to also be involved with Rosette’s long-lost brother.
Trinity Blood is more epic in scale – though perhaps less coherent and intelligent overall. It involves hidden orders within the Vatican in an imagined world where vampires are prolific enough for a fractured society to have come into being. There is an interesting plot involving a young noble ‘Methuselah’, as the vampires call themselves, getting involved in various political conspiracies designed to upset the order of the world – but in the end, the fact that the antagonists, ‘Contra Mundi’, are against the world just because they are, and that our typical Kenshin/Vash-style goofy-until-he-finally-reveals-his-true-powers protagonist Abel’s nemesis and big brother Cain looks cool, but doesn’t really have any motives or real character, makes the overall scenario ring hollow.
Both series are derived from stories in other media, and perhaps as a result, both feel unfinished, unsatisfying. Chrno Crusade less so, for it gives a convincing ending and a bittersweet resolution to its story, even if the manga apparently deals in a more satisfying way with free will – too much of the anime’s story is people destined to be or do something fulfilling their inevitable roles. Trinity Blood is worse still. There’s an interesting, tragic real-life story there, actually – the original concept comes from a series of light novels, but the writer died before they were finished, and thus the true conclusion will never be known, though someone else has been drafted in to milk the cash cow while it’s fertile. A manga was released, providing the cosplay community with some hugely complicated designs to take on (in tandem with art books), the distinctive aesthetic clearly an element in the series’ success. The anime followed. But as with most anime based on continuing stories, there is no true end to the narrative, the characters find no resolution, and the series ends on a cliffhanger. As with Claymore, either there will be more, or the series alone can never satisfy.
On the other hand, both series have some excellent ideas. Chrno Crusade’s setting and the central friendship and co-dependence of its heroes are great stuff, and the vulnerability and willing of Azmaria may be generic, but work very nicely. Trinity Blood has a wealth of gems, from the hero who looks like a demon opposing the personification of evil who looks like an archangel, to the fanciful images of Rome and London and the magnificent costumes, not to mention the idea of the Pope as a weak, submissive boy who you soon realise actually personifies the Christian ideals of being meek and gentle and turning the other cheek when harmed. Then there is the show-stealing Ion, a brash young noble Methuselah who gradually shows his weak side. Unfortunately, with trying to do so many things at once comes a plot that’s too fragmented, has too many elements that don’t effect one another well enough, that don’t cohere as a single narrative, and which need coincidences to tie everything together. Chrno Crusade doesn’t aim for the same heights as Trinity Blood, and never provides the same spectacle, but does its power-hungry-demon-needs-to-be-defeated-even-at-great-cost-to-the-heroes line very well, while Trinity Blood sets up a global battle and political intrigues, but never explores any of its grand ideas in sufficient depth, and becomes a pyrrhic victory of style over substance. In the end, Chrno Crusade does what it sets out to do better than Trinity Blood, but if the latter had been more successful with its ambitions, it would have been by far the better story. Sadly, that was not to be – but having said that, I certainly do not regret watching either of these interesting shows.
(originally written 6.10.07)