By Hugh David.
The time: 1928. The place: New York. The threat: demons called Sinners. The defence: an exorcist wing of the Catholic Church, the Magdalene Order, sworn to protect the seven ‘apostles’, super-powered humans who have been appearing since the traumatic events of WWI. The only heroes who can save them are a gun-toting nun and a pro-human demon whose destinies are intertwined.
Originally adapted in 24 parts and aired in 2003, Chrono Crusade puts a spin on both nunsploitation and the “one of the monsters we fight can help save us” subgenres of horror films. The former, usually aimed at adding a salacious element to horror films or simply being outright fetishism, is here played almost entirely for laughs, as embodied by the stereotype of the pervy old Edward Hamilton, who functions as the “Q” weapons-master to the Magdalene Order. Character design being what it was in both media, exorcist Rosette’s uniform and body-type are definitely played up in a sexy way, but assistant exorcist/demon Chrono is also drawn out of demon form as a pretty boy. Original 1999 manga author Daisuke Moriyama struck a strong balance between a boys’ story and a strong romantic element, maintained in the anime by designer and animator Kazuya Kuroda, and director Yu Ko (a pseudonym for Shigeru Morikawa).
The demon Chrono himself is a classic blend of light and dark. He drip-feeds information to Rosette and the Order, but also complicates the ways that humans other than his partner regard him. He suggests that there is more to The Enemy than the rumours and horror-stories we first hear. This is by far the more interesting element to Chrono Crusade, fuelling some of the intrigue alongside the compelling backstory that unites our leading pair.
The GONZO studio moves the story along at a swift pace, doling out the plot amidst exciting fights, comedy interludes and moving emotional moments. This surfeit of incident made for addictive viewing in the pre-streaming age, and should have exactly the same effect now on new fans, even in this era of binge viewing. Back then, GONZO was on a hot streak, adapting manga after manga with slick, high-quality visuals and an international approach to pacing and episodic breakdowns. Hellsing, Kiddy Grade, Full Metal Panic!, Kaleido Star, Last Exile, Peacemaker Kurogane, Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, Gantz, Samurai 7, Trinity Blood, Basilisk – those are just the high notes of a five-year run, excluding the also-rans, features, mini-serials and shorts. Almost all of these were successfully internationally at some level, and Chrono Crusade was no exception in the middle of that historically impressive run. While it is interesting to consider some of the qualities the successes had in common – the predominance of Christian horror across Hellsing, Chrono Crusade and Trinity Blood, for example, or the western characters and settings across all three plus Full Metal Panic!, Last Exile and Gankutsuou – it is those that have made them stand the test of time that fascinate.
The return of so many of these titles on disc in the modern era speaks not just to their enduring technical quality but to the design, storytelling and customer satisfaction. Even making a major change from the manga did not deter Crusade’s success with fans, a testament to quality personnel working at their height in a company that let them do good work consistently. Chrono Crusade itself retains a following in Japan, where the manga was re-released in 2010, with the English-language sheepishly title corrected from the previous “Chrno Crusade”. That’s just one of the long-tail achievements of this winning American dub by ADV Films, reproduced on this new release along with the Japanese original. Audio director Matt Greenfield rides shotgun on the commentary track, making interesting asides on the production and its origins (including the revelation that Rosette isn’t actually a nun), while Hilary Haag’s voice returns to normal from the squeaky tones of her role as Rosette.
Chrono Crusade is released in the UK by Anime Limited.