Lady Death

ADV Films is at it again. Back in 2000, they produced their first animated program, the amazingly bad Sin: The Movie. Four years later, they have their newest self-produced title called Lady Death. Unlike Sin, though, ADV Films makes no pretension of passing off Lady Death as a film in the anime style. With a story based on a popular underground comic and a script by the infamous Carl Macek, the film contains no Japanese animation or reference. However, considering that ADV Films has made its name on Japanese anime and films, it's still an important title to review in the anime community. Until I got my hands on the title, I really didn't know what it was, frankly. It's too bad that it didn't stay that way, unfortunately, as the story of Lady Death and her descent into the underworld is sheer hell to get through.

Hope is a kindhearted young woman with dreams and aspirations and a young lover who has quit school to follow his dreams and to be with her. Too bad Hope's dad is the devil. No, really...unknown to everyone else, Hope's evil warlord father is actually the human incarnation of Lucifer. And when your dad is the prince of darkness, when the villagers who've had enough of his murderous ways decide to kill off him and his family, it sucks to be you. Hope appeals to God for protection, but when she's being burned on the stake, she cries out for help from her papa, who whisks her away to Hell. Tortured by her decision and adamant for revenge against her fiendish father, Hope becomes Lady Death as she prepares herself to eventually take her father down and to gain salvation in the process.

The animation style of Lady Death is strikingly, well, American. Ironically, it reminds me of the animation that I see flipping by the Trinity Broadcasting Network on their childrens' Bible story programming. It's angular, it's ugly, and it's done on the cheap. Of course, most of the characters are supposed to be ugly--they are demons, after all--but the creatures just look surprisingly flat. I haven't read the Lady Death comic, so perhaps this is faithful to its style. It still doesn't look very good.

The one bright spot production-wise is the soundtrack. Presented in bold and crisp 5.1 Dolby Digital, it's a great sounding show. Much like Sin, the soundtrack album is worth owning. It's brooding and ominous and not altogether original, but the music works.

Unfortunately, the place where the show really breaks down is in the script. Poor old Carl Macek is far better at adapting shows into English than creating his own, and his screenplay is plain awful. Lady Death is possibly one of the funniest programs I've seen this year due entirely to its dialogue. I can't quite find the right words to do justice to the utterly moronic phrases that these characters utter. Much as I typically disapprove of anime dubs, Lady Death makes the old Streamline stuff look like Shakespeare in comparison. The voice actors and actresses certainly do their best, trying with all their might to pretend that this dialogue is important and meaningful. But on first viewing, within ten minutes I found myself talking back to the screen. That's not a good sign.

From a storytelling perspective, I'm not sure Carl Macek had a lot to work with. Though I appreciate that Lady Death has a following, it's hard not to fault the core concept. Comic books can deal with dark eternal concepts; Neil Gaiman did it well with his Sandman and Death graphic novels. But Lady Death treats Satan as a red-horned miscreant, which is just silly. I far prefer Matt Wagner's treatment of the darkly spiritual in Grendel, where the embodiment of evil takes many forms over the ages and truly corrupts the unsuspecting. Grendel is, as a series, terrifying. Lady Death, if the movie is any indication, is a joke.

I cannot fault ADV Films for trying to branch out, but I can fault their choices of material. Lady Death is a stinker. I can only hope that the "bad girl" concept combined with lots of bloody gore doesn't draw in kids who don't understand how good animation can be. Other than the soundtrack, Lady Death is in sore need of redemption.

Lady Death -- graphic violence, occult imagery and concepts -- D