How far would you go to save the soul of an innocent loved one? Would you travel to the very depths of hell(or "the inferno" as it is referred to in this show) to slay the devil himself? Dante's Inferno, an anime movie adapted from the video game(itself inspired by the classic "Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri) chronicles the epic journey of the titular troubled Knight, a veteran of the Bloody Christian Crusade, who returns home to find his wife murdered and her soul spirited away by the devil Lucifer. Claiming to have been steadfast in his faith and his love for his wife, Beatrice, Dante travels through the nine levels of Hell, guided by the spirit of Virgil the poet, to challenge all sorts of horrors beyond imagination just to return her to salvation. But perhaps the greatest horror lies within Dante himself and the sins of his past that he so vehemently denies.
Like most anime adapted from video games, the story is a straight forward tale for which its only purpose is to conveniently propel Dante from one level of Hell to the next. True to the spirit of a video game, each level of Hell has its own blade fodder troops and "stage boss". Throughout the linear and somewhat simplistic main story, the more intriguing back-story is fleshed out in flashbacks. It seemed that Lucifer challenged Beatrice to a bet that Dante would never betray her trust or fall into sin while he was away fighting the war. Naturally The pure-hearted Beatrice, so full of faith in her husband, accepted that bet with her soul as the prize. As the show progresses and as Dante gets nearer to his goal, Lucifer delights in utterly shattering Beatrice's faith first in God, then in mankind and ultimately in her husband who's sinful past deeds are stitched to his chest in the form of a blood red cross.
Animated by 5 animation studios and 6 directors, Dante's Inferno no doubt suffers from some inconsistency. Film roman's work opens the movie and where it lacks in artistic detail, it makes up for it by having the most fluid character movements in the whole film. Designs maintain the simpler contemporary western animation style similar to other Direct-to-Video animated movies like Planet Hulk yet preserves the game's dark gritty setting. Upon entering the level of Limbo, Studio Manglobe(famous for their work on Samurai Champloo) takes over animation with director Shukou Murase (whose works include animation design for Gundam Wing and directing the anime series Ergo Proxy) at the helm. Boasting the most incredible amount of art detail, a nightmarish Gothic feel and great looking character designs, Manglobe's segment is impressive to behold. No small cutesy characters, big kawaii eyes or bright cheery colors that so many Japanese productions suffer from.
From gritty Gothic the show transits to the amazing animated visuals of Dong Woo Animation (justice League Unlimited, Masters of the Universe 2002) and director Jong Sik-Nam(Batman Gotham Knight: Deadshot). Balancing beautiful artwork with slick animation, a leaner meaner Dante slashes through the levels of "Lust", "Gluttony" and "Anger" which are rendered in a stylish American graphic novel look not unlike 2009's "Tales of the Black Freighter" from Warner. Sadly from here on, the animation takes a slow dive in quality.
JM animation handles the next 2 segments and one thing they can never get right is the mouth movements of characters. The first segment, taking place in the level of "Violence", boasts a buff, muscular Dante and a stylized design more suited for a Saturday morning action anime than a dark gritty horror piece. At this point even the story, which started off like a blazing bonfire, starts to sputter and ebb. This is followed by the level of "Fraud", supposedly the start of the film's climax. But by now, the story has descended so much into a brainless hack and slash that the ultimate resolution to the climax is a big letdown. Complex and intriguing themes that were hinted upon earlier in the film are discarded in favor of moving the action along. For example, the running theme of repentance and forgiveness is trivialized into a kind of "magic spell" that can redeem lost souls by waving a silver cross at them.
Lastly, Dante's Inferno goes out with a sad fizzle thanks to a sub-par rush job by Production I.G. It boggles the mind how the studio responsible for Ghost in The Shell, Sky Crawlers and other beautifully animated productions could turn up such a thing. The final showdown with Lucifer is an appropriate closure for Dante's spiritual journey but the animation presented is only mediocre, the artwork simplistic and the character designs, laughable. Dante is now a disproportionately wide oaf who looks more fat than muscular and Lucifer himself conjures up memories of some lost Digimon.
Not many may appreciate the unnecessarily convoluted narrative or the inconsistent visual styles. The characters tend to fall into hero/damsel/villain/hero's guide stereotypes even though the stellar voice cast play their roles with such burning passion. On first viewing, Dante's Inferno may satisfy fans of violent horror anime like Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust or Hellsing. The bloody action never fails to please though the more conservative types may be put off by the religious musings and sexually graphic visuals (that level is not called "Lust" for nothing). It might seem like all style over substance at first but if one were to read in between the lines, Dante's Inferno presents a tragic tale of love, loss, faith and redemption; unoriginal themes for sure but themes that anyone can easily relate to.