And now we return to the adventures of the Scooby Gang (Josh Whedon version 2.0) already in progress with this animated motion comic book continuation of TV's cult smash Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Yes, the read-along comic book approach and all-new (yet not always convincing) vocal cast requires patience on your part to meet this incarnation of Buffy halfway. However, aside from an over-reliance on creature-feature style theatrics since demons now serve as a greater Big Bad threat than the titular vamps, overall the representation of the characters impressively matches the look of Fox's series.
Likewise, despite the initial shock of the format change from live action forty-two minute TV episodes to roughly ten minute animated adaptations of the Dark Horse comic book series that began under Whedon's guidance four years after Buffy hung up her stake in 2003 on network television, devotees of these particular Scoobies will appreciate the chance to take “The Long Way Home” with the aptly titled four-part opener to season eight.
The involvement of Whedon who pens the first of multiple episodes (or “books” if you're referring to the source material) as well as the decision to mainly divide this nineteen part Blu-ray collection into multiple chunks to deliver a storyline that runs the same length of the original television shows truly helps ease us into the transition.
International in scope, season eight picks up soon after the last live action series left off wherein Sunnydale, California vampire slayer Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) managed to call up the next generation of “chosen ones” (aka slayers) to help save the world. But the kicker about unleashing the slayer version of the bat signal is the understanding that -- as Buffy's narration begins -- once you change the world, then the world is changed and you have to deal with the consequences.
In Buffy's case, world changes involve running a veritable army of slayers with centers around the globe alongside Xander in Scotland, all the while keeping in constant communication with Scooby associates on other continents.
Yet now that she's gotten rid of the weight of the world overall, Buffy is at once both slightly more boring (everyone calls her “ma'am”) and more Valley girl than eve before, cracking more lukewarm jokes and adding the Whedonesque extra “y” to every other word than she did in the series' earliest and most carefree seasons.
Although it's incredibly ambitious and much more fantastical, one of the best aspects of live action Buffy was watching the Scoobies interact from one non-militaristic location and face somewhat relatable situations. Therefore, without the benefit of a real life influenced plotline or even a more familiar home-base, overall animated Buffy pulls in too many directions to truly hook us into our heroine's ever-evolving, sprawling storyline.
This lack of a solid through-line is particularly evident when you compare Buffy's meandering plots with two of the most focused segments in the nineteen episode arc. Easily the most quintessentially "Buffy," the Whedon written one-off title “The Chain,” again solidifies the themes of good vs. evil, teamwork, bravery, the bond of outsiders and girl power that became the backbone of the fan favorite series.
And in moving from our main girl to another one of the other unforgettable female roles Whedon created over the course of the seven season live action run, we find ourselves instantly captivated by the season eight set's masterful standout "No Future For You," which is a Faith-focused four-parter.
So compelling that you nearly wish that Faith's section could've been expanded into its own live action standalone TV movie starring Whedon's Dollhouse, Buffy and Angel crossover star Eliza Dushku, it was only when I reached the installments of “The Chain,” followed by the “Future” that I found myself completely transfixed by what the writers and artists working on this season had achieved.
Operating nearly like a reward for hardcore fans with references, “cameos,” and reinterpreted flashbacks from several seasons of the live action series featuring Faith's father/daughter like relationship with The Mayor (3) to her affair with Robin Wood (7) and fractured friendship with Buffy (4 et al.), Faith's storyline is the most involving, realistic and timely one of the lot.
From a dystopian existence doing the “dirty work” that no other slayers could handle like a war veteran suffering from post traumatic stress at the beginning of Apocalypse Now to embarking on off-the-grid assignments with Giles after both characters have another falling out with Buffy, Faith's “Future” as Mission Impossible: La Femme Nikita offers us a breath of fresh air from the traditional slayer modus operandi.
In this sense “Chain” and “Future” reminded me of the way that the addition of the genre blend Angel gave Whedon's amazingly talented roster of writers the opportunity to play in different terrain aside from the obligatory “let's break all the rules,” one-off Buffy comic relief episodes like “Band Candy,” (3) which let the scribes hit the reset button to ask “what if?”
Although the Scooby-centric Buffy episodes have their moments as well, considering that Xander in particular is given some remarkably funny material that steals focus from weaker plots involving Dawn and Willow, overall it seems like we were just getting started to see the creativity let loose when the final motion comic in the collection fades to black.
Essentially it's the entertainment equivalent of sweet and sour sauce as we love being back in the company of the Scoobies but are a bit disappointed that the old players or more relatable style of believable allegorical conflicts has been replaced by over-the-top fantastic characterization and situations.
Even with the same deliciously one-of-a-kind ingredients of freewheeling Whedon creativity, the final recipe just isn't as fresh and flavorful as the live action series was when it'd just been served out of the oven.
Unfortunately this well-intentioned, uneven yet mostly enjoyably addictive set leaves you with a slightly bad aftertaste courtesy of a dissatisfying, anticlimactic conclusion. For instead of battling the Big Bad as the Scoobies would've done in Whedon's TV tradition, we're starved for nourishment this time around upon realizing that the term season eight is a misnomer... since it isn't exactly complete.
Digging deeper, it seems that Dark Horse released twenty-one additional books to help build the overall storyline to an epic proportion. Thus, we can't help but wish that this set wouldn't have been unveiled on disc until all of the books had been animated so we could've savored it all at once in a good old fashioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon.
Nonetheless, to quote Faith, any time we're given the opportunity to relish in some authentic Whedon action, "it's five-by-five" for true fans.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.