I’m dubious about the whole motion comic concept, specifically those that take existing comics and add a few frames of animation to something I’ve already read. I’m not really sure who the makers of these things are targeting exactly—I’d imagine fans of the comics have already read the books and animation fans are going to get much out of it. That leaves some nebulous group on the middle which I guess is maybe casual fans of the franchises in question? Well, for that mysterious middle segment, I present to you the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8 Motion Comic, which still hasn’t made a convincing argument for the format but does remind the viewer that this comic series is out there and very much worth reading.
For those of you who didn’t follow Buffy (well hey you, I’m surprised you’re here reading this) the print series and motion comic follow what would have been the 8th season of adventures of everyone’s favorite Southern California vampire Slayer about a year after the end of the last season of the show. Buffy has relocated to Scotland where she’s training an army of Slayers as a globetrotting, monster-hunting strike force. The motion comic covers the first 19 issues of the “season” which is still ongoing through Dark Horse Comics, making this, in truth, the first half of season 8. But that’s quibbling.
The print version of the series was actually solid to really good, and the motion comic is essentially faithful in its presentation of those stories, with what seems to be 1:1 parity. On this detail, I can’t be 100% sure given that it was a couple of years ago since I last read the issues in question. The connective tissue for the season is the villain Twilight, who bedevils Buffy and her gang with the long-term goal of eradicating magic.
Knowing now who Twilight is (put your spoiler goggles on, kids) and what he was setting out to do, it’s interesting to see if his motivations and actions hold up (yeah, more or less), but the villain is mostly background as the main cast get reintroduced and kind of muddle their way through young adulthood and added responsibility. Buffy has always been a long-form metaphor for growing up, and here the focus is on the anxiety of the mid-20’s: the characters now have more responsibilities, with 2000 young Slayers to mould and train. At the same time, they’re all still lonely for their own reasons, hanging on to issues from the past, and generally being the Buffy cast you know and remember.
I do still have my problems with this batch of issues including the “Buffy goes gay (for two nights)” bit which felt kind of tacked on and not particularly honest to the character, as well as the cavalier way that Xander keeps losing girlfriends. The scripts go through the work of trying to process these plot points but they just never really feel like they jibe with what came before (particularly the Buffy/Satsu thing which felt more like a fantasy on the part of the writer than anything actually having to do with the characters’ development).
None of this is a problem with the motion comic, which—again—faithfully reproduces the first half of season 8 panel for panel. It’s in the actual presentation itself where the package falters, specifically with regards to voice acting and the reproduction of the visuals. I’m going to be direct here: most of it is awful. Not Watchmen Motion Comic awful where one guy does all of the voices, but another kind of awful entirely. A lot of it has to do with “Whedon-speak,” that highly stylized way that the writer has for his characters’ dialog. It seems like a tricky thing to get hold of for an actual flesh and blood speaker, and I’d argue that during the television series proper it took the better part of a season or so for the actors to get the rhythm of the dialog down. On the printed page it’s less of a problem since many of you might be filling the space where the dialog goes with the voices of the actual cast.
Unfortunately, the makers of the motion comic didn’t have access to the original voice cast and they went the radical direction of not using sound-alikes. I can respect that choice, unfortunately, the casting still seemed scattershot: several of the female voice actresses sounded too similar (Willow/Dawn), some of them were trying on awful accents (whoever was doing the voice of the Scottish slayer/the Japanese vampire witch who literally says “Sank you”), and not a one really seemed to get over the hurdle of Whedon’s brand of dialog (or other writers using the same voice). The worst offender is the future-set “Time of Your Life” arc involving the relatively unknown character Fray who spouts out this elaborate and distracting future-speak that reads better than it sounds. Which is horrible.
On the visual front, often it looks great—it’s the comic, essentially. But then, on occasion, it looks terrible, because it’s essentially the comic. Most of what’s present on the screen is images blown up to fit on HDTV’s, and when the art is highly detailed that’s not so much of a problem. However, when it involves some of the finer tricks that artists might use to cover background details, characters, faces, etc, what you’re left with in 1080p is a blurry, indistinct mess. I suspect part of the thinking with motion comics of this type is that the production company shouldn’t have to produce much in the way of new art—just use layers and move them around. Unfortunately, when the original art was designed to be seen in a much smaller presentation, some kind of concession needs to be made for quality. Frankly, when it looks bad it’s actually quite awful.
The final rating for the set reflects the balance between the quality of the stories (often high—I love you racist Dracula!) and the actual production (middling to not great—I hate you squiggly background people!). It’s recommended if you don’t want to shell out for the trades that comprise the package here or if, for some reason, you’re a comic/Buffy fans averse to reading.
Besides including a DVD copy of the series, the disc also includes the “Under Buffy’s Spell” mini doc that appears to have been shot at SDCC, where con attendees (including Morgan Spurlock!) talk about their love of the character and the show.
There’s also the Trivia Experience, which is essentially a trivia track over the episodes, a Test Pilot, and a gallery of covers from the series.