When Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended its run on television after seven seasons, Buffy Summers destroyed the evil Hellmouth below Sunnydale. Using comic books to continue the story, they’ve now been given motion and the Blu-ray format for the most ardent of Buffy fans.
Now that she and best friend Willow have granted all potential slayers official slayer powers, Buffy estimates there are 1800 slayers in the world, 500 of which now work for her in five factions around the globe. Buffy and Xander now run Command Central, training slayers and fighting evils like a fine-tuned government entity. Buffy’s sister Dawn has been turned into a giant thanks to an ex-boyfriend (a spell which sees her also change into a centaur and then a living doll), Willow has been training with a supreme magical being, and throughout the story old friends and favorites are brought back (Faith, Oz, and even Spike) as Buffy tries to destroy the newest mega-evil: Twilight. Yes, Twilight.
In this Blu-ray release, you will find all 40 issues presented in a four-hour motion comic format. None of the original cast returned to voice the comic, which may throw tried-and-true fans off initially. The real turn-off lies in its complete lack of solid character arcs and plot and its relentless portrayal of Buffy as a vapid moron.
Buffy: Season 8 is executive produced by Joss Whedon and one arc includes a writing turn by Brian K. Vaughan (“Y: The Last Man”, “Runaways”). Usually praised for their writing talents, neither man is strong enough to battle the poor writing team they’ve assembled here. The story is convoluted and ridiculously weighed down in sub-plot. The mistake they’ve made seems to be the choice to elevate sub-plot into something more focal. It’s difficult to keep up with the story with the addition of so many new characters, and even more difficult when the voice-acting is so poor.
Another unfortunate choice is to bring motion to certain parts of the body — limbs, hair, and eyelids — while not creating motion in the mouths. An argument could be made that it is aesthetically pleasing, and if they were to have characters’ mouths move, why not just film the entire series with real-life actors? The better question is: why film this at all?
Fans of motion comics (and non-fans of reading, one assumes) may find the animation to be on-par with other motion comic experiences, if not better. The animation is quite crisp for the Blu-ray presentation, but nothing stellar or trailblazing for that matter. It’s a simple animated representation of a comic book; nothing more, nothing less. Motion comics aren’t terribly impressive in the first place, and most usually call to mind Reading Rainbow, which voice actors reading the books as the camera pans across. This format takes it a step farther, cutting the characters out and using basic techniques to move them across the backgrounds and landscapes. There are certainly interesting choices — the aforementioned movements of limbs and hair — that allow for elements of depth to be created. The idea of a motion comic is to feel like you’re reading the comic without actually doing the work of reading, and to feel like you’re watching a film without all those troublesome production values.
Longtime fans of the show will no doubt be disappointed with their titular heroine. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy had the right amount of dry humor and sarcasm, and although she started out ditzy (and still managed to have her vacant moments here and there), Buffy grew into an endearing, witty, and clever slayer. She developed intellectually in her own right. Season 8 Buffy, however, is a major let-down. She is vacuous, un-funny, and at times, just plain stupid. New Buffy laments how long it has been since she had sex and chirps about hairstyles. The Buffy we grew to love on television still had some superficial leanings, but she became the anti-popular girl. She had true growth as a character and as a teenager, and part of the audience’s connection with her was empathic.
The sci-fi elements are all still quite present in Buffy: Season 8, but they feel even more absurd and outlandish. It seems that the writers took full advantage of existing on the page, where anything is possible and they aren’t limited by production budgets; unfortunately, they’ve gone too far. When Spike shows up in a ship from the future, it’s gone too far. There’s nothing wrong with stretching the limits of the imagination; if they hadn’t, Buffy would never exist. At some point, though, these elements go from being whimsical and enchanting to just plain absurd and unnecessary, especially when all forty issues are painfully loaded with magical elements and plots. Witches, slayers, amulets, spells, vampires, mystical beings and supernatural creatures, time-travel – it all becomes exhausting to keep up with.
Most offensive is that this is supposed to read like a season of the television series — the lost season that never happened — but there is no strong, major arc to carry it through, and the one semblance of an arc that is given is flanked by so much sub-plot involving peripheral characters and adventures that the viewer forgets the main thread. Comic books tend to use one major arc for several issues and mini-arcs come in six-issue strings, which is why trade paperbacks usually consist of six issues. Buffy: Season 8 consists of a whopping forty issues, with about twelve different plots. Perhaps the real problem is trying to present a television show in comic book form.
The Long Way Home, Part I-IV
No Future For You, Part I-IV
Anywhere But Here
A Beautiful Sunset
Wolves at the Gate, Part I-IV
Time of Your Life, Part I-IV
After These Messages… We’ll Be Right Back!
Predators and Prey
Retreat, Part I-V
Twilight, Part I-IV
Last Gleaming, Part I-V
Buffy: Season 8 is presented in 1.77:1 Widescreen with Dolby surround sound. The colors are crisp and clean. Subtitle options include French, Spanish, and English.
The special features span the Blu-ray and an extra two-sided DVD.
Under Buffy’s Spell: A documentary featuring noted Buffy fanatics discussing the series. At five minutes long, this feature is definitely lackluster and useless.
Buffy: Season 8 Motion Comic Test Pilot: A few minutes of incomplete animation.
The Buffy Trivia Experience: This is perhaps the best aspect of the special features, allowing you to school your friends (or just yourself) on Buffy trivia while watching the motion comic. Trivia questions pop-up throughout the film.
Comic Book Covers and Art Gallery: A neat feature with all the covers and color art from the comic book, including variant covers.
Disc Two DVD, Side A:
The Buffy Trivia Experience: The same as before, just in DVD format and more accessible to share with friends.
Disc Two DVD, Side B:
Under Buffy’s Spell: The same doc that the Blu-ray offers.
The Buffy Trivia Experience: More trivia? More trivia.
Comic Book Covers and Art Gallery: The same artwork as the Blu-ray.
Create Your Own Graphic Novel: An interesting feature that allows you to create a Buffy comic using Tooncast DVD-Rom and your computer.
Maybe Buffy: Season 8 reads better as a comic book. Maybe motion comics are the true evil, and Buffy should start kicking ass in the name of literacy.
20th Century Fox presents Buffy: Season 8. Created by: Joss Whedon. Starring: Kelly Albanese, Natalie Lander, J. Anthony McCarthy, Daniel Taylor and Whitney Thompson. Running time: 275 minutes on 2 discs. Not Rated. Released on January 4, 2011.
Tags: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, joss whedon, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Spike