Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 Motion Comic Release Date: Available now Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Packaging/Materials: Two-disc Blu-ray "ECO-BOX" Year: 2011 Rating: NR Running Time: 3:46:28 MSRP: $34.99 THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES Video 1080p high definition 16x9 1.78:1 High definition Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 Stereo Subtitles English SDH, French, Spanish Same The Feature: 4/5 The end of a television series usually brings with it the hope of a continuance in movie form, especially if the show ended with unresolved stories. After a seven-year run, most would say "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" wrapped things up well, giving its core characters a proper send off while also introducing a major game changer that could reasonably lead to more and different tales. Though some of that impressive potential was explored in "Buffy's" companion series "Angel" (which ran for another year after "Buffy" ended), there was never really much hope for things to continue in movie form. Despite a rather rabid fan base, Joss Whedon's vampire slayer franchise was and has always been a cult property, without enough mainstream appeal to justify the expense of a film (rumblings of a Whedon-less reboot notwithstanding). So it's more than fitting that the continuing adventures of the Slayer, her Watcher Giles, and best friends Xander and Willow would ultimately unfold in the popular - but still rather cultish - medium of comic books. Though publisher Dark Horse Comics had been putting out "Buffy" comics for about as long as the series was running, very few of them were canon and lacked the involvement of the Slayer's creator. The 2007 announcement of a new "Buffy" comic book series - three years after the end of the TV show - with Whedon writing or overseeing the stories, thus gave it the canonical stamp of approval and consequently the "Season 8" designation of the title. On January 19th (Buffy's birthday), the final issue of Season 8 hits store shelves. Needless to say - with 40 issues and almost four years gone by - it's taken some time for the season to unfold. Speaking as a "Buffy" fan, it's been an enjoyable experience to have one of my favorite television shows continue on in the way that it has, particularly with artist Jo Chen doing all the issues' primary covers. But speaking more objectively, I could have done with tighter storytelling and a more compelling villain. Material related to its agenda just felt overly familiar - a disappointment considering how much new ground the series was treading from the very first issue. Consequently, I tend to favor the first half of the season, where stories focused more on getting us reacquainted with our favorite characters in their new capacity and their resulting growth and struggles. Fortunately, the first installment of the motion comic adaptation of "Buffy Season 8" covers issues 1-19 of the 40-issue season. In fact, I think I followed the stories better in their animated form than I did originally in their printed, panel-to-panel incarnation, which is a credit to the animators' judgment on pacing and timing. Also impressive were the motion graphics themselves, which transform the two-dimensional artwork into a multi-layered and dynamic piece of animation without necessarily replicating full or "realistic" motion. Though some have yet to warm to the motion comic concept due to its apparent simplicity, I continue to marvel at what skilled animators can communicate through layering, perspective, and movement. In many ways it's a throwback to the early days of animation and puppetry, but that proves - that when done well - can still be very effective. Somewhat less impressive is the voice acting, or rather the voice casting. While I eventually got used to hearing new voices for all my beloved characters, there still were times when the pitch or inflection just didn't work for what I understood about them. While I didn't expect absolute synchronicity with the original actors who played the parts, I was disappointed that they didn't at least cast Giselle Loren, who provided an uncanny impression of Sarah Michelle Gellar on the "Buffy" video games. But ultimately my misgivings about the production are few and I expect it to please the majority of "Buffy" fans out there, even if they never read the comic books. In fact it should prove an effective way for those who never made the purchasing commitment to get caught up. Those who did follow along from issue to issue should also be quite pleased, as it provides another, equally effective way to experience the stories. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 Motion Comic" includes the first 19 issues from the 40-issue run. Each issue runs an average of 12 minutes. Video Quality: 4/5 The film is accurately framed at 1.78:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec. Black levels are excellent - stable and deep. Fine object detail is hard to judge, given the lack of surface textures, but several instances of particle effects and the sharpness of illustration lines indicate very good clarity and detail. Colors also exhibit satisfying depth and fidelity, looking bolder and more saturated than they ever did in printed form. Though I noticed a few instances of shimmer and color banding, they are the only faults in an otherwise great looking transfer. Audio Quality: 4/5 Though it probably could have gotten away with a straightforward audio mix giving priority to dialogue, the DTS-HD Master Audio track offers some pleasant surprises. Environmental sound effects and soundtrack support are nicely balanced and give an appreciated sonic depth to the track. LFE doesn't seem to make an appearance until Issue 11, but when it comes on, it comes on strong with some great wall-shaking moments. Dialogue is also consistently clean and crisp, and generally well mixed and balanced with the rest of the elements. Special Features: 3.5/5 Though notably lacking in a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the motion comic, the extras do provide some appealing diversions. Under Buffy's Spell (5:17, HD): Piece shot at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con includes interviews with fans, writers and artists about the appeal of the Buffy series and its comic book incarnation. Bonus: If you look fast, you can catch my lovely back at the 4:27 mark! Test Pilot (5:34, HD): Motion comic adaptation covers part of the first issue and was created as a proof of concept before proceeding with the project. The Buffy Trivia Experience: Test your Buffy knowledge with pop up trivia spread across all 19 issues. Definitely designed for hardcore fans, the trivia mode puts the presentation into a "view all" mode, rewind is disabled, and the player's score isn't provided until the end of the viewing. Comic Book Gallery (3:25, HD): Primary and alternate covers, illustrated by Jo Chen and Georges Jeanty, from the first 19 issues of Season 8. BD-Live: Covering Jo Chen (:59): The artist responsible for the primary covers of all Buffy Season 8 issues talks about how she got involved with the series and her early work as an artist. DVD: Watch all 19 issues (spread across both sides of a flipper disc) in 1.78:1 anamorphic standard definition video and 448 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (English only). Subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish. Comic Book: Reprint of the first issue, reduced in size to fit inside a standard Blu-ray case. DVD-ROM: ToonCast Studio: Install the ToonCast software and you'll be able to make your own Buffy comics using various graphic elements and sound effects from the series. Recap The Feature: 4/5 Video Quality: 4/5 Audio Quality: 4/5 Special Features: 3.5/5 Overall Score (not an average): 4/5 The motion comic adaptation of the first half of the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8" comic book series gets a great technical presentation and respectable set of extras. Fans of both the original television show and collectors of the comic books should be pleased.