Movie: Anime stories about super powered youth are plentiful, to be sure. Shows that explore the themes surrounding such youth often approach the subject matter in a variety of ways, depending on what issues the creators want to address. Much of the time, themes involving alienation, sub-cultures, fitting in, and responsibility versus rights are but a few of the aspects addressed in such shows. Most of the time, the deeper meaning being looked at relates to issues of race relations as well. In the latest show released by Bandai, Witch Hunter Robin: Fugitive, we get to observe a series looking at the issues involved with super powerfully endowed humans as a metaphor for those different than the norm.
The show is set in the near future and centers on a young gal, Robin Sena, who has the ability to start fires and direct the energy from them as a weapon. She belongs to an organization, the STN, which trains such youth to act as "hunters" who use their powers to track and kill similarly gifted individuals that use their powers for personal gain or to harm people. She is sent to a branch office of the group, in Japan, where she replaces a team member that died 6 months prior. Not much is known about the young gal but it's clear she has an agenda and no one is quite sure what to make of her. The unofficial leader of the group is an older male, Amon, who is in his mid 20's. He is less social than average and doesn't like Robin's seemingly dangerous inexperience. Miho Karasuma is another senior team member-one who can sense thoughts or events by touching objects, Michael Lee-a computer hacker, Haruto Sakaki-another rookie to the team, and Yuriko Dojima-a flighty rich gal who doesn't take life seriously. Their immediate supervisor is Chief Kosaka, a grumpy old guy, and the top man at the STNJ branch is a mysterious man named Zaizen who knows more about what's going on then everyone else put together but doesn't share his information.
The team is sent on missions to confront "witches", those who use their powers to break the law. In a sense, the show is a cop show with the added dimension of the paranormal powers involved. STNJ, the Japanese branch of the organization, does things a bit differently in that they don't seek to kill the witches but to capture them using a green liquid (orbo) that nullifies the witch's powers. Generally shot through a gun-like weapon, the orbo is expensive and weakens the hunters' powers too. Each episode seems to focus on a single mission and the variations on the "hunt down those who are just like us" play out a bit each time.
Episode Fifteen: Time To Say Goodbye:
After the attack on Robin in her apartment, she stays at STNJ headquarters, arguably the most secure place she could stay. Kosaka seems to know something and loudly disapproves of this idea, but the worst surprise comes when Zaizen appears to be in on the conspiracy. Robin's life is in grave danger and the team helps her when she is attacked again, at STNJ headquarters, after they begin digging into the identity of the assassins.
Episode Sixteen: Heal The Pain:
The team carries on as though Robin never existed, at least in the open. Robin secures employment elsewhere, trying to blend in with the help of a friend of Amon's. Robin's powers come in handy to her new employer but she also maintains some contact with her friends, albeit in a limited way. The plot thickens and Robin's suspicions about everyone and everything begin to overpower her naiveté.
Episode Seventeen: Dilemma:
A new witch is on the loose, killing indiscriminately. With the STNJ team so light handed, the team must rely on some of the weaker members (like Erica) more and more. They are pushed to the breaking point and Robin helps them as she is able, endangering herself in the process. All of this doesn't go unnoticed and the members of the team that aren't as reliable as her friends may yet betray Robin as the bigger picture slowly comes into focus.
Episode Eighteen: In My Pocket:
Robin's place in the world is tentative at best, mainly because the guy assisting her, Nagira, seems to have divided loyalties and he's her only lifeline at the moment. The Walled City has a variety of problems and the biggest one to date relates to several factions of witches attempting to locate a source of information that can be traced back to Robin (yet she knows nothing about it). As the plot thickens, the Fragment of Wisdom comes into play, with people willing to kill for it.
The series is one of the highlights of anime at this writing. It manages to combine a lot of thought and intelligent writing while not slipping on the technical qualities. Just as in Witch Hunter Robin 3, this one is easily rated as Highly Recommended and has a lot of replay value. With so much going on and the new plot twists taking place, it is apparent that Bandai has a winner with this series. I hope the next disc will be as good as the series has been, since it has so much replay value.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.33:1 ratio full frame color. It looked very crisp and clear with only a touch of grain and no artifacts that I saw. The show is dark and moody and very good looking is the best way to describe it.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either Dolby Digital 2.0 English or Japanese with optional English subtitles as desired. The stereo channels are usually reserved for the special effects but the vocals and music seemed very solid too. Each channel had it's own merits and I liked them both but the nod went to the original Japanese track this time.
Extras: The extras continued to have some good stuff here. There were two interviews, one with Akeno Watanabe (Robin) and another with Kaho Koda (Karasuma) that gave some insights as to the characters, the show and the people behind the Japanese track voices. The latest edition of the "Maelifica Compendium" provided some background cultural notes on the episodes, the typical trailers, textless opening and closing, and a double-sided DVD cover as well as a minimal paper insert.
Final Thoughts: The series is a cross between X-Files and X-Men, with a bit of intelligent, if dark, creativity thrown in for good measure. I'm very interested in seeing more of this series since it defies the general tenants of anime. If you're looking for something a bit off the beaten track but well done in all aspects, check this one out. Witch Hunter Robin is one of the best anime series to come out of Japan in a long time, I only hope it can keep up the momentum as the series progresses.
For other excellent anime releases, consult with DVDTalk's Best Of Anime article.