If you've frequented anime websites lately you've probably seen a lot of buzz and advertisement about Black Cat the new series being released by FUNimation. Originally this 23 episode show that ended airing earlier this year in Japan was a popular Shonen Jump manga by Kentaro Yabuki. An English translation of the manga is available here if you want to check it out before diving into this oddly paced series.
Black Cat takes place in a strange world that is a little bit of Jing King of Bandits mixed with Cowboy Bebop. Each town has its problems and there are plenty of bounties to be had so it's no surprise that "sweepers" (bounty hunters) scour the globe looking to hit the jackpot. While this anime focuses a lot on the action it also features tender moments between characters and often stops to allow time for development. This gives the show a frenetic pacing that works almost as much as it doesn't unfortunately since you'll constantly feel jerked around while watching it.
The star of the show is easily Train Heartnet who also goes by the alias of Black Cat and Number XIII. He's a member of the Chronos organization and is basically a pawn in their employ who assassinates whatever target they order him to. He has a tragic past that involves the violent death of his parents when he was younger causing his view of the world to become somewhat jaded. At his heart he's really not a bad guy and just wants to do the right thing but his actions make him an anti-hero early on in the show.
There are other main characters in Black Cat though such as Sven Vollfied who wears an eye patch and considers himself to be a gentlemen; even though he's a sweeper. Saya becomes one of Train's friends after a rooftop visit and is also a sweeper out for the big hit. In this first volume we also meet a deceptive thief named Rinslet and a young girl who happens to be the world's ultimate bio weapon called Eve.
These characters come together for a series of ideal clashing episodes and a lot of development. The manner with which these scenes are handled is often dreamlike and therefore kind of confounding when you get right down to it. Train's nightmares are just downright strange and Saya's sweeper mission is presented like an acid trip with colors congruent with an LCD overdose. Sven also breaks out his tech laden suit case from time to time and kind of proves himself to be like a hardnosed Inspector Gadget. To say this cast is unique would be an understatement.
The first episode in this introductory volume opens this world of sweepers and assassins to us. Sven and Train are both introduced while they are going after the same mark; a man named Lib Tyrant. With a name like Tyrant you wouldn't think that he'd be elected governor but due to his shady past with gangs it's really no surprise. Sven wants to capture him alive to collect the bounty but Train has orders from Chronos to put him six feet under. After Train kills Tyrant, Sven catches him on the way out and their fates become intertwined after that meeting.
The next episode introduces Saya as she goes after a target who has been killing women with his monstrous touch. He has the ability to corrode any substance just by coming in contact with it so you can see how deadly this bounty is. Luckily for Saya, Train has her best interest in mind and gives her a little bit of backup. This episode also shows the difference between a Chronos agent and sweeper since Train sees nothing wrong with using guns for the sole purpose of killing.
The third episode involves a plot featuring Eve the bio weapon. She may be a young girl by appearance but inside she is capable of mass destruction in ways never thought possible. Train is sent to kill her while Sven is duped by Rinslet to go and save her. Their paths cross once again and the subject matter of the show begins to change already. Train becomes conscious of what he is doing and starts to reconsider his ways. He and Sven kind of develop a mutual respect for one another and this story follows through into the final episode on this disc.
With a blend of science fiction and light fantasy elements Black Cat's world feels like it is at odds with itself. It's a purposeful effect that feels a little disjointed at the beginning of the show but as the episodes go on and we learn more about the characters it all starts to make sense. After the first volume I'm definitely interested in seeing where the anime goes but I wasn't blown away enough to give a high recommendation. It's intriguing, disturbing, funny, and surreal all at the same time which definitely gives Black Cat a voice all its own.
Black Cat is presented with an 16:9 anamorphic widescreen transfer which isn't too surprising considering that the show finished production within the past year. The image is pretty clear with a vibrant palette and that great style of animation we have become accustomed to from Gonzo. The lines are very crisp and I didn't notice any aliasing or cross coloration at any time. Since there is a lot of contrast to this series I did notice some compression in the darker moments but even that was minimal. This is a series with slick presentation values and definitely pleases the eyes.
As is the case with most all anime these days Black Cat gets an English 5.1 presentation along side of English and Japanese stereo. My first viewing for the show was done with the Japanese track and my second was with the English 5.1. Both dubs hold up very well with quality voiceovers and a great sense of atmosphere. Technically the English surround track is the better of the two with more diversification in the soundstage thanks to sound effects and music taking to the rear speakers.
The thing that impressed me most about Black Cat's audio was the way the music was implemented. It wasn't quite as engrossing as Cowboy Bebop's but there was enough variety in the soundtrack that it caught my attention. Even the moments where characters sing a tune are handled with a lot of care and were paid a lot of attention. English subtitles are included as well.
At first I was kind of confused by the back of the DVD case because it listed English 5.1 as one of the extra features. Since when did a standard audio track become considered bonus material? The only real features on this disc are textless versions for the opening and closing animations. It's disappointing considering the quality of the show and when you compare Black Cat to other FUNimation releases. Hopefully future volumes will include more though I'm not going to hold my breath.
Black Cat is an interesting show with well developed characters that live in a surreal world. It's dreamlike in presentation thanks to fantasy elements and has a lot of humor but it also takes itself very seriously at times. The end result is a series that feels disjointed at the beginning but the more you watch it, the more you'll appreciate it. The video and audio quality for this release is impressive as well but the extra features are definitely a sore spot.
If you're looking for a new show with a lot of energy and a bit of intrigue you can't really go wrong with this one. I'm going to give it a recommendation for now but we'll see what future volumes have in store for Train and Sven.
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