Black Cat is one of the new series being released by FUNimation that has been receiving quite the marketing campaign. You can't go to any anime-related website without seeing an advertisement for it so naturally curiosity has peaked. At least in this case it hasn't killed the cat. Originally a manga published by Shonen Jump, this series was produced with 23 episodes and finished airing semi-recently in Japan. Taking place in a foreign world and featuring an atmosphere that feels a little bit like Jing King of Bandits, Black Cat offers a lot of action and loads of intrigue.
The show takes place in a town renowned for being over run with criminals, gangs, and violence (not New Jersey, sorry). This is a world filled with bounty hunters known as "sweepers" and people that are out to make a name, buck, and living for themselves. Train Heartnet is the titular character because his nickname is the Black Cat. He's an assassin of sorts for an organization known as Chronos and wherever he and his number 13 tattoo go trouble and death is sure to follow.
Other characters are featured in the anime that compliment Train's hardened personality well. Sven Vollfied is another sweeper of sorts who travels the world looking to get that particular bounty that will make him rich. Unfortunately that hasn't happened yet and he spends most of his time clutching his grumbling stomach. He's really a good guy though, despite his gruff appearance and goes out of his way to be a gentleman in every situation. Some of the other characters in the show include Saya, another sweeper with a heart of gold, Rinslet, a famous thief, and Eve, a biological weapon with high destructive capabilities.
We were introduced to this fascinating cast in the first volume and got to see some of the inner workings of their relationships. Train got the most focus though as he began to ask himself why he has killed without remorse for his whole life. It was his meeting and bounty hunt with Saya that prompted these feelings to surface but when he bumped into Sven during an assassination attempt on Eve that's when he crossed the line. Sven, Rinslet, and Eve were interesting characters for sure but it was seeing Train's transformation that proved to be the most engrossing.
The second volume picks up right where the prior one left off with Train reporting into Chronos and resigning from his position. As with all evil organizations though you can never truly "leave" so before long other Numbers of Chronos come looking for him to "persuade" him back into their ranks. Creed, the guy who seems to have a crush on Train, volunteers to go find him and talk to him. The two fight it out and it appears as if Train won the battle when the dust settles...or did Creed let him? It's not really sure because Creed has an ace up his sleeve that he uses on other Chronos agents but not Train.
After a while even more Numbers come after Train though they are partly coming for Creed as well due to a betrayal. The battle is intense and in the end Creed reveals that he's attempting to recruit Train for his own secret organization. His ultimate goal is not brought to light but he is still infatuated with Train to the point of homicidal jealousy.
After a bit of time passes (keeping away from some spoilers here) Train winds up in the care of Sven and Eve. He's recovering from some injuries sustained the previous night and it turns out that Eve, the bio-girl that he previously tried to kill, was actually the one to save his life. Train's character continues to evolve in this volume and he seems to be making the turn from anti-hero to all out good guy. His development has become the driving force for Black Cat and it's a good reason to keep tuning in.
Now that the characters have been introduced and the plot has had more room to grow I feel that Black Cat has become a stronger show. This volume takes some rare risks with the storyline and they pay off in a big way. Train's character has gone from being moody and distant to being caring and prominent. It is still too early to judge the series entirely but if the rest keeps the story moving like this one did this is one to be reckoned with.
Black Cat is presented with a 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 sense of style and fluid animation we have become accustomed to from Gonzo. This volume featured a bit of compression in the transfer and they are accentuated by the darker elements during a couple of episodes. Other than that there were no glaring faults to be found with the video quality. This is one that is definitely pleasing on the eyes.
As is the case with most all anime these days Black Cat gets an English 5.1 presentation along side of pair of stereo tracks for English and Japanese. Like the first volume this one features very strong audio quality in each of the selections. The 5.1 track offered quite a lot of depth during action sequences and the sense of immersion was pretty good. At other points the use of rear channels was minimal with some dialogue and music being improved only slightly. It's still more diversification than you'll get out of the 2.0 stereo track though.
The thing that impressed me most about Black Cat's audio was the way the music was implemented. The first volume used it intelligently to convey emotion and a sense of drama. Fortunately the same trend continues with this installment as well.
Once again 5.1 Surround Sound is apparently an extra feature. Aside from the audio selection there are only textless songs and a few trailers to take a look at. Once again Black Cat's supplemental material is on the disappointing side of the scale.
Black Cat has become one of the most interesting shows that I have seen recently. The four episodes in this second volume pushed the concept of the series in a new direction and really improved my opinion of it. I mean, I liked it before but after the risks that were taken in this installment I was really impressed. The action is good and the continuous story is becoming more intriguing but the real selling point for me is Train's development. His metamorphosis from cold blooded assassin to the guy to root for is the biggest reason for my endearment towards Black Cat. Based on this volume I'm going to give it a high recommendation but we'll see where future releases take Train and his messed up world.
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