Canaan is a modern-day mystery/political thriller with an intriguing premise for superpowers: survivors of a supposedly incurable bioweapon develop special abilities. The series is actually a sequel to a Japanese video game entitled, 428: Fūsa Sareta Shibuya de, which has no English translation. I'm not certain whether playing this game increases the effectiveness of this 13-episode series, which hits a lull after the halfway point that it never recovers from.
When photographer, Maria Osawa, and magazine journalist, Minoru Minorikawa, arrive in Shangai, China to cover an international anti-terrorism conference, they find themselves entangled with a terrorist organization known as Snake--no relation to G.I. Joe's Cobra. On their first night there, in the middle of a street celebration, Maria is the target of an assassination attempt. She's rescued for the first time of many, by Canaan, a quiet, superpowered, terrorist fighter who seems to share some sort of past with the photographer.
Outside of being a highly trained fighter and marksman, Canaan sports some nifty abilities that aid her in battles. She is a synesthete who can smell sounds and hear colors. She can also see colors surrounding people that indicate whether they are enemies and also what they are thinking. The source of her powers stem from the Ua virus, a bioweapon that was used in a terrorist attack in Japan a few years prior. Supposedly, this virus kills its victims within hours and has no cure. However, that claim is quickly retracted. Survivors of the Ua virus, called Borners, mutate and many of them develop superpowers along with a flower-bloom like bruise on their body. Some mutate with no useful benefit, such as the cute side-character, Yunyun, who merely grows an extra appendix--a useless organ.
The leader of Snake, Alphard, a highly skilled fighter in her own right, spends a great deal of the series trying to kill Canaan. Alphard had some previous dealings with Canaan, which the latter half of the series expands on exhaustively. Alphard's second-in-command, Liang Chi, is one of the most delightfully weird villains I have seen. She hero-worships Alphard, who she refers to as her sister, and longs for her attention. Throughout the series, Liang Chi proves herself to be insane, angry, and sadistic--a trait magnified by how she treats her advisor, Cummings. He's in love with Liang Chi, but more often than not, he finds himself the target of her airsoft gun as she vents her frustrations. He meekly accepts this abuse as the price for desiring her. Any scene involving Liang Chi is guaranteed to be bizarre, but always fascinating.
Canaan is a tale of two halves. For the first half or so, Canaan sets up a great mystery and surrounds the plot with some phenomenal action sequences. And by phenomenal, I mean this series may have been better off just sticking with random, unexplained action sequences. In the second half, especially in the last few episodes, the entire series falls apart at the seams when it attempts to explain what's going on.
In every confrontation, the characters wax eloquently about their innermost feelings. Forget expressing these emotions with actions, body language or facial expressions. It's as if the writers did not trust leaving anything to viewer interpretation. Canaan and Alphard's motivations are fully vocalized leading to clumsy characterization that violates a fundamental rule of storytelling: show, don't tell. And even these motivations, as they are expressed, fail to be convincing, which still leaves you wondering why. As the characters babble on endlessly while they duel to the death, the dialogue is almost unintentionally hilarious. Nobody talks like this, especially in the midst of a life-or-death struggle. I'm not a lobbyist for ultra-realism in dialogue, but my suspension of disbelief is obliterated when characters give poetic, long-winded speeches while fighting on a helicopter ladder.
I failed to connect with any of the main characters. This is likely due the lack of a clear, strong lead character to build a cast around. The story focuses on Maria in the beginning, but she is an incredibly weak character. This style of a weak lead who relies on more powerful characters can work, but Maria's happy-go-lucky and na´ve personality is much better suited for a secondary supporting character. She's like a slightly smarter and less clumsy version of Mihoshi from Tenchi Muyo. Maria is fine for comedic relief, but she does not have enough substance to warrant a co-lead in this story.
The main story switches focus between Maria and Canaan, who is stoic, monotone, and rather boring. Canaan is a much better candidate for the lead character, with her superpowers and mysterious past, but there is just nothing compelling about her personality or her goals to make viewers like her. She was much more intriguing in the beginning of the series as a mysterious side character that saves Maria's any time her life is in danger. Even though Canaan is a physically strong character and potentially a much better lead than Maria, the series loses momentum in the second half when it focuses on Canaan and her past with Alphard.
Simply put, this show is boring. Canaan becomes a chore to watch with its overbearing, melodramatic, dialogue-heavy scenes. Were I not reviewing this set, this is the type of series that I would put back on the shelf without ever caring how it ends. The art is exceptional and the action is intense--I loved the homage paid to The Matrix in one of the firefights. Canaan may appeal to anime fans that want a visual treat and just like watching people shoot guns, but beyond that this series is subpar.
Audio: There is an English 5.1 track and a Japanese 5.1 track included in this set. I listened exclusively to the English dub and have no complaints about the sound quality. There is a lot of directionality featured in the action sequences. The dialogue is crisp and played across the front stage to match the onscreen sequences. The dub is fine for what it is. I get the impression that Shelley Calene-Black, who plays Canaan, was not given much to work with. The script calls for her to be monotone and drone out her lines, making for a very dull character.
Video: This series looks amazing, featuring a nearly flawless transfer in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The colors are vivid but do not overwhelm the image, which needs to be toned down to match the feel of the mostly serious action/mystery. There are very minor instances of pixelization that are barely noticeable. Canaan is an example of how CGI should be mixed in with the animation. CGI is used in many scenes, but it looks good and matches the art style and blends in without being a jarring distraction.
The female characters in Canaan are the focus, and it shows. They each look unique and are drawn with loving detail. The two most prominent male characters, Minoru and Santana, appear to be mere placeholders. You can almost see the blank spot on the frame that says, "Insert generic male character here." If not for Minoru's facial hair, I would have had difficulty distinguishing the two characters. Regardless of the uninspired male characters, this is definitely a DVD that highlights how awesome anime can look.
Extras: The Extras include trailers and clean openings and closings. Also included is Minorikawa's Report a12-minute short presented as Minoru's feature about his experiences in Shangai, China. It is basically a spoiler-filled, clip-show highlighting the events of the series.
Bottom Line: Canaan begins with promises of glory, featuring a ton of action, a deepening mystery, and characters that are potentially awesome. I was stoked about this show and eagerly devoured each episode through the first half of the series. In the end, however, Canaan fails to deliver on its vast potential. The momentum of the show hits a lull a little after the halfway point where the story quickly devolves into introspective, emo nonsense. What began as a fun and intriguing series becomes a drugless cure for insomnia. Rent It if you just want to see anime babes shoot guns or if you need a good night's sleep.