I’m a little annoyed that I’d never come across 009-1 before last year.
Written by Shotaro Ishinomori as a way to tackle stories beyond the shonen demographic familiar with Cyborg 009 etc, it’s an interesting premise where the cold war had continued well into the future. It gave me some Spy v Spy vibes (but with a bigger cast) and a more serious tone, as the futility of the war is very much front and centre across the series.
Right off the bat I’ll say that I was probably pre-disposed to enjoying this anime.
Not just because Ishinomori was behind the pen, but the 1960s-aesthetic (from OST to costume to architecture and weaponry), I loved it. Even things like the echoes of the space-race that appear across the episodes, right down to having (not only) Mylene’s pupils often shaped like little rockets.
Backgrounds and composition were two other highlights for me – it rarely seemed like a single episode passed where I didn’t enjoy some textured view of land or cityscape, or the choice of shot or framing. (Director Naoyuki Konno probably had some great manga panels to reference but I don’t know how close the series is to the source material).
I was also surprised a few times by the twists and turns here, and between plenty of action-based episodes there were some sad tales and stories that take-on big questions too, like perhaps Holy Night and POP or Exodus.
If you’re more well-versed with spy films and TV than I am, I think some of the moments that caught me off guard will be easier to spot.
Lots of fan-service too, mostly focused on beautiful girls and a lot of it fairly exaggerated, though sex and power (and to a lesser extent agency) are actually themes in 009-1.
But above everything else in this category, I cannot finish the review without mentioning the fembot ‘guns in their jubblies’ stuff, because in a pre Austin Powers world I can see it being a great twist but it ended up being comical to me, having seen Austin Powers before 009-1.
I will say that the opening episode does establish a bit of a false sense that the team of Agents will work together across the series, but the anime is mostly focused on 009-1 herself, and so if you’re expecting an ensemble show, this won’t do the trick.
Otherwise, one of my new favs and maybe a contender for the Top Ten. Maybe. Well, Top Twenty, certainly.
This is (another) show that I wanted to tick off my A-Z challenge list and so I’m glad I’ve made a bit more progress on the challenge there, but sadly, it seems that maybe Noragami is a show Bones has abandoned.
I guess the audience didn’t love it enough to buy the merch or other physical items, and obviously, the studio has to follow their cash cows in order to stay afloat in a crowded marketplace… but I left season two of Noragami ready for a third and it probably won’t happen, which bugs me.
Nevertheless, that’s the way it is.
And I should switch to the things I liked about those two seasons – while also attempting to complete a short review for a change 😀
Noragami mixes supernatural action with comedy and drama in an urban (but not grimy) setting that’s kinda shown via the rooftops and telephone wires as much as the shrines and streets, which I loved.
For me, the creatures and magic were always fun and I liked the designs for both them and the humanoid characters, but I think the characters themselves were my fav aspect.
The pacing and reveals (especially around Yato’s past) and storytelling did the work of keeping me hooked, and while I probably enjoyed the first season’s main storyline slightly better, I got a lot of satisfying answers in the second.
The contrast between Yato and Hiyori as leads works a treat for me but I think maybe I was drawn to the side-characters as much as those two – even the sullen Yukine, who is given a nice arc, and is actually a pivotal character that I could have really disliked, but I ended up pretty keen for him to succeed.
I haven’t said much in the way of specifics here perhaps… and so here’s one I wanted to mention: the hierarchy of Gods and the way they operate within the bounds of the human world was a big hook for me.
Hmmm, now that I’m just rolling off things I enjoyed, it might be time to wrap things up and just mention a few last aspects – Ebisu had an interesting close to his storyline, and while I would have loved more from Kofuku and Daikoku, I did get to know a reasonably large cast, which gave the show plenty of variety, I reckon.
If you like action, comedy and supernatural elements around Gods and related deities then this might just hit the spot.
[This is the latest entry in a challenge (that I hope to one day finish), where I have set myself the goal of watching something for each letter of the alphabet – you can see the list over here if curious].
Other names tend to grace lists of ‘favourite/best studios’ more often, but maybe it’s easy to forget that Studio DEEN can certainly pull out all the stops too.
And Read or Die has some cracking action sequences indeed.
On that note, everything really did feel fluid and vivid to me, with scenes usually full of exciting near-misses. I was usually glued to the screen, partially due to the direction, but also since ‘The Paper’ is a less typical heroine when it comes to action leads.
Her ability to use paper as both protection and weapon was fascinating, and that’s another aspect I really enjoyed. Her fights were less about brute force and more problem-solving, in a way. And the anime really casts an unreservedly wide net for its historical villains and their powers too – more unconventional stuff that was most welcome, especially if you’ve seen a whole host of classic choices for weapons or powers.
Now, if you haven’t seen Read or Die (as I hadn’t until quite recently) and you’re getting a superhero vibe from that previous paragraph, then that’s not precisely inaccurate, but ‘secret agents with super-powers’ is probably better. Here and there, I was put in the mind of other action shows but rarely enough to pull me out of the storytelling.
I will note that at times, Yomiko sounds like a lost lamb, which you could argue is meant to link to her role as a ‘bookworm’, and it’s an interesting contradiction to her character. She’s pretty cool under pressure but kinda goes to pieces over books – something which is usually played for laughs, but the OVA does feature a certain book as a MacGuffin to kick things off too. So literature is not just a comedic element.
As is my way, I haven’t said much about the premise or plot, but it’s very much classic ‘save the world’ stuff but with fantastic animation and very few ‘stock’ characters or settings. There’s also a fun steampunk aesthetic – something else I loved a lot about Read or Die.
Well, if you want to see Mata Hari, Genjo Sanzo and Ludwig van Beethoven (among others), battling it out with secret agent heroes with inventive powers, in an easy to digest 3-part OVA, then this is worth finding.
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Excited to (finally) get my second OWLS post up and running – we’re looking at ‘Folklore’ and the Supernatural for August – thanks again to the team for the opportunity to jump in 🙂
Witch Hunter Robin (2002)
Witch Hunter Robin was released right around a ‘heyday’ for live-action Supernatural television. In the late ‘90s, shows like Sabrina,Charmed, Buffy, Angel and the X-Files were reigning kings here (doubtless in the US too) and I think traces of those shows are clear in this series.
On the other hand, in anime, the Supernatural sub-genre has probably been more consistently popular, independent of US trends, but Witch Hunter Robin has plenty of European mythology and ‘US crime show’ mixed into its Japanese setting. You could argue, perhaps that it’s a bit like another Sunrise anime, Cowboy Bebop, in that respect (only).
And there are definitely a few production aspects that lock Witch Hunter Robin into that time-period too, but while one of them is a mark against the show, I’m considering most of them as drawcards, rather than issues 😀
Okay, so here’s a tiny note on the premise: the series follows young witch-hunter Robin of Italy, as she adjusts to the STN-J, a sophisticated and powerful organisation tasked with capturing rogue witches… and innocent people who have yet to manifest their powers.
Now, since I tend to think of myself as maybe slightly favouring Concept over Execution, I really enjoyed the PKD ‘pre-crime’ aspect to Witch Hunter Robin. And while what happens to witches and ‘seeds’ in the series is sadly similar to what authoritarian governments continue to do to minorities, I’d have loved a bit more critique of that system… still, it’s hardly glossed over.*
Visually, the anime makes me think of a slightly grimier noir. It’s an aesthetic that I could maybe argue that Grunge helped popularise, and which extended into the 2000s… or perhaps I’m reading too much into that, and it’s more apt to consider it as something director Murase Shukou likes to use?
In any event, if you enjoyed that and certain other things about his works (like Ergo Proxy, Gangsta and even Genocidal Organ) well, they also appear to varying extents here in Witch Hunter Robin. Especially I think, a fondness for shadow, of dark coats, mysteries and ‘slow’ pacing.
So, I just alluded to the pacing, and in terms of the ‘main’ storyline – you will have to wait a bit for it to really kick-in. There’s a fair establishing phase where ‘monster of the week’ plots provide the action and world-building, and only small hints of the big picture, interspersed with quieter moments for Robin and other characters.
The series does build up to something big, but depending on your general familiarity with science-fiction and supernatural tropes, I think you’d see most of those things coming. But I was hooked on the characters and the tensions between them so that was no problem for me.
Most folks in the team have their secrets and even some of the minor characters too, and so there’s definitely time spent there, which I liked. In fact, my favourite episode or moment was probably the one focusing on ‘Master’, the cafe owner – and if I think about it now, he probably makes a bigger impact than a few of the leads.
So, as I sometimes do – I’m switching to dot points in a hopeless token gesture toward brevity:
Unpacking and dealing with some of the issues and discoveries Robin and her partners faced did seem compressed toward the end, and so I can see that as a flaw, even if it didn’t bother me too much personally.
Robin herself is kinda morose, though she’s not without spark. But her (maybe) obvious depression is sort of echoed elsewhere in the series, and so I definitely consider it a feature rather than a bug.
It’s interesting how little in the way of dialogue Robin has in some episodes, you have to read into a lot from her expressions, which are also repressed.
While this isn’t a typical action anime, I noticed that the animation for those scenes at times didn’t always feel fluid compared to other shows.
CGI. Above any other issue here, I suspect a modern audience might have trouble with this one. It definitely adds to the general grimy and downbeat tone of the series, though most of it has aged quite poorly. Just two years later, things would be looking better in say, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, but neither anime resembles a new series with a high budget. Maybe it’s part of the charm for me, but it’s fascinating to note this would have been cutting edge in 2002. How fast technology moves, right?
The aspects around witchcraft, folklore and lineage was something I would have liked more of, and maybe that could have happened with a second season… but on the other hand, I like where Witch Hunter Robin ended too.
Character design stood out for me, as did costuming – even Robin’s courier moments. Mostly, I suspect I enjoyed all the ‘coats’ – not just your classic dark trench for the STN-J, but Robin’s more complex outfit or Nagira’s white fur, which really catches the eye.
Nagira himself quickly became a fav too, especially when Amon seems to occupy the role of ‘jerk’ for a little too long.
The opening song was pretty ace, very much of the era, and within the series itself I liked the sombre piano to Robin’s theme. While I mostly remember that piece, there’s also Flame which is plenty dramatic.
And finally, it’s recommendation time!
You’ll see that I’ve rated it the series a ‘5’ but that’s me – if you’re not me, which is pretty likely, then you might not enjoy this as much as I did.
Especially if you have trouble with old CGI or pacing that’s more Mystery than Action, or if you are drawn to more upbeat lead characters. However, if you like other works of Murase Shukou, noir-influenced supernatural shows, leads who are not precisely ‘open books’, then this might just appeal.
*[Bit of a spoiler perhaps] Nagira, who appears as the Yakuza lawyer, and who operates essentially as a criminal, is the one advocating for and protecting ‘seeds’ in Witch Hunter Robin.
And in an all too common reflection upon real life – you have a large corporation with government-level surveillance and a militant arm, which is obsessed with order and control, and thus ‘becomes’ the true villain.
And while Robin at first works for them, and maybe believes in their mandate, she eventually comes to rail against it all, with Nagira’s help.
Here’s a few examples of where the CGI reveals its age:
And now a few extra shots because I wanted to add them, basically 😀