So many titles coming out. It's both frustrating and exciting at the same time. So I asked a collector whether he had any interesting titles to recommend. And his response was to hand me this one. And interesting it certainly is.
Running for her life through the darkened streets of a city is a young girl. Her life having been shattered when she saw her mother, who turned out to be deeply connected with a insanely powerful criminal syndicate known as millenion, gunned down before her eyes. She flees from vengeful overlords, violent goons, vigilant informers and even unstoppable monstrosities created by warped science who she knows see her death as part of "sweeping" the remnants of an old issue away. Only one man can save her, the once man known as Brandon Heat who has sacrificed himself to protect what is precious to him.
And then we cut to another story, a bunch of young hooligans living on the rough outskirts of this un-named city. One of them is a charismatic type, their nominal leader, who is even at this young age clever and perceptive. Another is his silent but loyal friend, a skilled fighter and with a deep-seated courage, who he has known since childhood. Times are tough in this city, but by relying on each other and their friends they survive and even thrive. But, as they are about to discover, theirs is an unstable existence with danger ever ready to shatter what they have.
The essence of this title comes from the fact that both stories are the same. Danger forcing people to make choices, to change, and to become things they could not have imagined in their youthful innocence. And this young girl is going to trigger the final chapter of the story, that will see at least one life, and likely many more than that, come to a violent end.
Wow, this is sort of cool, certainly a hell of a lot cooler than I expected. Because the first episode is full on teenage superhero stuff. When we first meet Brandon Heat he's clearly the super-powered product of some weird science. Scarred, one eye dominated by a pair of cross-hairs, dressed like some sort of gothic cowboy and wielding a variety of cool weapons as he takes out the threatening monsters. It was sort of cool to watch but pretty corny at the same time. I've seen enough "super powered gun toting badass" animes to realise that they end up going nowhere most of the time.
Then this title throws me for a loop. We get to discover something of the youth of Brandon Heat. I was expecting an episode, perhaps two, detailing his creation story. How he became a superhero. But I realized they were going to spend a whole heap of episodes, well over 60% of the show, on doing the whole story. Not even particularly focusing on the power he has, but more on the history and events that shaped the environment, the person, and the opponents he now faces. Sweet, a real story, now I'm interested.
Things look even better when I realise the story is pulling me in. The backdrop to the story is the world of organized crime. It almost feels like a Japanese take on American mafia movies. Perhaps a re-interpretation of the godfather seen through Japanese eyes and anime sensibilities. I don't know for sure, I haven't seen that many mafia movies, but it's certainly a rich genre to draw from. Lots of opportunities for insight, for characters, for violent action balanced against kindness, for cruelty balanced against loyalty. And this title does a pretty good job of bringing out a whole bunch of characters and looking cool while it does it. It's not exactly unfamiliar, but there's some nice twists and a quite involving plotline that keeps you always wanting to know what happens next.
I'm also delighted to have a title that shows a lot of male characters that balance strength with depth. At the moment there's a Neilson rating out showing that young males (18-35) are fleeing from television in which they find no role models that appeal to them. Strangely enough there's lots here with Big Daddy, Bear Walken, both Tokioka's and of course Brandon, Harry and Maria all being really interesting characters. Even though all of them are deep in crime, murderers or even insane there is still something relevant in the way they think and act. Even the boss of a race fixing business has enough character to act as a formative influence on Brandon.
The core of the story comes down, as these stories do, to how people respond to the allure of power. After all the essence of Mafia stories is that the boss has immense resources that transcend societal bounds. If he wants something then he can get it, if someone stands in his way they can be removed, it's clearly an intoxicating feeling. One character represents power used for security, one represents power as a goal in itself and one represents power bound by responsibility. And these forces, inevitably, become somewhat corrupt within themselves as well as in conflict with each other.
Of course layered on top of this story is the "monster" component. There exists in the story a powerful technology that can make monsters of men. This power is revealed in episode 1, we get to follow its development through the story, and it underpins what is clearly going to be a bunch of "boss" fights as the characters are matched against each other in the conclusion. As a power it's sort of silly, but what the heck, at least it's only an extender of the story rather than the main course.
I'm being a little bit generous here perhaps. The story is not exactly original, the writing is a little bit obvious and hamfisted at times, the requirements for monster action are a bit onerous and the story needs some unlikely co-incidences to work. But it is much stronger plot and character work than I had any reason to expect and I found it quite powerful and enthralling to get dragged into the life of these characters.
And now that I've seen it to the end it both didn't surprise or disappoint. There's the expected super powered monstrosity fights as all of the names and events play out their scenes. The monsters are very silly, the fights are sort of cool and the body count guarantee's there's not going to be a sequel. And then, in the last two episodes, it becomes sombre, wistful and character based as the two leads reflect on the journey they've taken. It's a touch overdone, and a touch of whiny over-acting from a certain individual (who doesn't have time to really develop a full personality so late in the show), but as for the series as a whole it is not without a certain power. A power I really didn't expect from such a basic and silly premise.
Looks great too. The opening track and montage is classy in itself but the overall quality is very solid. A bit dark, as suits the sort of time when these sorts of characters work, but very well represented and animated. Action scenes, both monstrous and gunfights, have style, tactics and express movement well. The design work, setting and effects animation is likewise good and really adds a sense of depth to the story. The characters are strongly designed (looks like a homage to a manga source) which means that at times they don't animate easily, but it all works out. Music, as indicated, is excellent and some of the voice work is very strong. The wide range of voices and high average quality really does add a lot to capturing the respective characters. Really extremely watchable and sometimes just downright impressive animation. Their ability to do a quiet scene, unexpected in such a violent anime, really does make the story feel even deeper than the script might indicate.