Sentai Filmworks // 2009 // 325 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Steve Power // November 28th, 2010
Welcome to the Unholy Land.
Based on some kind of video game that never saw life outside of Japan, A "Wii Visual Novel" dubbed 428: Fusa Sareta Shibuya de, Canaan tells a tale of rogue hitmen, a strange virus, and people with giant bear head masks who's eyeballs explode when said masks are removed. Yes, it could only be Anime, but it just might be worth a look if you dig guns, hot chicks, quirky characters, and action.
Director Masahiro Ando (Sword of the Stranger) brings us a tale of assassins with superhuman abilities brought on by "Blended Senses," a by-product of genetic warfare. Our heroine, Canaan, ventures to Shanghai, China, only to come face to face with Alphard, her former partner and present nemesis. Caught in the middle are journalist Minoru Minorikawa and his lovely photographer, Maria Osawa. Maria, it seems, has a foggy history with Canaan, and Minoru smells a story after witnessing a running gun battle during a lavish street festival. There's also a virus called the Ua Virus, some bizarre side characters including a J-pop singing psychotic cab driver, and a young couple who seem to be attempting to aid those infected by the virus. At the core of it all is the war brewing between Alphard and Canaan, and it is a doozy.
I was completely unfamiliar with Canaan when it showed up in my mailbox, but one name immediately stood out when I glanced over the credits: director Masahiro Ando. Ando's most known work -- outside of working under some of anime's best creative minds as a key animator and storyboard artist -- was the 2007 Samurai Anime epic, Sword of the Stranger. I state, without any hesitation whatsoever, that this particular film is easily the single greatest animated film I have ever seen (seriously, forget Pixar or Disney!) so it was with nervous excitement, and ever so slight a trembling hand, that I slid the first disc into my player.
What followed wasn't what I would call a revelatory experience, but it certainly made an impression. First and foremost is the action, which is wonderfully staged, well animated, and never anything but completely entertaining. The first episode takes awhile to get rolling, but once it hits, the series just steamrolls. Each and every encounter is a whirlwind of gunfire and style. The chaos factor ramps up accordingly, and by the end there are some real stunners.
The animation does a fine job of keeping pace, though it doesn't quite reach that 'world class' level the very best of TV anime does. It's upper tier stuff to be certain, but other big budget shows out there in recent years have looked considerably better in motion.
The technical presentation, however, is virtually perfect. The softer color palette is perfectly rendered, with a naturally grainy look that suits the style of the show very well. The English and Japanese voice tracks both boom and shift around your living space accordingly, making for a lively and immersive sound mix for whichever language you prefer. The English dub is also very well executed for those who prefer that approach. This is great work all around.
The only extras are the usual clean opening and closing animations with their accompanying tunes, and there's "Minokawa's Report," which is basically a promo piece that introduces the characters and gives you a rundown of the events of the show. It's also chock full of spoilers, so don't touch it until you're done with the series itself.
Unlike Black Lagoon or Cowboy Bebop, Canaan doesn't really attempt to live outside of its anime box; the excellent direction and solid animation may appeal to neophytes when the violence hits, but the plot is just too 'out there' to really cross any borders. There are a ton of funny names, bizarre character quirks, and some logical gaps that feel more like chasms; all calling cards of your average anime series. If you don't know your Ghost in the Shell from your Samurai Champloo, just keep on walkin' pal.
Canaan is hardly going to replace genre classics like Cowboy Bebop, but its collection of wonderfully choreographed violence, interesting characters, and twisting plot threads makes it a worthwhile series for fans of action-based anime. Masahiro Ando proves beyond a doubt that he's definitely an anime director worth watching, and Sentai has turned out another fine DVD collection.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Sentai Filmworks
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Clean Open/Close