Sentai Filmworks // 2008 // 325 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Steve Power // July 25th, 2010
"This assassin is truly frightening indeed..." -- FBI Agent Regan
The long running Manga series' latest animated incarnation makes its way to North American shores. Is Golgo 13 a shot worth taking? Or does it miss the mark?
Duke Togo is a professional assassin who specializes in the long range kill. There has never been another man who can handle a rifle like him. He never misses a target, never fails a job, and never leaves a witness. Presented here are the first 13 episodes of Golgo 13: The Series; 13 missions that will prove to you why Duke Togo -- code name: Golgo 13 -- is the greatest sniper who has ever lived.
Duke Togo has been around a while; originally created by Manga artist Takao `, he first appeared in printed form in the late 1960s, a sort of Japanese response to England's 007. His exploits as a hired killer spawned two live-action films in the '70s, including Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon, in which martial arts legend Sonny Chiba played the titular hitman. In the early '80s, an animated film called The Professional: Golgo 13 was amongst the first wave of "Japanimation" to hit North American shores. Duke is a grim, humorless character, with all of Bond's skills, and none of his charm. If James Bond exemplifies the adventurous high life of a spy in Her Majesty's Secret service filtered through the British mindset of post World War II, then Duke Togo is every bit the example of the Japanese mindset. He's the wandering Ronin, with a personal code of ethics and no need of charm or high society. His world is much darker, much more gritty, and much less of a cartoon.
Pop culture and pulp fiction are full of characters like Duke Togo; stoic silent types with minimal expression and even less visible depth, the sort of enigmatic loners who can embrace violence as a means to an end and kill with no compunction whatsoever.
Generally, the big problem with these stoic killing machines is that they lack any kind of a significant personality, making it much harder for them to carry a narrative as the central character. You either need a strong antagonist pushing against our brooding bad-ass, a compelling plot filled with twists and turns, or sheer spectacle propelling the action forward. Thankfully, Golgo 13 delivers. Golgo himself is very seldom the focus of an episode; he's always on the periphery, more like a force of nature than a protagonist. Our lead characters are usually the guys who hired Golgo, his targets, or the people picking up the pieces. When an episode hits that does place our titular marksman front and center, it usually has more to do with his methods and planning. When we see him in action, it's brief, and effective. The illusion of Duke Togo is that of bad-ass, never broken by the mundane, sharing just enough screen time that we don't get bored of him.
The writing is definitely the biggest strength of Golgo 13. The jobs Golgo undertakes are both logical and intriguing, and many of the characters are pretty engaging for the relatively short time they hang around. One episode in particular puts a NYPD Homicide detective in the spotlight, as he attempts to get to the bottom of the assassination of a powerful Wall Street tycoon. The Detective attempts to piece together events and circumstances with Duke sitting right there in the room as his prime suspect. It's an intense tale, and one of the stand outs in this universally strong collection of 13 episodes. Few animated series get to this level of creativity in writing, and seldom, if ever, does the show become routine or predictable, beyond knowing that Goglo 13 will successfully complete his contract.
As solid as the writing is, Golgo 13 is a bit of a mixed bag where the animation is concerned; movement is stiff all around, and there are quite a few scenes which consist of the classic anime "pan the camera across a still image" trick. Even gunfights are lacking in visual fluidity, with small details all but ignored. Saito's signature style is well represented, with characters looking as though they were pulled right from the manga pages, but backgrounds are sparse and not particularly well painted. The show does employ some competent CG for moving vehicles, and the use of gradient filters and added film grain works to the show's benefit. It's just a shame that the stiffly animated characters and their jerky movements don't hold up to more recent shows like Black Lagoon or classics like Cowboy Bebop.
Sentai Filmworks, born from the ashes of ADV Films, does a decent job with the disc. The English dub offered isn't the strongest I've heard, using an entirely different voice cast from The Professional: Golgo 13, which is a little disappointing considering most of those actors are still around (and still working regularly in the Anime genre). Still, the track delivers believable, if not exemplary performances which match pretty well to the original Japanese audio. The audio itself is a little quiet in both languages, coming off as a bit muffled, but the dialog is clear and sound effects do occasionally pack a punch. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer looks fine, if a little soft, though that's more likely a by-product of the original source's digital origin overlaid with haze effects and grain. There are no extras, save for the usual opening and closing credits minus the text.
While Golgo 13: The Series may be a far cry from the technical showpiece of the first animated Duke Togo back in the '80s, it's an amazingly well written mystery/thriller show with intelligent plots and an adult sensibility. A show well worth tracking down for fans of any kind of animation, Japanese or otherwise.
Looks aren't everything. Definitely not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Sentai Filmworks
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Textless Open/Close