Funimation // 2009 // 650 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // May 3rd, 2012
Forced to kill. Fighting to live.
This 26-episode anime series is actually the third incarnation of the story of a reluctant assassin created by Japanese computer game maker Nitroplus. The original visual novel game, called Phantom of Inferno, debuted in 2000 and was followed in 2004 by Phantom: the Animation, a direct-to-DVD three-part movie. This 2009 anime series lies between the crossfire of similar hired killer stories La Femme Nikita and Leon: the Professional but its plot twists and moody look give it its own identity.
A young man awakens with no memory but he has a strong will to survive. He was a simple Japanese traveler in America but after witnessing a killing, he is chased by the assassin. His ability to evade his pursuer gains the attention of a sinister scientist called the Scythe Master who believes he can draw out the man's natural killer instinct. Forced to become an assassin for the international crime syndicate known as Inferno, the man is named Zwei (Newton Pittman) and placed under the tutelage of Ein (Lindsay Seidel), a young girl who is also called the Phantom because of her reputation as Inferno's top assassin.
The first story arc, told in roughly ten episodes, covers Zwei's training and his first missions with Ein as Inferno establishes itself on the U.S. west coast against the mafia. Claudia (Colleen Clinkenbeard, Rin: Daughters Of Mnemosyne), an executive member of Inferno, sets her sights on Zwei and tries to win his loyalty by letting him know his true identity. Scheming and betrayals pit Scythe Master and Claudia against each other while Ein and Zwei try to escape the organization together.
After reviewing many anime series for DVD Verdict, there is the pitfall of starting to feel there is a sameness to most of them. The art style tends to be in the same general ballpark, especially for television series, as are the narrative themes and the voice acting. Fortunately, Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom has a few unique ingredients that drew me in, and after a few episodes I was decidedly invested in the outcome of its characters.
Zwei's bewilderment at his situation and his desperation to have some control over it made him much more sympathetic than I have found most other anime protagonists. Newton Pittman's voice acting for Zwei is quite effective, especially the subtle difference between his internal dialogue and how he talks with other characters. I also enjoyed the character of Claudia who possesses the allure of a femme fatale and the cold decisiveness of a businesswoman determined to prove herself to the boys. It's not clear sometimes whether she's helping or deceiving Zwei and the way she's drawn and voiced helps us understand the young man's confusion.
The story is set in the U.S. and part of the show's unique look is its vision of America that seems to have come from a third-hand account of a description of the West from an old crime novel. The landscapes look like a hazy memory of a road trip movie redrawn in a somewhat contemporary era. If the characters didn't actually say they were in the U.S., I might not have placed the story there even though the settings have something familiar about them.
The series has the usual production shortcomings of a lot of anime titles. The character animation is often limited so the trick of camera pans over near-static artwork is regularly used. Framing also hides facial animation most of the time to avoid lip-syncing issues. Every episode has one big action scene and these are handled well with more active movement on screen. There is a lot of dialogue in this series and I often grew restless at the endless scenes of characters talking with only a few drawings repeated and reused.
The 26 episodes are spread across four DVDs and I was taken in by the plot twists and expanding scope of the story. The second story arc picks up months after a major confrontation and finds Zwei, now closely aligned with Claudia, named the new Phantom. Inferno has a foothold on the east coast and Claudia is leading the effort to make an alliance with the Goto crime family in Japan. However, a mysterious assassin is disrupting their negotiations and Zwei must smoke out the killer. He also takes a young girl, Cal Devens (Brittney Karbowski, Kanon), under his wing after her sister is killed in the crossfire of a mob hit. I was actually more interested in the characters during this middle stretch of episodes and the developments here lead into another story arc that finally wraps up their story. Telling the story in three major sections made it seem like these characters and their situations were evolving and that went a long way to keep my interest over the course of the full series.
FUNimation has released the complete series as a Blu-ray/DVD Combo package, however, we only received the standard-def DVDs for review. Comments regarding the technical presentation of the show reference only the DVDs.
Spread across four DVDs, the 26 episodes look quite good in a problem-free 1.78:1 anamorphic picture. Colors are slightly dull in the interior scenes but this appears to be a deliberate creative choice. The exterior scenes when the characters drive across the sun-baked American landscape, on the other hand, show nicely saturated colors. The English-language dub is mixed in a standard 5.1 surround soundtrack. As I said before, there is a lot of talking in this show and the dialogue is heard clearly though the surrounds haven't much to do. When the guns come out, the sound design is much more active. The English track is preferable over the 2.0 stereo Japanese track, which is noticeably quieter and doesn't have the same punch.
On two bonus DVDs, there is the usual collection of textless opening and closing credit sequences and trailers. More interesting, in my mind, is a sequence of Japanese television commercials detailing what special incentives are included in the limited edition DVD releases. Bigger fans of the show may be particularly interested in the dozen "picture dramas" shared between the two discs, each lasting several minutes. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles only, these are short segments that could possibly be viewed as outtakes from the main show but they're played for laughs with word play, misunderstanding or trivial complications being the focus of the characters' interactions. Animation is almost non-existent in these segments and the camera pans over static artwork is obvious. It feels quite tiresome when the facial expressions are constant while the voice actors are going through a range of emotions so these clips are only for the most ardent fans.
The usual roster of FUNimation voice talents can be heard on this English-language dub of the series and while I have always appreciated the company's quality re-recordings for North American audiences, I am losing patience for one type of character that is too common in these productions. That is the young and hyper-talkative girl with blond pigtails who is meant to be both comic relief and a symbol of innocence. Brittney Karbowski voices Cal with the wide-eyed energy that is interchangeable with any other young girl anime character but it's not entirely her fault that the character feels out of place. At first, Cal seems designed just to fit that pixie role when she should really be a darker and more street smart character. It's also unfortunate that she is drawn to look so young when the script requires her to be both a little sister and a love interest to Zwei. Seeing the matured killer develop a vaguely romantic interest in the bouncy little girl with pigtails is slightly uncomfortable.
Despite the script's reliance on long scenes of exposition to develop the story, Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom manages to be an exciting drama about gangsters, assassins and free will. Some interesting characters and a stylized view of America as rendered through the anime lens sets this show apart from other cartoon epics. The DVDs look and sound quite good so we expect the Blu-ray Discs won't disappoint.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Footage
* Clean Open/Close
* DVD Copy
* Wikipedia: Phantom of Inferno