A Spark to Ignite the Flames.
Witch Hunter Robin is the newest anime to hit the scene, marrying a smooth mix of CGI backgrounds and expertly drawn characters battling witches in modern-day Japan, with a mix of powerful sorcery and cutting-edge technology.
Sounds cool, doesn't it? And it is, most certainly, but it has its problems. The first five episodes, albeit stylish and intriguing, fail to develop the characters into anything but one-dimensional outlines. Worse, the level of action is inconsistent and the pacing is too slow to inspire viewers to purchase the next volume of episodes.
But dang, it's got style.
Facts of the Case
Like a futuristic version of X-Files, an organization called STN investigates and contains witch activity, in an effort to make a stand against the rising tide of arcane powers and witchcraft surfacing throughout the world, a growing threat towards humanity.
In Japan in particular, the situation has begun to spiral out of control. New witches emerge every day, and the very fabric of society is threatened by this outpouring. STN-J (the Japanese branch of STN) takes the fight to the streets; its "hunters" (those gifted with arcane skills) fight the witches and pursue them wherever they may hide.
A young girl, Robin, raised in an Italian monastery, is the newest member sent by STN Headquarters to aid the fight against the unholy army in Japan. Her arrival, however, is not a smooth one; both the STN-J and Robin are intensely wary of one another, and immediately, the tension mounts.
As a priest, she has a very disciplined and strident view of the world, especially towards witches and witchcraft. To say the least, the Japanese branch of STN has a…different way of doing things than back at headquarters.
For one thing, rather than kill them, they capture their witches—alive.
Robin's powers are formidable compared to her teammates. Rather than use technology, she uses magic to fight the witches on their own terms, and her skills far outshine the other members. However, these skills are exponentially dangerous and grow with each passing day, increasing the danger to her teammates and the suspicion surrounding her.
With this newest Hunter on the team, the STN-J continue the fight against the rapidly increasing onslaught of witchcraft and magic surfacing; however, it becomes clear that the odds are not in their favour—there are many, many witches, and only a few STN-J members…
Witch Hunter Robin represents a strange mix of religion and scientific prowess utilized to catch and contain a growing witch population. This introductory DVD contains the first five episodes of the series. The story itself is decent, but the character development is nonexistent, and the action is oddly paced, often very reserved, very casual, and as a result dramatic tension can fail to materialize. Rather than focus on the action elements, it focuses on the detective elements—the gathering of data in order to triangulate the location of witches, and so on.
The show has style oozing out of the ying-yang, but it fails to capitalize on the best elements—teenage girls that light stuff on fire, guys with big trench coats shooting fancy chemical bullets at witches that have bizarre powers—instead, it feels more like an episode of Law and Order: Special Witches Unit, except that that show only exists in my mind.
The quality of animation is very good and stylized, and the animation is fluent and impressive on the eyes. The backgrounds are often CGI with a few exceptions, of course, such as moving elevators—when they go heavy on it, it starts to get a bit corny. Character designs are excellent, but some of the STN-J team fail to stand out from the others, and overall, only Robin and Amon linger in the memory as unique.
High marks for visuals; Witch Hunter Robin looks very good to the eyes. Browns and grays and earth tones are well represented, and the reds are murky and ominous. The CGI gets a bit irritating at times, but thankfully, it blends very well with the feel and look of the show. Detail is sharp and contrast is well balanced—all in all, it looks great.
It also sounds great—the mix is atmospheric, with strong bass and well-defined dialogue, and the subtle use of sound effects is very effective in creating tension. Two audio tracks, a Japanese language track and an English language dub, are present in the disc, and the best part is how similar they sound. This is a credit to the production level of the disc; often, anime DVDs skimp out on the original language tracks, choosing to beef up the English dub to market it in North America, and leave the native language track buck-naked. Even better, the English dub is actually passable, though purists rarely watch anime dubbed. They both sound good to the ears, and no matter which you pick, rest assured, the subtitles are good and make proper grammatical sense.
Extras on Witch Hunter Robin: Arrival include a textless opening and ending, STN-J Personnel Files (useful for keeping track of the characters), a Maelfica Compendium (see previous), reversible cover, and the obligatory credits and trailers. A few minutes with these extras and you realize the offerings go about as deep as a wading pool. Still, given the normal array of extras from a single DVD in an anime series (think of a number between zero and nothing), the offering is pleasing and fairly acceptable.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Sunrise has had a hand in some amazingly good anime in the past (Cowboy Bebop, The Big-O, Mobile Suit Gundam, Inuyasha, and on, and on) so my expectations for Witch Hunter Robin were high. Sadly, the five episodes failed to intrigue me the way that I had hoped. As stated before, the action is fairly slow, the drama ineffectual, and the characters fail to stand out as memorable in any significant way.
Okay, granted; only the first five episodes are included here, but does not the first disc in an anime set "make or break" the show, in terms of consumerism? I mean, if I, as a consumer, after watching the first disc of Witch Hunter Robin, do not feel compelled with the feverish madness to get in my car, frantically drive at 80mph to the store on release day, hip-check an old lady to the ground to get in line, and anxiously buy the next disc in the set—well? Has the job been done? Am I hooked?
Suffice it to say; I am not hooked. But I shan't lambaste the entire series, either. I have watched enough anime to know that a two-season, 26 episode series usually takes a long time to get developed—lots of very slow, very drawn out character and plot developments. They just take their darn time.
However, I am, how you say, nonplussed so far. But I shall reserve judgment for the next disc(s), because the show has a measure of inherent coolness to it.
But I sure won't be hip-checking any old ladies in the process, let me tell you. And in my books, that's definitely a "con."
A very cool idea with a sluggish delivery, Witch Hunter Robin has some cool ideas, some great art, very good DVD production—it just suffers in the development and pacing areas enough to cripple the momentum—at least, in these five episodes. Hopefully, better days ahead for the series.
Despite its flaws, the show does show some promise, and is definitely a series to watch in the future. For those questing for something new in anime, Witch Hunter Robin is worth a look, for sure.
The court has some reservations about the long-term development of Witch Hunter Robin as a well-rounded, powerful series, but the production values and coolness factor cannot be ignored.
Only time will tell if the show can develop into a strong show, but in the meantime, if lots of guys in black trench coats shooting fancy liquid bullets at witches with crazy powers and teenage girls that makes things catch on fire interest you?—Well, check out Witch Hunter Robin.
(Also, the court does not recommend driving to the store at 80mph or hip-checking old ladies—unless they cut the line.)
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