Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Armed with Creed's current location, Train strikes out on his own to exact his vengeance on the man who killed Saya. However, after an encounter with a Saya lookalike in the mountains, he decides to rejoin his compadres, and with a fleet of fellow sweepers, sets out for the island where Creed and his Apostles of the Stars are hanging about. The Chrono Numbers aren't exactly lazing around either, and the island quickly becomes the site of a three-way battle. Eve tries to set air-manipulating brat Leon on the straight-and-narrow, Sven tries to protect women according to his "gentleman's code," the sweeper team tries to find a little girl's parents, and Train finally comes face-to-face with his nemesis and would-be bosom buddy Creed. Yes indeed, a showdown does seem to be in order.
To say that Black Cat is a bad show wouldn't be fair to its sporadically endearing qualities, but it certainly isn't a good show either. And winding itself up to fever pitch, serving up its big climax a full three episodes before the end of the series, doesn't change that. The endearing qualities are in place, from the supporting cast—particularly Eve and Sven—to the weird yet amusing insertions of humor. But so too is the series' overriding mediocrity.
Train's transformation from stone-cold killer to compassionate champion of the underdog has long since been completed, and with it goes the series' harder edge, laid dead alongside much-missed catalyst Saya. The new Train falls dishearteningly into established shounen stereotypes, and acts accordingly, using only non-lethal violence and spouting "this is my way of living" rubbish with the best of them. The first episode is a throwaway tale of mysterious goings-on in a mountain village whose sole purpose is to teach Train the importance of "comrades." It's a pointless and obvious episode, and the rest of the volume follows suit, presenting a series of battles, each with it's own tired message—friendship, the true meaning of partnership, the sweeper way—which are not only demonstrated, but voiced in the plainest of language, as if it's viewers were all clinically certified twelve-year-old idiots who haven't watched the exact same thing a thousand times before. Just try suppressing the gag reflex when the show tries to force moldy old lines like "this is what sweepers are all about" (helping people, you see) or "real comrades give you the strength to care about others" down your throat. The show isn't shy about throwing other cliché stinkers into the fray—maniacally laughing maniacs and helping hands from the ghosts of fallen comrades—making itself even less palatable.
Of course no one watching is really all that concerned about such silly trifles as originality and subtlety. What're really important are the fights. And what about them? Well, they might be okay, if it weren't for the fact that director Shin Itagaki is apparently desperate to rescue the story from mediocrity via visual invention alone. The nonlinear editing, extreme angles, and shifting colors superficially recall the stylistic earmarks of visual innovator Akiyuki Shinbo, but lack the dream logic and gothic resonance of his best efforts. Instead the fights here are confusing blurs of constantly morphing visuals, canted camerawork, and sliding polygons of prime colors. Characters zip and stretch across the screen, clashing and flying about all higgledy-piggledy while Itagaki plays around with temporal continuity, rendering crucial battles as meaningless jumbles of abstract imagery, minus the eye for composition that would make them at least aesthetically pleasing, if not sensible. Disinterest in the characters further undercuts potential tension. Train never was the most prepossessing personage, and many of the battles are based around characters whose collective screen time previous to this batch of episodes wouldn't fill a Looney Tunes short. It's no coincidence that the most effective battle is also that of the series' most interesting and sympathetic character, Eve—though the fact that it is also edited to something resembling continuity probably helps.
Other than the frantic attempts to distinguish itself stylistically, Black Cat's animation is purely basic. Action scenes are a literal what's-what of animation shortcuts, from the sometimes painfully clumsy use of stills and the backgrounds obscured by blurring speed lines, to the epileptic flash-cut editing used to cover the basic lack of movement. The occasional camera movement spices it up a bit, but there is none of Gonzo's trademark eye-popping CGI. The thoroughly boring character designs aren't exactly a boon either, and though the background artistry is good—and quite detailed—it is never used to any noticeable end other than disposable eye-candy. It's rather a disappointment when the artistic highlights of an entire volume are a snakeskin jacket (Echidna's) and an uber-cute green-eyed tot.
The music is a good mix of simple instrumentals, techno backbeat, orchestral bombast, and overwrought operatic vocals that is used primarily as invisible background support, except during the fights. During which, Itagaki throws everything that composer Taku Iwasaki has to offer at the audience. The score is fairly interesting to listen to, as one would expect from the skilled Iwasaki, but its use is strictly by-the-books, so it ultimately makes little lasting impression. The opening remains unchanged, while the first ending (and its cat-versions of the characters) has been replaced by a less than entirely successful attempt at melancholy.
That Funimation's dub for Black Cat doesn't compare well with their better efforts shouldn't be blamed on them. This is an unusually faithful (for Funimation) adaptation that, while it changes the dialogue freely, sticks closer to the subtitle script than many of their other works. Given the drivel they so often have to spout as a result, it isn't surprising that there is a certain lack of enthusiasm on the part of the cast. This isn't a blanket damnation—it's never less than professional and often works just as well as the original—but certain aspects, specifically Creed's insanity and Leon's ferality, simply aren't convincingly communicated in the English version.
The series still has Eve and its amusing use of cinematic discontinuities during jokes (there's a running-into-a-fist gag that's pretty good), but this climax-before-the-climax is a sloppy mess of worn, half-hearted clichés and unexciting fights hamstrung by needless and confusing stylistic flourishes. Without the burnt-out hit-man in moral crisis this is a straight-up shounen fighting show, and with so many superior examples of the genre out there, it's difficult indeed to see why anyone should continue watching this.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C-
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : B
+ Eve is interesting; some jokes are kind of funny; isn't terrible.
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