Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Dec 29th 2009
El Cazador de la Bruja
DVD - Season 1 Part 1
Ellis is a mysterious street waif with a massive bounty on her head. Nadie is a world-wise bounty hunter with an agenda that isn't entirely bounty-related. The two are thrown together one day when Nadie captures Ellis, only to end up defending her against a slew of her less scrupulous peers. The two form a fast bond and begin traveling south, led only by an old fortune-teller's words and Ellis's vague feeling that something awaits her there. Along the way they learn much: of each other, of Ellis's supernatural powers, and of the forces that want them dead.
Puzzled about where to take their patented low-propulsion action after the glacial Madlax, the folks at Bee Train struck upon a brilliant solution: an action series that doesn't move at all. And thus El Cazador de la Bruja was born.
Marvel as Nadie and Ellis work part time at a cafe. Thrill as they take care of a little girl at a hotel. Hold your breath as they hang out in a deserted cabin and avoid the rain. One for the adrenaline junkies this is not. To be fair, nearly every episode ends in one form of violence or another, and a few of them—episode 12 with its take on The Gauntlet for instance—are almost what you might call action-packed. Nevertheless, the overwhelming impression the series makes is one of catatonic relaxation. Each episode unfolds with a carefree lack of momentum, drifting through events like Nadie and Ellis through their Latin desert. The overarching plot—a government conspiracy involving genetically engineered witches—is left to languish in the background, along with a great many apparently important secondary characters. And the action itself is brief and strangely devoid of tension, as if the laid-back tone of the series has infected the fighters. "Well," they seem to be saying, "we may be shooting at each other, but that's no reason why we should get all worked up."
It's a deeply odd approach to an action series, and one not without its charms. There's a laconic humor to the show that keeps it fun even as the lack of direction leaves you fuming. Nadie's wry sense of humor is never far from the surface, and Ellis's idiot-savant sangfroid can turn even the most desperate situation into something dryly funny. I mean, what kind of girl plays maracas while kidnapped? Elsewhere the series makes humorous hay of its own lack of ambition. One character, while attempting to infiltrate the evil megavillain's lab, retreats twice—once when her butt gets caught in the hole she's lowering herself through ("was it that last slice of cake?" she wonders) and again when she steps on her own glasses. The series even turns Bee Train's customary crawling pans and static compositions to comedic ends, applying them, for instance, to a spaghetti-western stare-down in which both participants are wearing big, dumb skeleton masks. Sure the show is dragging its feet, but it drags them most amusingly.
Bee Train's inflexible style doesn't flex here, but it does apply itself to different ends than usual. The top-flight background art—golden desert vistas and grimy little pueblos this time around—remain firmly in place, as do the staccato bursts of balletic action and interminable pans over eyes and vistas and pueblos. But the effect is entirely different. Rather than dripping menace, the series ends up exuding good-natured laziness. It's a curious phenomenon—an entirely different atmosphere stemming from the exact same atmospheric elements—and one that indicates Bee Train may be more versatile than their oeuvre of plodding, deadly serious action vehicles has thus far indicated. They also demonstrate a surprising facility for facial expression, communicating a vast range of bemusement with Nadie's expressive eyes and lips. Indeed Nadie proves one of the studio's most physically appealing characters in general, a lithe vision in hotpants and cowboy boots whose sarcastic personality bleeds from her every pore.
Yuki Kajiura has contributed countless hours of gorgeous bombast to Bee Train series, and she doesn't disappoint here. But like the visuals, her score, while no less explosive or any more sensitive, is nevertheless somehow more lighthearted. Maybe it has something to do with the cheeky harmonica themes, or the intentional goofiness that sneaks in on occasion. Regardless, it's one of her more enjoyable, if less beautiful, works.
Funimation's English dub makes all the right moves. It stays faithful to the original yet streamlines clunky—and spices up incidental—dialogue. It finds and preserves the core nature of each character's speech pattern, and even kits them out with polished versions of their original catchphrases. It's witty at times, particularly when covering for hairy translation problems. It includes snippets of Spanish to let you know just where you are (south of the border) without resorting to shoddy accents, and it even manages to pull off that embarrassingly catchy "Amigo Tacos" song that Ellis and Nadie are always singing. The decision to ham up the supporting roles—particularly a pair of transvestite bounty hunters—was a good one, and the main roles are thoughtfully cast and solidly acted. If there's one gripe, it's that Trina Nishimura's Nadie, while plenty spunky and pretty funny, misses by an indefinable hair the sardonic tone that made Shizuka Itou's performance such fun.
As is par for Funimation these days, the set's one major extra is a single commentary track, this time for episode one, with Nishimura, Maxey Whitehead (Ellis) and ADR director Christopher Bevins on commentary duty. The three manage to horn a respectable amount of behind-the-scenes info into their discussion (in addition to ample horsing around), and Bevins, bless his dub-directing heart, manages to sum up the series as well as anyone when he calls it the buddy comedy of Bee Train's informal girls-with-guns trilogy.
The last three episodes kick-start Bruja's plot, shifting the power dynamics behind Ellis and Nadie's journey and injecting some serious action into their leisurely wandering. But something tells me that, with the mid-point climax safely behind them, Nadie, Ellis, and their handlers at Bee Train will soon be returning to stand-alone stories about treasure-hunting mole-ladies and taco-selling hit men. Am I wrong for kind of looking forward to it?
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Relaxed, dryly funny action series based around a pair of fun, highly likeable leads.
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