Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
El Cazador de la Bruja
DVD - Season 1 Part 2
A little wiser, a little more wary, but no less determined to make their way to Wiñay Marka, Nadie and Ellis continue south. As their chance partnership slowly deepens into something richer and more important than either would readily admit, neither is aware that even that factors into the nefarious scheme brewing inside government scientist Douglas Rosenberg's rotten skull. Unfortunately for him, other kinds of rot—namely his rotten dealings with rotten politicians—end up derailing his scheme when his corrupt political support, as corrupt political support is wont to do, gets caught in a corruption sweep. Which changes Nadie and Ellis's situation irrevocably. With no one to protect Ellis from, Blue-eyes calls in Nadie, intending to take her off Ellis's case and Ellis into custody. Nadie, of course, refuses. Prompting Blue-eyes' handlers to come down on the pair hard. And if that—and a journey to an unknown destination—weren't enough, they haven't yet heard the last of Rosenberg...or his creepy sidekick L.A.
All directors have their little quirks and obsessions. Alfred Hitchcock had his icy blondes, John Woo has his doves, and Kōichi Mashimo, apparently, has his masked perverts and their evil rituals involving underage girls. Guess who ends this series bedecked in a glorified poncho and faux-Aztec headdress/helmet? No prizes for guessing Rosenberg.
Though calling what is essentially a po-faced sight gag an obsession is a stretch. It's more a reflection of the series' wry self-awareness than a directorial trademark. The lackadaisical good humor of Bruja's two leads, it seems, is quite infectious. Like Nadie and Ellis the series approaches every development with a secret smile and imperturbable calm. So good-natured is it that even its most elaborate cliché-dumps (and they get very elaborate) can be greeted with a chuckle rather than a grimace. Even in its final leg the series remains light and unhurried, an antidote, really, for the overwrought operatism of things like Madlax.
Of course, this being the end of the series, not all is wisecracking femmes and self-effacing parody. There are far more little threads of continuity running through the second half's standalone tales than ever there were in the first. There are Rosenberg's schemes and L.A.'s quest to free himself from them, the conspiracy of witches and Blue-eyes' ambitions, and, most importantly, Ellis's slow humanization. It's nice to see the secondary characters—Ricardo and especially Blue-eyes, but even L.A—finally stop floating through the series and start exerting an influence, but the real treat, growth-wise, is definitely Ellis. She's always been great, unflappable fun, but her illogical calm only becomes a full-fledged personality trait here as she accumulates emotions and relationships. There's a warmth to the little jokes about her personality that can only be described as satisfaction, perhaps even pride, at her maturation. Nadie on the other hand—aside from her deepening feelings for Ellis—doesn't change. But that's all right. She doesn't need to.
Of course, this also being El Cazador de la Bruja, such developments naturally happen in the most stubbornly episodic fashion possible. Continuous and even serious those plot threads may be, but they are firmly embedded within one-off stories about part-time taco-slinging and live vulture hunting. Even Ellis's emotional growth is episodic, happening as it does in short stories that may as well have titles like "Ellis Gets Mad," "Ellis Gets Jealous," or "Ellis and Nadie Have a Fight." Which is actually a lot more enjoyable than it sounds. The episodic structure works in the series' favor, keeping Bee Train's tendencies towards draggy drear firmly in check by containing the action to a single episode and focusing often on the silly or frivolous in Nadie and Ellis's journey. Add in a whiff of direction thanks to those trailing plot threads, and you have a firm good time.
Technically speaking the series remains rock-steady. Not rock-steady as in good, but rock-steady as in consistent. All of the series'—and indeed the studio's—trademarks make their way unblemished into the second half: the indulgent desert vistas are positively gorgeous, the action is sparing but expertly and fluidly staged, the pans over eyes and skewed, static compositions are long and slow, and the characters look better than perhaps any in the Bee Train oeuvre. The girls are the obvious draw, and wiry, athletic Nadie is an undeniable treat (those are some seriously cool boots), but the series' sexiest character may well be Ricardo with his granite good looks, flinty Eastwood stare, and Charles Bronson 'stache. Or maybe that's just me.
Yuki Kajiura's score is big, pretty and curiously good-humored. Keep an ear out for Ennio Morricone pastiches and a musical wink to Lowell Lo's iconic score for The Killer.
Funimation's dub displays flawless judgment. That is inarguable. But there's a slight limpness to it that hints that, while ADR director Christopher Bevin's brain is in it, his heart is not. That limpness was a little worm of worry throughout the first set, easily banished by the hammy villains that the dub graciously offered up as distraction. But as the major secondary characters take over, the worm grows into a rather conspicuous snake. Not that any are objectively poor—merely...off, as if in its determination to respect the original, the dub missed the joke: that the original doesn't respect itself. And with the joke goes much of the original's color.
Another episode-long commentary—with Bevins again, along with Ian Sinclair (Rosenberg) and Clarine Harp (Blue-eyes)—is the set's big extra. As per usual, as fun and dirt-filled as you could want (random fact: apparently Dragon Ball is really hard on actors).
Heading into its second half Bruja delves far more deeply into the explicitly supernatural and flirts copiously with shojo-ai. It's also a smidge less fun and a good deal more satisfying than previously. Nevertheless, the deciding factor in whether you will or will not enjoy Bruja's second half will very simply be whether you enjoyed its first. After all, its main draws—sly wit, great chemistry, and siesta-time pacing—remain absolutely unchanged. As do its deterrents (hello plot lines from ye 'ol slag heap o' pseudoscientific anime nonsense). Unhook that brain and enjoy the ride.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Great leads, high fun factor, and a real conclusion, complete with episode-long coda; more cohesive than the first half.
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