Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 10th 2014
Episodes 1-12 Streaming
Minimum Holders are humans with special powers. Some twist of DNA gives them abilities beyond those of mere mortals, abilities that—so long as a certain condition is fulfilled—can be used however the Holder likes. Nice and Murasaki use their powers to solve mysteries. Together with fellow Holders Hajime, Birthday, and Ratio, as well as negotiator Koneko, they form the private investigation firm Hamatora, which takes on jobs to help the helpless—and thus has to be run from a table at the corner cafe (helping the helpless isn't hugely profitable). Along with smaller cases, they get mixed up in the investigation of the secret society Facultas and a brilliant serial killer who targets Minimum Holders.
Psychic powers—the sci-fi answer to magic—haven't been much in vogue these days. So there's a chance that anyone who lived through anime's psychic-powers epoch might have an acute nostalgic reaction to Seiji Kishi and NAZ's psychic-detective adventure. Really, it's the show's only hope. Nostalgia is all the show has to offset its formidable array of audience-abusing shortcomings.
To begin with: mystery abuse. Mysteries are the show's primary crutch. The show's main characters being PIs, most episodes bring them a new case (or sometimes two or three). The term "mystery" has to be applied fairly loosely of course. The cases are ridiculously easy to figure, and usually plain ridiculous to boot. The first episode sets the pattern, delivering three separate mysteries that are—as the dictates of amateur mystery-writing demand—actually one mystery. Which makes them too easy to puzzle through, and also allows the silly denouement to turn them all into the same stupid joke (albeit a fairly amusing stupid joke). Later cases involve a missing teacher who is clearly too good to be true (solved with the ol' "then who took the picture?" clue); a hostage crisis orchestrated, it turns out, to resuscitate the career of a fallen actor; and a mix-up involving the kidnapping of rival artists in which the culprit is insultingly obvious (and gets caught with the ol' "I heard something in the phone call with the kidnapper" clue). Even the show's main mystery—the Minimum-killer—is a dud. The show gives up on it halfway through, revealing both culprit and motive before heading into the excruciatingly bad game of cat-and-mouse that chews up the remainder of the series.
Next: character abuse. Here we're speaking mainly of two abusers: Nice and his nemesis Moral, the pointy-toothed mastermind of the Minimum murders. To be fair, there are no good characters in Hamatora; everyone is a one-trait wonder, and the show's idea of a brilliant character twist is to have the scary ex-mercenary (a recurring helper employed by the police) run an orphanage. But Nice and Moral are special. Nice is one of those heroes who has to be stronger, faster, smarter, and generally better than everyone else. This is actually a major plot point. The poor boy is so totally great and awesome that he's socially isolated, and a large part of Moral's motivation is to alleviate that by leveling the playing field. Nice also has to be more right than everyone, and lecture those who he sees as less right, which adds an unpleasant flavor of self-righteousness to his character. As for Moral, he's just one of those megalomaniacal schemers who is always getting off (fairly literally, by the way) on how brilliant and amoral and evil his schemes are. You know, the kind who laughs evilly into the sky when things go his way and who waves a conductor's baton around just in case you hadn't figured out that he's conducting things.
And last: action abuse. Actually, when the chips are down, Hamatora does pretty decent action. Seiji Kishi is a professional mediocrity, but he's a mediocrity who gets a lot of work, and he seems to have learned a thing or two in the process. Hamatora's best action scenes are brief and ferociously fast, delivering jolts of psychic showboating in economical little packages—usually just before or after an episode's denouement. Well-placed bursts of violent fluidity and crisp editing make for memorable action imagery, while Nice's habit of listening to guitar rock while powering up adds sonic muscle. The problem is twofold. First of all, there just isn't enough of the good stuff. The show prioritizes its mysteries, so not all episodes have an action element, and when they do it is too often perfunctory or of the silly and/or horrendously cheap variety. Secondly, Kishi makes the curious decision to drench his action sequences in psychedelic swirls of rainbow color—one assumes to emphasize their otherworldly nature—which makes even the best action set-piece look like a psychic brawl at a Phish concert.
On a side note, it's pretty easy to see why Kishi gets so much work. He is not a budget-intensive director, preferring staccato editing and well-used shortcuts to expensive animation. He doesn't waste resources on inventions or chew up valuable staff time with fussy artistic concerns. (He does, however, give the art a distinctive look via interestingly-textured colors.) The money people have got to love him.
We on the other hand… not so much. Although his worst missteps have less to do with visuals and more to do with the score, which is basically just one hand pounding on the minor keys of a piano throughout the whole goddamned show.
You might think that a continuous arc would alleviate all that abuse, if for no other reason than it would limit the number of bad mysteries. But you'd think wrong. Hamatora does enter a continuous arc in its second half, but that's where things get really bad. The seriousness of the arc—it's driven wholly by Moral's oft-gory plans—precludes humor, which was about the only thing that kept the show bearable before. So instead of Hajime surfing after a bad guy atop one of his naked henchmen, we get Nice and Moral trading “philosophical” speeches, the writers cynically offing major characters, and secondary characters doing a lot of ineffectual agonizing. (Here's a hint: if you want us to care when characters die or have their orphans kidnapped, make sure we're attached to them first.) True, the second half isn't as afflicted with terrible mysteries, but I'd rather the writers slap me in the face with a Scooby Doo investigation than vomit half-assed philosophizing about “the strong” and “the weak” all over me. In the last few episodes no one opens their mouth but that you want to slap it back shut, and they're constantly opening their mouths—letting all manner of portentous, heavy-hearted drivel escape. The surprise ending's promise of a sequel isn't a promise really. It's a threat.
Overall (sub) : D
Story : D-
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : D
+ Interesting art; some decent action; occasionally kind of funny.
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