Reviewby Mark Sombillo, Apr 10th 2011
Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom
A young man wakes up not remembering what has happened or even who he is. A hidden organisation, one that resides even further below the underbelly that permeates society is gearing towards machinations of full criminal domination. A girl rises into the ranks of infamy as the deadliest assassin the world has ever seen and becomes feared like only a ghost can be by both those within and those outside the law. A gang war sparks that will forever change the face of the American west coast. All of these come together in the first instalment of Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom and all is set for an explosive overture of colossal proportions.
Assassin style series are a common thing in anime, almost as common as ninjas. Therefore, just like every other iteration of a ninja based storyline in anime, one cannot walk into watching it without having the same apprehension of encountering something unoriginal. Indeed with Bee Train being involved (the studio behind famous thriller titles like Noir and .hack//SIGN) you can be forgiven for thinking that though you may get a quality product, it might just be the same as everything else before. But to use the old adage of not judging a book by its cover, I certainly think that besides the apparent visual similarities between Kirika Yumura, the protagonist of Noir, and Ein it will be worth it to give this series its due credit on its own merits.
The story is reminiscent of the Bourne Identity whereby our main character, soon to be named Zwei (translated to number ‘two’ in German) wakes up without much of a memory and his survival is based on his instincts rather than what he knows, as Ein (the word for ‘one’ in German) is sent in to test him. Controlling them is the underground group called Inferno whose goal is to have a massive collaboration of criminal organisations in order to acquire more and more power to do as they please. In the midst of all of these are various motivations from different factions and in this first volume, it's not so easily seen just what Inferno's real objective is, whether it be just pure criminal dominance or more sinister ambitions.
One of the aspects of the show which I thought would be a negative but turned out to be quite the opposite is the pacing. The speed is a mixture of hurried story arcs mixed with slowed individual scenes and segments. Basically viewed on face value, it can look like there's too many scenes that just drag on as characters take time to speak, or scenes take too long to progress but when the point is made however, there's a quick shuffle to move on to the next part of the storyline. This is a tricky pace to work in as there's a chance you'll tarry along un-intriguing parts or hurry over otherwise attention-grabbing moments but luckily they got the balance here just right.
Another aspect that I had doubts in was the believability of both the characters and the basic premise behind them. Essentially, the idea of turning Ein and Zwei into assassins stems from stripping them of their memories, after which all they're left with is their survival instinct. Killed or be killed, in simple terms. I originally questioned how that'd be enough for the characters to have almost super-human powers but after showing examples in either flashbacks or character trait developing scenes in strategic spots around the episodes, it was a concept that became easier to swallow. Voice work and character design and mannerisms further helped this development and I can say that despite the heavily vacuous personalities of this duo who have lost their memories, it ends up being quite easy to empathise with them.
Finally, and probably the strangest thing that I'll admit this show has achieved was that it was quite sexy. It's not your typical “in your face” fan service that you'll normally find in anime though there is some of that too. The subtle hints and the unintentionally seductive suggestions (i.e. the stuff you have to read between the lines for), keep a barely noticeable air of sexual tension floating about many of the characters. Certainly there's not enough of it in here to even consider advising you turn it away from young eyes (the violence should have already done this beforehand), but ultimately it adds pepper to a meal that was already well garnished.
One thing though that irked me to no end was a specific musical soundtrack that was played during the start of action scenes. Simply put it was more or less a rip off of a soundtrack from The Matrix (if memory serves me right, this was used in the infamous Agent Smith clone gang brawl). This is a piece of music that invokes high tension as strings are being made to scream out loud in combination with full energy drum beats but unfortunately it wasn't well used as the scenes being portrayed are nowhere near as epic as a hundred and one Agent Smiths stacking on Neo. I'd be hard pressed to believe that the basic layout of the music was very similar to the one from The Matrix by mere coincidence, and its usage in areas that are meant to be “cool” all in all proved a bit much to ignore.
If you've reached to the end of this volume, it would probably have meant that this show has won you over. Everything about it revolves around subtlety to the point that when momentous events occur, it hits you like a sledgehammer leaving you asking where in the world that came from. If you gave up watching before the final episode of the DVD, it probably means that the pace of the show was not enough to tie you over and given Bee Train's modus operandi, the rest of the series will probably not agree with you either. I came into this show after having seen the first episode when it originally aired in Japan. Back then I had dismissed the rest of the series for looking and feeling much like every other one of its predecessors which I wasn't a fan of to begin with. Essentially I felt that waiting on a week by week basis for a tedious story to unfold was not worth the effort. Thankfully in the guise of a DVD release this inability to hold attention is negated and there's a hidden originality in it that is at the very least worth a look.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : D
+ Excellent atmosphere.
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