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Zwei was an innocent reporter who was simply in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Upon witnessing a murder at the hands of a mysterious assassin, he runs for his life but is eventually captured. When he awakes, all of his memories have been erased. Given the name Zwei, he's trained as an assassin by a girl who calls herself Ein, and together they carry out deadly missions for an underground crime syndicate known only as Inferno.
Every crime organization needs a super soldier. They're very efficient at assassinating people, they're loyal to the organization, and they're extremely fun to watch. The folks at Bee Train have this formula down pretty well - Noir could be credited for putting the studio on the map, after all. That series, of course, was directed by none other than Koichi Mashimo, who's now lent his talents to Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~. He was good at directing gunfights back then, and he certainly hasn't lost his touch.
If the characters look familiar, it's because Requiem for the Phantom takes its roots from a visual novel published in 2000 called Phantom of Inferno. According to its Wikiepedia entry, the game allows the player to follow either a story heavy in dark action and drama, or a romantic drama. The anime adaptation definitely chooses the former. If there are undertones of romance in the first season, they don't go beyond prolonged stares and awkward pauses—and they're certainly quashed by the end of the main arc. In fact, there's not much levity in this series, save for a few immature chuckles here and there when cleavage springs into action, but they're likely not intentional.
The series opens on Ein and Zwei, two assassins who work for an underground crime organization named Inferno. Passable as an innocent and wide-eyed couple, the duo can accomplish any task set to them, and are often used to get rid of any crime lords who get in the way of the organization. Most of the series' focus quickly turns to Zwei, though, as viewers watch his rise to prominence as a killer through a series of flashbacks. Originally just a witness in a murder, his potential is realized by Inferno, who in turn does him the dubious favor of sparing his life, brainwashing him, and having Ein train him to follow in her footsteps.
Watching Zwei quickly transition from a memory-less citizen to a crack assassin over the span of a few episodes is fun, as are the requisite firefights and action sequences, but the real meat of the series starts at episode eight. After being presented with his old passport, Zwei regains all of his past memories. He's then given two options - return to Japan and resume his previous life, or continue working for Inferno, this time of his own free will. It's a fascinating twist on the classic “brainwashed super soldier” genre, where one of two things happen - either certain memories trickle back through a “programming” glitch and the soldier goes rogue, or the soldier just goes rogue anyway. It's actually kind of brilliant to assume that if Zwei makes the decision to stay even after learning his identity, Inferno will have his complete loyalty. They don't go into whether or not he gets a pay raise for staying, but one assumes he doesn't.
What follows is a cascade of events that leaves Ein questioning her own identity, eventually culminating in an inter-organization showdown with truly unexpected consequences. Episodes 8 through 10 are easily the best in this set, and it's almost a shame that it takes so long for the series to get there. The resolution is so sudden that it's jarring, and it speaks poorly of the series' pacing that this big “finale” is followed up immediately with a recap episode.
As viewers, we're used to seasons ending in neat little 13-episode packages. Or, at the very least, getting a tantalizing cliffhanger at the end of the 13th episode, signaling at better things to come. It's awkward that the first part of Requiem for the Phantom really ends at episode 10. What's even more frustrating is that the entire next episode is a recap, though it boggles the mind why any new viewers would choose this particular episode to tune in.
Character development is definitely one of the weakest aspects of Requiem for the Phantom. Even though most of the first season is devoted to Zwei's transition into an assassin, the series takes a lot of shortcuts when it comes to figuring out why side characters carry out major plot points. Mashimo does a good job of making sure that both Ein and Zwei's storylines are seamlessly carried throughout the season, but perhaps as a result of neglect, the side characters' motivations for certain events often have to be explained away a scene later with a paragraph of exposition.
Even though the writing isn't the series' strongest suit, it certainly tries its hardest to look pretty for the camera. The overall aesthetic of the show matches the tone perfectly in its elegant severity and coldness. Ein and Zwei are little more than dolls in their bleak environment, from their blank expressions, down to the playhouse they live in, and their asexuality. If it weren't for their doll-like qualities, the impact of episodes 8 through 10 would've been lessened. The serenity of the characters is counterbalanced by the exquisite backgrounds and rich cityscapes. Every skyscraper is painted with painstaking detail, and the way the animators handle light streaming through a high-rise window is worth pausing and ogling at. Mashimo's version of Los Angeles may even be an improvement over the real thing.
In terms of bringing the show to life, both the Japanese and English casts put in a solid performance, but some of the secondary characters truly shine. Colleen Clinkenbeard is perfect as the sultry and manipulative Claudia. When she talks to Zwei, you can almost see her voice kneading him like dough. What makes it better is that she's able to maintain her snake-like cajoling even when the character is whispering, something that many voice actresses have missed the mark on. Also notable is Shay Moore, who plays a wonderfully defiant Lizzy. The dub writers have altered the script a little to make Lizzy sassier and saltier, but it fits Shay, and it makes the character a lot more fun to watch.
Blessedly, the DVD boxset also includes a disc of extras. For fans of the opening and ending themes, those are included. The best, though, is the six-part picture drama, which was included as extras in the Japanese release. Still images of the characters are panned over, with the Japanese actors providing voiceover. The material is absolutely priceless. Ein and her boss Scythe are bemoaning Zwei's acting ability, so Scythe takes it upon himself to show him the ropes. Without giving away too much, let's just say that things start with a Jack Bauer impression, and get better from there. The feigned gravitas of the actors makes the jokes even funnier. It's a nice change of pace from the deadly serious show, and the inclusion of these six shorts almost makes up for the recap episode.
Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~ is not without its faults. The writing could have used some smoothing, and the pacing of the overall season could've really used a second or third opinion, but overall, it's an interesting show. It's great for those who like dark dramas, and it's nice to finally see a show that's willing to commit fully to a serious atmosphere without feeling the need to throw in gratuitous comic relief. Although the last three episodes are a little jarring, both with their chronology and with their untimely proximity to the previous episodes, hopefully by the time the second part settles in, the story will pick up.
Overall : B
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B-
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B
+ Gorgeous backgrounds, surprising finale
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