Reviewby Theron Martin,
The Book of Bantorra
DVD - Collection 2
As the struggle against the Church of Drowning in God's Grace continues, some of the darker secrets behind the Armed Librarians gradually start to emerge. Mirepoc's continued investigation into the death of an actress leads her and the Meat Alme to a meeting with Lascall Othello, while Minth's investigation into an illegal snuff book with the help of a brother-sister team dredges up unpleasant recollections of his earlier life. Enlike's efforts to help the former Meat Renas regain her memories lead him deep into the matter of Olivia Litlet and Vend Ruga (which eventually dredges up some of Hamyuts' past), while Volken's return shakes up the Armed Librarians (especially Mirepoc) and Noloty's pursuit of matters related to the Cerulean Death lead her to an encounter with the Governor of Paradise. As a sudden threat of war against the Bantorra Library arises, the truths underlying the Church, Heaven, and Ruruta Coozancoona – and how Hamyuts fits into all of it – emerge and a desperate struggle to save the world begins. Many will not survive it.
The second half of the series, which covers episodes 14-27, opens with a recap episode hosted by Shiron, the Ever-Laughing Witch from the series' first story arc, before continuing with a couple of stories which at first only seem to have a vague connection to anything bigger. Only with Volken's return and Enlike's efforts to help Renas, which begin in episode 17, does a true impression that most of what has happened so far actually is interrelated start to emerge. The connections are so convoluted, though, that several more episodes will pass before that “bigger picture” finally gets assembled enough to make much sense. Even then, many viewers will be left scratching their heads.
The issue here is not so much the “what” of the plot, but the “why.” A massive and elaborate deception underlies most of the series' core plot, a ruse considered so necessary that countless innocents suffer and lose their lives just to maintain it without ever knowing the reason, numerous Armed Librarians fight and die without ever even knowing that they're involved in a deception, and the few who do know about the deception are more than willing to kill to preserve it, even if that means offing one's underlings. But why does it have to happen? That the storytelling is fuzzy about, and it's not the only place in the series' second half where logic takes a paid holiday; an Armed Librarians who hasn't been previously shown much is made out to be a traitor, used for convenience's sake in a couple of killings, and then entirely ignored as the series rushes to its climax, leaving viewers to wonder why he was being a traitor and what happened to him. On the good side, at least how the gods figure into this is eventually made clear, Hamyuts' past finally gets revealed, why the leader of the Armed Librarians is called the “Acting Director” instead of just “Director” gets explained, and a couple of mysteries dating back to the first episode finally get resolved. And perhaps most importantly, the books themselves finally figure into events to the degree which they always should have.
The already-large cast of the series expands even further throughout this half, including the addition of sibling Armed Librarians Yuri and Yukizona, a pair of spoiled brats who apparently come from wealthy backgrounds and have a near-total lack of “street sense” but are nonetheless quite capable in a fight. (Yuri also provides much of what little fan service the second half offers beyond Hamyuts' cleavage.) Little else is developed about them, though, and several other Armed Librarians who have been around since the beginning remain virtually undeveloped, too. Getting too attached to developed characters is not wise, either, as this half places both newly-minted and long-established characters amongst the dead, including at least one or two whose deaths may come as unpleasant surprises. The writing even makes the questionable choice to start off one story arc with one long-time character suddenly already dead and then backfill over the next three episodes to explain the circumstances while other major events related to it are going on in the foreground. Rather than invoke the sense of mystery that was probably intended, the execution of this scenario instead results in a jarring mental shift. The series does find creative ways to allow characters who died earlier on to come back and still play a significant role, however; as viewers will discover, few named roles in the series end up being completely disposable.
All of the messiness in the writing has not affected how good the series looks, although the second half is more prone to visual quality control slips than the first half (especially on Noloty's build, as her bustiness varies some from scene to scene). New characters almost invariably look sharp; Yukizona may look like he stepped out of Naruto but he is still well-drawn, his sister Yuri has a believably haughty beauty, Ruruta looks suitably angelic, and a couple of other new female characters who pop up also have appealing looks. Does the David Production staff really expect us to believe that the fully mature Noloty still wears the exact same clothing outfit that she did as a young girl in a flashback, though? (Occult Academy also did this with Maya, but there it felt more like a joke, whereas here it just feels lazy.) The only disappointments are the Beasts of the Final Chapter (i.e., the Guardian Beasts), who look like generic RPG monsters. The plentiful action scenes are generally well-animated, though some of the CG integration is mediocre at best. This half also continues the first half's common use of graphic content; while what's shown is never taken to gross extremes, the TV-MA rating the Sentai Filmworks has given the series is warranted.
The music works hard to play up the dramatics of the content, sometimes working well (most commonly in lower-key scenes) and other times getting a little carried away. That's only to be expected from the person who also did musical scores for the likes of Death Note and Broken Blade, however, and some of the flavor of those two series can be heard here. The opener and closer both change beginning with episode 17, with the opener at least getting a considerable upgrade.
Like the first half, this half is getting released dubbed but DVD-only. The generally solid casting and performances seen in the English dub for the first half continue here. Amongst new roles, the only questionable casting choice is Chris Patton, who never sounds quite right as Ruruta, but that is more than balanced out by good fits everywhere else, and while some roles are given somewhat different vocal styling in English, none of those alterations feel wrong for the characters. The key performances in this half – Shelley Calene-Black as Hamyuts, David Wald (yes, that really is the same guy who voiced Guin from Guin Saga) as Mattalast, Cynthia Martinez as Noloty, and Andrew Love as Enlike – are also the best performances, and Shannon Emerich even sounds less consistently awkward as Mirepoc. The pronunciations of certain names vary some between English and Japanese but not in a big way, and the English script stays fairly close. Extras, which are found on the first of two disks, are limited to clean versions of both openers and both closers.
Ultimately The Book of Bantorra is at its most entertaining when one doesn't bother to try to figure the plot out and just goes along for the ride on the individual story arcs. It has plenty enough action, violence, supernatural gimmickry, and cool characters to carry the series on those merits alone, and the series does explore well the concept of books and what can be done with them (reading “snuff books” apparently has an addicting, mind-warping quality on the level of the strongest narcotics, for instance). Still, there was more potential here if the overall story could have come together in a smoother, more coherent fashion.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Some good action sequences and character development, appealing character designs.
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