The Summer 2019 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Cop Craft ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
“Grizzly cop and cute girl fight crime” is a tried-and-true anime concept, and Cop Craft comes with a fairly prestigious core team behind it. Based on a manga by Full Metal Panic! creator Shoji Gatoh, and directed by talented Master of Teekyū Shin Itagaki, Cop Craft offered all the base ingredients required for a satisfying police drama. And based on this first episode, it looks like that's exactly what we're getting.
The most fundamental and consistent of Cop Craft's strengths is its excellent script. Gatoh has a knack for both natural-sound procedural jargon and clear character voice, and this episode's first few minutes do a terrific job of selling the reality of its supernatural cop drama premise. Both Kei Matoba's expertise and fatigue feel convincing, and the show is good about letting its worldbuilding variables be illustrated naturally by the course of the drama. His dynamic with new partner Tilarna Exedilica is also convincing and already charming. Though they arrive at a balance somewhat similar to the classic compromised old hand/naive rookie pairing, Tilarna's actual status as a high-class knight in a foreign world means she has the confidence to actually push back against his jaded perspective, and the dialogue is distinctive enough to already be finding some nuance in their antagonistic relationship.
The show's production values are also reasonably strong. Cop Craft's greatest aesthetic strength is its strong control of atmosphere, with the grunginess and danger of San-Teresa coming through clearly in the show's detailed backgrounds and harsh mix of darkness and neon. The faintly blues-inflected soundtrack also helps give the show a distinctive and cop drama-appropriate flavor, and Shin Itagaki's direction demonstrates a clear understanding of atmospheric, genre-savvy framing. The biggest black mark on the show's visuals would be its infrequent use of CG models, which try to conceal the show's relatively limited animation, but only draw further attention to themselves.
On the whole, Cop Craft offers an entertaining and well-executed first episode, centered on a pair of investigators who are already developing an engaging partnership. Cop Craft gets a solid recommendation from me!
My not-so-guilty pleasure is what my sister and I call “British Murder Things” – basically British cop dramas. Cop Craft may not be British, but it still hits a lot of the same notes with its mismatched pair of detectives, action, and (if we consider something like Death in Paradise or another location-based mystery) crimes specific to the time and place the story is set in. Add in a story by Shoji Gatoh, author of Fullmetal Panic, and you've got a recipe that works.
In part that's because it doesn't allow its exotic elements – Pacific Island setting, gate to a fantasy world – overwhelm its cop show basics. Opening with detective sergeant Kei Matoba losing his partner Rick during a bust gone bad, the story hits a lot of the classic scenes used by similar shows since such shows have existed: the death of a partner, getting assigned a new rookie partner who has some weird issue, wanting to pursue vengeance but having to work within the law and his assignment, etc. The catch, of course, is that the bust was for traffic a fairy and that Kei's new partner is Tilarna, a woman from the other side of the trans-dimensional portal. She's a knight from a prestigious family and unless I miss my mark, can use magic as well, all of which is in no way what Kei wants in a new partner. Not that she's thrilled with him, either; she doesn't like his smoking (which he notices, but does nothing about in this episode), she can't believe he's actually the best of the best, and if she doesn't resent him telling her to stay in the car and not touch things yet, she's definitely gearing up to.
All of this of course sets the stage for them to turn into awesome partners and probably good friends (or more if, as I suspect, she's older than she looks). First, of course, they have to live through the shoot-out the end of the episode leaves them in, which is a pretty damn good cliffhanger incentive to tune in next week. Tilarna's using a sword and doesn't seem to understand guns or bullets, so that may make her more of a liability to Kei than he's ready to cope with right at this moment, fresh off of losing Rick. Add in the prejudice she's going to face as an “alien” and the fact that Rick was killed because of forces loosed due to the gate's existence and Rick's widow may have an issue with Kei working with Tilarna, as might other police officers. There's a lot of potential here, and this episode does a good job of setting it up, making this a Magic Murder Thing worth checking out.
I'm stating the obvious here, but Cop Craft is mixing a lot of familiar elements into one story. You've got the classic newly-partnered cops with personalities like oil and water, a mission of revenge that's connected to some larger criminal conspiracy, and a city that feels like someone combined the settings of Blood Blockade Battlefront and Black Lagoon. The good news is that all of these pieces fit together nicely, and they've been assembled with enough care and attention to make an appealing finished product.
Good chemistry is the backbone of any buddy-cop series, and Kei and Tilarna are well on their way to developing just that. There's definitely a standard veteran-rookie dynamic at play here, but some of the details give it an encouraging amount of depth. I'm intrigued by the idea that Kei fought in some kind of early conflict between Earth and the other world, and that backstory gives him a rationale for being unhappy with his new partner beyond the usual “grumpy old man” fare. Tilarna comes close to being excessively self-righteous and standoffish, but I get the sense she's leaning on that highborn knight routine to mask her uncertainty over being far from home with no familiar faces to rely on. Her black-and-white sense of justice is also a good foil for Kei's more pragmatic worldview, and it's clear that these two will be able to learn from one another.
While I like the main characters well enough, I'm actually more impressed by the world they inhabit. Cop Craft wastes no time establishing its setting, whether it's through expository monologues, background art, or bits and pieces of dialogue that help fill in the little details. The result is that this city already feels convincing and lived-in, and the blend of gritty urban life with elements of a fantasy world should set the stage for a wide variety of interesting stories. The vibe is a little more subdued than in other stories about two worlds colliding, and I'm hoping that means Cop Craft will spend a little less time saving Earth from certain destruction and a little more time getting up close and personal with the city's inhabitants.
One of the most encouraging signs I took away from this episode is the fact that it left me wanting more. Whenever the end credits take you by surprise, it's a good indication that the story has a solid hook and strong pacing. As long as it keeps doing what it's doing, Cop Craft should have no trouble carving out a spot for itself in this season's increasingly crowded field of promising action shows.
Of all the series I've previewed so far this season, this one is the one most in need of a double-episode debut. While the first episode does sufficiently and completely lay the necessary groundwork, where the episode cuts off is practically criminal.
But I guess that's a sign that the episode has done its job well, right? The series essentially looks like the latest in a long but irregular string of cop buddy shows, with its pairing of a large, gruff man and a short, inhuman woman harkening back to early genre entry Armitage III: Poly-Matrix. The other part of the premise, meanwhile, is reminiscent of the slew of anime series out there about a city where the populations of different worlds mix, and how such cities can be every bit as gritty as a typical large Earth city while also generating problems peculiar to its combination of worlds. Throw in some musical styling more reminiscent of Cowboy Bebop and you have the essence of this first episode.
While that may make this title sound like just a hodgepodge of elements from other anime franchises, the synergy these elements create is strong because they have been blended together very well. Director Shin Itagaki has a hit-or-miss record (Ben-To and Teekyū on the plus side, Ulysses: Jeanne d'Arc and the Alchemist Knight on the very minus side), but this is one of his better efforts so far. Kei and Tirana both get firmly-established and are already starting to play off each other well; though so far Tirana has had little chance to show off the combat chops that the opener indicates that she has, the series is handling her marveling at modern-world conveniences without going overboard, and Kei's no-look “leave it alone” statements when Tirana's getting a little too curious about things already provided a light but welcome dose of humor. The episode is also very effective about establishing the bona fides of the seedier side of the city, including convincing collections of scumbags, and the notion of creating new drugs off of a fairy is an interesting one.
Though the animation does take some shortcuts, the technical effort is otherwise pretty solid, especially on the character design front. Kudos also go to the musical effort, especially for the jazzy opener. Overall, this is a promising start to one of the more highly-anticipated series of the season.
The whole premise of Cop Craft can be boiled down to the title of its first episode, “COP SHOW, WITCH CRAFT”. You remember that Netflix movie, Bright, about Officer Will Smith and Orc Friend doing police stuff in a modern day world with magical creatures? Cop Craft is that, except less terrible, and the goofy Orc sidekick has been replaced with a little anime elf girl who's really handy with a sword. Combine all of that with the fish-out-of-water antics of a Rush Hour or a Fifth Element, and you've got yourself a show.
If it feels like I'm doubling down on the movie references in this preview, it's because Cop Craft wants nothing more than for you to know that it has seen literally every police procedural ever made, and it isn't afraid to fall back onto every cliché “homage” it can think of to make sure that happens. We've got Kei, the grizzled cop who just lost his partner and is out for revenge, only to be paired up with an out-of-town rookie who doesn't know how things work in the metropolis of San Teresa. Tilarna Exedilica knows her way around magic and a blade, but she's clueless about the human world, which leads to plenty of comic misunderstandings (the girl is utterly confounded by elevators, cars, guns, and human naming conventions). Even the series' central gimmick, tossing well-worn fantasy tropes into a gritty urban cop drama setting, was already done by the aforementioned Bright. Studio Millepensee is doing good work in making this a slick and entertaining show to watch, and the story is propulsive enough that it doesn't feel like it wastes any time getting from A-to-B, but it is difficult to get overly enthusiastic by a premiere that goes so out of its way to be derivative of an already oversaturated staple of Hollywood storytelling.
The overreliance on easy tropes and callbacks also gives the show an uncomfortable edge of ignorance, too, since Cop Craft also lifts Hollywood's tendency to stereotype minorities as thugs, gangbangers, and criminals. Despite a prologue that goes out of its way to paint San Teresa as the picture of a multi-ethnic American city, the only non-white character of note we see for most of the episode is Kei. Later, he and Tilarna go looking for Mexican gang members in the seedy part of town, and Kei's informant is a cartoonish black crime boss/pimp/wannabe priest. There's also an incredibly tone-deaf bit where a black bodyguard acts openly racist towards Tilarna for being a magical “alien”, and tries to keep her from entering a strip club. It's the kind of dumb racial shorthand that people were calling out in the West decades ago, and I hope it doesn't crop up in Cop Craft much more in future episodes.
Still, I've always had a soft spot for junk-food procedurals like Cop Craft – being predictable and cliché is half the point of these things, after all. It's first episode was a perfectly watchable introduction that has potential to be built on in future episodes. One can only hope it breaks free from the worst instincts of its influences, though, and puts more effort into making a more unique name for itself.
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