Reviewby Theron Martin,
B: The Beginning
Episodes 1-12 streaming
The archipelago kingdom of Cremona is served and protected by the RIS (Royal Investigation Service Unit), a branch of the Royal Police that focuses on major crimes. They already have their hands full with a serial killer dubbed Killer B when Keith Flick, a brilliant but eccentric former investigator, returns to duty after several years of absence. Killer B only slaughters criminals, leaving behind what looks like a stylized B, but the RIS is unsure of his true objective. Most of the RIS is also unaware that genetically-altered humans nicknamed Reggies are lurking amongst the populace, who plan to use their superpowers to resurrect a supposed god from Cremona's founding legends. Those plans may also include Killer B, whether he's aware of them or not.
B: The Beginning is a collaboration between Netflix and Production I.G. that was originally advertised in early 2016 as "Perfect Bones". This name change is definitely for the best, since the final version of the story presented in these twelve episodes only connects to that original title in the faintest of ways. Advertised descriptions of the plot are also misleading, since they suggest a far more focused plot than what we actually get.
The final product might be best described as a split between a crime drama about serial killings and a supernatural battle epic. Though these two aspects have some peripheral connections to each other, they are mostly self-contained stories running on parallel tracks; the story could have been divided into two separate six-episode series with little effort made to erase their ties. This makes for an odd balancing act, with one track sometimes disappearing entirely for a full episode or more, but both plots are fully carried out. The story probably would have worked better if these two tracks had been better integrated, though.
While neither of the major plot threads is completely straightforward, the crime drama side is the more intricate of the two, driven by a series of nasty plot twists. Some of its intricacy comes from the fact that the main serial killer case isn't actually the titular Killer B that the beginning of the series focuses on. Instead, this true killer represents the real reason why Keith rejoined the RIS, deeply linked to not only his backstory but the shared history that links the two plots. This thread is by far the most sharply-told of the series' main plotlines, with numerous points of tension as the lives of several RIS members are put on the line. The ultimate goal of the real serial killer is also interestingly twisted and deeply personal, involving several layers of psychoses. By comparison, the superhuman side of the story follows a more ordinary (for anime) progression with more predictable story beats, from a search for a lost childhood friend, to a web of revenge plots, to a villain's attempt to master fate by overcoming a prophecy. At least these beats result in some snazzy super-powered action sequences.
In other words, the series is basically a super-human vigilante story crossed with eccentric-genius-driven crime procedurals like NUMB3RS and Sherlock (from which the series borrows its somewhat annoying predilection for on-screen text). Keith is wildly and sometimes comically eccentric, with his enormously complex mathematical models for detective work playing a key role in some plot points, while the rest of the core cast is a mixed bag of standard crime procedural personalities: the computer whiz, the old-timer, the young recruit, the battle-tested burly guy, the sharp-witted commander, and so forth. There's even a dry-witted forensic specialist guest character. Aside from Keith, the stand-out member of the cast is Lily, a brash and spunky young woman with an irrepressible personality, surprisingly keen insight, and wild driving skills. She's the kind of character who could have easily been obnoxious in the wrong hands, but with the series' other two main characters being quiet and meditative, Lily brings a welcome bit of verve to the proceedings. She makes a strong complement to Keith, though the story only faintly hints at any potential romance between them. None of the super-human characters make even half as much impact, including ostensible co-protagonist Koku.
The odd balancing act of the series' structure also shows in its design elements. The setting is an archipelago with a distinctly European-sounding name and architecture, yet Japanese trappings and names are sprinkled throughout. The level of computer technology seems to slightly surpass modern-day capabilities, but car designs are influenced by the '50s and '60s, even in cases where those older design elements are married to minicars that wouldn't have appeared in that era. And of course, the villainous group's home base and level of genetic experimentation greatly pushes the limits of modern tech. This would hardly be the first anime series that mixes style elements from so many different eras and nationalities into a sci fi setting, but at times the elements do seem incongruous.
The character designs and animation stand out most in body language and facial expressions, especially the way the gangly Keith tends to flop around, but all of the characters have distinctive looks that help bring out their personalities, like the unusually square jaw of the stern commander. The animation effort in general is strong, particularly in its use of vehicle CG. Graphic content can also be intense – easily enough to justify a TV-MA rating – though the show is gory in punctuated moments rather than pervasively. With quality background detail that consistently complements fluid foreground action, this is a great-looking series even when it's trying to be ugly.
The visual quality is matched step-for-step by the musical score. Its primarily synthesized sound mixes in orchestration, electric guitar, and occasionally ominous vocals for a heavy sound that greatly enhances the tense parts of the series overall. The opener follows the style more commonly seen in live-action prestige TV series, only lasting a few seconds rather than the anime standard of 90 seconds. Rock-themed closer “The Perfect World” is sung entirely in English by Jean-Ken Johnny (lead singer for the J-rock band Man with a Mission), with backing guitar work by Marty Friedman.
The English dub features a mix of established voice talent (Patrick Seitz, Johnny Yong Bosch) and newcomer talent, sharing many familiar voices with the cast of Fate/Apocrypha. The stand-out performance is Faye Mata's interpretation of Lily, though Jalen K. Cassell also impresses both as Eric and for adapting the crisp English script. In general, it's a very solid dub effort.
B: The Beginning ends by leaving the door open for a future follow-up; while both the serial killer story and the more immediate side of the superhuman story are fully resolved, another mastermind still lurks in the background for potential future schemes. If the story does end here, then it finishes far more satisfyingly as a crime story than a supernatural one. In the end, it feels like there was potential for a better series here than what we actually got, but B still does enough things decently to warrant a recommendation.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Strong visual and musical production, sharp plot twists, Lily makes a strong impression
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