Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
BD+DVD - Control - The Money and Soul of Possibility - Complete Series [Limited Edition]
The Financial District: an alternate dimension where money rules all, a capitalist haven where your future can be traded—or, more accurately, borrowed against—for cold, hard cash. No one really knows who created it or why, but it has its rules and customs and if you follow them you can become fabulously wealthy—or lose everything that you ever were or ever will be. The District requires its members to fight once a week. Their weapons are called Assets—personifications of their collateralized futures that can use powerful magical attacks…for a price. Each blow landed swells your coffers, each blow taken depletes them. Lose enough and the District seizes your collateral: part of your future potential. Kimimaro Yoga wants nothing to do with the District when he's told by the evil jester who runs it that he's one of the privileged few. That doesn't last long. Especially not once he meets his too-cute Asset Mashu, the physical manifestation of everything he has to lose.
Economics may seem an unlikely basis for an action show. It turns out, there's a reason for that. For most of C, the show's writers are at a loss for how to harmoniously combine economic ideas with supernatural fights. Most of Kimimaro's battles hinge not on economic maneuvering or clever use of currency but on video-game rules and good old-fashioned anime super-moves. Call it the Kamehameha Effect. That isn't surprising. Nothing in C combines harmoniously. It's an uneasy mixture of unique ideas, off-the-beaten-track ambitions, and dully unimaginative narrative mechanics. Certain concepts and images may linger after it has run its course, but nothing else will.
You have to admire the show for trying though. It isn't just any show that's willing to base its plot on abstract notions of money. One way to take its premise—that you can trade your future for money—is as a disquieting supernatural parallel to wage labor, which in the abstract is literally the trade of a portion of one's life for cash. Under that interpretation the battles between Entres (District members), in which one member literally steals the future of another by siphoning off their cash, become a disturbing metaphor for commerce—which since it involves taking money, also involves taking the slice of a person's life that the money represents. A later development also points out that the value of money is a matter of faith, a mutually-agreed-upon cultural fiction that can disappear in an instant when the agreement breaks. Which just makes the exchange—life for inked paper—that much more macabre.
That right there is a chain of thought that no other show is going to inspire. It's not what everyone will take way from the series of course. There are many other ways to interpret the premise: as a cuttingly absurd extension of the modern credit craze, for instance. (After we leverage our retirement funds, aren't our futures the next logical step?) Or simply as a more literal version of credit itself. (Is getting money now and working it and its compounding interest off for years to come really that different from trading on future potential for present gain?) Which just proves what a rarity the series is. When was the last time a series had you debating economic philosophy?
Not that we're debating economic philosophy because we want to. It's just that there's nothing else of interest to do. The story is a total and utter bore. Kimimaro, our obligatory everyman, lives a life of suffocating ordinariness until the day he is swept away to a colorful, exciting, and dangerous alternate dimension where he is given special powers. There he captures the eye of the dimension's most powerful man—cold but erudite financier Mikuni—who encourages him to seek his path in life. In the meantime he fights his way through increasingly difficult opponents, growing in power and fame as he goes. Eventually his emerging philosophy clashes with that of Mikuni, and in the midst of a supernatural economic catastrophe, the two battle over the future of Japan.
Still awake? Take however bored you are right now and multiply it by ten. Now you have a rough estimate of how dull it is to actually follow for four hours. A very, very rough estimate. You'll get no help from Kimimaro or his compatriots. Kimimaro spends most of the movie adrift, buffeted about by others' ideas but with no purpose of his own. He's mild and kind and overpoweringly generic. Mashu has more spunk, but not a whole lot in the way of personality beyond it. The rest of the cast mostly exists to embody ideas. Kimimaro's professor Ebara is reckless greed. Another opponent is charity. There are some nice touches here and there, including an episode split between Mikuni's surprisingly moving past and a revealing look at Kimimaro through Mashu's eyes, as well as some nicely understated hints about the nature of Kimimaro and Mashu's relationship, but mostly we're left cold and uninvolved.
Except, that is, where the fights are concerned. For all their Kamehameha one-upmanship, Kimimaro's fights are kinetic and varied and unfailingly exciting. Some are vicious, some humorous, some tactical, and all have the advantage of Mashu: petite, pretty, likeably fiery and always on the front line, getting battered and crushed by Kimimaro's mistakes. The series as a whole, especially when in the Financial District, is a flashy, elaborately animated treat for the eyes, but it really comes to life when Assets start deploying their clever diversity of strange, stringently leveled powers. The battle against the archangel forces of Kimimaro's “charity” opponent showcases a rare intensity, all blazing eyes and stylized rage and pain that looks really painful. The final battle showcases rare spectacle, flying and dashing and crashing through the gaudy, abstract environs of the Financial District as Assets fluidly shift shape: pummeling, biting and calling down apocalyptic doom on their enemies.
That particular fight is also the only time when the series' big ideas, meager emotional life, and raw glitz pull together into something greater than the sum of their parts. It's an exceedingly clever and unexpectedly satisfying sequence that pivots equally on Mikuni's hubris, the ephemerality of monetary value, and Kimimaro and Mashu's bond. It is one of the few moments in the series when you can forget just what a slog the rest of it is.
Funimation treats C much the way they treat most of their Noitamina shows. Which is to say: dual DVD/Blu-ray sets packaged together in a good-looking, Blu-ray-sized chipboard box and garnished with interesting extras. The usual Funimation extras are on board: promos, commercials, trailers, clean ED and OP (a fantastic montage carved from world currencies, by the way), and of course a pair of episode-long commentary tracks. One for episode five with J. Michael Tatum (Mikuni) and Monica Rial (Mikuni's asset Q), the other for episode eleven with Todd Haberkorn (Kimimaro) and Brina Palencia (Mashu). The real treat, however, are the C-conomics 101 notes, which give an entertaining rundown of basic economic principles along with episode-by-episode explanations of the economic terms that the Assets' special moves are named after (a convention that, contrary to all logic, makes their attacks sound really cool).
As for Funimation's dub… Why is anyone worried about that at this point in the company's career? They've more or less mastered the art of dubbing. The right people are given the right roles, the right liberties taken to make the dialogue sound right and still match characters' mouths—no mean feat given that C's characters actually enunciate their words. It's a rather dry and unadventurous affair, but that's just the kind of show it is. And at any rate, the weight of the series' emotions—and remember, it isn't much—is mostly carried by the appealingly lanky designs and the great Taku Iwasaki's beautiful, moody score. Any emotions the cast does drop are generally glossed over by Kenji Nakamura's snappy, stylishly discontinuous direction anyway. Too bad he isn't snappy or stylish enough to gloss over the whole plot. Now that would be a feat worth applauding.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Lots of big ideas and satisfyingly thorny concepts; doesn't try too hard to explain everything; impressively elaborate settings and blazingly good action.
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