Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD/Blu-Ray - Complete Collection
Sent to Shanghai to get a scoop on the upcoming international anti-terrorism conference, tabloid journalist Minoru Minorikawa finds himself saddled with ditzy Maria Osawa, a fledgling photographer who is also a survivor of a biological terrorist attack in Shibuya in Japan two years earlier. He doesn't have to wait long to get involved in something hairy, as he soon encounters a fascinating woman amidst a shootout with unknown protagonists – a woman who also just happens to be an old friend of Maria's. Both Minoru and Maria soon find themselves caught up in a struggle between the mysterious woman Canaan, CIA interests, the prominent terrorist organization Snake, assorted super-powered individuals who seem to be remnants of a ghastly experiment involving the deadly Ua virus, and people trying to help said survivors. Canaan turns out to be the most successful of the latter group, a trained and feared soldier whose innate synesthesia combined with the Ua virus to give her truly extraordinary senses which only enhance equally impressive physical abilities. As Canaan's “light,” Maria soon becomes a pawn for Snake's leader Alphard, who has a beef to pick with Canaan due to past associations, while Canaan becomes the direct target of Alphard's insanely possessive younger sister Liang-chi. As the anti-terrorism conference and Snake's dastardly plan for it plays out in the background, these four women and those associated with them struggle through their own private war.
NOTE: This review has been updated to include details on the Blu-Ray Release.
As anime series go, CANAAN has a somewhat unusual pedigree. Though not directly based on any original source material, it is a sequel of sorts to 428: Fūsa Sareta Shibuya de, a late 2008 visual novel for the Wii (and later PS3 and PSP) which was created and developed by Chunsoft and featured art and scenarios crafted by the Type-Moon team (i.e. the ones responsible for Tsukihime and Fate/stay night). The game details the circumstances surrounding the Ua virus attack in Shibuya that is referenced at several points in CANAAN and features several characters from that game, including co-main characters Minoru and Kenji Osawa (Maria's father) and supporting characters Maria and Toyoma (Minoru's editor in the anime). The anime never goes into much detail about those events, but they are not strictly necessary for understanding the events in the anime, either, as Canaan and everything associated with her are details exclusive to the anime. Some parts of the anime may make more sense if you are actually familiar with the game, however.
At essence, CANAAN wants to be an action/mystery story in the vein of Noir and Madlax, one which throws out all manner of fantastic action sequences featuring ridiculously-skilled girls with guns while also playing out grand and complicated conflicts involving those characters' pasts and present natures. While the series certainly got the action component right – many sequences throughout the series, especially those in the opening episode, are quite satisfyingly thrilling – it stumbles in its other aspect. Mystery stories inherently must involve a discovery of logical motivations, yet those are never quite clear on the part of main villainess Alphard. What is she really trying to accomplish with the terrorism and the business with the Ua virus experiments? The writing never comes clean on that, instead treating that whole situation as merely a framing device for her business with Canaan, which seems to primarily involve being irked that Siam, the man who trained both her and Canaan to be killers, was trying to replace both her and her name with the new Canaan. (Alphard was also originally named Canaan, as we later find out.) Really, would any potent terrorist organization follow the lead of someone so fickle and uncaring? It tries to dress up the drama surrounding those events by tossing in the involvement of the CIA and their sinister plans and slipping in the story of the ex-CIA agent and the former victim he's decided to look after, but that is not sufficient to disguise how uncertain the writing seems about how it wants to handle that aspect of its story.
In many respects the elements composing the story are very typical: people who have super-powers resulting from highly morally questionable biological experiments, which can give them powers but often with nasty side effects; a girl who must regularly be rescued by a heroine and who gets used to manipulate said heroine; a reporter trying to get to the bottom of things without getting himself killed; a terrorist group which pulls off a major stunt with improbable ease; a semi-comic relief girl with multiple part-time jobs; girls being trained from a young age to be living weapons; and a villain who blatantly passes up on multiple easy chances to kill the heroine because it just wouldn't be satisfying. Most of the personality types are very typical, too, although Canaan's low-key demeanor is hardly pitiably emotionless; unlike Noir's Kirika, she can actually smile and experience joy. Only slightly fresher are Liang-Chi's creepily obsessive and possessive feelings towards her sister and her sado-masochistic relationship with chief Snake henchman Cummings. (His status at the end of the series is rather amusing in light of that.)
The series does break new ground with its most fundamental gimmick, however: that Canaan is also a synesthete, an individual whose senses are cross-connected in abnormal ways, causing her to perceive the world differently from an average person. Aside from the action sequences, the series is at its most fascinating when trying to define for viewers exactly what kind of world she experiences, as this is not a case of her simply having an extra sense. Amongst other applications, she can perceive the moods of people as colors, which allows her to pick out enemies even on crowded streets, and the way she sees her most beloved person – and traces of that person, such as blood or scent – as sparkling lights allows her to track that person faultlessly. When she briefly loses her special perception at one point, it cripples her almost as much as if she were blind. Artistic attempts to render this altered state of perception resemble an acid trip and make one appreciate how extraordinary her reality is.
However much the writing may stumble, the series' flaws certainly do not extend into the artistry. This is, at worst, one of the best-looking series of the year, a visual triumph for P.A. Works, a company which has previously specialized in animation assistance roles but did first take the lead on True Tears and more recently dazzled audiences with their work on Angel Beats! The fluidity and expansiveness of the animation is astounding for a TV series effort; this is one of the rare anime where crowded street festival scenes truly seem busy and action scenes take no shortcuts, allowing Canaan and others to show off the full extent of their acrobatics and martial arts. The artistry also shows exceptional attention to detail in weaponry and vehicle design, while backgrounds are rich in fine detail regardless of whether they depict a major metropolis or a long-abandoned village. Canaan, with her slight build, white hair, and trademark red backless blouse, cuts a sharp figure, while more buxom Alphard will not disappoint as the sexy terrorist leader and Liang-Chi looks hot whether wearing Chinese dresses, lingerie festooned with weapons, or nothing at all. (The lingerie look is also more than a little silly, however.) Maria, by comparison, is a bit plainer but still convincingly embodies an adorable vivaciousness. Other female character never disappoint, while male characters have more ordinary (but still well-rendered) appearances. If the artistry has one consistent flaw, it is that its normally well-blended use of CG occasionally makes scenes look a little too artificial, while one late scene involving a character being suspended by her arm stretches credibility with how long its camera angle makes the characters' arms look. These are very minor flaws in what is otherwise a great-looking series, however. Though the true fan service is limited to a couple of scenes, the visuals have plenty enough graphic content to warrant a 14+ age rating on their own.
The musical score certainly will not be found wanting, either; in fact, the more intense musical themes give the series the high level of tension that it often achieves. The score also does well in more low-key moments, though sometimes it pushes things just a bit too much on both fronts. Opener “mind as Judgment” by Faylan gets each episode off to a blazing hot start with its intense rock sensibilities and great animation, while each episode closes with the tamer “My Heaven” by Annabel. One insert song in episode 8 is left undubbed.
Dubbing this one posed an unusual problem, as several places in the Japanese dub have lines in Chinese. Sentai Filmworks does distinguish these lines in the subtitles by putting them in <> signs, but the English dub entirely ignores the problem by putting everything in English. While that may be an issue for some viewers, it is far less of a problem than the subtitle timing, which is as much as much as 15 seconds off in the second half of episode 8 and a few seconds off in some other places, especially in some scenes towards the end. It is a big enough flaw that hopefully Sentai Filmworks will address it. The English dub has no such problems, and in fact is a very good one if the business about not distinguishing the Chinese lines doesn't bother you. Newcomer Lesley Pedersen takes a distinctly different approach to Alphard than seiyuu Maaya Sakamoto, but otherwise casting choices are good matches for the originals, especially Hilary Haag as Maria and Shelley Calene-Black in the title role. The best performance belongs to Jessica Boone, who couldn't have had an easy time handling Liang-Chi's psychosis in the late episodes but is thoroughly convincing. The English script infuses some swearing into the dialog and plays with the wording more than normal, but the result loses nothing compared to the original script.
The first of the two DVDs contains the Extra “Minorikawa's Report,” which is essentially a narrated, condensed version of the first few episodes. The second disk has clean opener and closer. Sentai has also put out a Blu-Ray version of the series, and unlike many other recent Blu-Ray upgrades, this one is new enough - and sharp enough - to take good advantage of Blu-Ray capabilities. It is presented here in its original 1:78 aspect ratio, with what is advertised as 1080p resolution but actually seems to be 1080i instead. Few are likely to notice the difference, however. The lack of need to upscale the picture leaves this one free of many of the minor flaws that have plagued Blu-Ray releases of older anime series, allowing the high resolution to fully exploit the fine animation and sharp artistry. The colors are even more vivid on Blu-Ray than on the DVD (which was no slouch, either), and the sound gets a minor upgrade, too, but the extra few bucks for Blu-Ray buys you nothing else; Extras and cover art are exactly the same and the only other differences are inconsequential ones like a different distribution of episodes and extras between the two disks and no music on the Blu-Ray menus.
CANAAN is a visual spectacle which excels in its action elements but struggles to tell its story. Plot holes appear if one ponders the series' logic even a little bit, such as the series conveniently ignoring that Maria should meet all of the conditions to be a Borned (i.e. one of the people who got special traits from surviving the Ua virus) and never adequately explains many details. The end of the series also lacks a complete sense of closure. Still, this one looks and sounds good enough to succeed purely as a “girls with guns” series if nothing else.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Gorgeous visuals and animation, strong musical score and opening theme, great action elements.
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