Reviewby Sean Broestl,
DVD 1: The Melody of Logic
When high schooler Ayumu Narumi is a suspect in the murder of one of his classmates, he doesn't take the matter lightly. He sets about solving the girl's murder himself. In the process Ayumu uncovers a web of mysteries surrounding the murder victim, the murderer, and his own brother. Caught up in the strange plot, Ayumu has no choice but to go on fighting battles of wits to keep himself alive when he becomes the target of the mysterious Blade Children.
If ever there was a title that really didn't tell you anything about a show, Spiral would be a good answer. If there was ever a box cover that didn't give you an inkling of what the plot of the show might be, the answer would again be Spiral. The reality, however, is that these are the most telling things about Spiral, a show that's all about mystery, intrigue and keeping your cards close to your chest.
And that's really what Spiral does best, throwing out plot points like shrewd bets from a poker-faced card shark. A bold opening move, answered by bluffs, cunning bets and a quick move into the call, where the episode comes to a nail-biting conclusion. Each episode manages to surprise at the end with its expertly woven drama and suspense.
Spiral, in a lot of ways, resembles what Case Closed could have been, had Jimmy Kudo not been miniaturized. The show starts out being about solving mysteries, but tends to favor the darker subject matter of murder and conspiracy. And as only anime can do, it all must be solved by our piano-playing, brother of a legendary detective and high school student hero, Ayumu Narumi.
He's cool, seemingly apathetic and disinterested, but this facade is quickly cast aside to reveal that he is in fact a deep character, awash in his own doubts and concerns about the events surrounding him. Ayumu also sports an unnaturally quick and analytical mind, maybe cultivated by his hobbies—cooking, playing the piano and making his wild hairstyle look exactly the same, no matter what. Ayumu quickly becomes a favorite because of his justifiably cool demeanor.
Alongside him is his mystery-solving counterpart, Hiyono. Their chance meeting ends up giving Ayumu the edge he needs in his adventures. Hiyono has the skills that a brooding, sharp-minded loner of a male like Ayumu lacks, namely an information network and boobs. Together, they unwillingly unravel the mysteries surrounding the Blade Children.
The characters are an area where Spiral seems like it could shine. There's quite a bit of focus on the core and their motivations and fears. Characterization makes up a large chunk of some episodes, and while on occasion it can drag on, most of the time it's a good balance to the more suspenseful parts of the episodes. Assuming it doesn't become a crutch and time-filler in later episodes, anyway.
Spiral does deal with crime-solving to some degree, but only to set up the major plot. The real meat here is from the matches of wits. Not once do the characters resort to fists, swords, guns, martial arts, magic or any of the orthodox methods of settling a dispute in anime. When the gauntlet is thrown down, it's Ayumu's brain against his foe's, as he tries to always have one ace up his sleeve without his opponent knowing.
This is where the suspense Spiral does so well comes in. Once these battles start, it's one reversal after another. Just when you think that Ayumu has won, his play is overturned by his opponent and he's fighting again to one-up his foe. It's not far removed from watching a really good game of cards, though a bit slower-paced. It's really much more exciting than it sounds, helped a lot in part by a particular piece of music the show uses over and over when the battle is about to come to a conclusion.
From description alone, Spiral's conflicts sound like the most boring escapades ever. Truth be told, there's a lot of quick camera angle changes on a character who's just standing still and pointing a finger while they show just a little more of their hand. Somehow it manages to stay exciting and keeps you guessing about how each episode will turn out. After a couple episodes, the formula was immediately apparent, and yet refused to be stale.
Spiral seems to suffer from a slight identity crisis with its opening, though. While it's up to the standards usually expected from putting anime imagery to music, the song, “Kibouhou”, seems really out of place for this show. It's not a bad song by any means, and even pretty catchy. It just seems kind of mismatched to panning over pictures of a brooding male hero and such a darker-toned show like this. The ending theme was pretty standard as far as closings go.
Animation and production values for the show are average. The animation has a number of still-frame pans, but the character designs are excellent, and the art is bright and eye-catching. The music is mostly forgettable, though there is One Piece from the “fights” that will probably stick in quite a few heads well after the disc is turned off.
Spiral's dub is generally a good performance, with Ayumu's voice being very appropriate for the age and character. Ayumu came off as a brooding, somewhat angsty high school male. His English VA, Daniel Katsük, is a relative unknown right now, but hopefully some other ADR directors take notice and stick him in more roles. Caitlin Glass as Hiyono is the weakest so far, sounding entirely too old for her character.
A final thing worth nitpicking on this release is the DVD menu. Using cute names for the usual menu items might seem like an inventive idea, but it just falls flat here. The names used for languages and chapters, while appropriate, were hardly obvious at first glance. A DVD menu really doesn't need to be like this, it should just let me choose my language options, or whatever I need, then move along with watching the show. It was just more frustration while trying to get the show playing.
All in all, there's a lot here to like, because a lot of the show's appeal will be completely unexpected to most viewers. Spiral is gripping to watch, and it's easy to get hooked without even realizing it. It may lack the fanservice and action that draws in the average fan, but Spiral isn't the average show. It rewards those willing to give it a chance, and ensnares those who underestimate the appeal of the show.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : A
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Excellent pacing, good character design, plot has lots of promise.
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