Super Crooks
Episodes 1-2

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Super Crooks (ONA) ?
Community score: 3.3

How would you rate episode 2 of
Super Crooks (ONA) ?
Community score: 3.3

Super Crooks is not only Netflix's latest piece of original anime content, but it also comes with the Millarworld stamp of approval. If you're unfamiliar with this branding initiative, don't worry, that isn't on you. In addition to being the name for the creator-owned comics imprint founded by Mark Millar, the writer who is probably best known for comics such as Kick-Ass and Wanted, “Millarworld” is also the name given to Netflix's attempt to create a kinda-sorta shared cinematic universe for their adaptations of Mark Millar's work.

I say “kinda-sorta” because there have only been two entries into this fledgling initiative: Last year's Jupiter's Legacy, and the anime you're reading about right now. I only got through a few episodes of Jupiter's Legacy, and I'm not alone in how hard it was for me to give a damn about the show. Even if Netflix has made plenty of mistakes before when it comes to cancelling series before their time— and no, I have not, and will never, forgive their mistreatment of The Dark Crystal—there's a very good reason that Jupiter's Legacy never got its sophomore season. To be blunt, the show sucked. A lot. It's writing was stiff and self-serious to the point of being unintentionally funny; the costumes and horrible old-age makeup made the show look somehow cheaper and tackier than even the lowest budgeted CW superhero show; and the plot was little more than a turgid retread of the “grim and gritty” superhero subversions that have gotten very old in recent years.

All of that said, this is Anime News Network, and we're here to talk about anime. So, even if Super Crooks comes with a hell of a lot of baggage given its franchise's track record, the question we're going to be asking as we work through all 13 episodes of this Studio Bones production is, “Does Super Crooks hold up as its own standalone anime?” After all, beyond its studio pedigree, this adaptation comes to us from screenwriter Dai Sato, who has had a hand in crafting a number of huge hits: Cowboy Bebop (the good one!), Wolf’s Rain, Samurai Champloo, Eden of the East—the list goes on. Likewise, while this is technically Director Motonobu Hori's first time helming a production solo, he's got a pedigree of his own, including serving as the co-director of Carole and Tuesday. With this much talent behind the scenes, surely Super Crooks is being set up for success?

Unfortunately, if these first two episodes are any indication, Super Crooks may end up being just as big of a disappointment as its sister series. For one, the show's art and direction are going for a sharp and exaggerated style that maybe makes the whole thing feel more “Western”, but the animation is too stiff and flat to make any of it exciting. Outside of the silly booty dance that Kasey does in the show's OP, there's nothing in Super Crook's visuals to suggest the oomph that you expect from a superhero show. More so than the visuals, though, a lot of Super Crook's problems are rooted in its script, just like with Jupiter's Legacy, but they come specifically from how the show focuses on a gang of would-be supervillains instead of the usual gang of heroes.

Super Crook's major, baked-in flaws are apparent from its very first episode, “Electro Boy”, which presents itself as a run-of-the-mill clichéd superhero origin story…until it suddenly isn't. It's a damned shame, too, because if Super Crooks did anything really well in these first two episodes, it was the escalating sense of tension and dread that mounted with every passing minute as our young hero Johnny discovered his electricity based superpowers and began dreaming of a ticket out of his dispiriting suburban life, and a new life as one of his world's many great superheroes.

The show is called Super Crooks, and all you have to do is read Netflix's plot summary to know that Johnny's quest is going to hit a major snag, even as he and his friend Tommy become increasingly consumed with their wholesome superhero fantasies. It all comes down to when that other shoe is going to drop, and I'll admit that I could feel my stomach sink when Johnny decided to make his grand debut as Electro Boy…by flying into greet all of his classmates at a local pool party.

Right here, though, is where the show shoots itself in the foot, because it quickly becomes apparent that Super Crooks has absolutely no clue what to do with its tone. Up until this fateful day, Johnny's story has been written and directed like a fairly straightforward YA drama, though weird tinges of black humor keep creeping their way in, like with how Johnny's faceless mother is just straight-up obsessed with banging every single guy that walks in and out of their home. That uncomfortable mix of cheesy sincerity and nasty cynicism literally explodes when Johnny's debut goes horribly wrong. It isn't bad enough that Johnny plummets into the pool and electrocutes dozens of his peers, which I have to presume is fatal to at least some of those kids, but the resulting Final Destination-esque chain reaction of disasters is patently absurd (this is where a bunch of animals and people definitely die horribly).

Is this supposed to be funny? I can't imagine that we're supposed to take such a ridiculous sequence completely seriously, but the show sure seems to be…for about a minute or two, until Johnny discovers that his electric powers can also short-circuit ATMs, and he instantly pivots to a gleeful life of crime. I do mean instantly, too, because after less than a minute of grieving over his awful mistake, we flash forward a decade or so to Episode 2, “Kasey”, where we find an all grown-up and seemingly unrepentant Johnny Bolt, proud sociopath and soon-to-be paroled prisoner of a special Super Max prison outfitted specifically for supervillains.

I'm not the kind of guy who demands that all of my fictional protagonists be morally pure bastions of human kindness or anything, but I am surprised at how these first two episodes of Super Crooks don't even make a passing attempt to turn Johnny into a likeable or even halfway interesting character. Not only is he a self-obsessed douchebag who only ever expresses himself through constant outbursts of gluttony and lust, he's also a complete moron. If the swimming pool incident didn't clue you into that already, Episode 2's painfully clunky exposition makes it clear that Johnny doesn't know shit about anything.

As Johnny reenters his civilian life and returns to San Francisco, other characters spend literally all of Episode 2 explaining stuff to Johnny. The prison guards, for whatever reason, know more about the world's most famous supervillain than Johnny does, and his girlfriend Kasey has to be the one to explain that his criminal pals got their latest bank robbery scheme from The Network, a shadowy cabal of evil that is an open secret that every person in Super Crooks knows all about…except for Johnny.

Again, I don't have a problem if a story's protagonist is an irredeemable idiot, but the issue comes from the fact that Super Crooks is so awkwardly paced and flatly written that I can't tell if Johnny really is that stupid, or if Super Crooks is just really, really bad at telling a pretty basic heist story. Maybe some of these flaws come from Millar's source material, and maybe they're on account of Dai Sato having an off day or three in the writers' room. Either way, when the first two episodes of your super action anime consist entirely of backstory and exposition, it's a bad sign when all of that backstory and exposition feels so sloppy and half-baked.

I don't want to spend this entire review harping on the negatives, so allow me to say at least one nice thing about what we've seen from Super Crooks so far: The English Dub is working overtime to salvage a lot of this material. Even though it results in some subtitle and dialogue discrepancies that seem flat out contradictory, I appreciated how the liberal English dub localization gave the dialogue a much-needed dose of personality. I'll need to get used to hearing Jonah Scott's Legoshi voice come out of Johnny Bolt's mouth, but if anyone can make the guy's overwhelming stupidity into something charming, it'd be him. Abby Trott is also having fun as Kasey, who might be the only super crook we've met so far that doesn't seem doomed to win a Darwin Award.

Given that this is a Netflix show, I have no doubt that Super Crooks is building up to some action and drama that can maybe make this protracted opening act feel worth it, in the end. The quality on display here is not something that inspires a lot of hope in me, however, so I'm going to keep my expectations thoroughly in check. We've still got 11 episodes to go, so anything could happen. Dear God, I hope I don't come to regret those words…

Rating:

Super Crooks is currently streaming on Netflix.

James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.


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