Reviewby Zac Bertschy,
Witch Hunter Robin
DVD 1: Arrival
In modern-day Japan, magic use has become almost commonplace. A technique called CRAFT is used by those with supernatural ability. Those who use CRAFT for evil purposes are branded as witches and are hunted down by the STNJ, an elite organization of hunters designed to end the threat to Japan's populace. The STNJ team is comprised of five hunters: Amon, a brooding, skilled leader, Karasuma, an eager rookie, Michael, a computer expert, Doujima, a slacker, and Sakaki, a hunter with the CRAFT power of scrying. A mysterious sixth member joins the team; a gentle girl named Robin, who, with her amazing fire-wielding ability, brings awe, confusion, and a whole lot of intrigue to the STNJ.
Simply put, if you're an adult, you like mystery, intrigue, dignified supernatural goings-on and lots of moody atmosphere, go to the store and buy Witch Hunter Robin right now. Don't wait. Get up, go buy it. You have no excuse for doing otherwise. This show is a landmark, a new high point in animation for adults. Witch Hunter Robin is a spooky, well-written, elegant and exciting affair, and it shouldn't be missed by anyone with a mind for more than bouncing breasts and gigantic explosions.
It helps, of course, that the premise is highly original and very well executed. Ignore any comments you may have heard about this show being “X-Files meets Buffy!” or whatever other inadequate descriptions you've heard; this is a refreshing take on the supernatural hunter genre and is in a class all its own. The characters are not archetypes. They're all given a serious amount of depth, and while it may be hard to sympathize with some of them right at the start, keep watching the show and you'll be paid off in big, satisfying ways. In most other shows of this kind, you're stuck with the usual characters: butt-kicking girl, scared guy, occult-obsessed kid, etc and so on. Witch Hunter Robin does away with these tired clichés and replaces them with characters who actually react and respond like real people with real emotions. While lead hunter Amon might seem like your average brooding bishounen at first, as the series progresses, you'll learn about his past, why he is the way he is, and see him slowly change into a fully-developed, three-dimensional character rather than the fangirl bait you see in other shows. Obviously the entire supporting cast isn't completely developed, but everyone has a secret, and a portion of at least one episode is spent developing each of the supporting cast members.
The first five episodes do a good job of setting up the basic premise of the series and hint at what might be going on just beneath the surface, but they do little more than that. The pacing may seem a little slow, but if you compare this series to any other hour-long adult drama on television, you'll find it similarly paced; make no mistake, Witch Hunter Robin is not for the action-obsessed ADD crowd. Sure, there are battles and so on, but the focus of the show is the investigation and the slow revelation of story clues. If you require an explosion or some major dramatic moment every three minutes or so, skip this series and find something else. This is not the show for you. It takes several episodes for the show to get going (wait until the next volume for things to really start picking up), but the wait is more than worth it.
The animation is on the hit-and-miss side, but more often than not, it hits. The character designer for this series also did the somewhat twisted and unappealing designs for Argento Soma, and his angular faces seem much more controlled and normalized here. They fit perfectly with the visual style of the series. Characters move fluidly against a backdrop of black and grey, and they wear convincing expressions. Flames and liquids are particularly well animated. Occasionally character animation seems stiff or awkward, but those moments are few and far between (albeit distracting when they do pop up, given the nature of the character designs). Clearly this show had a budget, and they weren't afraid to use it.
The music is excellent as well. The opening theme is catchy and appropriate, and the closing is suitably intimate and sorrowful at the same time. Incidental music throughout the show is fitting and understated, like the rest of the series. The English dub is something of a mixed bag, however. While this could have been a home run, a rather eclectic mix of cast members (some markedly better than others) brings the quality down a notch. Kari Walgren does a fantastic job as Robin, downplaying an already soft-spoken girl. She is pleasant, subtle and perfect for the role. Crispin Freeman once again does his Alucard voice for Amon, which is hard to agree with; the voice is a little too deep and emotional for a character that never, ever reveals his hand. After his turn in Hellsing, it seems most dub directors are casting Freeman as heavies or otherwise deep-voiced characters, and this is one case where it didn't quite fit the character. Freeman's performance is top-notch, but it just doesn't match Amon's personality. The other females in the series leave something to be desired. Doujima and Sakaki come across as more than a little whiny; many of their sentences are run-ons and they seem to be speaking faster than they should be. They lack the subtlety of Kari's performance, and in Doujima's case, it seems over the top. Most secondary characters (taxi drivers, supporting cast members) are poorly performed as well. It's a shame that what could have been a fantastic dub, on par with some of the best dubs ever produced, turned out to be a mostly mediocre affair with a few very bright spots.
In short, Witch Hunter Robin is this fall's anime bright spot (despite being almost entirely black and gray). This is a mature, evenly paced supernatural thriller, chock full of mystery, intrigue, and a few exciting battles for good measure. If you consider yourself a discerning anime fan with high-minded taste, above the usual pabulum that endlessly crowds the shelves, your savior is here.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A
+ One of the best anime series of all time, certainly the best one this year.
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