This is one of those shows that given the first episode, you are unsure if you really want to continue with it or not, but having stuck with it, I wasn't disappointed. If you are looking for something that is ultra original you've come to the wrong place, however given this the storyline is entertaining enough and whilst many of the episodes serve as standalone stories rather than a continual build up to something greater, it is enough to make you want to watch more. As a side note, the theme music is annoyingly addictive. If you are looking for something to pass the time, give it a go, whilst I don't think anyone would ever consider it their favourite anime ever it is certainly worth a watch.
Jormungand is an attempt to create a new Black Lagoon but just from the pilot episode you get a more than lazy shot at it. The exposition is stupid, the dialogues are stupid, and the characters are… well, you know. Not that Black Lagoon was exactly an intelligent show (it was just throwing in a few poor monologues around the cruel way the world works) but at least it had great production values and slightly better dialogues to have more fun with. This on the other hand is making you think it was written by a very angry kid who likes to play cops and robbers. Not that it was their fault entirely if the source material, the manga, was dumb to begin with.
Animated by studio White Fox, which is very new to the field; only 4 titles so far. They don’t have a huge budget to do miracles but they always offer and above average result. Two of their anime received very positive feedback (Katanagatari, Steins;Gate) so it is definitely a studio that can offer quality material. Their latest work definitely looks nice but that is as far as it goes; it doesn’t pay much attention to secondary details and this tends to make it feel artificial if you see past the obvious. The direction is done by Motonaga Keitaro, whose roster is nothing but bellow average harems, and as an exception he also directed Katanagatari, one of the best troll comedies ever. Although even there it was mostly the original script that did the work and not so much his talent. He is clearly not someone to look forward to watching his work.
So, aside from being a Black Lagoon wannabe, is the show anything else? Well, sort of, its theme also gives of vibes close to The Lord of War (live action film with Nicolas Kage) and Gundam 00. The premise has to do with a group of arms dealers, who make bargains with several shady operations and their reason for that is not just profit but also to end wars faster, if they are offered to the right people. So they are constantly up against merciless warlords and war mongers, as well as fighting numerous military groups for a race to whom gets to make a deal with whom faster and better.
As cool and smart as the premise sounds though, its execution is completely retarded. Just like a typical show with shootouts, it is hardly realistic and you get the usual “Heroes beat a hundred elite soldiers without a single injury” type of theme. It is not a problem if it can make up for it with great production values or amazing battle choreographies, yet sadly it fails even there. Most things that happen in this show make you feel like they are useless, stupid, forced, or even done invisibly instead of being shown. Here is a list regarding the messy stuff I found.
1) Show; don’t tell. A lazy method of plot exposition is when the characters are using explanatory monologues to reveal new information. In a medium that uses both image and sound it is best to show them instead to simply tell them. A variation of this is when something is actually shown on screen and yet the character tells us about it anyhow, as if the scriptwriter is afraid we are too stupid to get it. Most fighting shounen anime are guilty of this, as there will always be spectators commenting on everything and even describing what just happened. So in this case the heroine is constantly making rhetorical questions of the sort “It’s the military? Are they chasing us? Is he laughing?” The answer is of course obviously yes to everything and it is plain stupid to even have them there. I mean, it’s an action show for crying out loud; there is nothing philosophical worth of talking about it. Instead of having a character saying “I am shooting at the bad guys” just showing us, him, shooting at them, is more than enough to get it. If not, it is the director’s fault for not investing enough time and proper camera angles into making it understood. Yet most of whatever they are doing in this show is nothing but a lame attempt at pointing their fingers at whatever is going on instead of just letting it happen.
2) Walk; don’t jump. The directing is messy to the point no scene seems to last as much as it needs. They either skip very important stuff or stick too much on useless info. An example is the no-pantsu girl, a minor villain who gets several flashbacks as means to explain why she became an assassin or why she doesn’t wear underwear. And guess what, nothing of what they show makes any sense. They dedicate almost a whole episode on her and we still have no idea why she became an assassin or why she didn’t get new underwear all this time. And you think all that were perhaps important to flesh her out and be likable thereafter? You would be mistaken since we never see her again after those episodes. SO WHAT’S THE POINT?
3) Explain; don’t imply. As if that wasn’t enough, they also chose to leave lots of important events taking place out of screen. There are multiple accounts where a warrior taking out several opponents without showing us how. There will be deals being resolved without ever showing us how they used diplomacy to make a contract. There will be escapes from certain doom without showing us the method they used to survive. This is not just about skipping things that may seem unimportant in the long run. It is making them feel unimportant exactly because they don’t show them. It is also making the whole show run on magic convenience if you can kill elite fighters and convince veterans to change their minds and not kill you, without even bothering to show how you do it. It is an action show for crying out loud (again) you make it interesting by showing such things.
I have heard by some that the above is not really a problem as it is supposed to offer plot twists and thus keeping you excited exactly by having lots of sneak actions taking place out of screen. We are supposed to think “Whoah, these guys use smart tactics”. That is not working very well though for two reasons. First, their tactics are taking place and are resolved way too fast to build up and matter, and secondly, this is a dumb action show with shallow ideology, where having such things is only making the whole show feeling stupid.
4) Make it exciting; not expected. Then it’s the whole importance of the missions. Aside from rushing through the whole thing and keeping lots of events unseen, they also don’t seem dangerous (and thus exciting) if the bad guys are not dangerous at all. You get these supposed elite gunners and snipers and they can’t do the slightest thing against the good guys before being slaughtered without inflicting the tiniest injury on them. Hell man, even god-level Kenshiro was getting a few scratches from nobodies in Hokuto no Ken. The first ringleader didn’t even try to have proper precautions while making that deal with the heroine. Sure, he had snipers in place but they wouldn’t save him in time if anyone pulled a gun against him, would they? He also didn’t even bother to have them searched for guns before accepting to talk to them. Instead we get five minutes of shallow macho talking that was completely useless plot-wise, since all the events that REALLY mattered in the mission happened out of screen (taking out the snipers and cancelling the deal). So what was this mission all about? Nothing for you to care about.
5) Make it cool; not stupid. Then it’s the whole heroine’s attitude that just pisses me off. While Revy in Black Lagoon would be full of cocky attitude and would act way too seriously and creepy during her missions, Koko in Jormungand on the other hand will act like a spoiled rich girl whose daddy didn’t buy her a dozen ponies. She feels completely out of sync with what is going around her and looks like a slapstick comedy character yelling, and laughing, and insulting her buyers, thrown in a serious war drama. She acts like they are playing hide and seek instead of someone who makes dealings with warlords that will cost the lives of millions of people. And her whole ideology of trying to bring peace by making both sides in the war to have equal strength and thus giving up is plain dumb. This can easily prolong a war indefinitely. Plus, how can we even believe that a person with such humanitarian ideals and aloof personality even managed to be such an important arms dealer in the first place? No warlord would trust this sort of people.
The same can be said for all the characters in this show. They all try to pass as cool but only act and feel like spoiled fat kids with plastic guns playing war. And then there are plain details I personally didn’t even like, such as the heroines name being… Koko! And the ending song is plain ridiculous with those lyrics (Her name is Koko and she is a loko, I say KO-KO!). And what’s with those wide white eyebrows they have? They are annoying. And those wide smirks they make when they try to gloat? Makes them look totally stupid.
6) Evolve; don’t rewrite. The second episode has a much different feeling than the first, to the point the characters feel like they are completely different people who happen to have the same bodies. While in the first episode they wouldn’t think twice to kill someone, in this one they will do their best not to hurt anyone. And no, the soldiers they are up against in this episode are not any better than the ones they fought in the first. In fact, they made a massacre out of the defenceless civilians and news reporters of the area, just so they can keep their oil pipeline without any witnesses around to tell what happened. And by the way, once more it is IMPLIED they did that since they never bothered to show us all that.
Furthermore, this episode introduces another group of arms dealers who are basically the evil counterparts of the heroes. They will be shown doing the exactly opposite things the heroes did and how that will automatically make them feel like assholes in the eyes of the viewer. But the good guys? No sir, these now are humanitarians, they never kill people… too bad this is a complete contradiction of what we see in the first episode. It was obviously done deliberately for us to see the killers of the pilot as some sort of paragons of goodness but the whole thing was done in a very childish and lazy way to matter.
The above turns to an anecdote in the middle of the episode, when the “good” Koko will be insulting and questioning the morals of the buyer while her antagonist will be kind enough not to do that and shut his mouth just so he will sell his merchandise without making the buyer to feel like executing them on the spot. And this is exactly what happens; the buyer gets so pissed with Koko’s accusations that he is one step away from ordering his men to kill them all. That is NOT good public relations in this sort of work. Yet a few minutes later Koko will be presented as a heroic figure for not executing her military escorts but instead capturing them alive, while the “evil” team will just have killed them for being annoying. See how this part makes a huge contradiction? The spastic heroes who don’t like the whole thing will magically be organized and go through a lot of risks to capture alive the enemy or escape the battlefield, while the amoral antagonists who care only about making money will suddenly feel like killing the escorts and ruining the deal because the escorts were a bit annoying in their remarks.
7) Make it flashy; not fake. The action scenes make absolutely no sense. You get all sorts of events that simply defy logic to the point you can’t even consider them cool. Here are a few examples from the third and fourth episodes:
- Some assassins are paid to kill Koko. They will not try to kill her from afar via snipping, nor will they stab her stealthy in the back without saying a word. They will introduce themselves to her, explain their motives, and then give her enough time to react and escape. Then they pull out a bazooka and instead of firing at her, they choose to hit a minor police vehicle passing by them.
- Then follows a shootout that makes no sense. One guy takes cover behind a few bushes that barely help in stopping bullets. Another guy stands up without taking any cover. They fire at each other at least a thousand times yet they don’t hit a thing. It’s as if the bullets bounce off them. Then the police arrive and although they are wearing protective gear, hold bullet proof shields, or hide well behind walls, they are all killed immediately with a few shots.
- Then they start a calm philosophical debate in the middle of the battle while shots are still fired. It’s like they are sitting calmly to have some coffee in the middle of a war zone.
- Then some guy tries to sneak and shoots at the assassins while FOR NO REASON using a silencer. But they magically “hear” the silencer and dodge in time. A few minutes later, a sniper manages to hit one of them without any reason of why they didn’t hear that coming.
- Then the assassins chase Koko in a car and apparently know where she is randomly running in the city all this time. And it’s not like she is trying to hide because she is running IN OPEN AREAS while laughing as if it’s all a game. The bad guys manage to find her but her allies arrive and shield her with their car, even though they began the chase with a delay of several minutes next to the bad guys. A thousand bullets are fired at each other with a few meters distance from each other and again all we get is three bullet holes, and no injury. All this time Koko is still running along with the car instead of taking cover or getting it in.
- We get yet another “out of screen” scene. The bad guys use some weird super rifle that trashes their car really bad. We don’t see what happens to the people in the car. Then Koko orders a retreat and everybody does so… without showing us how. Hell, they just disappear from a messed up car and we never see them again but we are left to assume such a devastating attack didn’t kill any of them.
- Then this CIA agent appears and starts to act like a complete asshole and even hits them for fun. They can outrun and deflect bullets but suddenly don't see a punch coming from an arrogant asshole right in front of them.
- Then Koko figures out how the second assassin will try to attack them again later on, date, hour, and method included. HOW DID SHE KNOW THAT? It’s not like she knew them for years to tell how they think.
In all, it is a very messy and passable show and there is no chance in hell it will please the fans of Black Lagoon or of action in general.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 5/10
General Artwork 1/2 (generic)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 1/2 (basic)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 6/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 2/4 (average)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 3/10
Premise 1/2 (typical)
Pacing 1/2 (messy)
Complexity 0/2 (messy)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10
Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 1/2 (cheesy)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 1/10
Historical Value 0/3 (none)
Rewatchability 0/3 (no reason to rewatch)
Memorability 1/4 (too badly done to bother remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 1/10
Art 0/1 (looks lazy)
Sound 0/2 (sounds stupid)
Story 1/3 (feels generic)
Characters 0/4 (they are stupid)
Jormungand is a type of anime that doesn't come along all too often these days. It seems we are bombarded every year with new shows that are themed around shounen/moe/school days/rom-com/comedy and the action shows never seem to live up to expectations. Jormungand is about a child soldier named Jonah, his village was destroyed by a small military faction and he absolutely hates guns and those who sell them. Ironically Jonah is put into the hands of a gun dealer named Koko who is accompanied by a team of expert mercenaries. Through the story we see that Koko has a special interest in Jonah and her crew work hard to help the seemingly unaffected boy live a somewhat normal life when he is sorrounded by death and destruction. The show sometimes gets too wrapped up in the action and is very graphic. Too often shows like this spend too much time pondering the strategies of an unrealistic gunfight as if it were a game of chess and this show is not immune to those kind of cheesy sequences. Like "Hey! that guy needs help from his accomplice to know where and when to shoot at people, maybe if we seperate them we can defeat them!" when in reality its just a fucking gunfight and every bullet has the potential to kill.
The action sequences still are fairly spectacular I must say. Beyond the action the show takes itself very seriously but the interactions between the characters provide some comic releif. There we moments in this show (although few) where my face lit up with laughter.
The show also dwells on some philosophical questions. Unfortunately it doesn't do this extremely well but it does succeed in forcing viewers to ask questions of morality. The idea of moral absolutism vs. ethical relativism is a recurring theme. Jonah hates all guns and gundealers, while belonging to a gun dealer. It begs the question of who's at blame here? Is it right that chickens are held in 6inch by 6inch steel cages stacked on top of eachother in wherehouses for their entire lives? They're fed hormones and live their lives being shit on by the birds in cages above them and the unsanitary conditions make it necessary for them to be sometimes washed in bleach before being killed for their meat which we eat. No, this is not right, not moral to many people, but who is at fault? Is it the people who run these operations? If they had free range chickens they would never be able to compete. So is it the fault of the corporations and fast food chains utilizing these facilities? Or is it our fault, the consumer, because we blindly eat our chicken nuggets without a care of where it came from or how it got here? Jormungand deals with a similar dilemma with gun dealers. Is it the gun dealers fault for the destruction their goods cause? Is it the fault of the politicians and countries whose misteps foster such horrible conflicts? Or is it the fault of the people using the guns for whatever cause they fight for?
It doesn't do a bad job of asking these questions, but it really puts the philosophical implications of the stories premise behind the action and quirky characters. And in my mind, maybe the show should have reorganized its priorities.
Every character has a back story and the show tries to show the viewers that these killers are people too, some with families and regular lives. The most interesting theme among the characters is the relationship between Jonah and Koko. Jonah is a yound boy who hates guns and violence but has become so desensitized to it all killing is almost second nature to him. He can kill and not lose any sleep over it. Koko sees this and in a way wants to bring the humanity back to Jonah and harbor an environment which he can live a somewhat normal life amongst the chaos. Koko herself is cunning and charismatic but at the same time very turned off to the world. She wears a mask which smiles and makes light of every situation but we learn that it is exactly that, a mask. I would contend that Koko sees herself in Jonah in a way and as a result she fights to save his humanity. Its like she doesn't want Jonah to end up like her; turned off to the world. This relationship develops throughout the series and I'm extremely interested in seeing it continue in the second season this fall.
Action anime akin to Jormungand are tough to come by, and very rarely any good. In fact, the only “thriller” type action experience I can name off-hand that is worthwhile is Phantom. Another example, Black Lagoon, while an action anime, was too long winded in its philosophy and light on excitement (thus proving my point). Jormungand seems to be the opposite of that, opting for lots of gratuitous violence in lieu of a decent story or any sort of exposition whatsoever. Based on a manga of the same name, this twelve episode adventure through mediocrity is not exactly going to appeal to action fans, nor fans of much else. Its' boring characters, lame action, and unexplained everything compound to become an anime that is very rarely entertaining, let alone exciting.
Jonah is a boy soldier whose friends were killed in some sort of warzone. He winds up killing those who killed his friends, consequently becoming a murder machine. He is picked up by Koko Hekmatyar, a very cunning young arms dealer. He becomes her bodyguard, one of many bodyguards as a matter of fact. He joins the ranks of nine shunned or fallen military heroes (and one Mafioso) who, as a unit, protect Koko from all kinds of baddies including assassins, mobsters, militiamen, and pirates.
The episodic nature of the show does provide for a wide array of stories, but none of them are particularly appealing. None of the episodes truly stand out in my mind as they were all fairly straight-forward in story. Jormungand continually uses flashbacks as a means to dole out plot but the flashbacks are very overused. The various members of Koko’s group don’t have particularly entertaining, nor inventive, pasts; one woman’s entire squadron was killed and she wants revenge on the man who did it, there’s a guy who was the lone survivor when Koko took on the mafia, and another was blamed for something he didn’t do. None of it is anything you haven’t watched or read before.
What really bothers me about the show more so than its lackluster plot is how, while we see a lot of minor character background, we never see any of Koko’s background. Questions are brought up during the show of why she became an arms dealer, but the answer she gives is never heard by the audience, instead we are treated to a well-timed rush of wind. That, to me, is not good story telling. I feel like the writer couldn’t actually come up with a reason so makes it a secret, hoping it makes the character look more mysterious. And while Koko is certainly mysterious, the lazy storytelling doesn’t particularly add to it, more so it detracts from the overall experience.
Another huge problem with the story is how Koko gets the arms she sells, where she gets all her money, and how she has military aircraft, among other things. While there is that small mention of her father, we are given no idea as to why she became an arms dealer and how she does it. Instead the story decides to skip what I assume the writer thought would be the boring details and get straight into the action.
This could be okay if the action wasn’t so gosh-darned dumb. Take for example the group’s battle against Orchestra. If you haven’t seen Jormungand allow me to set the scene:
Koko and Jonah hide behind a wall at the end of a plaza. Orchestra, a man and girl team, shoot at them wildly from the center of the plaza. Lehm, an older man and sniper, is to Orchestra’s side with a silenced pistol. Instead of surprise attacking them from the side as they shoot at Koko and Jonah, he waits until they have time to pick up a riot shield and can block the shots. On top of that, why isn’t the group’s sniper…sniping? Take a briefcase upstairs, put the weapon together in perhaps thirty or even twenty seconds if he’s as good as he’s made out to be, and kill Orchestra.
These lapses in logic truly destroy the action sequences for me.
And while we’re on the subject of Orchestra, I’d love to point out the demeaning view of women that seems to permeate Jormungand. I don’t know if anyone else felt the way I did, but I found the show to be…like it was written by a fifteen year old boy. The most disturbing instance of demeaning women comes in the form of the young girl who is part of Orchestra. Her story is that she had to go through a river to kill some men, and it was uncomfortable wearing wet panties, so she decided to take them off and found that she shot better without them on. So, apparently, she wears skirts and no panties much to the chagrin of the viewer. But nobody in the show seems to be embarrassed by this as it is played as a joke.
And if that’s not enough to make you feel embarrassed, then allow me to continue. Koko and Valmet are obvious lesbians and, while nothing explicit is shown, they sleep in the same room in their underwear much of the time. Sometimes it even feels like the same bed. While I’m not offended by lesbians in an anime I’m more so offended by how bipolar the characters are made out to be. In public they are demonic badasses but in private they are always shown either half naked or naked and in some form of lesbian context.
On top of that, the female counterpart to the CIA agent following Koko around is a ditzy, borderline idiotic, person. Also, don’t forget Karen. Completely subservient to her master, she will do anything for him and, despite being shunned from his graces, she comes back to him again and again. Also add the fact that the characters are typically depicted in some form of the nude, from going to the bathroom, to sleeping, to going to the beach, and the male characters even try to feel up one of the character’s breasts.
If those three paragraphs aren’t enough to convince you that this show has a demeaning view of women, even with a woman as the main character, then I don’t know what will. There is no particularly strong female character that isn’t without some sort of lesbian tendency or something silly like that. It just feels wrong.
Something else really embarrassing (one of a plethora of things it seems) is the fact that in a couple episodes, countries aren’t given names. Instead, they are called Country A or something generic like that; as if somebody was supposed to fill that in with an either real or fake name. It’s very bad storytelling and, truthfully, lame. Nothing detracts from a show attempting to showcase realistic action than a lackluster ability to portray that realness. We know they’re in Eastern Europe somewhere, but instead of play off of tensions in that area of the world currently, Jormungand creates a generic and easily dismissed story. It’s, as I’ve stated before, lazy storytelling.
And one last example of lazy storytelling while I’m on the subject. The random meetings of the arms dealers, coincidental meetings in different parts of the world, are really unneeded and I guess are meant to portray tension between two enemies. The problem with this being that while it is okay the first time, showing the characters again just to remind us they are there isn’t particularly appealing. There are a few characters with recurring roles but none of them are ever used to their full potential, nor are any of them exciting enough to care about.
Lazy writing is what Jormungand comes down to. I’m a big fan of Tom Clancy, Brad Thor, Alex Berenson, and Robert Ludlum; thriller books with plots kind of like Jormungand. The difference between Jormungand and the rest is that Jormungand is poorly researched, poorly written, and comes across less as realistic and violent and more so as a pointless, piece of crap anime. One of the only commendable things about it is the fact that Jonah’s child-like behavior in some parts is good characterization of an otherwise demonic child soldier. But the rest is unbelievably dense and stupid. I can’t help but think that a horny teenaged boy with a violence fetish wrote this, perhaps consulting the few news programs he’d seen in the past five years, Google Maps, and a few crappy books and movies as research material.
While I found the animation and sound to be good, I did take issue with the very idiotic tone shifts. What I mean by that is the whole episode will be serious, like an episode of Ghost in the Shell. Not a lot of comedy, more so a serious story being told. But sometimes Jormungand will inject these cartoony images, such as all of Koko’s killers having red eyes. Because telling us they are killers isn’t a good enough indication that they may be dark characters, I need them to suddenly become the vampires from Shiki. And then there are moments where all the characters say the same thing simultaneously or go into a silly little laugh like the end of a bad sitcom. And I’m not complaining that the anime is being a cartoon, because I understand that the 2D images on my screen are, in fact, cartoons. But such tone shifts are unpleasant and take away from how serious the anime is. I mean, I can’t take such stupidity seriously anyway, but the few people who are bound to take it seriously will at least be offset by these moments.
Jormungand isn’t particularly good in any way. It’s very poorly executed story compounded with the inherent sexism and sometimes God awful dialogue makes it a very dull show to watch. It innovates in no way, and it comes across as a young boys fantasy more so than an adventure for the ages.
If you do like Jormungand, there is good news for you. There will be a second season this fall.
And bad news for the rest of us, there will be a season two.
Right from episode 1 I knew that Jormungand would be amazing! Maybe it's just the guns and violence, i don't know, but I do know one thing, Jormungand is an action packed series with some good, intelligent dialogue. Yes, a lot of people probably are comparing this to Black Lagoon. I would agree to a certain point, just because the settings are somewhat similar and that's about it. Everything in Jormungand was perfect, from the characters to the animation. There is a lot of info given about guns and other military equipment which helped to keep a realistic feeling when watching the show. There wasn't really a main story in jormungand, it was more or less just giving you a feel to all the characters and getting to know them. Seeing that there is a season 2 coming, that is ok with me. This show is a must for any action fan out there and you'll also be rewarded with the great character development throughout the show.