While I've seen only six episodes of the original series, King of Bandits Jing, a lingering memory of it sticks out in my mind. Beyond the formulaic "caper of the week" plot-lines lay a rich and captivating world, full of quirky side characters and imaginative locales. The standalone OVA, King of Bandit Jing in 7th Heaven, offered an opportunity to revisit Jing's stomping grounds and get a coherent, exciting story out of the deal. As the old saying goes, "One outta two ain't bad."
The opening of the OVA sees Jing and his bird-cum-companion Kir on their way to the maximum security prison, 7th Heaven. Locked in the deepest part of the prison resides the magician Campari, whose trove of captured dreams Jing hopes to steal. Instead of using the tight confines of the prison to deliver an action-packed ride, Jing in 7th Heaven leverages Campari's collection to tell three different stories that like to pretend that they relate to each other. Luckily, the second episode, which concerns the origin of Jing and Kir's friendship, doesn't share the same confused style as the rest of Jing in 7th Heaven. This middle portion limits itself to three visually distinctive locations tied together by a single narrative, and thus appears more patient and coherent. Due to its laid back tone and entertaining cast, the vignette stands out as the best part of the short series by far.
Tragically, Jing in 7th Heaven shows the same narrative failings as the larger series, even at the frenetic pace of an OVA. Each episode eventually falls into a pattern that has Jing using his wits to confront a foe or difficult situation until it overwhelms his abilities, necessitating the cure-all solution of "blast it with KIR ROYAL!" *cue Kir Royal animation*. This simplistic plot structure offers little opportunity for development and allows for only the faintest resolution of the overarching story, squeezed into the last installment's closing minutes. By the third episode, it becomes clear that any plot here merely provides an opportunity to trot out Jing in 7th Heaven's tasty visuals.
King of Bandits Jing sports some of the most stylish landscapes I've seen in anime, and this OVA continues in that tradition. 7th Heaven, the show's first real location, echoes a medieval version of the prison from the live action movie No Escape and confines an impressively diverse prisoner population. The prison, however, pales in comparison to the myriad environments used during the first episode's manic chase through a series of dreams. Though derivative (the dreams include an Escher-like world, a carnival and a city populated by robots), the backgrounds and characters in each dream help to both clearly define each location from the one previous and keep the chase scene interesting during the moments of respite for Jing and company. The second and third episodes take place in Jing's and Campari's hometowns respectively, which prove to be as engaging as any of the dream worlds, if a little less outright strange. Juxtaposed against its bizarre surroundings Jing's homely cottage struck particularly arresting tableau and deserves mention as the most memorable landscape in the OVA.
From the various prisoners of 7th Heaven, to Jing's childhood friends and the vampiric Warden Maraschino, the side characters display the same endlessly inventive spirit as the show's backgrounds. Unfortunately, the OVA's main cast, Jing, Benedictine (the heroic duo's mysterious guide to Campari's world of dreams), and Campari, aren't nearly as creative. Jing certainly looks cool in the wake of his trademark "Kir Royal" backlit by the attacks green flames. But that's where it ends. The hero's everyman appearance may carry powerful symbolism, but he lacks enough distinctiveness to grant him real charisma. Similarly disappointing, Campari resembles a typical circus magician; given how interesting everyone else in the OVA looks, a more creative villain would have both fit the world better and made a more compelling antagonist.
While points should be deducted for Kir's annoying voice, given the content of his lines a grating reading can be forgiven. The rest of the voice cast performs admirably with no standout work: Jing remains as ambiguously boyish as he did in the series, Campari and Warden Maraschino's theatricality match the their arrogant nature, and Benedictine coos in a pleasant bishoujo manner.
The music, while limited, perfectly matches the ethereal feel of the series as a whole. The synth-jazz melodies call up a timeless and place-less melancholy well-suited to the constantly changing bizarre scenery and technological mishmash that define King of Bandits Jing's setting. Jing's "hero" theme--used when he engages Kir--dovetails perfectly with the rest of the ambient melodies, and its use of horns adds a little drama to the transformation sequence.
Little substance lies behind the characters' attractive looks. Over the course of the OVA, the only character that seems touched by its events is Campari, and even then, his development gets crammed into the end of the final episode. That the characters appear so interesting aggravates the issue. For example, the series sidelines the flashy and emotive Warden Maraschino, who would have made an excellent villain in his own right, and chooses instead to focus on the inscrutable--and thus, less interesting--Campari. To add insult to injury, the OVA includes a short origin story for Jing and Kir in which the two main protagonists are by far the least interesting players. We learn over the course of the episode that Jing has always been Jing and Kir has always been Kir (an unfortunate, if unsurprising revelation). Jing's droll mannerisms and straightforward take on life conform to the same everyman principles that inspired his character design, but these traits don't make him interesting to watch. Regrettably, Jing and Kir, bland as they are, spend a large amount of time on the screen.
King of Bandits Jing in 7th Heaven, much like its father series, provides its artists an excuse to showcase attractive backgrounds and quirky character designs. This OVA also pretends to have a plot, however, which robs the viewers of the chance to spend some quality time with any of the interesting settings or their denizens. Instead, the best parts of Jing's world flitter by as the show focuses on its dull main cast and weak overarching story. Thanks to the the OVA's mercifully short length and raw strength of its unique visuals, King of Bandits Jing in 7th Heaven remains an acceptable diversion in spite of these central failings. But, if you're looking for an well-told tale centered around a charismatic lead, look somewhere else.
The King of Thieves and his womanizing feathered-friend Kir are back, and behind bars! The duo's luck has finally run out, leaving them handcuffed and incarcerated in Seventh Heaven, the world's most maximum security prison, from which there is no escape. But all is not lost for Jing and Kir, for great treasure is to be found within Seventh Heaven's walls. It is said that an inmate named Campari has mastered the ability of crystallizing dreams into candy, leaving the user to dream anything he wishes. And of course, what else can Jing do, but strive to steal it?
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These days I load up on comedy, slice-of-life, and horror shows, but I'll watch almost anything that sports a good voice cast, an interesting story, or looks particularly pretty. I tend to relate anime I review to other shows I've seen, because that's just how my mind works. Whether my warped view on a particular show totally misses the mark or you believe I've hit the nail on the head, I'd love to hear from you and welcome feedback and intelligent discussion of just how wrong I might be.