I must admit that I tend to shy away from action titles. As such, I accept my friend’s loan of Black Cat’s box set with not a little trepidation, intending to skim through the first couple episodes and promptly return the discs with a gracious smile and a feeling of relief. The first disc goes by pleasantly enough, but contrary to plan, I find myself reaching for the next one, until I dazedly realize that no more discs remain. Maybe a mainstream shounen anime doesn’t necessarily equate with artificial juvenilia after all.
The plot follows pistol prodigy Train (a.k.a. Black Cat), bounty hunter Sven, and part-robot girl Eve, as they scour the deserts for criminals. Meanwhile, a group of radicals, headed by the crazed Creed, plots to overthrow the status-quo institution Chronos, with which Train has broken ties. Both scenarios intertwine and form an engaging narrative, and the show’s vague political undercurrents convey various running themes. As Train confronts power struggles and suppressions of the individual will, he comes to realize the horrors of murder, values of friendship, and importance of freedom.
Even a shounen-genre dilettante like me can see that Black Cat follows the golden shounen rules. Fights, assassin groups, superpowers, flashbacks into the past – it’s all there. But the fact that they’re all packed into a paltry twenty-four episode season turns the show into a lightning-fast rollercoaster ride, thrilling and insouciantly ignorant of details in equal measure. It’s a perfect match for those weary of continual story arcs and searching for a quick romp.
Such lively pacing, while engrossing to watch, cannot camouflage the story's lack of subtlety and dimension. The show surges across a straight line – backtracking occasionally for the requisite flashback – and offers hardly any time for a profound or impressionable moment. Fights act as the only factors to keep the plot moving, and the battle scenes themselves display little of the originality and brainwork one would see even in a show like Naruto. However, the last four episodes recompense what has been up to then an unexceptional story. While initially seeming a tacked-on farewell gift of more action, it unfurls into an engaging climax filled with revelations, unusual situations, and an inspiring spirit of teamwork.
Black Cat’s dense visuals are able to adapt well in any scene due to an informed use of shading. Both the characters and the backgrounds emit a fresh, sleek look, and an attractive opalescence dominates many scenes, as if sunlight were seeping in through the frames. In many ways, the animation is what makes the show so vibrant to watch: It never gets lazy with excessive still shots, the fights resemble strobe lights in their pacing, and breathtaking visual effects add beauty to the excitement.
Character designs prove impressively varied. No one person looks too similar to another, and it’s not just because of the hair (which, incidentally, gets pretty crazy, ranging from fist-shaped to Dragon Ball Z-type). Finely tuned facial features capture expressions and personalities, and the show’s adroit shading technique supplies fluid detail to the characters’ otherwise simplistic bases.
Black Cat’s soundtrack boasts a generally healthy combination of piano music, acoustic guitar riffs, and gothic opera. The selections are routinely recycled, but they manage to avoid growing mold and sound as catchy in episode twenty as in episode two. Nevertheless, such frugal material sometimes becomes a slight liability, as certain tunes decide to expose themselves in full glory during inappropriate, unfitting moments. Think of it like a buxom soprano who arrives upon a battle scene in a two-piece bathing suit. The soundtrack could have carried more power if a few more selections were sprinkled in to fit with a larger variety of scenes.
What is more striking, however, is the show’s superb seiyuu acting, especially for its three protagonists. Eve and Sven’s voices suitably fit their characters, and Train impresses with his double-act between duck-like joviality and dark, sexy lilts. Equally notable is Creed’s way of speaking, through which his trashed psyche becomes painfully apparent. The American version succeeds with the dubbing (for once) and is preferrable to its Japanese counterpart in voice selections for the minor cast. While seiyuu for the side characters start sounding too similar to each other, the dub provides unique timbres for everyone.
Black Cat’s handling of characters leaves much to be desired but exudes a certain charm, at least. A fangirl named Kyoko stalks Train throughout the show, and it’s easy to see why: The golden-eyed gunslinger is charming, mysterious, and good-looking to boot. (I really have to remind myself that I’m writing a review for a shounen anime here). Sven and Eve join together into a heartwarming friendship, and even several of the Chronos members and villains grew on me by the end. Likable or not, however, Black Cat could not hide its abysmal half-attempts at character development.
In the course of six months, Train transforms from a silent, mystifying loner into an energetic, perfectly pleasant teenage boy. Unfortunately, none of those six months are shown on screen, so one is forced take this sudden personality reversal in blind faith. The writers fling in flashes of Train’s scarred past for no apparent reason – and just for kicks, they toss in Sven’s and Creed’s as well. With absolutely no transition, Eve reboots from brainwashed weapon-girl to stable, respectable comrade. Basically, the only reason our lovable trio evades total stagnation is that so many things are happening around them, which fixes the audience’s attention away from the show's soft underbelly. Side characters, in turn, flit in and out of the screen with hardly anything to offer, some of whom reveal cheaply infused “nuances” to their personalities more identifiable with the rules of a cut-and-dry shounen guidebook. Everyone functions as mere puppets to the plot, rather than as intricate people with which the audience can relate.
Think of Black Cat as a better-than-usual summer fling: It’s flawed, it’s passionate, but mostly it’s a heap of fun. Shounen fans, look no further, because Black Cat will give you a thrill that just might make you forget about everything else for a while.
An organization known to the dark side of the world as Chronos claims to desire world peace, employing the top thirteen assassins in the world known as 'Erasers.' They each have a weapon customized to fit their style, all made out of orichalcum ore, the strongest material available on Earth. Number 13, Train Heartnet (codenamed Black Cat) is the most famous and revered of the thirteen Chronos numbers, but in the light of a tragic event he has come to question his path in life. Together with Sven Vollfied, a struggling bounty hunter and a living weapon named Eve, Train takes up a job as a bounty hunter - all the while running from the other Erasers and Creed Diskenth, a crazed man whom wants him to join the Apostles of the Stars, a group made to destroy Chronos.
When I first stumbled upon the anime scene, I demanded only slice-of-life high school romance and Naruto (Weird combination!). I've opened up a little bit since then, but I suppose the high school shoujo type will always be my "comfort zone."