Summer means blockbusters at the box office, with dumbed-down and juiced-up movies providing wonderful escapist entertainment for all who indulge. Adhering to this tried-and-true cinematic formula of tart-it-out, blow-it-up, and gun-it-down, PA Works' 2009 anime, Canaan, offers the kind of cheap thrills and impressive visuals that go particularly well with popcorn. While this show has its roots in a Type Moon game, it lands much closer to a live-action spy thriller than the typical visual novel-inspired anime. Differentiating itself from the psychological and magic-drenched mystery, Kaya no Kyoukai and the otaku-friendly cheesecake factory of Fate/Stay Night, this series sports a real-world scenario and a straightforward plot that does its best not to interfere with the show's big action set-pieces.
The first major arc of Canaan outlines a standard, but exciting political thriller in the tradition of Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler. A rousing speech by the US President, realistic armaments, and a toned-down approach to the show's science fiction elements paint a portrait of a world not so far removed from our own. Overall, the mundane setting works well with the story, since socio-political environment and geography reduce the amount of exposition necessary to keep the whole thing afloat. In this context, the main character's freakish nature and the fact that her abilities elude the grasp of modern science become worthy linchpins that bind the terrorists' machinations to the anime's theme of "you must take hold of your own life". Of course, the unoriginal evil-organization-versus-secret-government-agency conflict that flows from this setup offers ample opportunities for gunslinging eye candy which are, in the end, the best parts of what the series has to offer.
Unfortunately, this otherwise acceptable narrative stumbles when it decides the conflict that dominates the first ten installments of the series can't possibly hold the viewers' interest for the entire run. Instead, the main story comes to a sort of awkward climax around episode eleven, and then turns toward remedying the emotional turmoil of its namesake character. The "plot is just an extension of the lead" angle works for shows like Burst Angel, movies in the Bourne sequence, and to a lesser extent, Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, but this anime--unlike the works mentioned before--doesn't tie its heroine's past to the events taking place in the present. Consequently, the resulting personal revelations toward the show's end ring a little hollow, and the final incident feels tacked-on in spite of any groundwork the writers lay earlier on.
Dear animation studios, if your name is not SHAFT, sit up and pay attention, because of the shows airing in the same season, only Bakemonogatari looks better. PA Works executed this thirteen episode series in a near-perfect manner: not a single cell of poor quality, no changes in proportion, and no clumsy movement. Detailed background artwork brings each of the show's locations to life whether it be bustling Hong Kong, a remote village of great importance to the plot, or unidentified jungle. But the incredible, Jason Bourne-like action sequences form the centerpiece of the anime's impressive visuals. Because the camera remains steady and works with the director's well-considered shot composition viewers can follow every scene, no matter how exciting or messy the fracas becomes. In particular,Canaan's acrobatic combat makes for some of the best set pieces this side of Princess Mononoke, and the second episode features a frenetic car chase through the streets of Hong Kong that viewers must to see to believe. When the plot quits navel-gazing and goes balls out, few TV series can match the fluid motion or the impressive choreography on display.
While the character designs lack the flair of other series with the same level of polish, this work does also shine between the explosions and volleys of small-arms fire. Expressive character animations light up the slower moments of each episode and help improve the sometimes limited characterization. Maria's facial contortions could fill a photobucket account, and Hakko, who is mute, comes brilliant to life through the incredible effort of her animators.
Due to its conventional setting and "realistic" characters, Canaan's voice cast receives precious few opportunities to make memories. Canaan and Alphard sound much like the viewer would expect, as does the innocent and optimistic Maria. No one overacts, and none of the performances grate on the ears, but only Yun Yun's voice actress, Haruka Tomatsu, manages to steal any scenes.
On the flip side, the music serves as an ideal compliment the series' action-packed content. The OP, "mind as Judgement" sets the mood for each episode, and is a catchy tune in its own right. It's English-language countdown and driving rock feel place it near the top my anime playlist. Though different in tone, the synth-heavy and otherworldly ED, "My Heaven" proves a good fit with the show's introspective overtones. In addition, Canaan's cast features an idol who's music weaves in and out of the main plot. As her concerts appear during real events occurring within the narrative, her music sounds tinny and hollow in most cases, which jibes with her outdoor performances on screen. The directors subvert this trope when they use her music as the soundtrack for episode two's car chase. The wonderful juxtaposition between her upbeat melody and the frantic driving heightens an already impressive scene to sublime. For its part, the remaining ambient music consists of generic orchestral numbers, heavy in horns and drums that build excitement and drama in all the right places without detracting from the events on screen.
While the plot may leave some viewers in the cold, the characters more than take up the slack. Complementing the dour and awkward Canaan, Maria bubbles with life and her constant whirlwind of expressions go a long way toward mitigating her whiny lack of self-confidence. Meanwhile, her partner, Minoru, acts beautifully as a story catalyst; his role as reporter allows the writers to insert exposition directly into the narrative without stopping its flow--a common failing of many TV series. While on the prowl for a scoop, his eyes-open approach to the events of the series makes him both sympathetic and admirable. Rounding out the group, the odd-jobbing Yun Yun adds a much needed breath of fresh air to the sometimes too-serious goings on. The brash Chinese girl's tireless salesmanship, considerable grit, and welcoming friendship quickly endear her to the audience. Without question, some of the most enjoyable scenes in each episode feature her smiling face. While these main leads start out interesting, their development is almost nonexistent in light of the catastrophic events of the story. The show relegates Maria's growth from a misty-eyed optimist into a realistic adult to the final installments, which denies her the chance to show her true mettle or determination until the last second. This post-narrative character development echoes Burst Angel's treatment of Meg, and in both cases, falls flat by leaving too much unsaid. Mirroring Kara no Kyoukai's stoic bombshell, Shiki Ryogi, Canaan's evolving personality and outlook have little effect on her icy facade until the season's closing credit sequence.
Across from the leads, the show places three believable but one-dimensional villains. Liang Qi and Cummings broadcast their motivations so forcefully that a viewer can understand them sans sound or subtitles. Conversely, the show obscures Alphard's past and raison d'etre in order to give her depth that frankly doesn't exist. As foils for the protagonists, this trio suffices, but they elicit little sympathy from the viewer. To more positive effect, the series also showcases an entertaining rogues gallery of secondary characters who help to humanize the excessive violence that cuts through the show like a knife. From Canaan's G-man handler to the minor villains who consume the opening episodes, each of these walk-ons fills his or her role perfectly. Of this supporting cast, the super-genki US President and Hong Kong's fastest taxi driver deserve special mention. Their over-the-top antics fuel some of the best segments in the show's first half.
In the end, Canaan adds up to just about the sum of its parts. Intense action, nifty plot twists, and a colorful cast carry the first three-quarters of this anime along at a good clip; and the last two episodes, while a little far from the original plot, feature enough combat and suspense to make the audience forget that the narrative comes a little unglued. True, the show lacks the powerful atmosphere and imagination present in Kara no Kyoukai or the blatant fan-service ofFate/Stay Night, but viewers looking for a serious, straightforward narrative should find this series' real-world setting and contemporary themes more appealing. Type Moon fans should check this one out for its tie-in to the visual novel and because it represents Nasu Kinoko's first writing for serial television. For us casual anime watchers, Canaan's cocktail of fluid visuals, accessible plot, and interesting characters provides an excellent summer distraction from ridiculous shounen combat and overblown school drama.
In the present day, terrorism is on the rise and the Ua Virus – a biological agent with a 100% kill rate – has been unleashed into the populace. In Shanghai, Canaan is a near-unstoppable soldier who roams the streets, always in the path of a bullet. She is a Synesthetist – a person able to use all five senses at once – who harbors a burning desire for revenge and has a past shrouded in mystery. While the Ua Virus infects more people in the city, others cross paths with Canaan including Minoru, a freelance journalist; Maria, Canaan’s close friend who was infected with the Ua Virus and lost her memory of the incident; and The Snakes, a shady and violent group with mysterious motives. Danger lies at every turn for Canaan and ultimately the rest of mankind…
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.