Noir mark 4, also known as Requiem for the Phantom (henceforth RFTP). Studio Bee Train messes once again with the exact same premise but this time, unlike its earlier attempts it did things right.
1) It made drastic changes to the formula to the point it didn’t feel like another rehash of a Chicks With Guns show. It was also way richer in context and plot.
2) Unlike its predecessor, El Cazador, it came out during a time when the market was starting to grow weaker and less great anime began being made, making it a lot easier to stand out.
3) It is the last of these Bee Train shows and also its best. Banzai, we are finally free!
So you may now be asking why did I give such a series which is regarded as awesome by thousands of people such a mediocre score. Well, I initially scored it based on how much I enjoyed it but when the time came to sit down and write an elaborate analysis of why I didn’t like it as much … I froze. Why did I give it a 5 anyway? And what was the story about again? And why don’t I remember anything about a series with such a high average score? Hm, might as well give it a second view and find out.
Turns out my memory was whipped just like Zwei’s this anime boasts being a lot more than it really is. And sure, it has many fans and such but then again when was that a proof of anything? Naruto is a piece of tard and has a billions fans while poor old Legend of Galactic Heroes is thrown aside by most because there aren’t half naked chicks with neon swords blowing up huge 3 million polygon mecha in it.
And what did the above rant have to do with the review? Nothing; it’s just nerdrage; moving along to the actual review.
The story is somewhat generic. Or it is for someone like me who has already watched live action movies like Nikita or Leon , and anime series like Gunslinger Girls, Gungrave or Darker Than Black. It’s about
I don’t remember
A criminal organization which plans to rule the world
A criminal organization which plans to unite the underworld
Chicks with guns
Chick with gun, plus a token dude
A pair of angsty assassins
Ein showing bare skin while pondering about the meaning of life while shooting stuff
What was I writing about again?
A pair of teens brainwashed and trained to be assassins for a mafia family which plans to be the top criminal organization with the most diplomatic way possible -> killing anyone who disagrees.
But the whole power struggle fuss is left on a secondary level; primarily it’s about the lead duo, Ein and Zwei, shooting stuff and throwing around existentialism dialogues around the value of life and free choice. So here we are with a rather ok background story and a somewhat promising foreground plot around two slave killers. Sounds ok and in theory it should work … And it didn’t.
The actual story is fine as it is. Mafia families fight to the death, Zwei has morality issues and is eventually hunted by his own masters, there is a lot of shooting going around, a lot of ambitious crime bosses betraying one another, some subtle romance, some subtle erotism, and a final showdown in the end. What could go wrong?
Well … the pacing. I have left behind my days where I could wait 5 episodes for a planet to blow up in just 5 minutes. Most people don’t seem to care if it takes 10 episodes to get a beer from the fridge but I do. The pacing is as slow as a crippled snail; a trademark present in all earlier Bee Train Chicks With Guns shows as well. I have seen worse but it is still on the slow territory. Supposed this is counter-balanced by extreme amounts of atmosphere build-up, character immersion and philosophical dialogues.
But no; it’s still slow in a dull way. I never found any appeal in spaced out expressionless characters looking at the ceiling and questioning the meaning of their existence. Or at least not without something eye-catchy to back it up. I mean, amongst my favorite shows are anime like Tatami Galaxy, Ultimate Survivor Kaiji and Neon Genesis. Sure, those also had a ton of talking about deep stuff. But they also had psychedelic imagery and heart pumping action. RFTP does not.
It sounds weird saying that about a series where in each episode a dozen people get shot and stuff blow up. Sure, there is action. And sure, the backgrounds are very well made and occasionally throw around phycho imagery. But it’s not done in a masterpiece level directing-wise. Take the action parts for example; to the most part there is no real excitement in them. 99% of the opponents Ein and Zwei face are stupid, slow and can’t shoot straight, resulting to overkill battles that usually last only 5 to 10 minutes at best. Heck, the duo can do air flips, walk calmly towards its target or smoke a cigar for a few minutes and the enemies still are unable to react in time. Not to mention the usual trope where sworn enemies just talk to each other for half an hour when all it takes is to press the trigger. If you have watched the previous works of the same director (Madlax, Noir, El Cazador de la Bruja) you know what I mean. Never liked it then; still don’t like it now.
Anyways, the pacing is so slow I ended up losing all interest (and memory) of most of the show the first time. And during the second go, it felt equally dull, only this time I had to pay some attention in order to write this review. I don’t need to explain anything further; even most of the fans of the series will admit that the first arc is too simple, the second too slow and the third too anti-climactic. It has a beginning, a middle and an ending alright, but it lacks proper pacing and climax. It could easily be done in half the episodes and with a lot more excitement in terms of action or suspense.
At this point I would like to address how most of the remarks coming from the fans of the show boil down to “OMG THE ENDING WAS SO TRAGIC!” Yes, it was tragic. Do you have anything else to comment about it? Most likely not; you too would probably have erased everything that happened before just because there was nothing much to remember about besides a weird feeling of cutting your wrists because of the emoness in this show. So I am not going to start spamming 10s all over the place when the only good thing I remember from it are the last 5 minutes.
Enough with the story; now a bit of rage at the cast. First of all they really are an interesting bunch as far as sympathy or interest from the viewer goes. They all have their goals, demeanors, and development. The negative part is that most of the focus is given on the main duo. They are really given a deep immersion, understanding and development. All the rest, with the exception of Scythe Master, are pretty much left with their initial demeanor; making them rather stiff and hard to like. Especially when most of what they do is talking fancy for half an hour, and then sending in the Phantoms to do all the dirty work and pretending all the stuff they were saying so far were dead time. It gets tiresome pretty fast if you combine it with the slow pacing and the fact that all they do is talking. Heck, when it’s their turn to be killed, most of them don’t even put up a decent fight. Well, talk about all words and no balls if despite the ten hours of fancy talking you are still incapable to lift a pistol and shoot straight.
By the end of the show, I only cared for the aforementioned three, and the always needed to be present token loli, Cal. Well, at least she is there to give a human side to Zwei so she was not just unnecessary extra. Still, even those four didn’t feel any special or likable. They were simply given all the damn focus to the point where the show could work with these four alone. The cast isn’t bad; just hard to empathize or remember in the long-run.
ART & SOUND SECTION
At least the external looks of the anime are marvelous and you will not be disappointed in this department. The amount of details and colors given to the artwork are marvelous, almost completely realistic and fitting to the grim setting of the criminal underworld. Crime bosses live in ridiculously high luxury and have an army of thugs, casinos, yachts, saunas, bitches, etc. And how nice, most mooks are not identical Men-In-Black like in previous similar anime. And that champagne looks so well drawn; I actually got thirsty looking at it. Action scenes … well, they are fine I guess but do lack overall realism; the baddies are dumb arses as usual. But heck, there are basic strategies and field tactics used and not ridiculous “one kills a thousand in open field with a water pistol” or something like in Black Lagoon. And then it’s the overall soundtrack which is just an amazing work overall. I have listened to the first opening (Karma) at least a hundred times. The battle theme used in most action parts is also great but it may get tiresome.
VALUE & ENJOYMENT SECTION
Replay value is so-so because of the pacing issues. Historical value is high; it’s by far the best of all the series the director made. In fact, it probably comes only second to Black Lagoon in terms of shoot outs and it’s still far more than just brainless slug fest. Memorability … well … I did forgot it almost immediately the first time, lol. This has to do with only me of course. I have watched a heck of a lot and this series has indeed overall very little to remember it for. It had many tropes I don’t like, such as amnesia, time skips, and too many recaps. The story is not that special, it is slow as heck, the characters are undermined because of that, the action is not great, and the talking is overdone.
As one described it, such Bee Train shows are basically long moody music videos and not good action/mystery series. I do recommend it for the atmosphere and the soundtrack but I otherwise don’t consider it that great as a series.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 9/10
Analysis: General Artwork 2/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 2/2, Animation 1/2, Visual Effects 2/2
SOUND SECTION: 8/10
Analysis: Voice Acting 2/3, Music Themes 4/4, Sound Effects 2/3
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: Premise 1/2, Pacing 0/2, Complexity 2/2, Plausibility 0/2, Conclusion 2/2
CHARACTER SECTION: 8/10
Analysis: Presence 1/2, Personality 2/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 2/2, Catharsis 2/2
VALUE SECTION: 1/10
Analysis: Historical Value 1/3, Rewatchability 0/3, Memorability 0/4
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 6/10
Analysis: Art 1/1, Sound 2/2, Story 1/3, Characters 2/4