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  • Joined Mar 24, 2019
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Cop Craft

Sep 30, 2019

Copied from my MAL account: link

I don’t consider myself easy to impress, and harbor a considerable amount of skepticism when it comes to anime in particular. The state of the industry and Japan’s own questionable ethics more often than not lead to incomplete adaptations, overreliance on tropes, tendency to pander, and plenty other undesirable practices in the medium.

Suffice to say, anime as a medium has yet to evolve to the level of films or literature, and as such I choose to keep my expectations rather low with every coming season. Sure, you have your hard-hitters like Vinland Saga and Demon Slayer, but then there’s the expected boatload of isekai, or series with potential but fall into mediocrity--for me and plenty of others, To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts was one such show. And even then, the hard-hitters often are not something I personally find enthralling, since they tend to fall under specific tropes palatable to very young teenagers; or as we call them, shounen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m onboard with that every once in a while, but there’s only so much of it I can take before a medium of seemingly endless potential and imagination begins to feel surprisingly safe and sterile.

To be clear, I’m not trying to diss anime as a whole. Plenty other mediums have their own problems, especially in their infancy period. Anime is a medium I love and support, and as such I’m all too aware of the drawbacks I’ve come to expect while digging my way through the depths in search of anime that are true standouts. And it’s because of this that the level of enjoyment I had watching Cop Craft is truly precious. If you’re like me, you’ve certainly had reservations or mixed feelings about Cop Craft’s reveal, particularly in the context of Japan’s ever-so-uncomfortable liking for small girls. Some of those same people went on to be pleasantly surprised, just like I was, at its first episode. As for me alone, I kept watching to where it would become one of my most cherished anime in recent memory.

My love for crime-focused shows and films akin to Lethal Weapon, The Sopranos, and the like had sold me on the show within minutes. After some more time of watching, I was then engrossed by the character chemistry and splendid dialogue. And with wild supernatural elements, fantastical concepts, and bizarre sci-fi all welded cohesively into a thrilling buddy-cop drama, Cop Craft stands as another showcase of what anime as a medium, compared to live-action, is truly capable of pulling off.

Before I go any further, however, I must address the elephant in the room. Yes, this show has serious problems with its production, which many people are aware of due to the damaging effect it's had on animation and pacing. Cop Craft's overall quality undeniably suffers as a result, but I feel like people should know the whole context of why this show is the way it is. I’ll go much deeper into this later on, but the basic story is this: this show was made with the passion of a driven and talented team in a very small studio with budget constraints and scheduling issues; a project far too ambitious for what the team is capable of doing. As a result, the animation quality is a horribly mixed bag, but this should not be attributed to laziness of the staff, as tempting as that is. As pressing of a topic as this is, I want to save it for later in this review. As of now I want to make the point that poor production is a tragic reality of what is otherwise a fantastic experience.

The dynamic between Kei Matoba and Tilarna Exedilika is the essence of what makes Cop Craft such a worthwhile experience. The incessant passive-aggressive remarks between the grouchy nihilistic cop and the spoiled, ill-tempered young rookie is one of few aspects of their interplay that makes their first several hours together so immediately riveting. Not only is their interplay superbly written, varied, and sometimes comedic, they’re highly fleshed out characters whose relationship evolves from a bitter incompatibility to a dubious comradery. In general, Kei is someone who doesn’t get along with people, which is understandable since he’s one of the last people you’d ever want to hang out with. He’s a callous and largely inconsiderate man, making rude or judgemental comments towards people regularly with no signs of remorse. But he is not without a heart, as much as he tries to hide that fact from Tilarna. A man of few words, his sparse acts of kindness and courtesy are often dubious, with his true intentions left concealed in his own frigid mist of a personality. Even his most notable good deed, rescuing and adopting a stray cat after pursuing a perp, is reasoned with the idea of it being selfish instead of altruistic, saying he wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if he left the cat there.

While ostensibly uncaring, Kei clearly has humanity as shown in his outrage over the death of his partner, Rick (which, by the way, happens within the first few minutes of the first episode, so no spoilers there), and the fact that he views his chief, Jack Roth, as a father figure. Likewise, it’s made obvious that in spite of his bitterness towards Tilarna, he does grow to care for her. His dialogue with her later on walks a fine line, making it uncertain which of his lines are playful, complementary, sarcastic, or tough love. In general, Kei appeals to the part of us that wants to be spared of the nonsense and get the task out of the way. His cold attitude is sometimes hard to tolerate, especially when he shows no gratitude whatsoever for when Tilarna saves his life, but that’s just part of what makes him so endearing. Kei and Tilarna’s rough interactions are what makes their sparse cases of growing closer all the more meaningful.

Tilarna is always aiming to uphold her dignity and her moral code, making sure to never stray from either goal, excluding particular circumstances. Yet she’s also prudish and naive compared to Kei, often used to great comedic effect and is crucial to her development in much later arcs. Similar to Kei, her abrasiveness towards him isn’t exactly reflective of her actual feelings. More than anything, she just wants to feel respected by Kei and not be treated like a burden, which is an understandable frustration for anyone having to work with the man for so long. With such an entertaining banter between well-realized characters whose bond develops with every few episodes, topped with brilliant dialogue, Kei and Tilarna end up being one of the most compelling duos in anime I’ve ever had the pleasure of following.

On another note, it’s strange and disappointing to see the stereotypical depiction of gay characters that plagues Japanese media appear in Cop Craft--by which I’m referring to Tony. Funnily enough, I initially approved of his character as I assumed *he* was a transgender woman. Because transphobia is just as much of a problem in Japan, my first impression of Tony was a pleasant surprise. And I was let down upon finding out that Tony isn’t a transgender, but a very effeminite and flamboyant gay man. Generally, his appearance and character alone isn’t all that big of a deal. But it does get a lot more off-putting with that one scene of Tony subconsciously feeling up a teenager only to be stopped by Aleks; and wiping drool off of his face as an added bonus. Although Tony is portrayed more tastefully than the likes of Puri Puri Prisoner from One Punch Man, they're both still sad reminders of how long of a way Japan as yet to go in terms of proper LGBT representation in media.

This is a real shame since Tony is generally a good character apart from this, alongside his detective buddy Aleksandr, both of which are a treat to watch thanks to Cop Craft’s sheer aptitude with dialogue and comedy. And then there’s police chief Bill Zimmer, who is just about the closest to an anime Samuel L. Jackson since Afro Samurai. Although his spitting rage and humorous lines are a joy to witness, and with how respectable he was in speaking favorably of Tilarna towards a racist subordinate, Zimmer isn’t one of the more fleshed out characters of the show, unlike the doctor and ex-girlfriend of Kei, Cecil Epps. While it’s shocking to see someone actually put up with Kei’s rudeness, and even remain friends with the man, the main draw of Cecil’s character is how easily she befriends Tilarna. The friendship between the two feels genuine, with Cecil consoling Tilarna about difficult tasks and personal woes. Their playful dialogue about Kei also leads to one of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen in an anime. A lesser writer would simply use Cecil as a plot device or to flesh out Kei’s history, but she’s given the humanity needed to make her truly feel like a person with a physical presence in the overall narrative. With such an engaging main duo alongside almost equally great side characters, Cop Craft boasts one of the strongest casts of characters of any anime I’ve seen in recent memory.

This setup for a buddy cop show is hardly a unique one, especially to those well-acquainted with Western TV and films, but it does stand out in the anime medium among its contemporaries at the very least. And besides, execution is everything. And Cop Craft’s execution in its story is as great as one could ever hope.

As we’re welcomed to the fictional city of San Teresa, we venture into the unknown as well as the familiar. Conflict is abundant here as any Earth-dweller would expect a city to be, but the presence of the Semaani race brings forth a plethora of surprises among the crime scenes and detective cases, imparting a fantastical and arcane flavor to the adventure rarely seen in a police drama. With roughly 15 years of interaction with humans, the Semanians and their world is still largely alien to its human neighbors, with many discoveries to be made about them and what bizarre occurrences and fields of magic, or ‘Latena’ as it’s called, could be at play. To be a policeman in San Teresa means to expect the unexpected, a mantra that would benefit the viewer just as well.

Of course, constantly throwing surprises at the viewer runs the risk of making the world feel incohesive and random, but these ideas are well-developed and properly built up to thanks to some impeccable world-building and (for the most part) remarkable pacing. The true depths of Semaani reveals itself little by little in the human world, pacing out these discoveries in such a way that provides intrigue and tension in a near-perfect manner. It also helps that Semanian arts have a logical presence as opposed to simple magic. Aside from the admittedly far-fetched “strong feelings create Latena” thing, practices and contraptions of Semanians operate on rules of their own, much like our technology. Perhaps the author, Shoji Gatou, was given a freebie by age-old concepts in Western fantasy when creating the Semanian race, but this world is so fleshed out to where it’s given an identity of its own. Semanians even have their own language, which when spoken sounds remarkably elegant and refined, unlike numerous other fictional languages such as Parseltongue of Harry Potter which sounds vague and almost like gibberish. To show just how refined this language is, aside from apparently being learnable, it’s worth considering Tilarna’s uttering of “Boliceman.” This is made to be an endearing quirk, but it also gives the implication that the Semaani language likely lacks a ‘p’ sound, with ‘b’ as a common substitute.

After some time, the role of exploring a foreign world is passed over to Tilarna. Here we have the pleasure of watching Tilarna trying to cope with and adapt to facets of our planet Earth--specifically, pornography and vehicles of transportation--all bundled into an episode’s worth of hilarity, enticing chaos, and a grace of character bonding at the very end. It’s easily one of the most enjoyable episodes of anything in recent memory, as well as the few cases of anime humor making me laugh out loud. This is an episode that lingers in my memory continually, which is a very high honor to hold.

A prominent facet of the setting is how the world of Semaani interacts with that of Earth. The many fields of Latena originating from Semaani unsurprisingly can accomplish certain tasks in a way that human technology cannot. And surprisingly, the opposite is also true. Coding, hacking, firearms, automobiles, photography, and night vision goggles are what the world of Semaani lacks, and play an equally vital role in snuffing out the perpetrator.

Obviously the aptitude of your arsenal means little if the one using it lacks competence, as evident in many shounen and seinen that get away with artificially stretching out their arcs by having characters fumble around or arbitrarily bringing forth a greater power to stall the action. Cop Craft is the exact opposite case. The policemen of San Teresa are intelligent and capable as policemen are expected to be, using any strategy or asset at their disposal to gain the upper hand. I think anyone could remember a time they watched or read a piece of media, getting aggravated at characters for not seeing the obvious solution or making moronic decisions leading to their downfall, taking you out of the experience. Cop Craft almost never stumbles upon this, and crimes are dealt with efficiently through the use of Latena magic, Earth technology, and competent storytelling.

That said, as praiseworthy as this is, it comes with a cost: conflicts in Cop Craft are dealt with relatively fast, and arcs can feel frustratingly brief and even anticlimactic as a result. Some could frame all this as a negative, but it ultimately depends on what you look for in an action show. I for one couldn’t be happier with how Cop Craft chose to execute this. The overall narrative of Cop Craft is akin to that of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, and not just with its Western influences. It spends a brief enough time on an idea so as to throw a new one on the table. Cop Craft never gives anything a chance to get boring (excluding the fan-hated episode 8). Each arc is expounded upon enough to be satisfying in its own right, with the resolution feeling authentic and plausible rather than climactic.

Apart from human tech and Latena, the interaction between Semanians and humans leaves sociological effects that are intriguing and applicable to reality. Heavy politics are in full force as would be expected in a city of mixed races, and Cop Craft is incredibly bold and proficient with this direction, especially for an anime--granted, it involves a fictional race, but the point stands. Multiple points of view regarding the presence of Semanians are touched upon and come into play during a much later arc, lending more weight and authenticity to an already fascinating world. A simple biased aversion towards Semanians or humans for what they are is obviously just racism, but one character in particular has a far more elaborate and justified viewpoint that comes from a similar place, whose quote is written below:

“Coexistence, peace...just lies idealists tell. Earthlings and aliens can’t ever get along. We must keep apart.”

“Some of them are getting by just fine!”

“And their ability to adapt is what scares me. Look at their strength, their vitality; in three generations they’ll usurp us and rule the Earth! The invasion will be over before anyone notices. Yes, not even the invaders are aware of what they’re doing. The world needs to wake up and see just how dangerous these Semanians are.”

If you’ve watched Cop Craft up to a certain point, you definitely know who these quotes are from, and where this exchange transpires. For spoiler reasons, I won’t say, but the crux of the matter is the ideology of what is said here. This is clearly in line with most conservative views regarding immigration; a fear that there is more to lose than to gain, and results can be disastrous. Obviously there are different viewpoints on immigration and I don’t wish to have this sort of discussion at the moment when it comes to real life issues, but Cop Craft is commendable in bringing this predicament to light in a setting where it fits like a glove.

For a 12-episode season, it would be wrong of me to say that these issues are explored to their fullest, but that’s all the more reason to consider the ongoing status of the source material, and to acknowledge that the anime only covers a portion of what is, or will be, in the full story. If anything, this is a positive way of looking at the studio’s size. Since their budget is so small, there’s a relatively greater chance of Cop Craft making a good profit, thus hopefully leading to a second season being made.

What’s really admirable in regards to the studio’s size is just how well the team could do in spite of such meager production. While Cop Craft’s animation is limited, the overall aesthetic is a feast for the eyes. While the show lacks in frames, it excels through well-directed framing and glorious attention to detail. The open nocturnal suburbs are coated in a softly-lit patch of neon colors, contrasting with the grim and subdued tones of the alleyways where conflict is sure to erupt. Bloom lighting is applied constantly in places to accentuate the bright urban life. Most indoor areas are rendered in modest colors where bloom lighting is sparingly used, creating a calm environment where the brutality of police work is given a rest. With such limited resources, the team has made a show that is not only pretty to look at, but with effective theming for different environments. All of this is to say, Cop Craft is one of those cases where the art is superb, but the animation is lacking--hopefully the anime community will finally know the difference between the two.

When it comes to Cop Craft’s visuals, there’s no getting by without mentioning the action scenes, which are particularly of low quality past the second episode. This is where the studio’s size is made all too clear. However, lack of animation isn’t exactly the only thing holding back the action scenes, and this is an area where people are most inclined to blame the director. So here’s the way I see it: is the director, Shin Itagaki, at fault for Cop Craft’s shoddy action scenes?

My answer is: yes and no.

Shin Itagaki is an enigma of the anime industry. You might construe that as a word of praise but that’s literally what he is. Shin Itagaki is the director of shows like Basquash!, Ben-To, Teekyuu, and of course the infamous Berserk 2016/17. On top of being a director, Itagaki is also a freelance animator, sometimes doing his own work during production, and an extreme perfectionist. When discussing the animation quality of Cop Craft, an important thing to consider is that Shin Itagaki has a rather unusual way of directing fight scenes, putting more emphasis on impact than spatial awareness. This sort of style favors very dynamic camera angles and frames of impact, constantly breaking the 180-degree rule of cinema which all results in an action scene that feels visceral yet lacks sense of place. Cop Craft is consistently animated in 3s, and most of its action scenes are animated similarly to the likes of Studio Trigger, with limited frames, heavy smearing, and very dynamic pose-to-pose action facilitating impact in a way that fluidity cannot. However, with such wild storyboarding and constant breaking of the 180-degree rule of cinema, higher frames are a must for the scene to flow properly, and Cop Craft is proof enough of how much this can backfire.

To see just how well Itagaki’s action can turn out, look no further than Ben-To. Fight scenes in Ben-To, as well as certain ones in Cop Craft, are evident of just how much increased frames make the difference with this style, creating enough flow between scenes that would otherwise end up disorienting and drain the scene of its tension. With the current state Millepensee is in, it seems most wise to ditch such strenuous methods and stick to basic, conventional fight choreography to make do with what little frames there are to work with. In the case of Cop Craft, this would have been the better approach in plenty of cases. Many scenes would have worked much better with the same amount of frames but different storyboards, but it seems that Itagaki hellbent on sticking with his vision no matter what, making demands that the studio just isn’t able to meet.

This really hurts the anime in the long run, and it’s incredibly tragic. But there’s a reason I’m not putting so much scrutiny on this front. And it’s that I fully expect the DVD releases to amend this. Itagaki is clearly a very ambitious, passionate individual, and along with his team would love to take any opportunity to make this project exactly how they wanted to. For some episodes it’s not a huge deal if not many changes are made, but as for episodes 3, 5, and 10, Millepensee would be insane to not give them a makeover when the chance comes. Those episodes are infamous for containing some of the worst action in the series, with episode 3 commonly remembered as one of the most shocking dips in quality an anime has ever suffered. But I have faith in Itagaki and all of Millepensee, and wish them nothing but the best.

Cop Craft, you deserve better. You deserved a bigger budget, you deserved better management, you deserve more attention, you deserve more support, and above all things else, you deserve a second season. This fascinating world, these splendid characters, the intriguing storytelling; Cop Craft is a project that is clearly too ambitious for what the studio is actually capable of, and it’s my earnest wish that the BDs improve upon this significantly, as it’s their one chance at polishing this product into what they truly wanted it to be. The heart is there, the team is competent, and the tremendous quality of the source material is for us to experience on a small screen. While I hardly ever excuse poor production, this is a team that deserves our sympathy and support. The story of Cop Craft feels like it’s only just begun, and I’m fully on board with what more adventures await our duo, as well as how much higher the studio will go from what is their biggest project yet.

8/10 story
5/10 animation
9/10 sound
9/10 characters
9/10 overall

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