Monday, September 26, 2011

:anime: Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick of the Month:: Black Cat

Halloween comes a little early. But not really…

Black Cat

Official Sites: Japanese, English
Additional Links: Manga Site, TBS Site, ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video [Free]: FUNimation, Hulu

It's not exactly Halloween yet, and despite its title, it's not exactly a Halloween, or even scary, title, either, but what Black Cat is, though, is a very fine and stylish action series.

Train Heartnet, aka "Black Cat", was once one of the most feared members of an elite assassin group, but after a life-altering encounter with a female bounty hunter, he shunned his former killer persona and left the organization. Sven, an older, down-on-his-luck bounty hunter, takes Train up as a partner, alongside young girl/deadly bio-weapon Eve. While the trio chase after bounties and their new future, Train's obsessive and power-hungry mentor vies to have his ward of old return to his former self and be by his side as he spearheads a rebellion against their former employer…

GONZO has produced a wide number of features known well among fandom--Last Exile, Gankutsuou, Afro Samurai, Full Metal Panic, Burst Angel, Strike Witches, Kiddy Grade, WitchBlade, Blue Submarine No. 6--but they have also animated a few that have either flown under the radar or have just lacked their level of popularity, in spite of their quality--SaiKano (once a popular and highly-praised title when it came out in 2002, but has since fallen into obscurity), Brave Story, Welcome to the NHK, Red Garden. Black Cat, despite achieving some good sales, fits more in the latter category as one of GONZO's most overlooked and underrated titles, rarely being mentioned among the former. Even among other Shonen Jump-based anime, it has not garnered as much attention as other top, more popular titles, such as One PieceNarutoBleach, Rurouni Kenshin, and Death Note.

Maybe some of that has to do with its rather generic name, or even the SJ logo stamped on it, but those who haven't watched it, though, are missing out on an entertaining, fresh action show (with a healthy dose of comedy) that isn't drowned in shounen conventions and can be a real blast to watch. A pre-Devil May Cry/Basquash!-debacle Shin Itagaki puts his Shinbo-esque visual inventiveness to effective use in propelling the series' many action pieces, giving Black Cat some of its identity and freshness (actually, with my fledgling knowledge of Akiyuki Shinbo's work when I first watched it, I mistook BC as being one of his own, due to the "Shin" in both names and their styles--made even more ironic by Itagaki handling the second OP for Shinbo's Bakemonogatari a few years later…). Even in some of their weaker efforts, the characters in GONZO's work tend to be quite likable, and Black Cat is no exception (and that goes for the villains, as well). Attention among its ever-expanding and encompassing cast is meted out appropriately (which is more than could be said for other shows, who have trouble juggling many new characters and subplots while keeping the focus on its core cast) and the story moves briskly and has its share of twists and turns, as well. That, and there is always the little fact that Taku Iwasaki composed the score…

While Black Cat may not be a Gankutsuou or Last Exile, it is still a very good show deserving of more recognition than it has received. I wasn't privy to it, myself, and due to its name and it being a "Shonen Jump" series, which I just figured was another easy genre cash-in. But after reading a positive review and hearing good things about it from another person, I decided to check it out, and I'm glad I did. The entire series is available for free viewing at FUNimation's official website and Hulu in both Japanese w/ English subtitles and English dubbed (and a very good one, at that).

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