Beez are a company worth keeping an eye on, keen to capitalise on the momentum gained through their much delayed release of Cowboy Bebop they are following up with another big hitting title, the highly acclaimed and eagerly awaited Witch Hunter Robin. Animated by the capable hands at Bandai Visual and sharing the creative talents behind Cowboy Bebop this is a show with an incredible pedigree, will it live up to my lofty expectations or earn a place on the witches pyre.
Mankind go about their daily lives unaware that mysterious beings with supernatural powers known as Witches exist alongside them. The STN-J, a secret organization of Hunters apprehends Witches who abuse their unnatural gifts. It has been six months since a member of the team was killed during a hunt and the STN-J’s chief organization deem a replacement necessary, Robin Sena. A young but prodigal Craft-user has the ability to control fire, but her powers are only just beginning to manifest. Will the other members of STN-J welcome her precocious talents or will the memory of their dead teammate cast a shadow over her involvement in the group.
Despite a set-up that suggests all sorts of hi-octane witch-slaying thrills this is a series that defies preconceptions, the pacing is very deliberate, instead of pointless exposition and hurried action sequences this is a show content to revel in quiet character driven moments. Steadily layering and developing the narrative through a series of subtle and effective scenes, you really become engrossed in this superbly realised world of witchcraft and espionage. A sizeable slice of the action takes place within the confines of the STN-J HQ as Robin forges tentative relationships with her fellow Hunters, heading the group is the enigmatic Amon, cold and distant he gently berates Robin’s lack of experience welcoming her with less than open arms, Haruto a young and inexperienced Hunter also has qualms about the new arrival, afraid she’ll supplant his position within the group. Some members regard her with a less cynical eye and she soon strikes up a friendship with the mullet clad technical wiz Michael, a super hacker on the STN-J payroll and Miho, one of the elder hunters and so far the only member attempting to help Robin settle into life at the STN-J, and not forgetting the wonderful Dojima, a carefree layabout who seems largely unconcerned by the whole affair. Over the course of these opening episodes every characters unique abilities come into play as the team slowly dissect the mysteries surrounding each case, everyone has an important role to play and although the focus is squarely on Robin it’s a cohesive and interesting group that extend beyond the typical anime clichés.
Each episode ends with the customary climatic showdown between STN-J and whichever paranormal meanie they are pursuing. These sequences are deftly executed, demonstrating a distinctive grasp of style; a lot of the action takes place off screen or is implied merely through creative cutting and some wickedly inventive camera angles. Hopefully the freak of the week formula won’t remain as persistent in later episodes but judging by the unswerving quality of volume one the rest of the series won’t disappoint.
With animation duties handled by Bandai this series will look very familiar to fans of GITS SAC, the characters designs are excellent and do a good job of reflecting the personality of each protagonist. The whole show is steeped in a rich, dark visual style that utilises a muted pallet of washed out greys and brooding blacks to create a realistic but eerily portentous reality.
Boasting a refreshingly lyrical approach to a congested and stale genre, the strong emphasis on characterization and quietly developing relationships give this the feel of a weighty drama, something sorely lacking in similarly themed shows that place more stock in style than substance. If the insular nature of shows like Lain and Haibane Renmei left you cold, Witch Hunter Robin’s considered and relatively ambiguous approach won’t be to your liking, however it’s good to see a show for grown ups that doesn’t pander to just action junkies and robot enthusiasts.