Black Cat redeems itself somewhat in its third volume as the supposed filler episodes add interesting details to the story overall and things really begin to move quickly in regards to Creed and his plans for Train. The mixture of seen-it-all-before Shounen Jump supernatural combat and the jarring, misplaced humour still grate on my nerves but these episodes set right at least some of my earlier criticisms; all in all it’s an improvement over what went before and sets the story on an entertaining, if a little derivative course.
Creed’s big plan turns out to be the Apostles of the Stars, an assortment of elite warriors who are able to stand up directly to the might of Chronos and their agents, the Numbers, and who will allow him to become an authority figure in his own right. I’m not confident this will turn out to be anything other than the typical megalomaniac trying to take over the world but the unbalanced bishounen character of Creed is marginally more interesting than most, especially with his admiration for Train taken into account. He puts both the loyalty of his new recruits and his own personal safety on the line in order to persuade our hero to join him but it seems Saya’s murder still lingers in Train’s memory.
It’s good to see that Train hasn’t forgotten about Saya actually. Her appearance in the series was all too brief (it was a bit longer in the original manga apparently) but it’s set the former Chronos assassin on a different path and his grief is having a noticeable effect on his actions. In between the periods of moodiness there are moments where Train’s character shows a more intriguing type of angst and inner conflict; needless to say this takes on greater significance when he crosses paths with his adversaries on a number of occasions.
The links between Train and his opponents are a bit more inventive that I expected here: not only is Creed trying to bring him in on the Apostles, but Kyoko, one of their members, develops a crush on Train so has her own personal reasons for wanting him to join. Needless to say, her feelings are used for comedic rather than dramatic effect for the time being but it still has potential to complicate things later on as the Apostles and Train clash again, as I’m sure they inevitably will.
There’s the introduction of another character in this volume too, who I hope will turn up in future outings: his name is Woodney and he’s an imposter who tries to pass himself off as the Black Cat, using Train’s reputation to make his own life easier. While this sort of behaviour would make such a character spineless or simply detestable, this fraudulent oaf actually shows a little bit of courage of his own when he finds himself and Eve caught in a tight spot and as a result I saw him as a hapless everyman who is trying to survive in the series’ rough and tough world as best he can, with just a hint of gallantry. Besides, he usually pretends to be the Black Cat in order to do fairly innocuous things such as talk his way out of fights or make himself popular with the ladies, and never uses his story to steal more than a free meal here and there.
The real Black Cat is still a comedic shadow of his former self though, and I still find it hard to connect the lazy guy and his big appetite with the ruthless killer persona he’s trying to leave behind. It’s frustrating, really, to see those moments of introspection continually being played down by the humorous ones; it’s as if the series wants to be serious but is reluctant to put it into practice.
Whether the budget has improved at this point or whether it’s just me getting used to Black Cat’s mediocre production values, I’m not sure; either way, the cheap animation didn’t come across as distracting in this volume as it did in earlier ones. There’s no effort to push the boundaries but the visuals do a decent enough job of portraying the events without drawing attention to themselves. I suspect this is a series that is appealing to a younger audience who appreciate slapstick more and artwork less.
Black Cat’s third volume was a pleasant surprise in that it builds on earlier parts of the story to give two rival factions with our heroes very much still in the middle. Lively characters and a storyline that carries itself well compensate for the ongoing issues I have with the misplaced humour and puzzling character development relating to the protagonist; if it can stay on this course Black Cat may yet save itself from mediocrity.