Hard-bitten cop in the San Teresa City Police Kei Matoba has just seen his partner Rick murdered. And now he’s forced to work on the case with Tilarna Exedilika, a young and idealistic female knight from Reto Semaani, the ‘other’ land beyond a hyperspace gate that opened fifteen years ago over the Pacific, just off the bustling island city of San Teresa. Semanians and humans live side-by-side here, but tensions keep bubbling up, not least because some of the Semanians are magic wielders and have become involved in crime. Are the differences between the two new partners irreconcilable? He wields a gun, she has a sword. She’s very much an innocent abroad and is ill-prepared to cope with the sleazy underbelly of San Teresa’s nightlife. But when, thanks to Tilarna, Kei realizes that they are up against a powerful Semanian wizard who can manipulate the dead to do his bidding, co-operation between the two unlikely partners begins to build. Not that it helps when she insists on staying in his apartment, yet constantly criticizes his bachelor habits…
The first story arc deals with the sale of fairies on the black market: yup, real fairies (small, with wings), imported from Reto Semaani and made into a highly addictive, highly coveted drug called fairy dust. Tilana has been sent to San Teresa because a fairy friend of hers has been kidnapped and probably shipped to San Teresa – and she is determined to rescue her from this horrible fate. Tilarna can sniff out the presence of ‘latena’ (Semanian magic) which makes her an invaluable aid in the police investigation into the drugs racket. However, the main underlying theme of the series that bubbles up is the uneasy relationship between the human and Semanian inhabitants – and the upcoming elections in the city, mirrored in some ways by the relationship between Kei and Tilarna. As the elections draw near and unrest on the streets is stirred up by different factions, both have to find a way to bury their differences and work together.
With a script by Shoji Gatoh (Full Metal Panic!, Amagi Brilliant Park) based on his light novel series COP CRAFT Dragnet Mirage Reloaded, character designs by Range Murata (Last Exile) and a score by Taku Iwasaki (Gurren Lagann, Bungo Stray Dogs) COP CRAFT looks at first glance like a winner. But… perhaps something just didn’t quite click with the creative team in putting this series together. They certainly ran out of budget on the animation front. Although, one can forgive the need to resort to stills if the underlying story is strong enough to carry the viewer through. But something frequently feels ‘off’ about this story: good ingredients thrown into a cooking pot that don’t go so well together, resulting in a not very appetising dish. It looks fine on the page: fresh-faced young female alien and jaded war veteran cop forced to team up as unwilling partners to solve crimes. She’s idealistic and can wield magic; he’s hard-bitten and cynical (yet keeps a cat, even though he has an allergy). So far, so good – except for the uncomfortable fact that Range Murata’s character designs for Tilarna make her look like a young teenaged girl and the story then plays even more uncomfortably with this image, using her as bait for a politician in a brothel and – most uncomfortably of all – effecting an accidental magic-induced body-swap with Kei’s cat Kuroi. This incident takes a whole one and a half episodes to resolve, which in a series of twelve episodes (Episode 9.5 is one of those annoying resume episodes) is far too long for what’s essentially PWP fluff, unbalancing the dramatic flow and build-up of the main story about political corruption and racial tension between the aliens and the Earthlings. All this suggests that maybe something went wrong at the production stage? Who knows. Anyway, it doesn’t do the dramatic flow of the series any good at all. The clumsy revelation/info-dump half way through that Kei had a younger sister who died is also not developed but is, I guess, inserted to explain his grumpily tolerant attitude to Tilarna’s tsundere outbursts and the fact that the story doesn’t attempt (thank goodness) to set them up as potential romantic interests. (Oh and did I mention that there’s a vampire? Another plotline that seems to have been randomly inserted, because vampires, and then goes…nowhere.)
On the plus side, there are good performances from the lead actors in both the original Japanese and the American dub. Mayu Yoshioka as Tilarna is rather more strident than Felecia Angelle who is better at capturing the young woman’s combination of innocence and self-righteousness. But both David Matranga and Kenjiro Tsuda are equally convincing as the world-weary cop Kei – and this is one of those shows where an American dub sounds appropriate, given that most of the human characters (except the hero) are not Japanese.
It’s amazing how the addition of a well-written soundtrack can enhance and intensify the drama, even with a less-than-stellar piece of animation. Taku Iwasaki brings all his experience and skill to the music for COP CRAFT and frequently elevates the tension to a much higher level than the writing deserves. He’s still using his very effective technique in underscoring tense action sequences with slow, long-drawn out writing for strings which serve to heighten the drama. And he brings a flavour of the alien world of the Semanians with passages using instrumentation that hints at middle-eastern textures and scales. It’s not overdone, yet it works. The OP “Rakuen Toshi” by Masayoshi Ōishi, goes instead for a Latin American feel, with its frenetic upbeat tempo and refrain of ‘Paradiso’ to depict the nightlife of San Teresa. However, the ED “Connected”, although sung nicely by Tilarna’s Japanese VA, Mayu Yoshioka, is a lacklustre piece of composition and an uninspiring ending to almost every episode.
No information was available at the time of writing as to what extras are included in this release from Manga Entertainment.
I had high hopes for COP CRAFT, especially given its pedigree – and although not a disaster, this intriguing clash of magic wielders and modern urban crime is not nearly as good as it could have been. It’s entertaining…but perhaps it would have been a good idea to get a different writer other than the light novelist himself to adapt the series for anime.