Sunday, 18 October 2009 19:42

Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~ (TV, 2009)

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Overview

One of the things that the entertainment industry often draws upon is that of the mob. From Al Capone to The Sopranos, and more episodes of Law & Order than I care to admit to having watched, America has a love affair of sorts with the notion of the mafia. It's not just an American obsession, of course, but we're certainly in the running for being the head of the family, so to speak. It's a popular setting – and thus we come to this week's review, Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~, an exploration into the dark and seedy world of the mob, and what happens when you drag an otherwise normal person into it.

Review

The series opens on a young man, curled up and confused on a bed, with no memory of where he is or how he got there. There's a backpack in the room that offers no clues to who he is… and oh yes, there's somebody trying to kill him running around in the building too. They clash several times, the young man scrambling away to try to escape his assailant, until finally he gets cornered. I'd like to say more, but honestly? That's about as far as I can go without diving headlong into spoiler territory.

Phantom is a remake of a 3 episode 2004 OVA series named Phantom – The Animation. An ordinary Japanese tourist witnessed an assassination by the "Phantom". In truth, the assassin is a young girl known only as Ein, and unfortunately for the tourist, she's noticed that he saw the murder. The tourist runs, but is eventually captured by Ein, his mind wiped by her master. Impressed by his instinctual ability to evade Ein for so long, he is given the name Zwei and forced to train beside her, or be killed. They become members of 'Inferno', a rapidly growing organization bent on taking control of the many crime syndicates up and down the West Coast, with the implication that that is only the beginning of their ambition. Those they can't intimidate into being absorbed by Inferno… well, that's what Ein and Zwei are there for, right?

It's a bit hard to talk about the characters of Ein and Zwei, honestly – after all, they spend the better part of the series being turned into emotionless, soulless marionette dolls. Indeed, while on jobs they wear blank masks over their faces, and if it's not absolutely clear, the intro and ending animations feature them being manipulated on strings like good little puppets. Fortunately, we have a fairly rich greater cast to draw upon here that provides plenty of material, and of course, the status quo that Ein and Zwei exist in can't stay that way forever, right? Again, I'd discuss the cast in more depth, but that would plunge deep into spoiler territory, and that's the problem with trying to review stories with a good, robust cast and lots of character development: talking about it is impossible if you want to avoid revealing later plot twists.

Moving onto plot and story, Phantom is, perhaps unsurprisingly, very character and story driven. There's a great deal of action throughout the series, as one would naturally expect in a series about assassins, the mafia, and generally unpleasant people going about the job of doing unpleasant things. That's not typically the main focus of the storytelling, though, and instead Phantom places emphasis on the ongoing development of Zwei struggling with becoming a living tool of murder in order to keep his own life. That alone wouldn't make for much of a series, though, so as the series progresses we also see as both he and Ein are tangled ever more tightly in the plans and cross purposes of the members of Inferno. This includes Claudia McCunnen, who sees in Zwei an opportunity to advance her own initiative, and 'Scythe Master' the puppeteer pulling Ein's strings and responsible for wiping Zwei's memory.

While, again, I don't want to spoil, I find it important to mention that there's an ongoing theme of theatrical performance that goes on through the series. At the highest level, one can easily break the series into three distinct acts, and even Ein and Zwei's masks hearken back to the featureless, expressionless masks that stage actors once wore. Scythe Master is the most guilty of pointing this out throughout the series, and to a certain extent, that's to be expected – after all, he is the one pulling all of Ein's strings.

On the animation front, I have to say that Phantom's was easily among the best this season, though I wouldn't go so far as to suggest it belongs among the elite series out there. Motion and action scenes were very well done, fluid and without the choppiness that can popup when you have such dynamic characters. The character design is effective and well thought out, if perhaps a bit heavy on the fan service. Then again, given some of the character's curves, I can't say I'd blame the animators for taking advantage of them. The characters lean a bit more toward the realistic end of the art scale than the average series. It's still firmly in the realm of anime styled faces and expressionism, but tending toward somewhat more natural eyes over the usual 'Big Eyes Small Mouth' design. Last but not least, there was more attention than usual paid to the animation of the character's hair, with more subtle details to the motion as the characters move about.

On the vocal boards, I have to start by giving kudos to Ein's voice actress, Ayahi Takagaki. As suggested above, Ein as a character is one who's normal self is completely and utterly devoid of anything resembling life. She's a walking corpse with half the personality that suggests, and Ayahi did a masterful job of the soulless monotone voice. It's hard to come up with a voice that just doesn't have any emotion at all, but she pulled if off. Miyu Irino, Zwei's voice actor, did a pretty good job too, though he never had to get quite that deep into it. Also, Isshin Chiba as the Scythe Master pulled some voice work that produced plenty of spine-creepingly slimy lines throughout his role. A very good job for the voice actors all around, really, and very worth mentioning.

The soundtrack is pretty solid all around, with a lot of dark themes and subtle, reflective tunes that are the hallmark of such a deeply character driven plot. I don't have any complaints on the background music at all, and while it's not quite worth the same congratulations as the voice acting, it's one of the best this season. The Op and Ed themes are a bit less impressive, qualifying as firmly average music, honestly. KOKIA's Transparent, the second ending theme, did raise the general bar for the series vocals, but not enough to save an otherwise generic collection of vocal music.

Overall

I guess one thing that I really do need to focus on before anything else is that Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~ is on the higher end of the violence scale in anime. It's not M. D. Geist by any stretch of the imagination, but as I said before, it's a series about unpleasant people going about the business of doing unpleasant things. There's a great deal of murder taking place, both at range and up close and personal, and the blood that goes with that. There's no hero character in this series – at best, our main protagonist Zwei is an anti-hero, and that only if you're feeling generous. That he manages to come up looking like a hero off and on throughout the series is just a measure of how nasty the leaders of Inferno are in comparison.

With that said, I did enjoy Phantom a great deal. It's by far the deepest storyline of the season, and really one of the deeper stories since the second season of ef last year. The plot stays strong throughout the series, and the three act plot keeps things from stagnating by allowing both shorter plotlines and longer themes to flourish within clearly defined sections. The storytelling is dark, and most certainly is violent, but that's to be given in this type of series. I wouldn't recommend Phantom for younger viewers, or those that dislike psychological torture, because some of what happens to both Ein and Zwei, and even some of the greater cast, certainly qualifies as psychological torture. Beyond that, sit back and enjoy, it's a well written series worth watching at least once.

Additional Info

  • Title: Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~
  • Genre: Action, Drama
  • Director: Mashimo Koichi
  • Studio: Genco, Bee Train
  • Licensed: Funimation Entertainment, Manga Entertainment, Madman Entertainment
  • Network: AT-X, TV Aichi, TV Osaka, TV Tokyo
  • Format: Television
  • Episodes: 26
  • Animation: Very Good (+3)
  • Writing: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Pacing: Average (0)
  • Voice Acting: Good (+2)
  • Soundtrack: Very Good (+3)
Last modified on Saturday, 28 July 2012 22:53

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