Bee Train brings a slight twist on their girls with guns formula…by introducing a guy. Actually, it’s got a good case of Noir going with it but adds their own little twists keeping it a very gripping series.
What They Say :
A young man with no memories fights to salvage his humanity when he’s forced into a life of murder by a dangerous crime syndicate called Inferno. The organization gives him a new name, Zwei, and moulds him into a perfect killing machine, a meticulous instrument of death created to obey his masters’ every deadly command. Zwei’s not the only puppet controlled by Inferno; Ein is a girl as beautiful as she is brutal, as lethal as she is lost. While mafia violence escalates around them, the two assassins grow closer, and Zwei begins the struggle to reclaim his past and save Ein from a blood-soaked future.
The Review :
I watched disc 1 in English and disc 2 in Japanese, the English having a 5.1 Dolby Surround effect with the Japanese in 2.0 Stereo. The audio had no issues with its quality in terms of audio, timing and effects, and any notable distortion between audio and subtitles. This is become the standard of Manga releases, and it’s nice to see especially with their darker releases that they are able to do a quality release regarding how atmospheric they intend to be, with some real hints of excellence in this release due to how detailed the background noise can be, both with some classic music and effects as well as voice work.
In widescreen effect, the video combined dark and gritty animation with fun outdoor shots of Ein and Zwei on a date/research. There were so sign of problems with audio/visual timing with subtitles, and the colours flowed very well on my HD TV and with Manga currently basically being nearly all my reviews, their releases are constantly good in regards with this, so it’s coming to be expected.
There was no packaging for this release.
The menu on both discs is similar and quite standard; the first disc having a shot of Ein on the right with the selections of each menu listed vertically which were easily selectable, on a strange background of almost drug like colours. First disc has play all, episodes and set up, with the second disc also having extras. All selections easily accessible from both the menu and from the show itself (if you want to switch languages for example) but the episode select screen does have the now common moan I have of only having the whole episode select instead of having a scene select option.
The extras are mostly basic, with a standard clean opening and ending on the second disc, which are both good to see especially considering how unique they are.
The one big and fun extra is the picture dramas – 6 in total with the total viewing time between 4 and 6 minutes each, and definitely takes a more comic stand on the Phantom myth. 4 of them are standard picture dramas with picture boards with voice overs in Japanese, whether it’s Scythe trying to get Ein to do scenes from Urusei Yatsura or Eyeshield 21 (I’m serious), the crew discussing their next project…if they should spend between 3 or 5 dollars for snacks, trying to teach Lizzie to dance or Scythe being all alone getting drunk when Claudia is becoming the most popular member…
But I have to comment on two of them – which are done in the style of puppets. For those who can’t see why I find this hilarious, with the two original Bee Train releases I watched (Noir and Madlax) the then ADV release had some extras where the dub voice actors/actresses performed using sock puppets. These two shorts involving the Japanese cast with proper puppets…and I can’t help but wonder if maybe they actually saw some of the dub stuff and use that to inspire…ah well, either way – these are hilarious shorts and a very welcome extra for this ultra serious show.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Phantom is another series I went into blind, but being from Bee Train who made the three girls with gun sagas (Noir/Madlax/El Cazador) I had a good idea of how it would work. And whilst the formula is familiar, there are enough twists and turns to differentiate it from the other series whilst still making it pretty entertaining.
We are introduced to a young man and a woman who are attacking a mansion – but very quickly we are hit with a flashback. The man in the earlier scene is shown alone in a room, and apparently lost his memories. And being watched by some particular people who seem to be judging him on his instincts and reactions as he seems to be much more alert to his surroundings than a normal person would be. Within seconds of him starting to wonder what is happening, the young woman that was partnered with him in the first scene, in the flashback she begins to attack him. It turns into a strategy as she tells him to fight back to his best otherwise he will die. The will not to die inspires him to actually dodge and eventually defeat the girl but he cannot kill her after seeing her face once her ‘Phantom’ mask is taken off. The man watching over him, Scythe Master, comes over and introduces himself, and explains that he has the qualities to become a top assassin, as now he has no memories. Thanks to some ‘help’ from the girl, simply known as Ein, he adopts the name, Zwei, and becomes the second ‘Phantom’, an assassin for a group simply known as Inferno. We then cut back to the original scene of the two taking out a Las Vegas mafia boss as the story truly begins.
One thing I am really impressed is how the little things (usually at the end of an episode) hint at a bigger picture, and also how the story of Zwei, who seems uncaring as does Ein, does harbor a need to return to normal. And to my surprise, this half does actually gradually show what happened to Zwei and how his memories are lost – the show does have an episodic feel, but each one does have a point and how it develops the story. Episode 2 has Zwei for example training as we know he goes more on instinct than ability, whilst episode 3 throws him at the deep end in a life or death situation as he goes up against a former Navy Seal as it shows he reacts to his killing instinct when he’s about to die, and his abilities tenfold. It’s a story for Zwei to either fight to keep his humanity or to give in to becoming ‘Zwei’.
This is where Ein comes in – she is the original Phantom and almost acts as a mentor to Zwei. Whilst solemn, she’s not complete emotionless, a definite trend that I remember that Kirika possessed from Noir. Her past is far more ambiguous, outside of being Scythe Master’s pet project. I don’t think she’s a conscience to Zwei as she almost tells him to give into his assassin side. However when things get difficult for her later in the first half of the season, it’s certain that Zwei thinks of her as something more, which makes her own decisions a lot harder for her to comprehend, whether she should be with Scythe or with Zwei. The supporting cast are particularly interesting – two in particular, we have Scythe who is a rather solemn mad scientist like character who acts like Ein’s father but almost creepily obsessed with her and taking over Inferno. On the other side of the fence, we have Claudia, the female operative of Inferno who is a big deal but not big enough for the main guys to take seriously. She seems to take a real interest in Zwei, but whether he’s leading him on or sees him as the diamond in the rough to get her into the society she wants, we’re unsure at this point. She’s definitely the most interesting character as she’s sending mixed messages to Zwei, and he doesn’t seem to know how to react until quite near the end of the first half of the series, where there is a surprising turn when she reveals she knows who Zwei is, and how he lost his memories. The twist is a shock and I wasn’t expected it, so there is definitely a lot more story to be told…
Ein and Zwei have such a unique characterization in terms with their own ‘bosses’ that almost everything that happens can catch you off guard. Whether it’s as a maid in Las Vegas, or out shopping in a mall for research on the areas, it’s not as straight forward as it appears. When the inevitable betrayal happens (though won’t spoil who does the betraying and how) it does surprise you that in just under 10 episodes they pull a real cat out of the bag. Their relationship under assumed identities whilst Zwei discovers his past and humanity begins to effect Ein and really has to make her question her choices. It is very gripping and engaging and you wonder what is going to happen next.
The one minor niggle or two I had was the last couple of episodes – after episode 10 which was a big shocker, they slowly recap what has happened after that, and almost wash off what happened before. They introduce a new character named Cal to act as a foil for Zwei, in a way that they are rehashing what happened originally between Ein and Zwei. Now Cal has the potential to be interesting; the way they introduce her, the way she’s so gung-ho about Zwei’s work, and how Zwei wants to protect her and train her has good potential, but as they kind of done it between Ein and Zwei, the only difference is that Zwei now has to train Cal, and with her being much younger, it seems they can’t go through the more drill sergeant/physical route that Ein took it, so it does leave quite a few unanswered questions. But to be fair, it was just the way it was placed – with a second half to come, I’m sure everything will become clear.
All the little things really add to this series, the music – the subtle clues about what is going to happen, the way Zwei’s past is revealed, the troubles Ein has in betraying her pupil or betraying her master, the master plans both Scythe and Claudia have in their own manipulating ways, the action scenes (again, flashbacks of Noir but more blood spring to mind) scream Bee Train at their best. This is a keeper for fans of Bee Train, but for any fan of mystery, action and drama should at least give it a shot. Just keep the gun away from anyone with German numbers as their names…
Phantom may not be an opera, but it has enough drama for it to be one to be a keeper. The leads are engaging but whilst not be the most talkative, the way the side characters use them shows actions can be louder than words when creating a series. Introductions to flashback to training to missions to shocks…it flows through much faster than you’d expect for a series like this yet the action and suspense keeps pulling you in. With one big shock apparently hitting and a new saga and team about to don the Phantom masks, the show pulls you in and keeps you for more. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Picture Dramas, Textless Opening Song: Karma, Textless Closing Song: Jigoku no Mon
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: October 3rd, 2011
Running Time: 293 minutes
Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.