What Netflix should spend more time with, instead of live-action downgrades.
Overview (No Spoilers)
Welcome to the fictional island country of Cremona. Technologically advanced by modern American standards, but still saturated with a quaint Japanese/Italian fusion culture and welcoming architecture. It’s the kind of homey place you’d want to move to after you finally had it with the politics of your current country. You would, except for the series of grisly murders. Good thing, many of these murders happened to the murderers in other crimes. Someone is running around killing nogoodniks, leaving behind a cryptic mark composed of an angular letter B and four short slashes. From this, media have given him the name “Killer B”. The RIS (which I think stands for Royal Investigation Squad) is commissioned to look into this. After a particularly nasty incident, the team is introduced to an old friend of the captain. His name is Keith Flick, and he’s looking a bit unkempt. Ever since his adopted sister was murdered, he’s been stuck in the police archives. Flick has an exceptional mind, comparable to Sherlock Holmes. He’s also exceptionally eccentric, comparable to Sherlock Holmes. Together, they fight terrorists, assassins, thieves, and serial killers, all while hunting Killer B.
Further Overview (Oh, wait, there’s the spoilers.)
Not all is normal in Cremona. A secret society of superpowered miscreants steals gold secretly and manipulates other criminal elements in the kingdom for unknown purposes. This group is called Market Maker, and they serve as networks both for and against Cremona for complicated reasons. The people that make up Market Maker all seem to have the ability to morph their bodies in various ways. Oh, and if you’re wondering about Killer B, he’s just like them. His real name is Koku, and he’s got a bit of a beef with Market Maker. They’ve got his girlfriend, and he’s got a very particular set of skills if you catch my meaning. Those skills include regeneration, super-speed, morphing his arm into a blade, growing black wings, and a freaky left eye. Where did all these powers come from? Well, Koku et al are bioweapons made by studying the genetics and prophecies of an ancient, pre-human civilization. Failed variants of these beings are indistinguishable from humans but are faster and stronger. Unfortunately, they require a serum derived from gold to regulate their aggression responses. Without it, they go crazy and start killing. That explains the gold theft.
But, what does all this have to do with the RIS and Flick? Everything. The closer the RIS gets to the truth about Market Maker’s machinations, the more dangerous the game becomes until everything is on the line to unveil the conspiracy and take down the shadow government once and for all! Along the way, Koku and Flick meet. The older man gives the young bioweapon all the information he needs to rescue his girlfriend, but will it be too late?
B: The Beginning is an intriguing anime, and once I spun it up, it was hard to put down. The main plot with Flick is a compelling investigative show on par with Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Technology plays a key part in this story, and all of the supporting cast serves their own function as the plot unfolds. Most of the time, we are focused on Flick and one of the greenhorns, Lily Hoshina. She may still be wet behind the ears, but she has a curious and passionate spirit that drives her to understand Flick’s nigh insanity. This also makes her the go-to officer when Flick goes off the reservation. I enjoyed all of these characters, especially for their most welcome and humanizing contribution to the show: humor. The three new members of the team, as well as the group’s hacker Kaela, are all quite spirited and expressive, lending a sarcastic air to their adventures. It is all too easy for a show like this to become moody and dark. Thanks to these younger investigators, we instead find the team endearing.
The other half of the show has no such luck. It is brooding, gritty, and violent. It is an interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy and has plenty of action. The tone of this plotline is worlds away from the other, which creates a dissonance within the show. It felt as if I was watching two shows simultaneously. As the two stories meet in the middle, the disconnect almost disappears. Then, the heroes go their own way, and that feeling returns. It isn’t the worst thing, and the two stories do require each other for a complete universe, so I think it is just something to deal with in the inevitable season 2. In addition, most of the characters in this route of the story are stock villainous types. Crazies, creepy, hyperviolent kids, the Sephiroth clone with a grudge, and the cool-as-a-cucumber guy in the background. We also have Koku’s girlfriend Yuna, who was brainwashed by the baddies early on. With the exception of the crazy ones, they all feel like somber, moody people, languishing in a dark room. Not all that special, and not very developed. When most of them die, I don’t care. Just mooks for the true bad guys. Koku is similarly low-key. Those scenes we see him outside the quest for rescue and vengeance are the best, as he shows actual personality while working on violins. Otherwise, he’s a mindless machine of emo murder.
I loved the visual aspect of this show. The cinematography is incredible. In a minor, easily discarded scene, the chief walks down a hallway on the phone. He turns a corner and continues. In live action, this is nothing. However, in animation, this takes planning. Here, the backgrounds are CG, done by LandQ Studios, with traditionally animated characters walking along. They turn perfectly in time with the change in perspective as the camera goes down the hall and turns. The animation quality throughout the series is amazing. Then again, what else would you expect from Production I.G.? Koku’s morphs are smooth and full of incredible detail. I remember one scene where they are watching footage of a tank driving a traffic cam, listening to the engine noise. The fluidity and accuracy of that movement to the way it would look from a real traffic cam was a tiny detail that likely took a huge amount of effort. The backgrounds are absolutely beautiful. Five different companies were involved in background art here, and all of them had their work cut out for them. One of the said backgrounds was a room where Flick did his thinking, covered in probability formulas and symbols he uses in organizing information. It has so much all over it, that the walls look white. It’s a great effect.
Speaking of how Flick organizes his information, this show takes a note from the recent BBC series Sherlock. We get to visually see Flick’s thought processes on screen. This takes the form of text and symbols moving around the screen. They move fast, and the subtitles sometimes have a hard time keeping up, but that’s what a pause button is for right? I also like watching him predict scenarios by watching them play out in his head. There are glowing colorations on people’s faces as he marks them as friendly, neutral, or bogey. These colorations are not explained but simply exist. We get no translation for the symbols or any of the movements, but they make enough sense to themselves that you start to feel like you understand them at the end anyway. It’s a great mechanic, and It actually makes you feel smarter for reaching that point.
Voice acting, let me tell ya. Faye Mata was a live wire in the role of Lily. She gave the whole show life and passion, which serves a great purpose. She doesn’t have much of a back-plot or massive growth over the series, but her warmth and energy make her endearing enough that you care about her. Other characters reflect this light back when they are around her, while they tend to cool off when she’s missing from the scene. Another character with personality is Allegra Clark’s Kaela Yoshinaga. Once she powers up her hacker skills, this character goes from a slightly gruff, anti-social grump to a force of nature that WILL wreck you. She’s witty, and the voice acting has all the right timing and inflections to give her what she needs. Despite Allegra’s relatively short list of credits in anime and video games, she’s got the chops for bigger roles, and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future. Jalen K. Cassell’s ADR script diverges slightly from the literal translation of the Japanese, which is apparent if you watch with subtitles. Lines are altered in ways that, while they match the movement of the mouth, mean different things. This gives the series a slightly altered tone and may be responsible for some of the sobriety of the characters. The lines feel natural to the characters if seen from an American perspective, and if he changed things for that purpose, he is quite the skilled writer.
How Best to Watch
Oh, wow. I turned this series on, and before I knew it, I was six episodes in and craved more. I recommend just carving out an afternoon with a two-liter and all the popcorn you can make. Grab a friend or two to sit and theorize as you go to make it an interactive experience.
Although its two main stories feel a bit disjointed and out of phase with each other, they are each compelling in different ways and thoroughly entertaining. With excellent animation, art, and voice acting, why would I not give this series nine points out of ten?