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Bee Train’s bullet ballet Phantom is really good

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Bee Train doesn’t exactly have the best of reputations, be it their bias for girls with guns or their notoriously poor production values, fact is their work polarises opinion and attracts its fair share of detractors.

I’ve seen neither Noir nor Madlax, was horrified by the low budget vibe I got from Blade of the Immortal and nearly quit watching anime altogether after sitting through the first episode of El Cazador de la Bruja. I know many others share these same ‘concerns’, so I’m going to write something now that may shock and appall many:

Bee Train‘s latest series, Phantom, is really good.

There, I said it.

Darkness (Zwei, about to shoot a child)

When Phantom began earlier this year, it attracted poor reviews. I realise that people are sick of Bee Train‘s shtick by now; that emphasis on style over logic, where posing with guns and defying death at every turn takes precedence over everything else. Unfortunately, it’s all there in Phantom, too.

This is supposed to be a serious story with organised crime and murder, but it’s still a Bee Train anime; the characters are unbelievably strong in some scenes and then unbelievably naive in others. If you think about the plot too much, it won’t make sense, but I keep coming back to it anyway, which is why I’m writing this now.

The two main characters are the female Ein and the male Zwei. They work as assassins for the mafia group Inferno because their only other alternative is to die. They were dragged off the streets, thrown into captivity and told to start killing others if they wanted to survive. They choose to live, and so, almost straight away, our main characters, our moral beacons, have blood on their hands.

Morality, guilt and the will to live, what’s so fascinating about Phantom is watching how Ein and Zwei try to repress their innate goodness. Neither is a bad person, but doing what they do takes a heavy toll. Ein is borderline suicidal and resigned to never escaping the clutches of Inferno, while Zwei is rapidly heading in the same direction.

They make for a interesting pair of characters, deeply conflicted, almost paralysed by the guilt of the dead, but trudge on regardless. It’s worth watching for their moments of introspection, to see how far into darkness they are willing to tread before losing touch of any remaining light and goodness. In reality, all they have left is each other, and so remains their faltering grip on life, hanging by the same thread that binds them together.

Zwei and Ein: The last arc is set in a Japanese high school! Madness!

And there-in lies the quality of Phantom. It won’t win many end-of-year awards, but it is a surprisingly solid and interesting watch, particularly if, like me, you’re easily seduced by bullet-ballets like Gungrave and Black Lagoon. For all it lacks in plot nous and production values, it more than makes up for with its pair of star-crossed killers.

Comments

Yumeka says:

I guess I’m a little different in the sense that I’ve liked all the Bee Train series I’ve seen so far; Noir, El Cazador, and now Phantom. Yes, even though it’s true to its guns/mafia genre, I find the inner conflicts and self reflections of the characters in Phantom interesting. The inner workings of Inferno, and the relationship between Elen, Reiji, and Cal, are also enjoyable subplots.

noir001 says:

I often heard that Bee Train’s series have unrealistic actions where the characters seem to be able to defy death or avoid bullets but I really can’t recall an action anime where that did not happen at all. So could you name 2 series where actions are realistic portrayed then? I don’t mean to criticized you but I think that this view is unsupported. I understand that some Bee Train’s shows do suck like Blade of the Immortal and that Bee Train’s actions are not as smooth as some other action animes or the story moves too slowly and so you don’t like it; all these make sense to me but to dislike a show for its unrealistic actions is just plain silly to me since all action animes are unrealistic to some extend. By the same token, you probably hate gunfights in Hong Kong action movies as they are mostly unrealistic like that.

0rion says:

I really liked Noir, albeit largely because of the killer Kajiura Yuki soundtrack. Haven’t really cared for any of Bee Train’s works since then, mostly because of the poor pacing they exhibited.

Phantom, though, is really something else. I’ve been enjoying the show immensely, and while it might not have some of the really standout moments or musical scoring that Noir did, overall I think it’s a much more cohesive and well presented story.

Hopefully this is a sign of things to come from Bee Train, and they’ll start cranking out a show of this caliber every year. If they can, I’ll be happily entertained for a long time to come, even if it is just more girls ‘n guns extravaganza.

bateszi says:

@Yumeka

Oh, for sure. And after being so impressed by Phantom, I’m definitely going to take an extended look at Noir in the very near future; I’ve always heard good things about it, especially the soundtrack.

@noir001

It all depends on the context/style of the show; you’re right in saying that a lot of anime are unrealistic, but whether that works or not totally depends on the atmosphere of the anime in question.

For example, Gurren Lagann is unrealistic, but that’s fine, because it’s a straight-up fantasy. Phantom portrays itself as a moody, serious story, set within the gritty world of an underground crime syndicate, so I find it hard to believe that a character like Lizzy is a long-range dead shot with a hand-gun in one scene, but then can’t even hit someone standing just ten yards away in another.

Other, little things bug me too, like how Reiji enrolled in a Japanese school using his real name and then seems surprised that Inferno tracked him down?! And why do so many of the characters look 10 years older than their biological ages?

It all piles up, and while I can forget things like this in a much less ‘realistic’ show, it seems like given the kind of anime that Bee Train produces, they really want Phantom to be taken seriously.

@0rion

I suspect it’s all about the quality of the source material; Phantom is an adaptation of a much beloved visual novel, while the likes of Noir and Madlax were original anime. Regardless, provided they can keep on producing anime at this level, I’ll always be willing to give them as fair a chance as any.

Hayama says:

I’m generally a Bee Train fan. I loved Noir and .hack//sign, thought MADLAX was decent, and enjoyed El Cazador though I think that Michiko to Hatchin is basically a better version of it. That said, it disappoints me that Bee Train has such a poor reputation because so many people wrote off this series when it’s really one of their best to date, and certainly their most accessible. I’m not really into this last story arc as much, but I still love this series and definitely think it’s the dark horse of the year.

You should definitely take a look at Noir. While some of the production is a bit off (no blood?), for the most part it’s a mature girls-with-guns series with a beautiful setting and a spellbinding soundtrack.

bateszi says:

@Hayama – Will do. I’m really looking forward to Noir now. In the past I’ve been turned off by the ‘hints’ of yuri subtext in their shows, but obviously the main character in Phantom is male, so that gave me the impetus to try it out. Noir is obviously a girls-with-guns thing, but from what everyone has been saying here, it’s a very mature, serious series.

TJR says:

As a fan of the Phantom game, I think the anime is disappointing. For the most part, they’ve got the story right (thank the wonderful source), which isn’t a bad first step. Newcomers will undoubtedly be entertained because of the plot and characters alone.

However, anime is more than just a script. IMO, the flow of events is mechanical, while scene composition and action cinematography are poor. There’s a very half-assed feel to the production, which fails to do the original work much justice.

Having just watched the beginning of Noir (even worse filmmaking), it’s clear that this is a Beetrain problem. However, I do feel that the latter boasts vastly superior integration of visuals and music, which helps the presentation a lot. With Phantom, the stylized elements are rather forced.

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