Tuesday, July 14, 2015

[Anime] Jormungand S1/S2 Review

Jormungand - 6/10
Jormungand: Perfect Order - 6.5/10 (second season)

World serpent devoured! This series took me longer to watch as I found myself disinterested in the first season. But as the second season geared up I was really sucked in and finished it within a few days. It was a nice change of pace to have a series get better as it went on, rather than following the tired pattern of "good premise -> bad conclusion."

The Good: Jormungand is a show about Koko and her team. While Koko is definitely the epicenter of everything, it's the interactions and behavior of the whole cast that give Jormungand much of its substance. While they do have a few "hero" moments, most of the show is dedicated to demonstrating that Koko's success relies heavily on the team that has surrounded her. It was enjoyable to me to see how every person was able to fit in and contribute to the plan. And the plans weren't always just smash-and-grab but involved support, misinformation, and outmaneuvering opponents. You get to further see this in their training sessions: the actions of the team are the result of long practice, not just a bunch of "genius" fighters. This is exemplified when they answer why Koko recruited Jonah. While he is good, it's not the same tired supersoldier routine that she wanted him for, and even recognizes that he has a lot to learn.

Speaking of the cast, expanding it beyond Koko's team made the series feel very international. Just off the top of my head, there are scenes in Japan, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa, northern Africa, Cuba, the US, and unnamed eastern European states. And each of these places has people associated with them, with their own histories and reasons for being. While some existed just to be defeated (looking at you Mr. Draganof) many others were good recurrent characters who had more depth to them than just their initial arc. Tojo's former boss and his whole story was particularly complex, and I was impressed with the effort invested in what was a relatively minor side character.

The Bad: My biggest irritation with the series was what I felt was its unstable atmosphere. This is a repetitive complaint of mine in any series that involves war and violence. For me, to treat the topic with too much levity is disconcerting. Jormungand has some horrible moments; the flashback with the girl being forced to walk through the minefield was really disturbing to me in particular because it's the kind of thing that truly has happened. But serving the necessity of the series, it backs off this and treats us to a degree of buffoonery on both sides, so as to at least make us not disapprove of the "our" loyal paid killers.

This applies doubly to Koko, who despite professing to hate war and arms dealing, keeps at what she does with great gusto. In an attempt to make her less reprehensible, she is given a "lighter" side which frequently comes out. So when needed she has her blue-eyed doom face to demonstrate how scary she is, but then this is immediately destroyed when she is rolling around on the table whining. This approach has never settled well with me, and in my eyes at least is a detriment to the show.

Finally, I want to voice a minor complaint concerning the over-used leer that every female in this series seems to wear by default. It's an open-mouthed sardonic-bemused gaze that is trying to show how they are cynically bored and amused at the same time. Just compare three of the characters: Chiquita, Hex, and Mildo. This just began to get on my nerves after a while, if at least because it made every female character a jaded psychopath at first glance.

And The Black Lagoon: So how does it compare to Black Lagoon? It was a question that was on my mind as I was watching. I finally came to the conclusion that Jormungand was smarter, but that Black Lagoon was more on target. Allow me to give an example:

Jormungand has a large and varied cast of characters, both within the team and outside of it. Black Lagoon is much more concentrated on just a few star characters. When they give some background to them, characters like Wilee or Lehm can shine as additions to the Jormungand team. But at the same time, I had nearly nothing on Mao, Tojo, and Hugo. I couldn't even pick R out before his arc either. They had backgrounds, but they were often flimsy and even by the end of the show I still hardly recognized them. Black Lagoon's main cast doesn't have as many "highs" as Jormungand but I felt their roles and personalities were much more significant.

So for me at least, they end up about on the same level. Jormungand aims higher but (imo) misses the mark a little. Black Lagoon is a shoot-'em-up, but it knows what its doing. And comparing Koko to Balalaika: Balalaika is Koko, she's just older and has lost her Jonah. Koko still has ideals, still hungers for the presence of people around her, and is still young in some regards. Balalaika went through the same thing: she lost her dreams of the Olympics in Afghanistan, ending up in a place she never wanted to be. But her heart died a long time ago. She has no ideals beyond loyalty to her comrades. She has no morals beyond what is expedient. So personally I find Balalaika scarier, but comparing them is is just apples to apple trees.

Project J
Best AMV of Jormungand I have found, it has superb editing and honestly makes the series appear darker than it actually is.

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