Tuesday, July 14, 2015

[Anime] Phantom: Requiem for a Phantom Review

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom - 6/10

Phantom is a show about assassins. Again. This one isn't half bad (but not a lot more than half good either). It follows the advancement of an abducted and brainwashed "Zwei" through the mafi: how he is taken in, trained, his first kills, and the machinations of the various members and factions within the organization.  It is within this world that he is paired with "Ein," his predecessor and prototype for the training process.  She is his trainer and emotionally-broken partner reminiscent of Rei Ayanami.

The Good: 

The show has a bleak atmosphere.  People die, whether they be mafia thugs or innocent bystanders.  When the series is in good form, it is able to bring this evil to light.  In its darkest moment, Zwei is assigned to drive a man to despair by killing his wife.  During the infiltration of their home he also confronts their child and is forced to murder him as well.  The execution is done off-camera, but it is deeply disturbing and the flatness in Zwei's eyes afterward reflect the inner deadening of his soul.

The change in Zwei's character over time is also executed well.  In the beginning he is reluctant, cursing his bad luck and desperately trying to avoid death by doing what he is told.  After a while he becomes proficient and progresses to a machine stage, where he is forced to suppress what is left of his former personality to get the job done.  He is simply on automatic.  Then at last, he reaches the true low where he is no longer repressing.  The desensitization is complete and he begins to glory in his power and prestige.  He dresses in expensive clothes, drives exotic cars, and consumes alcohol and women with equal disregard.  It is not until he meets Cal that he begins to realize what he's actually lost.

Ein's dynamic with her "master" Scythe is also executed well.  Their relationship is profoundly abusive, both emotionally and physically (along with indications of Scythe's perverse tendencies).  Yet, despite her own power, Ein keeps coming back no matter how many times she is kicked.  She can't completely give up on him.  This is not for sentimental reasons; she doesn't believe "there is some good" or that she hopes to help him.  It is simply that a life out there is unknown.  Despite her stolid exterior, Ein is remarkably sensitive to this and continues to cling to him as a source of direction and rare praise.  It was saddening but well thought-out.

I also appreciated the last scene.  It is the subject of some debate, but the general interpretation is that Zwei is shot and killed by a disguised hitman.  Ein, realizing that she is now alone, picks a poison flower and eats it, dying on the side of the road with him.  It is a bitterly stark ending, but I felt it was an appropriate conclusion to the series.

Finally, I would like to give some credit to a few of the best tracks in the series. Canzone of Death (NSFWish picture) stood out in particular, with its dark tones and heavy male chorus. Zwei's Theme was another of my favorites, with its rap-like elements reflecting the street gangster nature of the scenes.  It is a shame that by the end the track is horribly overused.

The Bad:

The terrible plot holes in the transitions between arcs. Essentially, Phantom breaks apart into three sub-arcs. Self-contained each makes sense and is reasonable (by anime standards), but the connections between them are tenuous.

Transition 1: At the end of the first arc Ein is shot and "killed."  A bullet literally goes through her heart and she falls lifeless into the ocean.  But apparently she was able to sleep it off and shows up ready for action in the second arc.  Anime has a bad habit of killing-but-not, and I have come to expect it.  However, this pushed the boundaries beyond what is reasonably tolerable in any medium.

Transition 2: Three years have passed since Zwei took off with Ein and they went into hiding, but their freedom is not to last.  The past catches up in the form of Drei, the cute little girl that nearly made Zwei quit everything for a proper life, has been taken in by the same organization and trained to hunt him down.  But she's grown: in three years she's developed from a fuzz-headed eight-year-old into a busty, motorcycle-riding nutso.  The transformation is so implausible that I laughed out loud on its presentation.

Other than these key failings, the series as a whole also goes downhill.  The first segment was the strongest, the second had some solid parts but began to waver, and the final was entirely lackluster.  It is particularly unfortunate when a series ends on such a low note.  Drei as a character is just abrasive and one-dimensional.  The mafia dynamics completely disappear in favor of Scythe taking center-stage, and his complete derangement was more comical than diabolical.  That he now had a legion of masked psycho-girls in the mold of Ein make the entire situation feel even more artificial than it had been previously.  Even Ein's cathartic defeat of Scythe did little for me.

Phantom is ultimately a series that attempts to delve deeply into the abyss, but is prevented from having true gravitas by its general mediocrity.  What starts as a premise with potential is slowly lost, until at the end the series collapses, exhausted by its exertions.

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