Witch Hunter Robin (2002)

 

Format: 26 24-minute episodes on 6 DVDs.

Rating: PG-13 (GV)

Type: Supernatural (Goth)

American Production: Bandai Entertainment

English Dub Production: Bang Zoom Entertainment

Japanese Production: Sunrise, Bandai Visual

 

Grading

 

Premise:

B

Story:

B+

Writing:

B+

Character Design:

B+

Animation:

B+

Artistic Merits:

B+

English Dub:

B

Musical Score:

B+

Songs:

B+

Opener:

A-

Closer:

C+

 

 

Humor Content:

n/a

Action Content:

B+

Drama Content:

B+

 

 

DVD Presentation:

B+

DVD Extras:

B

 

 

OVERALL:

B+

 

Synopsis

      In the world of Witch Hunter Robin, witches are real, although their existence is not generally known of by the public. Each possesses a particular paranormal power determined by genetics (think of them as the rough equivalent of mutants from the world of Marvel Comics), some of which can be quite dangerous. The STNJ is the Japanese branch of a worldwide organization called Solomon, which is secretly responsible for keeping track of those whose bloodlines mark them as potential witches and dealing with those who “awaken” and get out of hand. The Hunters of the STNJ consist both of humans and empowered Craft users, who seem to differ from witches only in that they are officially sanctioned and using their powers for socially conscious reasons, and thus their powers are regarded as coming from God rather than the Devil. For protection the STNJ members use vials of a mysterious substance called orbo, which can block a witch’s powers, but that doesn’t make their jobs much less dangerous. Unlike their main organization, the STNJ also doesn’t usually kill witches, but instead imprisons them in a facility called the Factory for unknown reasons.

      Into this world steps Robin Sena, a devoutly Christian 15-year-old Craft user born in Japan but raised in an Italian monastery who has been appointed as a replacement Hunter for the STNJ. Her power is pyrokinesis, the ability to set things aflame with her mind, an ability somewhat uncontrolled at first but which becomes more refined and powerful as the series progresses. Though she helps capture many witches as she gradually becomes integrated into the STNJ system, her presence sets in motion events which hint at dark truths underlying the STNJ and its real purpose. Ultimately her existence and increasing power threaten to shake the STNJ to its core.

 

The Long View

      Witch Hunter Robin is an attempt to make a cool, hip series by transposing a Goth spirit into anime, and for the most part it succeeds at this. Everything about the series – from the subject matter to the magical elements to the morose tone to the way characters dress and move – practically screams Gothic style. Like many classic Gothic tales, the story here abounds with mysteries, dark hidden truths, and monsters, although these monsters all have human form and are often humans themselves. Although many of the witches that Robin and the STNJ must deal with are at best dangerously unstable and at worst an outright menace, not all of them are, which causes the STNJ members to sometimes question the morality of their actions. This is when the series is most interesting. Also at issue is the very fine dividing line which separates Craft-using Hunters from being considered witches themselves, since in both cases their powers seem to be at least partially genetically-based. Sometimes whether someone is considered good (a Hunter) or bad (a witch) is merely a matter of perception, the series tells us.

      In a significant departure from the norm for anime, the theology under which Witch Hunter Robin operates is entirely Western and Christian, and the magic used in the series is entirely rooted in European origins. This isn’t the first anime series dealing with the supernatural and occult to take this approach, but the other examples I can think of (see Hellsing in particular) are set in the Western world, whereas Robin never ventures outside of Japan. While Christianity is not the focus of the story, its influence is seen and felt throughout, especially in the actions of the title character, who is seen praying on several occasions, has dealings with Catholic priests, and is greatly disturbed when suggestions come up later in the series that she might be a Child of the Devil rather than a Child of God. An additional nice touch on Robin’s character is her discovery of her need to wear glasses (granny-style!) to properly focus her powers on specific targets.

      Although none of the characters except the generally quiet and reserved Robin are standouts, they all have enough personality development that they aren’t generic. Amon, the dour “cool guy” who is the lead Hunter and allegedly Robin’s partner (though he often acts on his own instead), is probably the least interesting character, although even he has his moments. Michael, the young hotshot hacker who got pulled into the STNJ when he got caught hacking into their system, could also have used a bit more development, since his character is barely two-dimensional. The psychometric Craft user/Hunter Miho Karasuma, who is easily annoyed but also very determined, comes through more clearly, especially in the second half of the series when things go bad and she must shoulder a much greater load of responsibility in the STNJ’s witch-hunting operations. Sakaki, Karasuma’s rookie partner, also establishes himself well as a brash but proactive young man who’s still feeling out his role in the STNJ. Mr. Zaizen, the generally grim boss of the STNJ, is a tricky one to figure out, as assumptions made about his real feelings and personality early on are proven wrong later in the series. The same can also be said of the balding, ill-respected STNJ floor manager (Kosaka?), who initially comes across as a buffoon but proves later in the series that he’s more clever than he appears. The most interesting character beyond Robin is the lazy, flaky Yurika Dojima, who is allegedly a Hunter but doesn’t go out into the field until the second half of the series, and only then because the STNJ (for various reasons) is short-handed. She is most openly expressive of all the characters and also the only one who’s allowed substantial wardrobe variations – which seems somewhat odd since the series isn’t focused around her.

      For the first half of the series Robin follows a “monster of the week:” format, with only occasional minor hints of underlying plot. Although the series offers up a wide array of witches that are sometimes very interesting, this approach gets tedious after a while. The series ventures off in a dramatically different direction at midseason, however, when the full extent of Robin’s power becomes apparent and she starts to show signs of being a witch rather than just a Hunter in the eyes of some. From this point on the writing and storytelling is top-rate as various secrets and hidden agendas are gradually revealed, and the ending is one of the better and more satisfying endings of recent anime series. It is well worth enduring the earlier episodes to see how the latter half of the series plays out. The one thing that isn’t explained that I would like to have seen an explanation for is the statement “320 years since the coven sank in the dark,” which opens each Next Episode piece.

      The artistry and technical merits of Robin are very good except for a few places in the first four episodes where the character animation and backgrounds don’t blend well. Character designs are a particular highlight, and the animation is good enough to highlight the series’ well-staged action sequences. The English dub is serviceable, with Kari Wahlgreen and Crispin Freeman in particular hitting exactly the right notes in the title role and as Amon, respectively. The opener, set to the theme “Shell” by Bana as it displays scenes of Robin and Amon, is one of the best in recent memory both for its artistry and for setting the tone of a series; it was a real disappointment that Cartoon Network cut it out for its broadcasts of Robin. The closer, set to the theme “half-pain” (also by Bana) is more ordinary, although it should be noted that the pictures and documents flashed in the background are actual historical documents concerning European witchcraft that date back to the 15th century. The “Next Episode” bits reveal almost nothing about the upcoming episodes and so should be ignored unless you go for their poetic approach.

      The graphic content in Robin consists almost entirely of  (not too graphic) violence and some scenes which are too intense for younger viewers. The series also regularly hints that Robin likes to sleep in the buff, but there’s no real fan service here. I would not hesitate to show the series to anyone age 13+, and mature kids age 10+ could probably handle it.

      Witch Hunter Robin is a sharp, stylish series that should appeal to most anime fans and should even be accessible to those who don’t normally watch anime, as it is entirely devoid of normal anime visual and stylistic gimmicks. I heartily recommend it.

 

DVD Extras

      Since only the first four volumes are available on DVD as of this writing (5/2/04), part of the review is based on the Cartoon Network broadcast in early 2004. The flame effects on the transitions between DVD menus are a nice touch and the menu layouts are generally sensible, hence the higher-than-normal presentation rating. On the downside, the English translation of the closing credits is only available at the end of each DVD volume – an irksome practice that is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Extras on DVDs available so far include:

·  Company trailers

·  Textless openers/closers (first volume)

·  STNJ Personnel/Equipment Files – character and equipment notes and pictures

·  Maelifica Compendium – notes on various witchcraft-related issues that come up throughout the series. Sometimes very informative.

·  Special Interview - varies

 

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Robin Sena

Kari Wahlgreen

Amon

Crispin Freeman*

Michael Lee, minor roles

David Wittenberg

Haruto Sakaki

Johnny Yong Bosch

Yurika Dojima, minor roles

Michelle Ruff

Miho Karasuma, Ms. Kurata

Wendee Lee

Takuma Zaizen

Jamieson Price

Shintaro Kosaka

Doug Stone

Custodian, minor roles

Tony Oliver*

Toko Masaki

Mela Lee

Master (Yuji Kobari)

Jerry Gelb

Juzo Narumi, minor roles

Lex Lang

Shohei Hattori, minor roles

David Mallow

Sayoko, minor roles

Dorothy Elias-Fahn

Methuselah

Catherine Bettistone

Inquisitor Cortion

Michael Forest

numerous one-shot and minor roles

Michael McConnohie, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Karen Strassman,

Kirk Thornton

 

      * - Also an ADR script writer

 

 

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