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Black Cat vol.2

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Black Cat volume one: The Cat Out Of The Bag

director: Shin Itagaki

96 minutes (12) 2005 MVM DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
review by Paul Higson
The quality of anime can be very random. One bad shot of manga and the wide berth principle might be adopted for a year. Black Cat: The Cat Out Of The Bag is the first four volumes of Shin Itagaki's adaptation of Kentaro Yabuki's comic strip Burakku Kyatto, both familiar and yet occasionally as startling as the contents of a knife drawer hurled in your general direction. The first episode 01: Lonely Cat is a worrying start; truth be told. There is an assumption that the audience is familiar with the original printed adventures as the introductions to characters come scattered and informally. The story too is weak, a simple assassination scenario as the super powerful Black Cat alias Train Heartnet, an eraser for the Chronos organisation, takes out Lib Tyrant, a mob boss who has suddenly advanced to governor status. A competing sweeper named Sven Vollfield means to bring the gangster to justice too but is too slow and has to witness his rival's bullet burrow a hole in the thug lord's forehead.

In 02: Confused Cat the supernatural remit is expanded as the wanted poster goes up for Preta Ghoul, a grotesque who preys chiefly on pretty young girls. The monstrous psychopath secretes gastric acid from his hands burning the flesh off his victims, surely setting the benchmark for frightening and unstoppable villains in this series. The episode introduces us properly to several regular characters including a quirky yukata clad cutie, Saya, a rogue sweeper who trespasses on Train's rooftop lazings, sharing his cat's milk-bowl. The girl heads off after Preta Ghoul, Train trailing her with what could only be an inkling of romantic concern. Elsewhere, Sven drops by Annette's bar, a sweepers watering hole, and is hired by a mystery girl to rescue her sister from the clutches of Torneo Ludman, a businessman with sinister aims.

03: Cat In The Darkness sees Train and the concerned sister enter Ludman's mansion in a rescue bid, but Train arrives as they do, having been instructed by his masters via his former trainer, Creed Diskenth to go in and destroy the same girl. Train for once fails to complete his mission. Eve is a listless, elfin child, and Train finds it impossible to imagine her as the dangerous weapon as described. Both teams aborting their missions Sven and the 'sister' evaluate their failure but not before he identifies her as super-thief Rinslet Walker. Eve is the result of a nano-technological experiment and can transform into a killing machine, and Rinslett's plan was to steal her and sell her back to her creator. Sven, though, is a morally erect type who recognises Eve not as a weapon but as a sheltered little girl deprived of a real childhood and deserving of one. A chance encounter between Sven and Eve prickles the girl's natural curiosity in the trifles that most kids take for granted and 04: The Grinning Cat ('Smiling Cat' on the episode) sees Sven, Rinslet and Train in a competitive return assault on the Ludman stronghold.

Unlike conventional animated series of the west in which the cast is established in the first episode it has taken four episodes to provide us with our 'team' and yet they are still no neat collective, and may never be. Black Cat grows on one with each episode through a succession of old but polished tricks. It does not prevail with the mature machinations and imaginings of a Paranoia Agent or Haibane Renmei but it is an intelligently mounted vehicle all of the same. Any of the characters may slip into excited mode, be it anger, shock or glee, and are transformed into a form more cartoon-ish. Computer technology provides the 2D animation an additional shine. There is luminescence in the radiant shimmer of street lamps and the glow of a cigarette. The opening and closing theme may initially be identified as routine pop songs, but the makers of these series, time and again, work an alchemy of sound and vision on the title sequences. The tunes are perfectly matched against the images picking up speed with easing off in a magical and endearing fashion. The opening assault on a church by Train is a fantastic montage of nuns' skirts hiding girls with guns, illuminous stained glass and willowy silhouettes. It invites. Character names hurt in their infantalia but the comic shifts, changes of animation style and screaming characters never cease to amuse and big laughs occasion the series.

DVD extras included the opening and closing titles sequences without titles and trailers.

Black Cat volume two: The Catastrophe

director: Shin Itagaki

96 minutes (12) 2005 MVM DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
review by Paul Higson

I don't understand the appeal of fireworks but if they were coloured and sprayed like the displays that appear in episodes six and seven of this series I would be like a child transfixed on the sky too. Never mind the log-fire and aquarium in your television set, give me half a hour of Gonzo's animated rockets and I'd happily lie back on my sofa with a toffee apple staring at it. Shin Itagaki's Black Cat continues with four more episodes. 05: Cat Makes A Decision ('Departing Cat' on the disc) continues with Train called before the Chronos elders to account for himself but informing them that he will act on his own free will from now on. Chronos send Creed to destroy him, but Creed intends on recruiting him for the Apostles, a "force of fighting fury" that he has been grouping in order to crush Chronos and take power for himself. Creed kills the Chronos shadowers sent to keep an eye on him and Number One is sent to take down both. Train, however, has made himself vulnerable by volunteering his gun, Hades, to Saya, the rogue sweeper from the roof. The battle commences in 06: The Cat Under Fire and is interrupted by a Taoist. The story proceeds with the budding romance between Train and Saya.

The romance erupts Creed's murderous jealousy and, during the harbour carnival, he slays the girl with his sword, the Kotetsu. One questions how Creed could have acted as Train's teacher, without imposing his sexual mores on him; that obsessed tart that he is now. In 07: The Wounded Cat ('Badly Wounded Cat' on the disc) Train is recovering from his wounds and mourning Saya. Sven and Eve have nursed him back to health and the three of them are secluded in a lodge deep in the woods. Chronos now admits that where the turncoats Train and Creed are concerned, it is Creed that has become the worrying priority. Train upsets Eve by reminding her that she is a killing machine and the girl disappears into the forest where she is almost captured by yet another Chronos Eraser, Janus Hauser (No. VII).

The outcome is a bringing together of the heroic trio and in 08: The Sweeping Cat ('Travelling Cat' in the episode) they embark on a bounty, though it is Eve who sneaks away to tackle the botanist, Igo Planter. A new chapter feels underway as the clandestine group of revolutionists that are the Taoists make their presence and activities known and Chronos, having already lost several of its best erasers, begins to panic. The Taoists have broken five convicts out of jail and have been persuading them to imbibe an elixir that increases their body mass to monstrous size and strength. The gardener is one of the absconders and paints a meek picture until a flower is trodden on. The Taoists responsible for the current spate of atrocities are an odd couple comprising of a girl and a man in a tall hat, and, in the sudden shortfall of in-house talent, Janus has contracted Rinslet to locate them.

Though episode five and the opening half of six can be confusing and less attractive, the curtailed romance that brings six to a close is a stunner. The sequence is presented in between the unseen slices of Creed's invisible blade with Saya presented in an increasingly distressing and desperate condition. The sequence closes with her heroically protecting three children as Creed delivers the final killer thrust. The heady mix of high comedy and tragedy is banjaxing, but it is an admirably instigated befuddlement of the viewer. The place names can be as embarrassing as the English character names, moving from unbelievably addressed burgs to klutzily titled towns, but other tricks to fill in the English language blanks are worse. The text proliferating a newspaper page surrounding a headline on the midway pier inferno is column inch after column inch of American football reportage seemingly cut and pasted from an actual source. It mars the fine work of the artists by breaking in on the narrative illusion. The series continues to look fantastic and the characters endear. Big laughs litter proceedings and I am now committed to pursuing this through the remaining 16 episodes.

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