Witch Hunter Robin

I have been faulted on more than one occasion for writing partial reviews of anime TV series. I admit that I often do this. Sometimes it's because all I have of a brand-new show is the first few episodes, and readers want to know about what's just coming out on the market. As best I can, I do try and watch at least a season when it's feasible. And in the case of Witch Hunter Robin, which ran until recently on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block, I'm glad I did. Although the show starts off slowly and doesn't pick up until the episodes reach double digits, the end result is great. Witch Hunter Robin rewards the patient watcher with a series well worth the endeavor.

Witches aren't magic users by choice...they are born. Genetics plays a factor in who might someday develop what some consider to be supernatural powers. But those abilities are often uncontrollable, and their users typically become violent. Someone has to stop them. That group is the STN. An international organization dedicated to hunting down witches, they employ hunters who use a mysterious substance called orbo to subdue their prey. On occasion, the STN use the services of a witch who has control over the powers they possess. Such is the case with Robin.

Robin is sent to join the STN's branch in Japan. An orphan raised in a convent for much of her life, the fifteen-year-old is wiser than her years, but she still has to work out the kinks in her relationship with her new associates. There's Amon, her decidedly unfriendly partner, Michael, a computer guru who never leaves the office, and several others who aren't sure what to make of her or her skills. She grows relationships slowly, only able to confide some of her thoughts in Harry, the kindly restaurateur who owns the shop where the STN gang occasionally hangs out. At first, it takes a lot for Robin to use her powers properly. But as the hunts continue and her skills increase, she starts taking notice of her work. A thoughtful girl, she realizes that her job may not be as altruistic as it seems. As the black and white issues turn to grey, Robin must come to terms with who she really is.

This title is not one that immediately draws you in. The visual style of the show is in an intentional grayish hue, and though it sets a tone, it didn't make me want to watch the show at first. The animation is reasonable. There are problems in facial animation in some mid-to-long shots that frustrated my sensibilities a little, but nothing unusual for a minor budget TV show. The background music is unique, interested in establishing a mood that is not quite smooth jazz or ambient but somewhere inbetween. I must admit that both the musical and visual vibe gelled for me only after about ten episodes. Now that I'm done, though, I have to admit I'm partial to both.

The major issue that I have with Witch Hunter Robin is its pacing. The show has action throughout its 26 episodes, but for a while, everything is moving in second gear. We get a reasonable introduction to the characters, but we just don't kick in fast enough. For a while, I was worried that the show might simply be a "witch of the week" undertaking. Although certain clues led me to believe there might be more, it took me some effort to keep watching and really get into the meat of the series.

Without spoiling where the show goes, let me just say that you need to stick it out. There's nothing inherently wrong with the opening third, only that it moves at its own pace. But when the show develops, it becomes fascinating. Now those in my readership who want an action-packed show or a horror fest should look elsewhere; though there are some great bits of both here and there, it is a creepy drama, no more and no less. But when the drama kicks into high gear, the show becomes meaningful, and that's why I have to give it high praise.

What makes Witch Hunter Robin special is that it is an anime for adults...though not because of any objectionable material. It's smart. And it takes some brainpower to sort out the various political machinations that occur, particularly in the second half; at the very least, you have to pay attention. It does not sacrifice its intelligence at the altar of lowest common market demographic, nor does it insult the intelligence of its audience. It also doesn't hurt that just when I started to predict the show, I found out I was dead wrong.

What's more, it's anime that's actually about something. This show is not about witches in the typical sense; if it were, as a conservative Christian, I might have issues with it. But the show deals with issues of discrimination quite effectively without ever polarizing the audience within a real-world issue. The show is more interested in dealing with the whole of the concept it has introduced, rather than some fast-food version. Witch Hunter Robin is kin to Serial Experiments Lain and Boogiepop Phantom, yet far less bizarre and far more accessible; though I enjoyed certain similar concepts in Hellsing, Robin is far more effective. And virtually all the loose ends are tied up nicely while leaving room for further stories, a blessing for those who tire of "ambiguous anime ending syndrome." This is what the X-Files should have been.

I'm giving Witch Hunter Robin an A- based on the fact that the average viewer (myself included) will find it too slow-going at first, also acknowledging that the animation itself is not top notch and that Robin seems just a bit older than 15. That being said, if you like anime that's challenging and thought provoking, Witch Hunter Robin is a very good series. This show is like a building thunderstorm. At first you just hear the patter of rain, and before you know it, you're enveloped in flashes of lightning. Of the current shows on Adult Swim, I put off watching Robin until last, since I wasn't all that interested in it...and that was a mistake. It's a winner.

Witch Hunter Robin -- profanity, violence, imagery that may disturbing to young audiences -- A-