Witch Hunter Robin Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, August 15, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, October 07, 2003

What They Say
In a world where witches abuse their supernatural powers, a special team is tasked with hunting this new threat to society. This organization is known as the STN and comprises of several highly skilled craft users and experts in covert operations. But their most powerful craft user is a young woman named Robin. Her mysterious gift to summon deadly flames will determine the fates of her colleagues and lead her into a dark world of mystique and witchcraft.

The Review!
Sunrise knocks another one out of the park with this wonderfully dark and beautifully paced series.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series sports a really nice stereo mix that provides some good directionality in a few key sequences. Dialogue is nice and clear throughout and we had no technical issues with either language track during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2002, Robin has one of the most gorgeous full frame transfers I’ve seen lately. Watching this in the dark and taking in the visuals from simple things like the backgrounds outdoors and indoors brings out so much detail and attention to the small things. The coloring is done lushly when we get outside of the dark offices and buildings that the characters usually inhabit. The series is also almost completely free of cross coloration and had only a few moments of noticeable aliasing during some digital panning. This transfer was a real treat to watch.

Using the same cover as the Japanese release with a platinum edition logo thrown along the top, the artwork here is spot on gorgeous with a shot of Robin looking up into the light. It’s a nice and simple image with the shading working well in catching the eye and drawing you into her face. The back cover provides a collage of images along the right from various episodes while the left goes into a few paragraphs worth of summary. Episode numbers and titles are listed here along with the discs extras and features. There’s no volume numbering here at all, leaving the episode numbers to tell you what volume you’re on. The insert has a nice look and feel of an old book to it and opens to the text piece that’s played at each ending sequence as well as some character design shots. The back cover provides the full production credits as well as bilingual main voice actor credits. The cover is also reversible and they surprised me by using the 3rd Japanese DVD cover for it with Karasuma and Dojima on it as opposed to the Amon one.

The menu layout is rather nice with a circular half of the screen being animation from the show playing but separated by a line of fire. The right side has the animated logo and selections for the disc, which is all wiped away when you make a selection and get the flames running across for a transitional animation. That animation manages to go by quickly and the load times are fast so it’s not terribly bad or annoying if you go through the menus a couple of times.

There’s a nice small selection of extras here for the first volume. The main ones are the textless opening and ending sequences. The STNJ Files is a mixture of character profiles and design artwork, going over the main cast and showing a little bit about them. The Maelifica Compendium is basically the liner notes for the series, which provides a couple of interesting points but seems fairly basic here and not terribly detailed.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ever since seeing Bandai’s convention trailer for this series, which was my first actual viewing of the show in motion as opposed to online pictures and magazine stills, I’ve been eagerly anticipating it. While I already was interested in it due to its story nature, getting to see it in motion at last had piqued my curiosity quite high. And this first volume does not disappoint in the slightest.

The series takes place in a current day setting, albeit with some slightly more cutting edge technology and the fact that witches roam the world in secret. An organization known as STN works around the world to take care of this problem with all kinds of satellite offices, but apparently the headquarters is in Italy. Naturally our focus is on STN-J and they don’t do things quite like headquarters would like them. Using some special material in their weapons, their goal is not to kill the witches but to capture them.

This comes as a surprise to Robin, a fifteen year old witch who has just arrived from Headquarters as a replacement for another Hunter they lost six months earlier. The leader of this group, Zaizen, doesn’t think she’s really here for just that considering the time it took and has his lead Hunter, a brooding darkly clad man named Amon, partner with her and keep a close eye on her. If there’s a larger meaning to her arrival, Robin doesn’t indicate it and instead focuses on learning the ways of this office, a converted cathedral, and trying to make friends with her new coworkers.

In a sense, that’s one of the more interesting facets of this series as it’s an office job, just one with a different kind of purpose, so we get to have the weird dynamics that come from the varying personalities. Such as the Chief, a balding man named Kosaka who seemingly can’t stand any of the people who work there and their strange habits. Or Dojima, the daughter of a very powerful couple who have begged Zaizen to let her work there. Add in a couple of other members, including a hacker who is now essentially enslaved to Zaizen to the point where he can’t leave the office without permission and you definitely have a varied crew.

Once the show starts settling into place with Robin getting her arrival out of the way, the show moves into its regular routine that allows us to get to know the various characters and their quirks. It’s very episodic at first here, as we go through various missions with the team of hunters as they go after the witches. What’s interesting is that even though most on the team are witches themselves, they’re not hunted simply because of the side they’re on and they’re willing to take down other witches. There’s also the smart observation at one point that there are humans more evil than any witch based on the things that they do, meaning that the powers don’t really change anything other than how they must fight them.

The powers become an interesting point as the show moves along, though for the most part we really only see Robin on the Hunter side use her powers, which are flame based and pretty wild and uncontrolled. The witches they hunt have some interesting ones, particularly the scarab tattooed witch who uses the insects to fight and deal with those who hunt him. The other aspect that’s pushed is the powers of the regular humans employed by STNJ, giving particular push to Michael and his hacker skills as well as the cost of them for him.

One thing that struck me while watching it is that while some of the character designs are fairly basic, the one for Robin is definitely very striking, particularly in the fact that I can’t think of any other character that she looks like. The hair style is part of it, but the overall facial design doesn’t connect with any other characters in other series I can think of. Of course, the dark gothic look for much of the cast is a huge draw for me, even if it does seemingly push the style over substance mentality. But as things progress here, the amount of substance to it starts becoming more and more apparent and draws you in more. This is done quite well considering we’re juts five episodes into the series.

Another aspect that I found greatly appealing, but much like another Bandai series I can see putting off some people, is the slow pacing of the show. The first episode is a prime example with Robin’s arrival, where it’s not until after the eye-catch that we really get a good full look at her. The show does move slowly, and often without an excessive amount of glitz and action. Since it’s a mix of occult, police drama and magic, I think it does a great job of balancing them all and providing something moody but with depth to it. The witches they go after all have their own stories, though we get only so much of them due to the time constraints.

Witch Hunter Robin’s first volume drew us in pretty fast and has quickly become another title that reminds us why we love anime so much. Style and substance all wrapped up in an attractive package. This is a winner in my eyes.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening,Textless Ending,STNJ Personnel Files,Liner Notes,Reversible Cover

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.

Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Witch Hunter Robin