Witch Hunter Robin Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, June 13, 2005
Release Date: Monday, May 23, 2005
What They Say
In our society, there are creatures with paranormal power known as Witches. For years, a secret organisation known as "Solomon" has been hunting them down. This organisation, based in Italy and run by priests, has a branch in Japan - the STN-J.
Robin, a 15-year-old girl, joins this organisation where her talents for manipulating fire prove to be very useful... But the STN-J has very precise plans for the captured Witches, and they do not hesitate to conceal information from Solomon...
1 - The Replacement
2 - Addicted to Power
3 - Dancing in the Darkness
4 - Stubborn Aesthetics
Introducing one of the darker recent series - Witch Hunter Robin tries to mix style and substance in a detective show with a difference.
There's a plethora of language choices on this release, but I stuck primarily with the Japanese track, spot-checking the English track on occasions. It's a very good stereo mix, with a decent amount of direction helping to bring the story to life. Speech is very clear, and there were no obvious problems.
Presented in its original full-frame format, this is one of the best-looking releases I've seen in a while - the video is clean & crisp, with no obvious encoding defects. A lot of the scenes in the series are very dark, but good use is made of colour and backgrounds to add atmosphere to the story. Subtitles are white text on a black background - they're easy to read and free of the formatting problems which have affected some other Beez releases.
The front cover uses an image of Robin that plays off a scene in the opening credits, where she's getting worked up over a TV showing clips of Amon. Picture Robin, seen from behind the screen while she's pressed up against it, and you'll get the idea. It's not the best piece of artwork I've seen, but it's effective enough. The rear cover has episode summaries and screenshots along with the disc's technical information. The disc comes in a clear keepcase, allowing you to see the character profiles that are printed on the reverse of the cover, this time featuring Robin and Amon. These are the same profiles that are included in the on-disc extras.
Menus are available in four different languages, to match the audio tracks available on the disc - you choose your language as the disc loads. I used the English menus, which feature the various options (Data, Episodes, Play & Audio) arranged around a circular montage of clips from the show. Robin & Amon are pictured off to one side, with the series logo flashing in & out in a similar way to the text used in the opening credits. An instrumental version of the opening theme plays in the background. The 'Data' menu, backed by the 'karaoke' version of the closing theme, offers up the disc extras & trailers. Other than the background video clips, there are no menu animations or transitions, so it's all very quick and easy to use.
The main extra is the 'STN-J Personnel File', which gives some brief background information on 8 of the show's main characters. In addition, there are the usual textless opening and closing sequences and a few trailers.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
15-year-old Robin Sena is the latest recruit to STN-J, the Japanese arm of the shadowy Solomon organisation, a religious group dedicated to hunting down witches - people with paranormal powers. It's a case of poacher-turned-gamekeeper, as Robin is herself a witch, with the power to control fire. She's been drafted in as the new partner of head STN-J witch hunter, Amon, whose last partner was killed during a hunt six months previously, but it seems it's going to take her a while to earn the acceptance of the other STN-J members and become a 'real' part of the team - certainly, there's little sign of it happening in these episodes. It doesn't help that Robin turns up for her first day without anyone knowing she's due to arrive, and is palmed off by the office doorman before she even gets a chance to properly introduce herself. By coincidence, though, her wanderings bring her to the warehouse where the STN-J hunters are closing in on a target witch, giving Robin her first chance to show off her abilities.
With the introductions taken care of, the group move on to investigate a number of recent police cases which STN-J believe may have witches involved - first up is the case of Misawa Kazuya, a businessman who's under investigation for murder, although the police can't find a cause of death that they can pin on him. A little bit of research shows that Kazuya seems to have the power to cause death without laying a finger on his victims, using what seems to be a form of telekinesis. He's also due to get married soon - with his bride-to-be in danger of becoming his next victim, STN-J's hunters don't have long to bring him down.
The final two episodes deal with two more murder cases - one where the victims bodies have been almost mummified by the killer and that leads back to a witch who has been extending is life by feeding on other witches, and another where Robin finally gets to deal with a case of her own when she looks into a string of unsolved killings in a local park.
These four episodes are very episodic, but they do a good job of introducing the large cast of characters and the way that STN-J works, while leaving a few loose ends dangling that may possibly become part of a larger story as the series goes on. There's some doubt in the mind of STN-J's boss, Zaizen, about the real reason Robin's been assigned to his team, and it's made clear fairly quickly that their practices are different from the parent organisations in a number of ways. For a start, they capture their witches alive, and use Orbo - a mysterious green liquid - to suppress a witch's abilities, something that Robin's not happy about using herself.
As for the rest of the characters, there are quite a few for viewers to get to know - Amon, the dark & moody leader of STN-J's witch hunters; Kosaka, the office boss and a pompous civil service-type person who wastes no opportunity to be patronising; Michael, the former hacker who made the mistake of trying to break into STN-J's system and is now paying the price; the overly-enthusiastic Sakaki, couldn't-be-bothered Doujima, and Karasuma, who has the ability to read emotions. As teams go, they seem to be a pretty dysfunctional bunch, who seem prepared to do what's needed to get their latest assignment completed, but aren't keen on the idea of dealing with each other away from their duties. Robin makes a few attempts throughout these episodes to try and get to know them better, but it's slow progress with only Michael beginning to open up a bit. The way the different personalities play off each other is a large part of the appeal of the show, though.
Visually, the series is beautiful. The outside world is bright and highly detailed, while scenes in STN-J's offices and a lot of the action locations become darker and loaded with a sense of foreboding, mirroring the witch hunters' work. Placed against the detail that's gone into the backgrounds, the character designs feel quite basic and flat. While the difference takes a little bit of getting used to, for me it seemed to help draw me more into the world that the show was creating.
If there's anything that can be criticised, it's the slow pace - Witch Hunter Robin seems determined not to do anything in a hurry, and even the combat scenes are leisurely affairs. I can see some people being put off by that, with most episodes here not really getting into their stride until the second half, but the lack of progress in the story also gives a chance for the characters to be explored. For my money, that's a good trade-off.
At heart, Witch Hunter Robin is so far a detective show - its stars & villians may have a few more tools in their arsenals than the average policeman, but the basic principle is the same. I'm not normally a fan of detective shows, but excellent visuals and music coupled with a cast of interesting characters & some good storylines make this series compelling viewing.
Don't let the slow pacing put you off - Witch Hunter Robin does a better job of pulling you into its world than most recent series, and before long you'll find yourself hooked. While it's episodic so far, there are hints dropped pointing to a bigger story, and I'm looking forward to seeing what it is.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, German 2.0 Language,Italian 2.0 Language,English Subtitles, German Subtitles, Italian Subtitles,Dutch Subtitles,Textless Opening & Closing Sequences,STN-J Personnel Files
Panasonic TX-W28R30P 28" widescreen TV; Pioneer DV-626D player; Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.
Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: A
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: Beez
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Witch Hunter Robin