Black Cat Box Set (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, April 10, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, March 18, 2008



What They Say
Sven is your run-of-the-mill sweeper (a.k.a. bounty hunter): down on his luck, haunted by the perpetual grumbling of his stomach and looking to make enough cash just to get by. When a damsel in distress enlists his aid, Sven crosses paths with the worst possible luck: Black Cat (a.k.a. Train Heartnet). At odds now with the branded assassin, Sven seeks to save a young girl before the unlucky Number can carry out his mission.

But fate has brought these three together for a reason, as Sven adopts two stray pupils, the former Chronos eraser Train and the young bio-weapon Eve. As these newfound companions seek out a new way of life, the past proves unwilling to let them go free. Sought by both the Chronos Numbers and the Taoist revolutionary group risen against them, the Apostles of the Star, their happy ending will require more than just luck...

Contains all six volumes (episdes 1-24)!

The Review!
After freeing himself from service to Chronos, Train Heartnet lives the life of a stray cat the best that he can.

Audio:
FUNimation has a pretty standard audio selection for the Black Cat series as there are three audio tracks to it. The original Japanese language mix is presented in its stereo format that's encoded at 256kbps and it has a pretty solid sound to it for a forward soundstage based show. The music tends to come across the best but there are numerous action moments where it has some decent impact and placement. The English stereo mix is essentially the same thing and provides the same kind of results. The English 5.1 mix is done at 448kbps and adds a bit of extra impact to the action and a touch more clarity to the dialogue placement in general which works in the shows favor. While Black Cat isn't a standout show in terms of its audio, it comes across well enough and fits the material well.

Video:
Originally airing in late 2005 and early 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series is one that has an odd encoding to it in that it's not done as simply as most other FUNimation releases were at that time but has a fair amount of the problems. The show has plenty of spikes up into the 7's and 8's for the bitrate but it also spends a good deal of its time at the 5's and under. With only four episodes on each of the six DVDs in the set - which are identical to what was released before - it has some really solid looking scenes but also a number of weaker ones. There are some visible gradients in a few areas across the set but there is also a fair amount of noise in the backgrounds with the solid colors. This varies wildly depending on the scene and the bits thrown at the material which gives it an uneven feel throughout. When it's good, it looks quite good. When it's not so good, the noise can be pretty distracting. Overall though, it's not one of the worst looking sets that FUNimation has put out and the material manages to cope well enough with it.

Packaging:
This collection of Black Cat is not part of the company's Viridian Collection set of releases which means we get a much stronger package overall. The heavy chipboard box holds the digipak inside which contains the six volumes of the series. The chipboard box is really nice with a strong silver foil that highlights the character artwork well. The main panel features a good number of the characters from the show, though only Train is the good guy on it, while the back cover features a number of secondary characters from it. This is actually underneath the paper onsert which contains the rundown of the show and the basic technical features alongside a sexy shot of Rinsley with her gun. The digipak inside the box is reminiscent of the single volume releases as it uses a white background for all the character artwork it wants to display. The multiple panels on both the front and back contain a number of solid looking full color pieces of artwork of the various characters that are pretty striking and vibrant. The inside of the digiapk also has a sleeve section in which a full color booklet is included. The twenty four page booklet provides a rundown of the majority of the characters of note from the show with some headshots and a bit of a write-up about them.

Menu:
Black Cat doesn't have much to its menus but it tries to work with the gentlemanly style that Sven extols throughout the series. Each menu is a black screen with a single piece of character artwork that has a bit of elegance and class to it that's accented nicely by the way the series logo and navigation looks set against it. The look and feel of it is terribly simple but effective because of this. The best part though is that the menus are quick to load and easy to access and navigate through when in use. Submenus load quickly and we didn't bother with the player presets because of the angle issues and the poor labeling of subtitle tracks.

Extras:
The only extras included across all the discs are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences with the appropriate ones for the appropriate volumes.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the twenty volume manga series by Kentaro Yabuki, Black Cat is a twenty-four episodes show animated by Gonzo and is something of a rarity these days. It's a show that wasn't animated until the manga was completed which means we do get something resembling a real ending and aren't tormented with the whole "go read the book now to see where it really goes!" mentality that's gotten worse in the last several years. Even more interesting, from what I can tell, is that they skipped a number of the character building episodes early on and just moved forward with the larger storyline. Because of that, Black Cat gets to the good stuff even quicker.

The world of Black Cat is similar to our own but there are some differences going on there that become more apparent as it goes on. It has a very Western feel to it as we're introduced to the secretive massive organization known as Chronos who are intent on making sure that the world follows the path to peace. It's been some twenty years since they and their warrior class known as the Numbers battled against the Taoists and defeated them. While the Taoists have fallen off the map since then, there are other groups out there that are rising to power along with the general criminal element. One that's particularly troublesome to Chronos is a man named Torneo who has acquired a very powerful nanotech bio-weapon that could lead to an insane arms race if its powers are truly tapped.

That has the organization sending in one of its best members, Number 13, otherwise known as Train Heartnet. The young man who likens himself to a stray Black Cat gets caught up in this tale at the same time that a sweeper named Sven Vollfied is involved in it through a different angle. Sven, a gentlemanly sweeper which is otherwise known as a bounty hunter, provides the conscience of the series early on as it's discovered that the bio-weapon is actually a young girl named Eve that Torneo has been using. The realization of this sets in a wave of conflict within Train which isn't made any easier by a mysterious woman named Saya who seems to haunt the same rooftops as he does while offering a way to fight without killing. This is the moment where Train has to realize that there is more to life than being on the leash of a massive secretive organization like Chronos and that he'll be better off on his own.

With Eve causing so much conflict within him, it's little surprise that both Train and Sven end up coming together to take care of her and protect her from what's going on. What helps them in this is that Chronos gets highly distracted when one of its other Numbers reveals that they've got other plans in mind and intend to take down Chronos. The Number known as Creed Diskenth has something of a man crush on Train and uses his confusion as a way to bring him into his group known as the Apostles of the Stars through which they intend to forge a proper peace within the world. Using a combination of nanotech and Taoism, Creed goes from a rather cool and collected character with some great style at first to one that is completely unhinged about not being able to bring Train onto his side.

Where Black Cat takes a surprising turn, depending on how the manga went considering how many volumes it ran, is that after this initial arc they skip forward six months to where Train, Sven and Eve are basically all living and traveling with each other as sweepers. While we miss a whole lot of standalone stories that help to expand on the characters that also shows us how they grow closer to each other, we instead get right to the meat of the story as Creed and his group begin to cause trouble around the world. The main trio with Train isn't a finely tuned machine just yet but there is ample evidence of a growing bond that works well in the face of the adversities that Creed and his group represents. The most amusing of which is Kyoko, a high school girl from Zipang who falls instantly in love with Train and follows him around like a puppy. It's a rare character who is there mostly for comic relief that isn't incredibly annoying and actually provides some good laughs with her style, approach and wild takes.

Black Cat runs back and forth throughout the episodes that follow with the main arc that has Creed gaining power and becoming even more unhinged in his attempts to remove Chronos from the picture. The members of Chronos do their best to deal with him but they also know that they need to deal with Train and Eve as well which causes plenty of conflict. Toss in a number of secondary characters that get caught up in the story and the ensemble cast is rather nicely done even if you have a hard time remembering who some of them are, especially those in the Numbers. The main storyline comes to a surprising end in episode twenty though in which we learn that there's an even bigger storyline about how the world is about to be changed that comes into play. Black Cat is pretty standard shonen material in which one man can and will make a difference in how the world will be but only if he has a lot of help from his friends. There isn't a lot that's really new or groundbreaking here but the show is quite competently done overall and it has a certain kind of fun and charm about it when it's not involved in the serious action or dramatic scenes.

The visual design of the show is one that fits rather well with the creative staff at Gonzo that worked on it. In particular, Yukiko Akiyama as the character designer is pretty ideal considering their work on Gad Guard and Trinity Blood to some extent. With direction by Shin Itagaki, Black Cat utilizes the real world style which is then slowly filled in with more elaborate and strange characters. When we first see the show it's easy to believe it could be taking place in any Western city with only a few tweaks made to give it more style. Once the nanotech aspect is introduced and then the Taoism, Black Cat starts to become more to the equivalent of super hero comics in that there are numerous people with wild powers involved and some with weapons or just their own built up skills. The characters grow more outlandish with each one though the most amusing one continues to be Eve since she can adapt her body to whatever she needs. This is terribly underused but that helps to keep her more interesting and more believable. It also really makes the scenes when she does use her powers, such as when she grows angel wings, far more engaging because it's not been overdone.

In Summary:
As a whole series, Black Cat has a lot of really fun moments to it and some charming characters. When it is at its most fun is when the characters are just hanging around and playing off of each other with silly looks and small wild takes with their facial expressions. The dramatic moments are surprisingly good as well, particularly for those between Saya and Train but also with the evolving relationships that Eve shares with both Train and Sven. The weak areas come in the Saiyuki-ish feeling that Creed and his group has, particularly that of the Doctor, but also in the way some of the secondary characters are so poorly used such as Rinslet. Though it has several faults and weak areas, Black Cat was still a good bit of fun to watch and it certainly flows well in this complete form. There were chunks where it was a bit of a chore to get through since there was some repetition in dealing with the bad guys, but overall this is definitely the best way to check out this show if you've loved the manga or like Shonen Jump shows in general. It's good light escapist fare with some good style and charm to it.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Exclusive 16-page Booklet "From Manga to Anime." Textless Songs

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: TV PG
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 69.98
Running time: 600
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Black Cat