The mysteries are slowly revealed though there isn't all that much to feel engaged about.
What They Say
All they have is each other.
Ellis is an amnesiac with a bounty on her head, and Nadie's trigger finger is the only thing keeping her friend from falling into the wrong hands. They're looking for pieces of Ellis's past, and every mile of open highway brings the girls closer together - but their special bond is bound to be tested.
At the dusty border crossroads where ancient spirits and modern science meet, a storm of conspiracy is brewing low in the desert sky. Someone out there can explain the hazy mysteries of Ellis's past. If she and Nadie just keep moving south, the Hunter and the Witch will get their answers soon enough.
Contains episodes 14-26.
El Cazador has a pretty straightforward audio presentation as it provides a pair of language tracks that serves the material well. The Japanese track is presented in its original stereo mix encoded at 192kbps while the English language adaptation is done in 5.1 while encoded at 448kbps. The Japanese track is pretty well served here with some very distinct sounds – especially the eye-catches – but overall it has a good sense of presence and directionality across the forward soundstage that you don't often get with a stereo mix. Bee Train has always had fairly strong stereo mixes and this one is no exception. The English mix makes out a bit better because of it as it has more impact and more clarity with its directionality and overall presence, though some of it is attributable to just a difference in volume levels. We listened primarily to the Japanese language track and didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing throughout 2007, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This set contains thirteen episodes across two discs in a seven/six split which is fairly standard for FUNimation releases these days. The transfer for each disc looks pretty good though there are areas where there is some noticeable noise in the backgrounds, some of it may be done intentionally. Colors are generally pretty strong throughout with a good sense of vibrancy where appropriate. Detail is quite good in most scenes and the few dark scenes maintain a solid look overall, though there is some noise in them. Bee Train shows are usually pretty strong in the color and visual department and this one is no exception.
El Cazador has a solid packaging presentation to it with the standard thin slipcover holding two clear thinpak cases. This collection has the same overall framing but less of a stylish and inviting piece of artwork in the center as it has Nadie in the foreground in full color looking serious while Ellis is wispy in the background as she blends with the blues of the background swirls. The back of the slipcover runs with a Dead or Alive kind of approach with the parchment style coloring that holds several shots from the show and a good clean piece of artwork of Ellis and Nadie together with Ellis looking particularly cute as she's in “disguise.” The summary is a bit short overall but they get the general premise across and here's a good clean listing of the discs extras along with the amount of episodes in this collection.
Inside the slipcover we get two clear thinpaks that have the same shade of yellow for its backgrounds. The third volume is given over to the two sides of Jody as she's in her office uniform as well as her in the field outfit with her hair down, both of which have their own appeal. The fourth volume lets Rosenberg and L.A. have a moment together with Rosenberg taking the young man under his wing in a rather creepy manner. The back covers are laid out the same as they use the same wanted poster style with the logo along the top and six images from these respective episodes. Below that we get a breakdown of he episode numbers and titles and if there is a commentary associated with them or not. Each cover has reverse side artwork as well with the third volume showing the two leads together in a sleepy embrace by fire light while the fourth volume has a bright and colorful sunlight shot of the two girls that's very uplifting. No show related inserts are included in this release.
The menu design takes its cues from the cover artwork as it uses the layout from the back of the thinpak cases with the logo and adds in the navigation to it while placing it against a wood background to add more to the old wild west feeling. They also bring in some character artwork of the lead characters from the covers which works really well as it blends nicely and fits in with the instrumental music that shifts from slow to fast and upbeat over the two minutes that it runs. The layout is pretty straightforward with quick and easy selections and submenus that load quickly. Access times are fast but the discs don’t read our players’ language presets as it defaults to English language with sign/song subtitles
The extras are pretty minimal here but the small change in presentation makes it better. The fourth disc contains the clean opening and closing sequences as well as a commentary track for the twenty-fourth episode. Previously you’d normally only know this if you went into episode selection but thankfully they’ve started changing it on some releases by giving it its own selection in the extras section.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In the first half of El Cazador, we got the basics down pretty easily as to what to expect. Ellis is a mysterious woman with a witching background that has her the subject of caution and envy among others. Factions within a mysterious group either want to control her or kill her for their own benefit and those factions aren't exactly working in sync with each other. The end result is that Nadie and Ellis are on the move to their mysterious and uncertain destination while having small adventures along the way and getting to know each other better as well as themselves.
Ellis' background is a pretty big mystery but she has a few scraps to work with as she remembers what happened to the doctor that was working with her and how she's responsible for his death. This set opens well by really exploring her time with Doctor Schneider and we see the bond that grew between them as Ellis began to discover what love is. With her being told several times now that emotions are not natural for her kind, something L.A. himself seems to have not realized that he's gained, Watching Ellis go through the changes with the doctor as she learns to care for him and he for her is a really good episode that helps you connect with her much more. She's been an alright character so far, made up with a few cute quirks such as her yessirs, but she's been mostly a blank slate.
For a good chunk of this second set, the players are moving around much as they have been. Nadie and Ellis continue to travel south for Winay Marka without knowing what it is while L.A tease them that he knows the true destination. The pair come across Ricardo and Lirio quite a few times and eventually even work together for awhile when the funds are tight and they're all tired of traveling so poorly and sleeping under the stars. Ricardo gets a bit more detailed during all of this as they spend time together, including more time at Amigo Tacos, and the relationship between him and Lirio is really cute to watch. Lirio really takes a shine to Ellis and likes Nadie a lot and there's even a very cute sequence where Nadie and Ricardo are mistakenly thought of as being a married couple, much to their embarrassment. For more than half this set, the main group of four really does find a good path towards familiarity which makes it fun to watch, even if most episodes do still end with Ellis and Nadie hitting the road again.
Where El Cazador left me uncertain was in how it dealt with both Jody and Rosenberg. Rosenberg's plans continue to go forward and even when we do discover the reality of it at the climax, it's not all that terribly engaging and he doesn't look good all dressed up in fancy ceremonial garb. He spends a lot of these episodes outside of the Agency and seemingly doing little other than fishing on a lake and playing house with a woman he's got there. He's still manipulating things, mostly through how he's set L.A. to go after Ellis with such passion and almost abandon, but he has very little hands on time when it comes to the women and he does seem very disconnected from it all.
Jody's story has the potential to be more interesting as she's the operative for the group that's trying to stop what Rosenberg is doing. When she's compromised in the Agency, she's set loose to take out Ellis and returns to her codename of Blue-Eyes and finds herself on the road with a few women in black who help her hunt the duo down. When she shifts to this role, she's definitely more hands on but feels less in control of the situation. As she hunts down Ellis and comes into contact with her and the others to different degrees, Ellis rubs off on her as well, though she never truly gets fleshed out and humanized. Like Ricardo, she's a shell of a character where she fits in with what's going on for the storyline at hand but she doesn't have any real depth to her. She fits in well with the whole strong woman angle that this show has pushed, along with the other shows in this loose trilogy, but like a lot of those she also lacks anything that highlights who she is outside of this particular situation.
As the series nears its close, the intensity does pick up a bit but there's still a whole lot of the usual Bee Train style with the long panning shots, drawn out expressions and so forth. That has worked well in the past and I can see how it does work here again, but after taking in all their previous series and having fifty-two episodes of these kinds of moments in Tsubasa, I'm sort of on the downside of its appeal. When the finale really gets underway, it lacks a lot of impact because Rosenberg's big plan doesn't feel all that big or all that interesting after all is said and done. What ended up more interesting is the final episode which is an epilogue piece that talks about what happens afterward and where the remaining characters end up. The slow nature fits better here and it's definitely needed as the ending of the big storyline would have been a terrible place to end, especially as the real storyline is the relationship between Nadie and Ellis.
As the closing piece of the Girls with Guns loose trilogy from Been Train, El Cazador feels the weakest to me both when it comes to the overall cast and the base storyline. I liked the overall setting, though they did find a way to include an actual Japanese hot spring, as the Mexican/South American locales definitely gave it a different flavor. And though familiar, I liked the character designs as well, though Lirio sort of left me a little unnerved at times because she's so small and cute. In the end, El Cazador felt like it's larger narrative storyline of what Ellis is searching for and what she's all about was never clearly defined. It's more of a subplot that lacks any impact when it does get revealed as you sort of wait for it to be over to get to what the real story is. El Cazador isn't bad but it didn't thrill me and it didn't captivate me. The things I like are negated by the things I didn't, leaving the show as a wash. It's definitely a show where your mileage will definitely vary.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode 24 Commentary (Clarine Harp, Ian Sinclair, Christopher Bevins), Textless Songs
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.