Robbed of his memories, one young man finds himself trained as an expert assassin for an up and coming criminal organization.
What They Say A young man with no memories fights to salvage his humanity when he's forced into a life of murder by a dangerous crime syndicate called Inferno. The organization gives him a new name, Zwei, and molds him into a perfect killing machine, a meticulous instrument of death created to obey his masters' every deadly command.
Zwei's not the only puppet controlled by Inferno; Ein is a girl as beautiful as she is brutal, as lethal as she is lost. While mafia violence escalates around them, the two assassins grow closer, and Zwei begins the struggle to reclaim his past and save Ein from a blood-soaked future.
The audio presentation for this release has the fairly standard setup for an action show with the original Japanese stereo track encoded at 192kbps and the English mix done in 5.1 at 44kbps. The show works well in stereo form with a good solid forward soundstage design as the action sequences has some good impact to it. The dialogue is generally very quiet but when it gets forceful it's well placed and clear even when low. The English language mix bumps things up a bit more with some added clarity and depth to it that helps generally with the action sequences and the music from the opening and closing sequences. The added volume level helps make it sound a bit more distinct as well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing throughout 2009, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This set has thirteen episodes spread across two discs in a seven/six format. Phantom has an interesting palette to it in that it's very dark and murky with a lot of browns, grays and shadows throughout it. There are some very vibrant scenes, especially when it shows off LA, but the majority of it is very earthy. There's some noise to be had as expected and some of the backgrounds are stronger with it than others, though it doesn't become overly distracting depending on your setup and distance. I found it to be more noticeable on our plasma set for exampled compared to the main setup. The character designs hold out better overall as they're free of aliasing issues, but some of the backgrounds of city exteriors show off a bit of line noise during panning sequences.
As part of their new packaging initiative, Phantom is one of the first to get the upgrade treatment with a limited edition goodie thrown in. The heavy chipboard box is designed to hold the four thinpak cases across both sets, including the thin slipcover that's included with the second set so you can keep the artwork with that in the case easily enough. The box itself has a very good look to it with a dark and oppressive feel with murky colors where the front side has Ein in a really uncomfortable pose with weapon in hand while a headshot of Zwei is in the background along with the general concrete ruins of a building. The logo is decently done along the top right so that it doesn't dominate. The back of the box lets the lading ladies of Inferno take over with a cityscape along the right half of the background while the left gives us another shot of Zwei in the back that adds a layer of death and darkness to it.
Inside the case we get the two clear thinpaks that hold the first two discs of the series. The covers are done with a black background with a hint of shadow to them that comes in the form of the character itself. The first volume has a fanservice oriented picture of Ein in her basic briefs and halter top with a bland expression across her face while holding a gun in her hand. The second has Zwei in an action movement that works well with his serious expression and purpose as he has his gun as well. The back covers are kept very simple with just a grayscale type background with a target along the corner from which the episode numbers and titles flow from as well as the extras for the second volume. The reverse sides have artwork as well, with character pieces on the left and schematic type pieces on the right.
The buffer box to block the space out for the second set has some really nice artwork to it as well with Ein on both sides, including the shot from the thinpak itself except in this incarnation she doesn't have any clothes on at all. Inside the buffer box is the limited edition item with this set which is a really nicely done chain to wear around your neck with a bullet at the end. It's not a cheap plastic piece either, which makes it far more worthwhile of an effort than it would have been if it was.
The menu design for this series is very minimal overall, especially as all the extras are shunted off onto their own disc. Each of the discs have a full screen image that's static which shows off one of the lead characters. The only other thing you'll find on the main menu is just the logo, off to the lower left, with the minor navigation associated with it since there's not much to it. Everything is very easy to access and the submenus are straightforward and problem free. The disc doesn't highlight what the language selection is and it defaults to English with sign/song subtitles instead of reading any player presets.
There aren't any extras on the show discs themselves, though the second disc does include some trailers, but there is a separate disc included that has extras on them. The primary thing on the disc is that we get six picture drama episodes, which are better called picture comedy episodes, as it takes a lot of the characters from the series and puts them into weird and amusing situations, such as having Inferno's higher-ups argue over field trip snack budgets. There are amusing things to be had here, but it feels very off after watching the show. Unfortunately, these are not dubbed, so fans of the show watching it in English likely won't enjoy these because of it. Also included are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences which is always a welcome piece.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The path of the Phantom franchise is a curious one in North America as we've seen the visual novel game released years ago by Hirameki and the OVA series released by Media Blasters. Media Blasters went on to package the two of those together eventually so you could get the full experience. With this new series, clocking in at twenty-six episodes with animation production done by Bee Train, we get a much more fleshed out and fully realized piece of work that's essentially another chapter in the girls with guns series from Bee Train except that one of the girls is a dude. The pairing would work just as well if both were women I think, though it'd alter some of the interactions the come up over time as there are a few dalliances that would be complicated by it.
Phantom's structure is really quite interesting in this first half of the series. We're introduced to Ein, an attractive young woman who is a master assassin trained by a man called Scythe Master for an organization known as Inferno. Inferno is working to usher in a new age of crime organizations in the United States by using a highly skilled assassin to go out and off the competition that won't ally with them. Because of how good Ein is at her job, they've managed to make a very good showing on the west coast and has them expanding even further as they eliminate their competition. Where this series start is with Scythe Master showing the Inferno trio that he has something new that they want to see which will help them in their goals.
That something is a young Japanese man that he's gained through a recent mission whose mind he's wiped. As it turns out, the young man has a real natural talent for assassination and the field in general because his instincts allow him to kick in and stay alive in pretty much any situation. Showing this off by having Ein track him down and try to kill him inside an abandoned facility out in the desert, we get to see easily that both of them are very good at what they can do, but he needs a whole lot of training. And upon showing this off to Inferno, they give him the go ahead to start in on that process to turn Ein, who goes by the code name of Phantom, into a trainer for the young man who is given the name Zwei.
What sets the series apart is that there are essentially three parts in the first half of it that we get here that moves things along. The first part is the introduction where we see Zwei drawn into all of this as he'll be killed otherwise and he goes through all the training, including his first hunt against someone who has screwed up with Inferno. The training isn't overly detailed but the pairing of Ein and Zwei works pretty well since they're both relatively emotionless about it since neither has their memories. The second arc is more interesting as it features the pair going off on their first missions together which leads to a surprisingly complex piece that has numerous criminal organizations in the area that get caught up in it, which leads to an attempt to kill some dozen individual targets in the course of a night. But even more surprising is the third act, that has Ein and Zwei on the run from Inferno as Zwei regains his memories and they have to figure out how to survive.
Going through three arcs like this, and unfortunately including a recap episode within the first half, gives the show a very odd feeling to it. The focus on each arc within the first half of it moves things along and gives it a good deal of definition. Rather than going for a continual series of assassinations, it spends its time clearly focused on each aspect. The training has a lot going for it as it puts a very confused Zwei with the emotionless Ein and has him grappling with what he has to learn. At the same time, we get a good feeling for what's going on with Inferno in general and their plans. The group certainly has ambitions, not that they come across with any sense of realism or true definition, but they have the fun goal of eliminating the old families that won't go their way and ushering in an era of new crime lords under their control.
But it's watching Ein and Zwei that makes it what Phantom is. Though they're very controlled overall, there are decisions that have to be made when they're on various missions and seeing the training that Ein puts him through helps to bring out both their personalities. When she's in the position of a superior, their relationship is clearly defined as she has the ability to kill him at any time. When it shifts to them working together, she still has the role of teacher, but as he progresses with things such as his acting and shooting ability, they become more equals. And the third act of it with him gaining his memories, making him superior to her in a way because she's still unknowing and subservient to Scythe Master, she becomes simpler in her approach, looking only for orders to follow and keeping to just what is safe.
With this being a Bee Train show, it's unsurprising how the show looks in terms of its style and it fits in well with other series they've worked on, though it is certainly darker and murkier in its look overall. There's a real earthy tone to it with lots of dark colors, both because of the settings and because a lot of it takes place at night. A lot of scenes are in worn down buildings and rooms, or the exteriors of such places, where a sense of decay is present. But it flips it well with the time spent with those in power, showing us the criminal kingpins and mid level bosses who surround themselves with varying levels of wealth and power. The differences between the two worlds is nicely done, though there is a level of decay to all of it. The only point that really doesn't work well for me is that as Zwei and Ein go on their missions, they're generally always wearing the same outfit. There are changes, masks and such, at different times, but their normal lives outside of missions has them in this form which doesn't help. Less so for Zwei but Ein's very distinctive outfit does not do her any favors.
The Phantom TV series certainly is reminiscent of the OVA series of several years ago, but it's obviously heavily expanded here and Bee Train does their usual job with it. The darker nature of it and the use of the male/female team works well for changing it up from the last few series of theirs that I've seen but there's more to it than that. Phantom plays in familiar territory but it avoids the more leisurely pace of some other Bee Train series. The focus on dealing with the criminal underworld of America with this series, assassins and people whose minds have been wiped clean gives it a properly dark feeling. When it runs there, it's good, but it's still lacking something that gives it more heart to really connect you with the characters. Zwei starts to reveal his true self towards the end here and that helps to start cement you more with it. Until that point, it's well carried by the action and the structure of it all. The end of this set has me curious to see what the ramifications of the events are and what it will try to do next.
Features Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Picture Dramas 1-6
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 is the premiere online destination for fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and anime entertainment. It is the largest community offering profiles, video, science fiction movies, sci fi TV, art, sci fi comics, photos, cheats, blogs, science fiction books, forums and feedback. Mania offers insider entertainment industry info and original content for science fiction, fantasy, and horror entertainment genres including: video games, comics, gadgets, movies, television, toys, music, books, DVDs and more.