Region: 2 - UK
Length: 625 minutes
Japanese 2.0 Stereo
What are the Blade Children?
This is a question Ayumu Narumi has been asking himself since his brother disappeared two years ago. But today isn't a day to bother with that as Ayumu has been accused of murder. While he tries to defend himself against growing allegations, Ayumu must unwrap the mystery of his innocence - as well as the mystery of the new professor who seems determined to pin this crime on Ayumu. One by one, the Blade Children emerge from the shadows, each bringing a unique set of challenges both physical and mental.
Ultimately, corruption is uncovered at the highest levels and truth must be sought at all costs.
In doing this review I'd like to acknowledge the following people and things: my editor for sending this to me, my editor again for assuring the distributor I hadn't been abducted by Greys and therefore able to finish this review, Shingo Kaneko for directing the title I'm going to talk about, my mother for teaching me not to judge everything on face value (still learning that one) and finally God for putting things like real life in my way of reviewing this title.
Approaching this title is best understood using the lyrics from Fleetwood Mac's Little Lies. This song helps me to (sort of) explain the relationship between Ayumu and the Blade Children, Ayumu and Madoka and Ayumu and Kiyotaka. Now that's just my view, like with all things in life, your actual mileage may vary. This series has good layering, working in feint within feint. Not concrete enough to roll the space shuttle across it but solid enough. (Please note that for the purposes of the review I'll only be talking about the 26 episode TV series of Spiral and not the manga upon which it is based as the latter contains serious spoilers.)
Ayumu Narumi is a boy without a path in life. When his older, more successful, brother Kiyotaka disappears in mysterious circumstances the only clue to his disappearance is the last words he spoke to Ayumu. Kiyotaka wanted to discover the mystery behind the elusive 'Blade Children' but two years later, it seems this quest has cost him his freedom if not his life. Ayumu for his part had grown up in the shadow of his brother who was an accomplished pianist and detective. Ayumu quit his own studies in piano practice after his sibling vanished because he didn't wish to be compared to him. Kiyotaka's wife Madoka takes Ayumu in to live with her and the two get along well enough. Madoka is a disciplined police detective but has terrible domestic skills. As such Ayumu does most of the housework and simply waits for Madoka to come home and cooks dinner for the two of them. Ayumu's life is going to go nowhere as he doesn't see a reason to get out of his brothers shadow. He is content to lie on his back on the school roof and watch the world pass by.
Until one day in school, when a female student, Sayoko Shiranagatani, falls from a balcony near the school roof. Ayumu is on his way back down when he hears a noise near the balcony. When the crowd gathers around Sayoko injured body (a lorry parked under the balcony broke most of her fall), they look up and see Ayumu standing there. Naturally the finger of suspicion falls on him. While being interviewed by the police, including his sister-in-law, it becomes apparent that he couldn't have committed any crime. In the process the school reporter Hiyono Yuizaki attaches herself to him in the hopes of getting the story.
I'm going to break there from telling you any more about the individual plots. Now I need to tell you the bad news up front. This is a series that desperately wants to be one type of series. Unfortunately I find that the show wants to please everyone. When it's not trying to emulate Detective Conan, that long running mystery show in Japan, with its who-done-in-this-week's-latest-guest-star approach, it's going for that old faithful backup: the serious show with silly comedy bits. Let me say this to J.C.Staff, the animation studio responsible for this: this last type of show didn't impress me with Full Metal Alchemist and it doesn't impress now. I'm trying really hard to like your characters but if you think that showing people who have proven to have killed people (YES ACTUALLY WENT OUT AND MURDER-SHE-WROTE SOME UNLUCKY SAP) being silly or funny in some way makes them endearing then you are sorely wrong. Mentioning the fact that Ayumu has a brother named Kiyotaka is great and all that but after twenty times I stopped actually caring. Also composing great shots like the sun setting, slowly, over Tokyo when a fight is coming the next day would be fantastic if not for the fact that you reuse the same shot at least twice more in subsequent episodes. Having Ayumu go over the same sequence of conversation between he and Madoka toward the end of the show says more of "Damn, we need to fill five minutes and we've got no more Yen!" and less of "Of course we meant to do that!" I understand that money for the actual animation is sparse coming from the sponsor (those fish sticks with the characters printed on the breadcrumbs aren't going to print themselves, now are they?) but Sweet Zombie Son of God, some flair please! You animated Idol Defense Force Hummingbird, New Dominion Tank Police and Yomigaeru Sora - Rescue Wings for flips sake! Most studios would kill for that kind of skill. Finally the last part of my peeves about the series is something I just brought up: The Blade Children. Not the characters themselves, they're fine, but how they're presented. Baring two or three of them, the rest kill people who get in their way or threaten them in some way. Why the hell do you then try and make them nice people!?! I understand that sometimes men and women, boys and girls, humans and droids have to do things that are distasteful but not once does any of them get cut up by the fact they just iced someone. Arghh!!
Now that I've gotten that out of the way, I can get on with the good stuff. Ayumu is the best written character for the whole cast and not just because he's the lead. No, it's because he acts like all of this murder and intrigue doesn't bother him and it really doesn't. At least not for a while. The Blade Children are testing him for some reason and he's only doing this because he wants to find out what happened to his big bro. If it were I and they'd tried to kill me I'd have just gone for them. I certainly wouldn't have danced around for 26 episodes. Oh, well, back to Ayumu. His relationship with Madoka is only hinted at in bits through the series. He cares for her a great deal but not in that way which is a welcome relief because after having seen it too often in hentai and harem shows, I've come to suspect such plot details are part of the advertisers list of requirements. She, for her part, obviously cares for him and it breaks her heart to know he's in such pain over the loss of his brother and the fact that nothing he does will ever measure up in the world's eyes. Hiyono is a deceptive girl. She looks, on face value, to be "Tee-Hee! I'm just a girl!" but she's much better than that. At times she is the character that Ayumu hasn't yet developed into. She is his natural foil, being humane to his cold logic, funny to his serious and impulsive to his standoffishness. The anime only hints at her depths, the manga promises so much more.
The Blade Children are interesting if only because they are an eclectic bunch. Kousuke Asazuki is my favourite as he seems to want the most out of life but feels he needs to do what he does in other to find purpose. Rio Takeuchi is creepy but not in a moé kinda way. No, no she's creepy because of the lot of them, she's the one who'd shiv you and not even worry about the morality of it all. I won't spoil the lengths she tries to go to win but they're impressive, I'll give her that. Eyes Rutherford is a tragic figure who knows the conflict is coming but yet is reluctant to bring arms against his enemies. Ryoko Takamachi is one of the more structured characters. She's a Blade child who doesn't want to be brought into the conflict for any reason. A popular running track star in school, she has past dealings with Rutherford and has an unspoken affection for Kousuke despite hiding it behind being the only person Kousuke will tolerate beating with figuratively and physically. Her only condition for coming back into the fold, so to speak, is she will not kill anyone. This is a rule she won't break for anyone and in one good scene she makes Kousuke promise to use this rule as well. Sorry, but I won't speak about Sayoko Shiranagatani and Kanone Hilbert as they both have spoileriffic points about their back-story that I feel I don't have the skills to explain without giving stuff away.
The voice cast for the show is good with Kenichi Suzumura as Ayumu and Masumi Asano as Hiyono standing out in particular. I only listened to the English dub for translation purposes and it seems, at least what I listened to, to be functional and straight forward. I know I've said in the past that I like both dub and sub equally and for the most part I stick to that idea. It's just the older I get, the more nostalgic I get for dubs of old. I can't fault any of the dub actors for their performances, they were good. It is just that I can't get excited by them. Maybe it's me becoming an old fogey. However one thing I can say with certain is that I took one look at Kousuke's character and said: Greg Ayres! Guess what? I was right!! A-HA HA HA HA!
The music within the series, by Akira Mitake, was OK but nothing to break down doors at shops or overload servers, trying to download, for. The opening song, "Kibouhou" by Strawberry Jam was good and didn't make me want to skip after the first run-through. Likewise "Kokuteru" by Hysteric Blue except in that case it was too wishy-washy for me to pay as much attention. Hey, while we're at it, here's another message for J.C. Staff; ENOUGH WITH THE SPIRALS IN YOUR OPENING! Yeah, thanks for all the circular patterns, everyone. Circles, patterns of spirals, breakdowns of images into spirals. Yeah, gee, I wonder what the name of this series is?
Animation aside, the character designs by Yumi Nakayama are good so much so that the Blade children have their own distinctive look, away from the other cast and even background people who only turn up in the story once or twice have their own flair. How much of the illustrator's (Eita Mizuno) work came over in the anime is up for discussion. But it worked for me.
All in all, I find myself at an impasse with this show: it's got its good points, no doubt about that. But lazy animation, poor plotting (at least the execution of key plot) and an inability to understand itself make this a series I'd rate high but would rent. It is worth your time, just don't make this a something that you must see before you die kinda thing. That said, Funimation Entertainment and, by extension, Revelation Films (UK distributor) have put some good extras in these discs with commentaries and title-less opening and closings. It's currently out of print in the US but stock is still available in the form of a brick release courtesy of Funimation and in individual releases and another brick release in the UK from Revelation Films in the UK.