My first visual novel experience came when I was 14 years old. I was at a music store and stumbled upon something called a "DVD Game" in the anime section. The cover of the game in question had a really cool looking female character with a gun, so it didn't take much for my teenage mind to conclude that this was the best thing ever. Curious and perhaps expecting some kind of fanservice, I bought it with my allowance and excitedly carried it home. I probably played the game for less than 30 minutes before never touching it again. I recall thinking it was boring, nothing but text and generally awful.
The game was called Phantom of Inferno. I tried my best to not let my negative memories and bias influence my opinion of this animated adaptation from 2009, but you guys know how these things sometimes work.
Fortunately for me and my sanity, I didn't have to try very hard; Requiem for the Phantom is actually pretty damn great, save for a single glaring caveat.
Follow me after the break as I hide behind things and pretend to be an assassin.
Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom DVD/BD Hybrid Pack
Based on a Nitro + visual novel, Requiem for the Phantom is a 26 episode anime adaptation handled by Bee Train and written by Gen Urubochi of Fate/Zero and Madoka fame. Phantom follows the tale of Zwei, an assassin with no memories of his past, who is forced to work for the underground crime syndicate known only as Inferno. Partnered with his superior, a cold and emotionless girl named Ein, he carries out various hits all the while struggling to keep a hold of his humanity.
I'd love to explain the story in greater detail but doing so would tread into spoiler territory fairly quickly. Phantom is filled with twists and turns, many of which I could never have seen coming. It is a suspense/thriller in the truest sense, oftentimes channeling genre favorites like Leon the Professional and the Bourne series. It's also clear from the beginning that this is a show much more concerned with its characters than it is with an overall plot or goal. Yes, there is a primary villain who has some kind of vague, overarching goal. At the end of the day though, little has changed when the final credits begin to roll. The characters have all grown and changed and found what they were searching for, but the world around them continues to spin regardless.
The audience is immediately given reason to sympathize with Zwei. While the 'memory loss' cliche is often cited as being overused, Phantom never dwells for too long on the subject, instead using it later to further connect us with the main character. More than anyone else in the series, this is Zwei's story and it is he who arguably changes and grows the most over the course of these 26 episodes. That isn't to say that his co-lead and the supporting cast are anything but fascinating however. Ein's character arc is an emotional journey, one that I was ill-prepared to take. Part of this has to do with the ridiculous ups and downs that the story finds itself in, while part of it is simply the fact that I felt that as a character, she deserved to find some measure of happiness. By the end of the story however, the character that stuck with me the most was Cal. I won't explain why or how, but just know that her arc in particular was devastating at times.
I never had any problem with the pacing either. Phantom trickles its information to viewers, using it as a way to manipulate our feelings at the right time. It's not always action packed, but it also doesn't need to be. I found I was enjoying the series much more when it took its time to let the characters share a quiet and tender moment. The action was certainly fun, but it was hardly the main drawing point.
The biggest problem, and undoubtedly something I think most people can agree on, is the ending. I don't mean the final episode either; it plays out quite well and I think the resolution is deserved for all parties involved. I'm talking about the last minute or so of the final episode. The moment comes out of nowhere and is not only completely unnecessary in that it adds nothing to the narrative, but it's also followed up with a shot that seems to imply that Bee Train was just kind of trolling its audience. That may sound crazy, but if you watch to the very end you'll know what I'm talking about. After doing some quick research on the subject, it would appear as though they took one of the true ends from the visual novel and added their own unique... touch. It's a single sequence that left a bad taste in my mouth. It's not enough for me to dislike the show as a whole, but I can see myself taking the disc out just before the end of the final episode.
Animation on the whole is largely consistent but never amazing. Bee Train gets the job done. Action is relatively fluid but you've likely seen better in other productions. Character designs however are attractive and typically steer clear of being overly pandering, which makes everything go down a lot easier. The transfer here is suitably clean and looked great on my HD TV. On the audio side, the music works. There's one track that sounds suspiciously similar to the Burly Brawl theme from Matrix Reloaded, but outside of the one exception the music plays it safe and subdued. The opening and ending are dark and brooding, managing to cast a shadow over the entire series that helps you get into the mood for some drama.
I actually watched the entire series in English, forgoing the Japanese voice over track entirely. Why you ask? I feel that international thrillers/dramas work a lot better in English. These characters are from different countries and all walks of life, so I find it a lot more distracting to have a small American girl speak fluent Japanese in California. Fortunately for me, Funimation's dub is damn good. I had occasional issues with Newton Pittman's work as Zwei however. There are points when characters have pretty much eliminated their emotions, leaving them an empty shell. For the most part Mr. Pittman does a fine job with this, but sometimes he plays the character a little bit too mellow, coming off as flat. Most of the time the performance works though so I wouldn't worry too much. Brittney Karbowski's turn as Cal was a pleasant surprise. I tend to find that actors try to play little girls in the same way Japanese actors do, leading to high pitched voices that don't really work all that well in English. Cal's voice however is a little bit deeper and raspier, lending itself well to her history as a runaway child.
For extra features, we get two discs filled with 'Picture Dramas', which are essentially audio dramas with either images of the characters or puppets/real people acting them out. Lengthwise they run anywhere from around three to five minutes a pop. With twelve of them across two discs, this actually adds up to something pretty substantial. As for the content in each drama, I found them refreshingly funny and light when compared to the dark spiral of tragedy that is the main series. It's nice to see a BD/DVD release with some substantial extra features. Additionally, you have the usual set of commercials, trailers and textless songs to round out the package.
Speaking of the package, we were only sent the discs and so I'm unable to talk about the package itself. In this day and age where most shows can be legally streamed for free, I feel that packaging is becoming an important element of what drives people to make a purchase. That may seem silly since it's just a box, but I do think it's relevant and I just wanted to mention it.
I went into Requiem for the Phantom with incredibly low expectations. The memories of my limited experience with the visual novel and the somewhat bland name did little to get me excited about watching all 26 episodes. That being said, I love being able to swallow my words. Phantom is a really solid show that, while stumbling at the very end, is on the whole an extremely satisfying experience. If you at all like spy thrillers and revenge plots, you owe it to yourself to take a look. Funimation is actually streaming the entire series on its site for free, so if you want to try before you by, that's also an option.
Me personally? I like owning the shows that I dig. Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom has earned a spot on my shelf and I'm looking forward to giving it another watch sometime down the road.
8.0 - Great. A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.
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