Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~ Print
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Wednesday, 09 February 2011 00:00

Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~

Two young people, no memories of the previous lives, just that they've been trained as the ultimate assassins in the employ of a shadowy crime syndicate. That's not going to mess with their heads at all, is it. Ein and Zwei are the killers in question, and their story is certainly intriguing - for a while, at least...

In the underworld, there's no more sought-after - or feared - assassins than the pairing codenamed Phantom. Known simply as Ein and Zwei, their entire existence is simply to kill, and train to kill. Zwei had once been a tourist, but after witnessing one of Ein's hits - and shown some impressive natural ability by quickly locating Ein's sniping point - he was captured, his memories erased, and given a choice - train to become an assassin himself, or die. Not much of a choice, really. Choose to die, and that's it - choose to live, and there's at least a chance that he'll be able to escape and rediscover his missing past. And so Zwei's undercover life begins...

This is a little complex in places. The series is based on the visual novel Phantom of Inferno, which I reviewed a few years back and wasn't overly impressed with (I promised in that review that I'd eventually try and finish the game, and update the review when I did - I have to admit it hasn't been back in my DVD player since then). The game first spawned an impressive 3-episode OVA series (also reviewed here, which was obviously successful enough to lead to this TV adaptation. The basic premise in all three outings is the same: Ein and Zwei have been captured by organised crime group Inferno, subjected to intensive training (and, in Ein's case, a certain amount of brainwashing), and given a simple choice: kill for Inferno, or be killed. In such circumstances, life is always going to be the better option.

Inferno itself is an organisation filled with internal divisions as its members jockey for influence and power. Ein and Zwei initially come under the control of the appropriate-named Scythe Master, an truly evil bastard who has developed the conditioning techniques used to create Ein and Zwei - he's opposed within Inferno, though, by the beautiful and manipulative Claudia McCunnen who, using her knowledge of his true identity as leverage, uses Zwei as her tool to ruin Scythe's position in the organisation, furthering her own aims in the process.

Ein and Zwei get caught in the middle of all this manoeuvring. Living and working in close proximity to each other, and constantly under the stresses and strains that go with all the killing they have to do, it's inevitable that feelings eventually develop between the two - but with Zwei retaining a sense of his own identity and eventually deciding that he wants to get both himself and Ein out of their cycle of death, and Ein under the influence of Scythe's conditioning and feeling that she's got nowhere else to call "home" anyway, circumstances conspire to separate them and throw several problems in the path of love and freedom.

That's the basic setup, then. The 26-episode series can be split neatly into three arcs: Scythe's rise and fall, Claudia's rise and fall, and Ein & Zwei's eventual attempt to escape their destiny. The first two of these are where the series is at its best, with the political jockeying within Inferno forming the backbone of the story, punctuated with impressively done hit-job scenes to remind us what Phantom are really about. In a way, the series is almost another of Bee Train's "girls with guns" show, having a lot of the gloss and style of shows like Noir and Madlax - but with a more believable setting. The introduction of young girl Cal into the second arc, giving Zwei yet another reason to want to get away from the life of a killer, is an inspired stroke for that stage of the story.

But while Cal's introduction works well for a while, she's also the reason that the series ultimately loses its way. The third arc moves the setting from the American west coast over to Japan, placing Ein and Zwei (now living under the names Eren and Reiji, and posing as brother and sister) into the roles of high-school students & trying to live normal lives - until Cal, feeling the pain of her apparent betrayal at Zwei's hands, comes looking for them. It's here that the series essentially falls apart: first of all, the high-school setting makes no sense given what's already known of the show's timeline at that point (being at least three years' on from the beginning of the series, both of them should be in their early 20s by then), while the personality of Cal when she makes her appearance is so far removed from the loyal young girl that Zwei first took under his wing that it's almost impossible to make the mental connection. Yes, there have been influences on her to make her that way, but it still doesn't seem right - and that's the problem with the whole arc, when compared to the two that preceded it.

In the end, it feels as though somewhere along the line someone was decided that, great, we've created three characters here that the audience can connect to and feel sympathy for: let's mess with that relationship, and see how much we can undermine it. Cal goes bad, Zwei resorts to using innocent third-parties for cover, and even when you feel that a happy ending might be salvaged from the wreckage of the storyline, rocks fall and everyone dies. In the figurative sense, at least. It's a huge "Screw you!" to everyone who followed the series to that point, and to say I was unhappy with the closing arc would be an understatement.

I'd go so far as to say, stop at the end of the second arc (episode 18). The ending there is a downer, but less of one than the final arc manages to produce, and you don't have to deal with the wreckage that the final arc is, which should at least leave you feeling that watching that far was worthwhile. For the show to do so well for two thirds of its run and then fall apart is hugely disappointing (and I can't blame Bee Train for that, as I understand the series follows the storyline of the game quite closely). There's a lot of good stuff here, but because of that closing arc, you might want to think before you buy.

Rating - ***

1 - Awakening
In the underworld, there's no more sought-after - or feared - assassins than the pairing codenamed Phantom. Known simply as Ein and Zwei, their entire existence is simply to kill, and train to kill. Zwei had once been a tourist, but after witnessing one of Ein's hits - and shown some impressive natural ability by quickly locating Ein's sniping point - he was captured, his memories erased, and given a choice - train to become an assassin himself, or die. Not much of a choice, really. Choose to die, and that's it - choose to live, and there's at least a chance that he'll be able to escape and rediscover his missing past. And so Zwei's undercover life begins...

ZweiMembers

EinMission

2 - Training
The cause of Zwei's predicament seems to be his remarkable natural talent - he's got skill and tactical awareness almost equivalent to Ein's, and that's even before he's had any training. That training begins now, though, with repetitive drills to drive into him the proper use of weapons. He's beginning to come to terms with being little more than a slave to Inferno's desires - but a visit by high=ranking Inferno member Claudia brings with it the prospect, if me makes the most of the opportunities that will be presented to him, there may be a chance for freedom yet...

WatchfulClaudia

3 - Practice
Zwei's training at the hands of Ein continues, and it has to be said that despite his 'natural talent' she's far above his level of skill - especially now that she's not holding back. There's also still doubt in some quarters as to whether, when push comes to shove, he'll be able to actually kill. And so it's decided to give him a little test, to see how he reacts. One of Inferno's contacts in the military has been playing both sides of the field, something they won't tolerate, and dealing with him is placed in Zwei's hands. It soon turns out that Inferno's fear were well founded...

TrainingFirst victim

4 - Assasination
Zwei's latest active assignment sees him playing the part of boyfriend to Ein, behaving like any ordinary couple in love would behave while scouting out a shopping mall that will be the site if their hit. For Zwei, it's a short taste of freedom, although he's never quite sure just where Ein's role-play ends and her real personality begins. Their target is a mafia boss who very rarely appears in public, so their plans to deal with him must be perfect, as there'll be no second chance - but it seems as though something has blown their cover...

Nice outfitTrusting

5 - Moment
Hardheaded Tony is an unusual gang boss, one who - while creaming what he can from his casino operations - places very strict restrictions on what sort of activities his gang are allowed to carry out. Or will tolerate on his turf. One of those restrictions is a ban on pushing hard drugs, which makes him unique in the LA gang scene - but it's also being seen by others as a sign of weakness. Now one of those groups is trying to push Tony, and has called in Inferno's assistance to back up their threats. Zwei, meanwhile, has been called upon by Claudia to carry out two jobs for her: one, to keep her company for the evening, and two, to be on standby to kill Tony's family should he refuse to be co-operative...

TonyHit

6 - Conflagration
Killing, eating... things Zwei does with his right hand, and both things he does in order to continue living. Or so he tells himself, although killing Hardheaded Tony's son in cold blood seems to be having an effect on him. Tony, meanwhile, is feeling the rage that only someone in his position could, and is determined to crush Inferno for what they've done to his family and colleagues - but does he really understand just what sort of organisation he's going up against..?

PhotoshootFailure

7 - The Past
Claudia's got a plan to work herself up some favours with Inferno's leaders, but to do it she needs a little help from Death Scythe and Phantom. It's just the sort of scheming that he finds irresistable, and so he agrees. For the moment, Ein and Zwei are living undercover as a young couple, working part-time jobs between their "other" work, and Claudia pays Zwei a visit to see how he's doing and explain her plan to him. Scythe Master doesn't seem to fully trust Claudia, though, and when meeting Ein advises her to be very careful in how she handles Claudia and Zwei - and given who else Claudia seems to be dealing with, his concerns may not be misplaced. Meanwhile, events are giving Ein cause to think back to when she first encountered Zwei...

CorneredDreams


8 - Sudden Change
Zwei's not at all impressed at being called away from his mission by Claudia - until she dangles a little book in front of him: his passport, the key to his past and his identity. Suddenly, there's a future ahead of him that he hadn't dreamed possible. Strangely, though, he finds himself uncertain now as to whether he really wants to know hi past. Telling him of his past is part of Claudia's plan to sweep away the status quo in Inferno and create a new order, with Zwei at her side. But that would involve leaving Ein behind, and he's not about to do that...

TornDeathwatch

9 - Name
Having turned his back on Inferno, Zwei goes on the run, taking Ein with him. When she awakens from her injuries, though, she asks him to take her back - she's still loyal to Scythe, for whatever reason, and isn't about to go rogue yet. She also recognises that Zwei is really no longer Zwei - he knows his name, Reiji Azuma, and knows that he has somewhere he can go back to. She doesn't have that, yet - but after hearing her out, Zwei decides that she needs an identity of her own, a name other that Ein - and promises to help her find one...

RunnersReady to end it

10 - Finale
Clo has tracked down Scythe - it's now Reiji's job to hunt him down and kill him - and, if successful, he can have Ein - Eren - back. But Scythe is aware that Inferno will be hot on his trail, and has been making his own preparations for the attack that he knows will be coming. He's also relying on Ein for his protection - which may not be wise, under the circumstances...

Not liking her ordersHuman shield

11 - Succession
Reiji is washed up on a beach, barely alive after being shot multiple times by Scythe - and his first thought is of Eren, and how he was unable to save her; and of all that he's been through to reach this point. He's not the only one taking stock of their situation at that time - Claudia is also thinking through events past, that have seen her go from leading her own organisation, to joining Inferno and rising through its ranks to the point where she has a chance of taking control. But where do they both go from here..?

Pep talkMotivation

12 - Ghost
It's been six months since Reiji was officially given the title of Phantom by Inferno, and in that time he's been living up to the aura that goes with the name, striking fear into those who think about defying Inferno's will - and bringing death to those who dare do more than think of it. In doing so he's increased Claudia's influence , but it seems that she may be trying to push her luck a little too far for the liking of some of her Inferno colleagues. As for Reiji, he still seems to be obsessed with the memory of Eren - but the killing of a hooker turns out to be an unexpected turning point for him...

Exercising influenceCal


13 - Camouflage
Having taken Cal in, Reiji's having to get used to the idea of being a father-figure to someone - and it has to be said, he's not great at it. First order of business, though, is to track down those responsible for killing Judy, and with Cal being the only witness he's got, he's got to be nice. She's got a price for her assistance, though: when her sister's killer is killed in turn, she wants to be there to see it, and that's a condition that Reiji's not keen to agree to. Claudia, meanwhile, is still tracking down those who ruined her drug deal...

ConfrontationSuccess!

14 - Surveillance
Having Cal around the place is proving useful - she can cook, for a start, and she's got a good line in stories that's keeping him entertained. Having told McGwire and Claudia that he'd take her as his apprentice, though, Reiji has to explain to her what's going to be expected of her, and start the job of turning a young girl into a killer. Not that she seems to have any reservations about what that involves. Claudia, meanwhile, hasn't forgotten that Wisemel tried to undermine her position, and has plans for dealing with him. Permanently.

First shotReunion

15 - Reunion
Reiji had thought Eren was dead, killed by his own hands - but now that's clearly not the case. She's still alive, and presumably still working for Scythe - and against Inferno - and the realisation throws him into confusion. Claudia, meanwhile, is having to deal with the backlash from Gojo of having another of his men killed, and this time on her watch. The pressure is on, and she promises him that she'll have the ringleader for her in three days. Her plan, of course, relies on Reiji - which may not be such a good idea at the moment, but with Reiji keeping quiet about Eren's involvement, she's not to now that...

Traitor?Back in the game

16 - Confession
To appease Godo, Claudia kills Isaac, labelling him as the one responsible for the sniper attack. Later, Reiji confides to Lizzie that the sniping occurred after Randy Weber had been killed, meaning it wasn't part of Isaac's plan - but to keep Claudia in the clear, Reiji plants the money that Cal had stolen from Gojo's people at Wisemel's mansion to implicate him further in the treachery. Cal, meanwhile, offers to help Reiji in his assassinations, feeling Reiji is alone in his work and wanting to be a support to him - but Reiji, while happy to be he guardian, still doesn't want to get her fully involved in the life of a killer. With Scythe back on the scene and ready to stir up trouble, though, he may not have much choice...

ExecutionSleeping saviour

17 - The Truth
Reiji leaves the apartment, promising Cal he'll soon be back. On reaching the rendezvous point, though, Reiji realizes he's been set up - the latest twist in a year-long operation that should have seen Claudia lead Godo and his group to Inferno's inner core, but that has instead left the Japanese group feeling tricked and manipulated. And they're not happy about it. Before anything else can happen, the group come under sniper attacks, and while most of Godo's men are killed, Reiji survived to come face-to-face with their assailant: Eren, who has a warning for him...

Guess who's backGrowing obsession

18 - Confrontation
Reiji, believing Cal to have been killed, kills Inferno's men who bombed his apartment and makes his escape. Scythe and Shiga have outmaneuvered Claudia masterfully, making McGuire believe that she's betrayed both him and Inferno - she calls on Reiji for his help in escaping, but it may already be too late for that. Eren, meanwhile, has orders from Scythe to execute Reiji, but when it becomes clear that Scythe has been raising a new generation of assassins and will soon no longer have a need for her, she's left torn as to what to do next...

ExecutionReunited

19 - Promise
Flashback time, to Cal and her life from the night that Judy was killed. Reiji had thought her killed when his apartment was bombed, but not so - she'd been out at the time, and had waitied for him in the ruins for several days, convinced that he'd keep his promise to come back to her. The only person who came, though, was Scythe Master - who was able to make use of her belief that she'd been betrayed and abandoned by Reiji to gain himself a potential useful recruit...

BetrayedPondering the possibilities


20 - Homeland
Two years after their escape from America, Reiji and Eren have settled into what could almost be called a normal life - they're in Japan, high-school students, dealing with the problems that high-school students have. In Reiji's case, that's dealing with a confession of love from Mio Fujieda - although it soon becomes clear that Mio's family connections could spell trouble. There's other trouble, too, in the form of a mysterious biker who's been causing problems for Reiji - and who turns out to be someone that Reiji had presumed was dead...

Fitting right inAll grown up

21 - Rage
Reiji tells Elen that Cal is very much alive, and is now working for Inferno as an assassin. He blames himself for having introduced her into the underworld, and giving Inferno something to work with. Inferno are in Japane to help the Godo family dispose of a rival Chinese operation, and Cal is playing her part in that, with both Scythe and Lizzie also in Japan to oversee the operation. Lizzie, though, disapproves of the way Scythe is handling the situation. Later, Reiji, Eren and their friends are having lunch in school together when Eren is called away after receiving an unknown package. Chasing after her, Reiji comes face-to-face with Scythe, while Cal introduces herself to Eren...

Fully loadedApproach

22 - Fury
After exchanging formalities, Eren and Cal begin their battle, and they seem to be evenly matched. Reiji soon arrives on the scene and tries to persuade Cal to end the standoff, but she refuses - at least until Lizzie also arrive. Lizzie lets Reiji and Elen go, but she warns them that Inferno won't let them go easily. Looking for a way out of the situation, Reiji calls Shiga and advises him to make sure Inferno don't try anything, using Mio as a bargaining chip. Next day, while Elen goes to finalise their escape plans, Reiji and Mio go on a date once more, but it's interrupted when Cal once more intervenes...

StandoffMio

23 - Decision
Elen and Reiji resume their "normal" lives as students once more, waiting until their escape route is ready. But Cal makes a personal visit to Mio, forcing her to come with her before meeting up with Lizzie. Lizzie, though, doesn't approve of Cal's actions, and a confrontation between the two ends with Lizzie being critically injured. In the aftermath, Cal calls Reiji to taunt him. Shiga, meanwhile, has paid a visit to Scythe, enraged that Mio has been caught up in Inferno's internal wranglings, and securing a promise from Scythe that he'll deal with Cal personally...

Thrill rideBargaining

24 - Faceoff
Mio remains Cal's hostage, and Reiji has reached the point where he realises that Cal needs to be dealt with - and that he needs to deal with her himself. Eren, though, has other ideas, and heads off to confront Cal before Reiji has the chance to, leaving him a message urging him to escape from Japan without her. While Mio tries to convince Cal that Reiji isn't the betrayer she sees him as, Scythe prepares to unleash the Zahlen Schwestern, his latest team of assassins, on Reiji, Eren and Cal...

ConfiscatedGuess who's back

25 - Showdown
Having learnt the truth, both about Reiji and Eren's true identies and the identity of her father, Mio decides that her feelings for Reiji still stand despite what she's learnt, and she's determined to do what she can to help. She calls Reiji to tell him about the impending duel between Cal and Eren, and also promises that she'll wait for him to return once the fighting is over. As a result, when Cal arrives at the church expecting to find Eren, she instead finds Reiji waiting there for her, determined to put an end to her pursuit of him and Eren...

Saying goodbyeDream

26 - Eren
Scythe's grand plan, to have his creations battle against each other to the death, is about to come to a head - and it's Eren and Reiji, Ein and Zwei, versus the six members of his new creation, the Zahlen Schwestern. But within Eren remain the remnants of Scythe's brainwashing that must be overcome if she's to bring his reign of terror to an end & finally discover her origins...

Dressed like a pillockHome


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