R1 DVD Reviews
Monday, 29 May 2006 00:00
A series in the 'dark and depressing' mould, Phantom the Animation introduces two young people who have been faced with an unenviable choice: be trained killers, or be dead. Known simply as Ein & Zwei (German for One and Two), they initially choose life - maybe anything's better than death - but they're about to discover there may be more out there than killing...
1 - Assassin
As two 'businessmen' are completing a deal, they're interrupted by Ein, the Phantom, a female assassin known only by her 'code' name (as you'd expect, the only people who discover her identity are usually just about to be killed by her). That job works out just fine - but on a later hit, she's spotted by a tourist, a young Japanese student who's in LA to celebrate being accepted into college. Normally, it would be a case of 'leave no witnesses alive' - but by quickly locating Ein's location, he's proved himself to have the necessary skills himself. Ein's employers want those skills, so he is captured, his memories erased, and given a choice - train to become an assassin himself, or die...
2 - Thoughts
"Zwei"'s new life continues - one hit after another, with just Ein for companionship. His skills go far beyond what the Syndicate expected from him, so he's given one of his biggest targets to date - the head of a major east-coast syndicate. Part of the cover for the job involves spending the day on a 'date' with Ein (scouting the territory) - something both of them seem to enjoy, but come time for the hit, their sentiments only get in the way. Their growing closeness seems to have come to the attention of the Syndicate, as well...
3 - Flame
With Ein missing, Zwei's been taken captive by a rival faction of the Syndicate - they want to know where Scythe (the man who 'created' him) and Ein are. Seems Scythe's been getting a little too friendly with other Syndicates, and being one of his 'creations' Ein's suspected of being in league with him. The rest of the Syndicate want her dead - and want Zwei to do the job. His initial answer is an emphatic 'no' - but when he's offered information about his past, it becomes a much harder offer to turn down. Zwei has a counter-proposal: Scythe is simply using Ein - kill him, and Ein should return to the fold. But with Ein protecting him, it's not going to be an easy job. Zwei's also relying on the feelings for him she seemed to display before they were parted - but thanks to Scythe, her memories seem to have been wiped once again, meaning she's quite happy to kill him once they meet...
The basic idea that's being used here rings a bell - there have been movies done before with a similar premise (think La Femme Nikita, for a start). There are two points to differentiate Phantom from what I've seen before: the use of a memory wipe (and in Ein's case, a large dose of brainwashing) to try & 'encourage' the victims to play ball, and there being two of them. Both aspects come into play as the plot develops - it's clear that Zwei's memory wipe hasn't been entirely effective, while the romance that develops between Ein and Zwei has certainly drawn unwanted attention.
With all this, it seems that the hitman work that's done throughout the early episodes isn't really the main focus - it feels more like gunplay fanservice, there to help keep the attention of the more action-oriented viewer. The real story seems to be how the two lead characters, having found each other, now have to find themselves & freedom from the world they're being held in. It's an interesting mix for a show, and it certainly kept me glued to the screen.
Episode two holds out the possibility of a happy ending for Ein and Zwei, before the final scenes of the episodes trash that possibility if fairly dramatic fashion, and from almost bright and cheery we head for downbeat & downright depressing - the moments of happiness between the two are flushed right down the drain, apparently along with the rest of Ein's memories, and replaced with quite the orgy of destruction in the final episode.
I wanted a happy ending, but I knew there wasn't a hope of it happening - one of Phantom's themes throughout has been 'what can never be', with an Ein / Zwei pairing being top of that list. That means the final episode becomes an exercise in just how much the producers can mess with the audience's expectations - and the answer is, 'a lot'. The possibility of those things that could never be (a happy ending with Ein & his memories restored) are dangled in front of Zwei at several points here, but always they're left just out of reach.
There's a lot more action & gunplay towards the end of the series as well, which should keep the action fans happy. The quieter moments that helped create the tone of the early part of the series are pretty much gone - there's the occasional meaning-laden look and glance, but that's about it. The feel of the show doesn't really suffer for it, though, as the action's how you would expect the story to end anyway. For the final kick, keep watching after the credits for the epilogue.
Overall, then, an impressive short OVA that does its best to play with your expectations of where the story is going & how the characters should react. Phantom doesn't entirely succeed at what it seems to have set out to do, but still manages to be an enjoyable roller-coaster ride.
For the record, this OVA is based on the Phantom of Inferno game, which is available bundled with this DVD in a Special Edition. Phantom of Inferno is a DVD-based game - like many Japanese games, you get to make plot choices at various stages which affect how the story unfolds, but at heart it's more 'interactive DVD' than 'game'. The OVA covers around the first third of the game's story. You can read our earlier review of the game here.