"Spiral" Vols. 1 and 2: Otaku-Tested. Mother-Approved.
Ayumu Narumi is a loner who’s always lived in the shadow of his older brother, Kiyotaka. His bro was a better detective, a better pianist and a more confident person in general. One day Kiyotaka disappears, leaving only this cryptic message for Ayumu, “I’m going to pursue the mystery of the Blade Children.” For two years Ayumu hears nothing of the Blade Children or of his brother. He’s left to sulk his way through life, living with and keeping house for his brother’s wife, Madoka, who is also a detective with the local police. However, the mystery of his brother comes back to haunt Madoka and Ayumu when a girl in his school is nearly killed by one of the school’s teachers. As it turns out, that attempted murder is connected to the Blade Children, though the teacher ends up hospitalized before they can get more out of him. From there on out, mystery begets mystery as death after death occurs, all seemingly because of the Blade Children. Ayumu, getting closer to solving the mystery with each incident, ends up directly confronted by the Blade Children. But the stakes are high as the Children try to verify whether Ayumu deserves more information, and that could cost Ayumu his life. We last see him on Volume 2 in the midst of what might turn out to be a deadly challenge of wits, racing against time to save his friend and assistant Hiyono and retrieve a tape with crucial evidence that could get the Blade Children jailed, all while trying to keep the bomb locked around his neck from exploding. Talk about a cliffhanger!
Spiral is a darn good mystery show with insanely aggressive episode-to-episode continuity. Every movement builds on the next as Ayumu and Hiyono unravel more and more of the enigma of the Blade Children. The show’s pace gives it a lot of tension, and the beautiful means in which the mysteries and riddles are solved are occasionally outstanding. The characters are quite interesting as well: Ayumu is definitely one cool customer, even when his life is in danger, Hiyono is cutesy and energetic, but also sharp as a tack cognitively and the various Blade Children that do turn up are pretty awesome themselves. Rio is cute, Machiavellian and deadly and Kousuke is delightfully wily and cruel. However, they make for great characters because you’re not always sure whether they’re villains or victims of the state. This uncertainty builds on the show’s eerie ambiance, making for a very engaging and elaborate story.
Every episode of Spiral left me wanting more, and by the end of the first volume I was completely hooked. Eventually I started feeling a physical need to find out what happened next with Ayumu and these Blade Children that wasn’t satisfied until I knew how it’d pan out. I’d say that’s a compelling series if I ever saw one. In fact, I watched Volumes One and Two with my mom, and even she was sucked in as well by the time all was said and done. Any show that appeals to a twenty-something otaku and his baby-boomer mom simultaneously has got to be doing something right.
Visually, Spiral is largely solid except for a few technical problems. The character designs are somewhat stereotypical for anime, but they don’t look bad, just somewhat plain. Alas, the animation is clearly a little sub-par at points. There are some awkward digital pans that stick out like a sore thumb and some of the characters are blatantly off-model and lumpy in some scenes, which likely means they had some bad key frame work. It doesn’t really detract from the show, but it would have been nice to have a bit more consistency. The music is great, especially the rocking opening (which rocks so hard that Lance Heiskell from Funimation head-banged to it at Otakon 2004) and the wonderful piano pieces (critical to an anime that features a couple of characters who are supposedly world class pianists). The original Japanese language track is well-acted and well-produced, as is the English dub. Funimation yet again borrows some actors from ADV’s pool and uses them better than ADV often does, while Funi’s regulars also punch in with some very nice work as well.
The DVDs are about par for the course when it comes to features and design. We see the usual trailers and textless opening and ending on both Volumes One and Two. On Volume One, the volume-specific bonuses are a note on magic squares (which were used in one of the episodes on that volume to solve a particular riddle), character profiles and an image gallery. Volume Two features dub outtakes (some of which are quite funny) and the series’ prologue. The menu design is pretty typical, though I’ll note that they use some interesting and perhaps confusing names for the various features on the menu. On the other the hand, the cryptic names do fit with the cryptic nature of the show, so I suppose that’s kind of cool once you wrap your head around it.
In summation, you should give Spiral a shot. It’s cool, captivating and generally a very fine anime. If you like good mysteries, Spiral provides that and then some.