"Black Cat": Second Life's Better than the First
The first volume of Black Cat had some interesting plot points and some pretty palette work, but the majority of the disc just didn’t feel right. Volume 2 is an improvement, but that’s not saying a whole lot, is it?
Train Heartnet, a. k. a. the Black Cat, is sick of killing and has decided to become a stray cat. But Sephira, Captain of the Chronos Numbers, presents him with the old “offer he can’t refuse”: stay with Chronos or die. Meanwhile, Creed has become even more obsessed with Train and tries to get him to join the Taoists in overthrowing Chronos. Though Train refuses time and time again, Creed vainly refuses to let this information sink in. Instead, he decides that Saya, the girl Train’s been chatting with for a while now, is the one causing Train to deviate. So, he decides to take care of Saya so she won’t bewitch Train anymore. An understandably pissed-off Black Cat then goes all out against Creed but ends up badly injured and rescued by none other than Eve and Sven. Our heroes then hide out for a few days as Chronos figures out what to do about its various adversaries. Train and Eve initially don’t trust each other, but when Jenos Hazard, Chronos Number VII, tries to kidnap Eve, Train’s there to save the day. We then flash forward six months to find that Chronos is employing Rinslet to research the Taoists, and that Sven, Train, and Eve are traveling together as a band of sweepers.
Now that the whole “Train betrays Chronos” storyline is wrapping up, it seems even more of a mistake to have opened the series with it instead of exploring its events through flashbacks. The plotline seems to skip steps along the way, and we don’t really have a good grasp as to how this world works. (Apparently Chronos controls one-third of the world’s economy, but how?) We also don’t get any real explanation of the Taoists, so these Outlaw Star rejects feel very out of place. (Yes, it’s true: a giant bee can still feel out of place in a world where a guy can see into the future by removing his eye patch and a little girl can turn her hair into a giant hammer). The first two parts of this disc move sluggishly; the first episode by itself feels twice as long as it really is.
Luckily, the pacing problems are somewhat offset by the fights: we get a real nice battle between Sephira and a disarmed Train, and Creed gets to show off his cool new sword. Saya also gets more screen time with a really fun race against Train back to his house. There are also hints that she knows more about what’s going on than she lets on, but her revelations are stopped short when she’s attacked by Creed. Surprisingly, she’s no match for him, even though she seems able to cancel the power of the Taoists. Still, the aftermath of that encounter introduces a charming new Number as well as some very good interaction between Train and Eve. On the other hand, Sven doesn’t get much to do on this disc, which I guess is to compensate for his getting the lion’s share of the focus in the first disc.
The final episode of the disc goes into full-on buddy-cop mode. Train drops the brooding act and finally gets a personality and a new wardrobe that Sven and Eve both relentlessly mock. Train’s chemistry with Eve gets even better as they decide to compete over the newest bounty. (In contrast, Rinslet and Jenos have no chemistry together.) We also get some more information about the Taoists, meet two of the bad guy henchmen from the intro, and join up again with the two diner waitresses we met on the first volume. This is easily the series’ best episode yet; I only wish we’d gotten a look at the six-month break that separates episodes 7 and 8.
Thankfully, Gonzo has ditched those eyecatcher-type splash images that appeared for no reason during battle climaxes, so the fights now flow much more smoothly. The nighttime coloring isn’t as bright or exuberant as in the first volume; except for some basic hues of blue, green, and red, everyone’s colored normally this time around. The actual animation varies from episode to episode. The fight between Sephira and Train is well-animated, as is a battle between Creed and Ash and Nizer, two other Numbers, but the final battle of episode 8 against Igor Planter doesn’t hold up as well. (But maybe I’m just remembering some of those awful Poison Ivy episodes of Batman). Though CG-animated, the fireworks in episode 7 are very pretty, which I guess makes up for a lackluster subsequent tanker explosion. Transfer is the usual FUNimation excellence.
I will say that I’ve warmed to the FUNimation dub, and specifically to Jason Librecht’s Train. While the Japanese version is still good, FUNimation has this uncanny ability to make their dubs much more enjoyable. Caitlin Glass does her best with the limited amount of Saya material, and Chris Patton does an excellent job playing the maniacal side of Creed. Though he doesn’t get much screen time, Troy Baker also gets in a great performance as Jenos. The music is similar to that on the last disc: standard Gonzo action music mixed in with some country here and there. While not awful, it’s not going to top Pocket Monsters or Gundam SEED Destiny anytime soon. I will say that the opening theme has been growing on me a lot and makes me wish FUNimation would release a soundtrack (or at least a free download) with the song on it. The ending theme, however, I can leave forever and not be the least bit sad about it. It’s better than MoonPhase‘s “Kitty Ear Mode,” but not by much.
This being a Shonen Jump series, of course we’re not going to get much in the way of extras: textless versions of the opening and ending themes, and trailers. There’s also an insert advertising Volume 3 and the manga, plus a tattoo in the style of Train’s XIII symbol. That’s it. It’s a sad day when Naruto, with its overpriced boxsets and limited extras (unless you put down even more money for the Special Edition), is the most extras-rich Shonen Jump show on the market right now.
If you enjoyed Black Cat‘s first volume, this disc is a worthwhile purchase. Those who aren’t sure should only give this a rent: as one of the few Shonen Jump properties that runs under thirty episodes, it is worth at least one viewing.
Episodes on Black Cat Volume 2: Catastrophe
Episode #05: The Departing Cat
Episode #06: The Cat Under Fire
Episode #07: The Wounded Cat
Episode #08: The Sweeping Cat