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Review: "Canaan (UK Edition)": Promised Land

I’m not really a fan of shorter, 13-episode series, usually because I find they lack enough episodes to tell a consistent story and in some cases tend to be prone to awkward last minute shock plot twists.

Canaan is something of an answer to my misgivings.

Canaan4Low level Japanese reporter Minoru Minorikawa ekes out a living working for a gossip tabloid. When he’s assigned to report on an important global peace conference in Shanghai, he sees this as his chance to make the leap to legitimate reporting. Accompanying him is Maria Osawa, the enthusiastic daughter of a major pharmaceutical scientist who aims to become a photographer. Both were involved with an event two years prior in Shibuya, where terrorists unleashed the fatal Ua virus.

Although the epidemic was contained, the same terrorist cell is still active. As Minoru senses a developing story, the pair receive aid from another element of Maria’s past- a mysterious young woman named Canaan. Gifted as a near perfect soldier, Canaan has her own link to the terrorists.

When I started watching the show I expected that the first episode or so would detail the first encounter of Canaan and Maria with the audience as party to the latter. In actual fact the show makes the smart decision to already have them acquainted. This is partly because the series is a loose sequel to a Japanese only Wii game, spinning off from one of the possible story routes that was developed with the help of Type Moon of Fate/Stay Night fame. I was genuinely amazed to discover this. Usually any form of game to animation adaptation sticks out like a sore thumb, claiming to want to bring in new fans while drowning in continuity. Canaan avoids this perfectly; the story is self contained and anything really important is explained in a way that fits naturally into the narrative.

The show’s three-point focus is on characters, a well developed mystery, and strongly choreographed action. A collection we could dub ‘The Grant White Trifecta’.

As the title character it’s understandable that Canaan herself receives a lot of focus. Trained from a young age to be a soldier, she manages to avoid the over-trodden path of angst over sins in favour of something more unique. What makes her such an exceptional fighter is an advanced form of synaesthesia, where her natural senses have blended together to provide a form of awareness beyond average humans. She sees the world in literal colours, her vision coded as she can register intent perfectly; friends are yellow, enemies blue, etc.  It provides an attractive visual but admittedly looks very similar to the heightened awareness modes found in stealth action games such as the Batman Arkham titles.

Canaan1This state of awareness means she interacts differently than other people. Unhindered by the social awareness limitations of you or I, she’s able to definitively ‘understand’ others. This forms the backbone of her friendship with Maria, whom she registers as unashamedly open in her kindness. Maria is indeed a pillar of optimism, leaving Minoru initially flabbergasted as to how she can refer to an acrobatic super soldier as ‘a normal girl’. Maria’s belief does sadly get pushed eventually as increasingly tense situations lead Maria to see the soldier within Canaan and in turn question her opinion.

Minoru himself starts off as desperate to find some kind of major scoop to escape the rut he’s in, but proves his true character as the mystery of Canaan and the terrorists develops. While he’s able to show strong deductive reasoning, he doesn’t blossom into a fictional genius and retains some likeable rough edges. He reminded me a lot of the similar reporter character in Birdy the Mighty: Decode as both are flawed individuals who still strive for integrity and to use the power of the press for good. That kind of character always resonates with me, maybe due to my own journalistic dabbling.

The face of the terrorists is Alphard, an alluring and charismatic woman who figures prominently in Canaan’s past. Although antagonistic and pursuing an agenda, calling her a villain feels incorrect. She reminds me of some of the more personal villains from the James Bond films, matching Canaan in ability and coming from similar heritage. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the question of what she’s fighting for goes hand in hand with Canaan and feels more realistic than yet another power hungry wannabe overlord.

Entertaining as their relationship is, the twisted history of Canaan and Alphard does cause one of the low points for me. Maybe it’s just issues with the translation but I found their steadily revealed past to be confusing, a fact that only deepens when combined with Minoru’s investigation of the development of the Ua virus. While I could largely understand what was being related parts of the backstory felt convoluted or poorly linked, confusing rather than illuminating.

Canaan5Although leading a large and loyal unit, the most prominent of Alphard’s subordinates is the sycophantic Liang Qi. If you’ve seen enough anime you’ve probably encountered the obsessive villain underling who loses their cool at the slightest discourtesy pointed towards their master. Liang Qi pushes that further than ever before while at the same time matching her object of obsession in feeling unexpectedly relatable. Constantly gushing about the perfection of her ‘older sister’, she carries an obsessive desire to be acknowledged by Alphard that veers into sadomasochism and swiftly removes any value she holds as a coherent operative. There are moments of dark humour where, swept up in her desire, she believes she’s acting as the pitch perfect villain Alphard will surely reward, only to fall short under the weight of her own hubris.  Essentially, imagine the conflict of Megatron and Starscream only with a lot more sexual tension.

The portrayal of Liang Qi offered my second huge surprise of the show when I later discovered her voice was provided by Rie Tanaka. Often cast as sweet and supportive characters, Tanaka offers a portrayal which shows incredible range as it spirals between anger, obsession and insanity. In fact the entire cast do a great job, often offering performances I’ve never heard before in anime. Haruka Tomatsu plays Yunyun, a mild comic relief character. Like Tanaka it’s a real tour de force, offering some very unique and hilarious line reads.

The 13-episode run allows animation to remain strong, avoiding the occasionally phoned in look of longer shows. The primarily Shanghai locales come off as rich and vibrant and the skirmishes are fast and fluid. The strong visual direction seems to be inherited from director Masahiro Ando’s previous works.

Being a spin off from a Type-Moon story path, the character designs retain influence of their style. Canaan in particular bears resemblance to Fate/Stay Night’s Saber with a dash of Cagalli from Gundam SEED. Be still my beating heart.

Both English and Japanese tracks are provided but as mentioned I stuck with the latter. The option is still most welcome.

Extras are limited to clean versions of the opening and ending and trailers for three other MVM releases including Needless. Apparently the American release contained a brief compilation of the earlier episodes but that isn’t present here.

Canaan was a genuine treat to watch. The show hits all the right buttons with each episode furthering the plot and presenting characters that are genuinely likeable and avoid tired clichés. My sole complaint is that I was left wanting more of this joy. With the show itself hailing from 2009 that’s likely a pipe dream but at least there’s these 13 episodes to enjoy.

Canaan (UK Edition) is available on DVD from Amazon.co.uk

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