Review: "Jormungand" is Loco...in a Good Way
Jormungand is an interesting anime based off a manga by Keitaro Takahashi, both of which expect you to root for bad guys against other bad guys. It is a show that expects you to have full tolerance of people getting their heads blown off. It expects you to put any qualms aside about the violence within and just revel in the lead-soaked ride. If you can do that, this show is a little slice of heaven next to the likes of Black Lagoon.
The studio, White Fox, is fairly new, spun off from OLM Inc. (best known for the Pokemon anime adaptation) in 2007 and producing their first show, Tears to Tiara, in 2009. The director, Keitaro Motonaga, had directed only one series before, the comedy-centric Ah! My Buddha in 2005 that cratered in its US release. Yet the writer, Yousuke Kuroda, is as much of a veteran as you can get, as he wrote Gundam 00, Highschool of the Dead, Trigun, and several entries in the Hellsing Ultimate OVA series, among a host of others.
Even though the main character purportedly is Jonah, a young, seemingly emotionless child soldier who is brought aboard a semi-crazy arms dealer’s entourage, the truth is that the show is about the semi-crazy arms dealer herself: Koko Hekmatyar. It’s not long before Koko and her outrageous personality steals the show for good from Jonah, but this is done early enough to prevent any harm to Jonah’s character.
The result is an action-packed romp where Koko and her band of elite bodyguards with diverse backgrounds go all over the world, in episodic, Cowboy Bebop-esque fashion (though two-parters are common), facing several (occasionally reoccurring) groups of enemies. We soon learn about the backgrounds of several of the characters. There is no real overarching plot, just subtle character evolutions over the course of these 12 episodes, but that looks to change with the end of episode 12, which introduces a serious game-changer just as the series begins to feel like it might fall into formula.
Jormungand is not for the faint of heart. If you have seen Black Lagoon or Noir, you might have an idea of what to expect. The many battles in Jormungand try to be a bit classier than Black Lagoon, but there is a brutal pragmatism to the violence that is not in Noir. The result is frequent bloodspray, lots of guns being fired (with realistic-sounding sound effects), and plenty of strategy being worked out between the opposing sides. Often, things are settled due to taking cover at the right time, or someone panicking and blowing the operation. The animation is not of the highest quality, but the opening battle of episode 7, between “hero” Valmet and “villain” Karen Lo is animated exceptionally well.
Otherwise, the typical anime shortcuts are utilized to give the illusion of higher quality animation than there really is, but through the skills of exceptional storyboard artists, the illusion is pulled off much better than usual. The only real inconsistency in the artwork is that the animators can’t decide whether Valmet, being an elite female soldier, should be muscular or not, bouncing back and forth between a supermodel figure or a more realistic MMA-style physique.
The background music is handled by veteran Taku Iwasaki. Superficially, the music bears resemblance to typical American action movie music, with loud horns, pulsing electronic beats, rapid-fire strings, ethnic percussion, and some electric guitar on top, creating an immersive canvas of sound. However, Iwasaki’s soundtrack is missing the droning and ambient noise frequently heard in American thrillers, instead emphasizing melody, resulting in some firefights being scored by violin solos or African-style chanting to give things an artier flavor. There is also a lack of bass, which seems intentional as it allows the gunfire SFX to take precedence. The result is a powerful soundtrack that supports the action well but also stands out on its own. Also of note is the insert song, “Time To Attack,” which created the meme “Her name is Koko she is loco I say oh no.” It is a complete earworm, and usually is heard in the short ten-second previews; though it occasionally crops up in the BGM itself.
The opening song, “Borderland” by Mami Kawada, is an auto-tuned mess of Japanese and poorly pronounced English on speed, and the visuals are nothing to right home about. The ending, “Ambivalentidea” by Nagi Yanagi, comes off better, as a softly sung, mournful pop song that hints at the pain the main characters have suffered in their pasts. A special song, “Shiroku Yawaraka na Hana” takes the place of the regular ending in episode 4 to fit a specific arc character, Chinatsu.
Your preference for the English dub or the Japanese version depends on two factors. The first is how you prefer each version’s interpretation of Koko. Shizuka Itou portrays Koko in the original Japanese, and gives Koko a girl-ish tone that fits Koko’s many immature temper tantrums and insane mutterings that pop up in the series, but makes it hard to believe that Koko could believably command this band of hardened mercenaries (which could be the point). Anastasia Munoz, on the other hand, gives Koko a husky tone that makes Koko’s actual (adult) age pretty clear, which makes Koko’s meltdowns and proclamations seem rather off-putting and awkward, like we’re watching an “adult child” rampage across the screen than an actual child. Again, that could be the point.
Christopher Bevins serves as ADR director, and he lives up to his reputation for casting unconventionally beyond casting Anastasia Munoz as Koko. Instead of following the Japanese version which cast a woman (Mutsumi Tamara) as Jonah, Bevins casts the male Micah Solusod, which generally works out well for the English version. So does the general English cast in general, including a pair of surprises on Koko’s team: Christopher Corey Smith (who’s typically heard in Los Angeles productions) as grizzled sniper Lehm, and Carli Mosier (typically heard in Sentai Filmworks dubs) as Valmet. The English dub also has fun with a bunch of European accents that aren’t present in the Japanese version which adds a bit of unique flavor.
The script is handled by Bonny Clinkenbeard, and his script (like most FUNimation dubs of anime that take place in contemporary times) is rather interpretive, though thankfully more faithful than the one for The Future Diary. Generally, despite some extra profanity and occasional embellishments, the general meaning of the lines are not lost, and some interactions are actually strengthened due to careful word substitutions, such as Valmet’s showdown with Karen Lo in episode seven. Unfortunately, Clinkenbeard’s scripts are the source of the 2nd problem with the English dub: it’s uncharacteristically sloppy for Clinkenbeard’s work.
Occasionally, Clinkenbeard’s script and the lip flaps onscreen don’t match up, which results in noticeable timing errors. This happens on occasion in the Japanese dub as well, which makes me wonder if it’s more of a technical error than a problem with the scripts themselves. I received replacement discs from FUNimation during the course of writing this review, but any difference they made were negligible. For a fairly high-profile release like Jormungand, FUNimation needs to give a closer look at its quality control, because mistakes like these are going to cause a series of fan complaints, and for good reason. FUNimation has a stellar history of keeping lip flap errors to a minimum, and this is a blow to that reputation.
That being said, if you’re willing to put up with occasional errors, the English dub may actually be the superior choice. The dub is mastered in Dolby 5.1 in the Blu-Ray version and that makes the soundtrack absolutely pop. The dub also has more personality than the original version, which is important considering how diverse and crazy some of the characters in Jormungand can get. It’s unfortunate that the lip flap errors detract from the experience and lend ammunition to those who oppose English dubbing.
If you like shows like Black Lagoon, or even if you enjoy action cartoons in general, you will probably enjoy Jormungand. Just be prepared for Koko. She is loco and proud of it, and this makes the show what it is, a fun, blood-soaked romp.