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"Black Cat": Frantic Feline Fun

by on June 8, 2008

I must confess that I’m not a big cat person. Generally speaking, I have little to no time for people or animals that are far cooler than me, and you can’t get cooler than a cat—especially a black one. But for Gonzo’s Black Cat, I’ll make an exception.

Black Cat is another long-running manga series that has not been spared the translation to animation. Released in the west by FUNimation, it has been honored with a box set format, and now fans of this popular comic and TV series can own all twenty-four episodes in one snazzy box.

Black Cat is a tale of multiple characters. The self-titled lead is a flawless assassin named Train Heartnet, code-named Black Cat, who kills for the legendary Chronos organization. But frequent encounters with a beautiful “sweeper” called Saya cause Train to reassess his life. When obsessed fellow Chronos agent Creed Diskenth brings tragedy to Train’s life, he leaves Chronos and becomes a sweeper—a bounty hunter.

On his travels he meets Sven Vollfied, a sweeper with the power to see into the near future, and Eve, a genetic experiment with terrible powers who is being hunted. Together, Sven and Eve help Train reconcile with his past, deal with his hatred for Creed Diskenth, and make sure there is enough money to afford that all important glass of milk for their very thirsty Black Cat.

Black Cat is a curious story that blends action with a touch of levity. While both Train and Sven are cool, sharp head-hunters, they also carry their own share of dorky awkwardness, and their relationship is an enjoyable mix of camaraderie and rivalry. The additional element of runaway Eve, the detached child who Sven shares a paternal bond with and Train a brotherly one, adds an extra bit of chemistry to the characters.

In fact, characters are the charm to Black Cat, and they are found in abundance. From the cheeky ace thief Rinslet Walker, to the comic relief of Woodney, Train’s self-proclaimed double, Black Cat is littered with a host of distinctive characters popping in and out and supporting the show’s frequent tonal shifts. Particular favourites of mine include the charming, top-hatted Charden Flamberg and Annette Pierce, the calm and confident owner of the cafe Cait Sith. And virtually all these characters appear in the series’ grand epic finale, neatly weaving all the individual events of twenty-odd episodes into one crescendo.

The comedy element in Black Cat is also surprisingly successful, thanks to its mix of character humor and surreal gags. Beyond the usual Japanese visual humor cues, there are some glib jabs at the anime genre and a kitty litter of in-jokes including inescapable strict waitresses, unavoidably kissable white cats and wobbly, salacious tipsy men. Black Cat‘s humor never takes itself too seriously.

Any downsides? Well, the stand-alone episodes aren’t quite as successful. Aside from the curious “The Napping Cat,” which shifts the tone and pace of the show in radically different directions, the episodes that slip away from the main story arc don’t quite carry the same punch. A certain generic formula fails to ignite such stand-alones such as “The Kitty Cat” and “The Sweeping Cat”. The show works best in episodic format.

So far as the story-arc goes, the invulnerability of the main characters creates some minor difficulties. Once Sven survives being skewered early on, it’s pretty clear there is no distinct damage threshold binding the central characters. This isn’t anything particularly new to the genre, but sometimes the tension is weakened by this inconsistent degree of endurance.

Other than that, the finale is over a little too quickly and perhaps lacks quite the punch that would be expected of the second of two major multi-episode showdowns. And a few of the final revelations feel a little over-spun, appearing too late in the game to carry impact—but on the whole, the negatives are very much outweighed by the positives.

The English dub captures the action and comedy flavors without any irritating idiosyncrasies. The animation and direction is solid and helps keep the visuals fresh and dynamic.

The box-set itself is a decent package, with a great foldout box and picture disks. One again, FUNimation has decided to focus on using a booklet to carry their extra features rather than including anything particularly relevant on the disks themselves. I must admit, I prefer this approach—the booklet is full of character information, equipment detail and histories, all lavishly designed.

Black Cat is an enjoyable manga adaptation. Having not indulged in the paper variety I cannot say how accurate it is to its origins, but as a complete story, it is a thoroughly enjoyable affair. I’d certainly recommend a few evenings curled up in front of the fire with only a Black Cat box set and a yarn of wool to entertain you.

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