Hamatora The Animation Review

This is review number three hundred and seventeen. This anime is part of the Winter 2014 lineup. The anime I’ll be reviewing is called Hamatora. It’s a twelve episode anime about a bunch of kids with super powers and a bad guy that likes to scoop brains out of people. It sounds like a fun time. Let’s read on.

Story

This anime is about a detective agency called Hamatora that handles special cases for clients. This group is special because most of their members have super powers. People with super powers like them are called Minimum Holders and they have a special standing in society as well. One guy thought that equality should reign in the world though so he decided to make ordinary people and Minimum Holders equal to each other. He does this by stirring up the worst in people and basically creates anarchy. Hamatora realizes the danger this guy intends to do and tries to stop him but first they would have to watch helplessly as he plays music while society descends into chaos.

Taking the Pants Off

Hamatora is a really cool show. It’s one of those shows though that takes time to really get good because the initial story is very plain and predictable. I was honestly not impressed with how the entire series was presented but the narrative is pretty solid. It’s a story about a bunch of kids with super powers working as hired detectives that solve cases in each episode. The anime started out as this flashy show about cool kids that really did have me worried. Most flashy shows involving cool kids often end up going too ambitious and then falling flat hard. Mekakucity Actors still rings in my head and does anyone remember this anime called K? Hamatora honestly felt like it was going down that road. It had cool characters in an overambitious story that feels clunky upon first impression. If there’s one thing this anime have that Mekakucity Actors and K doesn’t though, it’s that it nailed execution. An overambitious story is seriously hard to pull off and it’s even more difficult when you’re adapting such an overambitious story. Mekakucity Actors and K failed because the story was too hard to pin down in an anime format. As much as I love the initial premise, it’d be soured by the poor execution of the story. Hamatora is honestly close to the edge. I think the first episode is enough indicator of how messy the whole thing is going to be. This anime succeeded in presenting a really rich and complicated narrative though. It also picked up the pace towards the end. Sure, it had some bothersome filler episodes but I think the overall experience is pretty great. A story about special people, in this media saturated troll infested internet age of ours, in a society soaking in negativism has such a very deep narrative to present. I think Hamatora captured the flashy appeal it was aiming for while also serving up some gripping story that does reflect society today. Hamatora is one hell of a ride simply because it was able to pull off its overambitious story that others have failed to present.

The initial premise will be murky right off the bat. The first episode already featured an established status quo and the characters are no longer introduced. I think the manga started at the beginning focusing on their origin story. This was cut out from the anime so the first episode is a bit confusing. It does tell you though that the show is about a group of pretty guys working at a detective agency and the anime follows their exploits trying to solve the cases handed to them. They are interesting though because everyone in this agency has super powers that most of their clients seek. They also work in pairs working as a unit. As the show progresses, the status quo is slowly revealed along with the role of each character. In the first episode, it was hard to spot who the main character is. Despite being a group, the show does follow one important character. The anime isn’t hard to watch though. I personally suck at names and remembering faces but I was mostly drawn in by the mystery of each episode. The characters often investigate who is the culprit behind the cases, how they will catch them and what their motives are. The story alone is intriguing by itself that you will never notice the bland appeal of the characters. I kept mistaking one character from another so it was confusing for me. The mysteries are so exciting to watch though that I simply didn’t care who is who at that point. The one shot characters are giving me something good to watch. After the third episode though, I think you’ll be able to catch up with the show. The characters, the status quo and the overall gist of Hamatora eventually align as you slowly get use to the anime’s pace.

I’ve mentioned before that the story of the show is actually pretty predictable. For someone who enjoys mystery anime a lot, the ones in this show is pretty straight forward and badly predictable. As I’ve said as well, the execution makes this anime unique. The mysteries are easy to solve but only when you understand all the key pieces. The show smartly withholds important pieces of information to keep the mystery juicy. The anime would hack the mystery up and then feed you pieces of disjointed information that won’t make a lot of sense until you get to the end. The show pulls this off by doing a three pieced storytelling. I’ll give the first episode as an example. The characters accept three different jobs that are all unique from one another. One case is about a locked vault owned by some rich dude, another is about a case of girls getting kidnapped in the area and the last case is about one character taking a bodyguard duty. These cases eventually converged into one true story that reveals all the mysteries in each case. It’s not three different cases but a hacked up story divided into three parts. Even if you can tell what the secret of the vault is, you’d be caught up in trying to discover the mysteries of all the cases that eventually connect into one. It’s a complicated style of storytelling that I don’t see a lot of. In fact, I think Baccano is the only one I remember that did this and that show is still pretty damn confusing since the overambitious story was also hard to present. This three pieced storytelling is rampant in all the mysteries of the anime. There is one about a case of a guy cheating on his rich girlfriend that connects to a story of a prince arriving to the country that connects with a story of two cops catching a shop lifter. The mysteries are actually just something to entice you with. It’s actually the process of connecting two and two that makes this anime fun to watch. To sweeten the pot, the one true plot point of this show is also inserted in some of the first few episodes to help transition the anime from one episode length mysteries to an episodic mystery case that combines the awesomeness of all the three pieced stories.

The one true plot point involves a string of murder cases where people’s brain as taken from their body. The dead bodies are left for people to find though and the police cannot catch a break with the case. This one is interesting because the serial killer is targeting Mininum Holders. These are people with superpowers just like our main character. As things slowly unfold, the three pieced story eventually traces back to the serial killer that is actually planning something big. It’s so big in fact that the entire modern world is taken into a whirlwind ride about moral ambiguity and the media. It sounds stupid when I describe it but it’s mainly because I’m trying to avoid spoilers. The best way I can describe this plot point is when you take that weird bad guy from Gatchaman Crowds, that seemingly enjoy seeing humans suffer but sports the demeanor of a gay sociopath, and combine it with Makashima’s goal from Psychopass about creating anarchy in a dystopian society. Modernized that b*tch while shifting the story into people with special powers and you basically have the story of this plot point. As I’ve said, the story of Hamatora isn’t anything new. It’s literally a mashup of Gatchaman Crowds and Psychopass but with a much smarter way of presenting the narrative. Gatchaman Crowds had a strong theme of the media and the internet being a breathing ground for all bad things in the world. This is also an element in Hamatora. In Psychopass, Makashima and the main character is seemingly the same as they have values and beliefs that are alike despite being on the opposite end of things. This element of “we are the same, you and I” is also in Hamatora. I’m not saying that it’s better than the other shows but the approach is a fresh take on the subject. The thing I like about this plot point is how it incorporated the media and the internet into the story. It captured the kind of pot stirring the media create, the mob mentality and anonymity of the internet and the very worst nature of humans to create something fun to watch. I personally smiled during the climax of this plot point when the bad guy executed his plan that involves ousting people with powers while also exposing the addresses of internet trolls and then sit back to watch the society crumble.

The thing I admire the most about this plot point though is the fact that it’s not preachy. I think Gatchaman Crowds got muddled towards the end because it wanted to show how people can still unite in the world that distances them. It wanted to preach good things about the internet that turned the story into a mushy paste of over preaching. While there is a lesson to learn in Hamatora, it was never the intended goal of the anime. I personally didn’t quite like how the bad guy is motivated by something so stupidly simple. There wasn’t any depth but that’s the point. There is nothing to overthink here. This is just a really damn good story about a clear cut bad guy fighting a clear cut hero. As simple as the approach is, you have to admire how stories of the internet and the media somehow got roped into it as well. They were really just elements to improve the story and, while it is a reflection of modern day society, none of that sh*t really matters in the end. I really admire this aspect of the anime because it doesn’t overcomplicate matters. You will watch this show simply for the experience and nothing more. I have seen so many stories of the internet being turned into a cautionary tale or a preachy story about humanity and hope that I am surprised this wasn’t a big part of the anime itself.  It felt restrained while also being complex that I am seriously impressed by it all.

Aside from the gripping plot point and the three pieced mysteries, this anime also has some weird fluff episodes. There was one stupid filler episode I absolutely hate about the characters fighting with bitter gourds. Yeah, it sounds stupid because it truly was stupid. I did understand that it was the calm before the storm, since the one true plot point progressed wildly afterwards, I still find it massively annoying. These fluff episodes also serve as a way to properly introduce the characters. The first half of the show is predominantly about the mysteries but it slowly shifted into a story concerning the different characters involved in the main plot point. As it got serious, the characters got serious as well. The show had slow episodes focusing on certain characters and their backstory. They honestly felt a bit tedious but it does help establish the characters better. There are episodes that focused on the bond of the three different pairs and there are episodes that reveal a more personal connection between them. It’s clearly not enough to truly call the characters fleshed out but it was enough to serve the story. For example, it was revealed that our main character is a very talented young man through the flashbacks and the relationship he had with his partner. This was used in the main plot point because his talents became a crucial part of the story. I am still bothered by how tedious these episodes are though. I appreciate how most three pieced mysteries have a flashback in them but it still felt lagging. I think this was on purpose. The anime wanted to spread out the flashbacks and the fleshing out since it served a bigger purpose down the line. As in, it’ll help cover ground for the second season.

Still, some characters really made the experience worth it. The main plot point is simply just a story of a serial killer going ape sh*t but it got more personal because of the characters. One of my favorites would have to be the lead investigator for the case, Superintendent Art. Yeah, his name is just “Art” which I think is a codename for alumni of a certain school. Anyways, Art is probably the most interesting character in this anime. He is a guy that has no super powers but he still does his very best to achieve his goals. Surrounded by people more talented than him, the show set Art up as this guy in denial. His way of thinking is understandable though and his reaction towards his situation is something most people can relate to as well. How many times do you give off a smile for someone you are jealous of? Art does that all the time and the anime kept picking away at it. He is a standup guy but you can tell he is also nursing a very bad demon inside of him. He treasures his friends even though they are the source of his annoyance. Art acts mature and he tries to keep things together even when things bother him. I think that is the main reason why his involvement in the main plot point is so effective. He illustrated a point the bad guy is claiming as the truth. I think everything Art does in the plot point is something worth paying attention to because Art is a character you’d just love to see more of simply because he elevates the story in a wonderful way.

The Hamatora detective agency characters are all pretty decent as well. As I said, the show didn’t really lean that much on the characters so there are people on this group that still doesn’t have any meaningful role in the story. I’m talking about the girl that only eats stuff in the bar next to the bartender that does nothing but grind coffee next to a girl with a cat tail. I’m not really sure where they fit in the story but I’m assuming they played a part in the origin story the anime deliberately skipped. I think the manga explored the characters fully even focusing on how the pairs came to be a pair. There are three pairs in this anime and, while the show did lightly touch on their relationship, they really didn’t do much as well except look cool. They were fleshed out to some degree because the story calls for the people with special powers to look vulnerable. It was to create the beautiful climax the one true plot point is setting up. Beyond that, the story really overshadowed the characters. They are awesome by default though but they had limited function since the story was the main focus of the show. These pairs do become likeable down the line though. Once the show fleshes them out, the story finds a way to make them relevant. Even a little side story about an orphanage is somehow roped into the main plot point. I find it ingenious, really. The only pair I think served something big in the story would be the one with the main character in it.

ham1

Nice is the main character of this show. He is paired to a guy named Murasaki and they take on cases together. Nice is an interesting character because he is painted as a Mary Sue. He doesn’t come off as one though. The anime just wanted to point out that he is perfect and everyone around him knows he is on a different level. Nice is a happy go lucky kind of guy though that does things on a whim. I guess it adds to annoyance when the perfect guy is also the one that doesn’t care the most. It was actually his perfect persona that motivates our villain into doing some really crazy sh*t. Nice isn’t just someone with super powers. He also excels in a lot of things and this often bothers a lot of people. Even the villain recognizes his insane abilities and does something to fix it albeit it was pretty gawd damn crazy. I also personally don’t like Nice. The story skipped some important bits about him like why he acts like a perfect happy go lucky freak. The anime hinted on it but I guess I wanted Nice to defend himself and gain some sympathy points. Nice doesn’t care though. He goes by his own rules and he doesn’t care if people don’t agree with it. The story made him complex to a degree but it’s also a bit incomplete. It’s hard to describe but he was still a basic plot device rather than a compelling character you can really root for. I do think they are keeping all the great character development in the second season.  That makes sense because I think the plot of the second season is going to be intense judging from the events that transpired in this first season.

After the first season ended, another season is already announced. This show ended on a freakin cliffhanger and I do have some qualms about that. Still, I think this anime is pretty amazing. There are some few low points like those weird fluff episodes but I think the complex story is something people should really enjoy. As I said, the story is overly ambitious because it’s pretty damn hard to create individual stories broken into three pieces while also making sure a bigger story is properly told and certain characters are properly introduced as well. Some episodes would have a lot of stuff going on but it never feels overwhelming. Granted, there is a lack of buildup for most things. The climax did feel subdued despite sh*t hitting fan but I think there were some cool things accomplished as well. I am honestly excited for the second season mainly because I want to actually see the growth of the characters. I especially want to see this after the craziness that happened towards the later parts of the series. I seriously want to blurt it out right now but I’m trying to keep my mouth shut.

Studio NAZ is seriously a new studio and this anime is their very first work. This is an incredible first work for a small time studio. I would say the same to Studio Wit if they aren’t a baby company of Production IG. Anyways, it’s still too early to call NAZ promising since consistency is what makes a good studio. If they’re next show is good then I’m all for seeing this studio grow. Then again, their next work is a BL visual novel so that sounds like a disaster already. This show is directed by Seiji Kishi. He did a lot of game adapted anime like some Atlus games and then Danganronpa. I used to defend Danganronpa to death until I realized he took a game already formatted into an anime and just cut out the solving mystery bits. I love the game, by the way.  The rapid fire death matches is fun. Anyways, there is one thing I know this director has, and that’s talent. He often does a lot of cool flashy shows with some interesting stories to them. I think Hamatora is his peak right now because the execution of the show is really something he made unique. He sucks at character development though. This is apparent in all his works. The stories are often more important than anything else. I hope the approach changes in the second season because it looks to have a lot of promise right now. Character development and story progression should be something a talented director should be able to do so I hope he does improve on his works more. He has shown improvement but there are still some rough patches. I’m not worried though because he seems to be giving us some solid shows lately. So here’s hoping the second season a lot more satisfying.

Sight and Sound

Yuuki Kodama is an incredible artist. He knows how to capture that flashy style that the anime was aiming for. His style is also whimsical and colorful while also looking serious. I love his designs in Blood Lad. He takes simple character templates and does something flashy with them. His actual character concepts are pretty plain though. Most of his panel lacks effort as if his rushing them but then he’ll push back by giving us heavily detailed panels containing some of the most tense moments in the manga. This is also how his design is elevated. The most simple inked and shaded parts of the characters look complex and pleasing to see. This approach becomes more well-rounded when he purposely draws you to the characters eyes that often tells the mood of the story. Despite having gritty panels that impose a mature feel to his work, I absolutely love how he keeps the face clean to emphasize the importance of the characters in the story. Yuuki knows how to tell a story and his panels have a balance to them that I am strangely attracted to. His character template might be simple but he adds a lot of interesting layers to them. Nice has a simple look but then he has those cool head phones and a body build that looks great because of the jacket and tight fit jeans he has on. Modern is a keyword in how the character dresses and this makes Yuuki’s design a combination of simple and complex. He makes stunning body builds and emphasizes certain parts by making the characters dress in interesting outfits. This makes his simple template designs look absolutely flashy and cool in the long run. I also admire his variety since the story had a lot of different aged characters in it and he was able to provide a good design for them. Studio NAZ is undoubtedly a small time studio so some of the things in Yuuki’s design aren’t properly carried over. I think they did a good job though since they were able to capture those stunning face close ups Yuuki does. The problem is that the animation is inconsistent.

This isn’t something I’m surprised about. The animation looks decent in the first few episodes and the quality dipped towards the end. Simple designs are distorted, the motion is clunky and it just didn’t look properly presented towards the end. This is NAZ’s first anime so it’s not surprising that the quality is iffy. A lot of old studios have actually done worse than this so this doesn’t bother me that much. The story really covered a lot of the flaws in this anime. The first few episodes had me concerned though because the bright colors and the split second images made me think of Shaft and Akiyuki Shinbo. I don’t understand why Seiji is doing something like that. I honestly thought the Shaft head tilt was coming. I didn’t find it odd if Shaft made this at first because it did have the aura of Mekakucity Actors and I think Studio NAZ actually wanted to capture that feel. The animation is still problematic though. A lot of the fight scenes could’ve been better and some climactic moments felt lackluster because of the dry animation. It could’ve been better since Seiji is such a veteran director but I do understand that budget issues affected the animation. Some dialogue scenes look decent and there are still pockets of cool moments animation-wise like a boy destroying a dead guy’s altar. I do blame the dry animation for making a lot of high moments look dull. The climactic moment at the end, the transition moment at the cemetery and some of the murders should’ve been more flashy. I also have a problem with the gore. I love how the story doesn’t shy away from it but it could’ve been better as well. It’s often just a pool of blood or something and I just find it boring. It is the effect of the mob rule dominating the story. It should’ve felt more frightening.

The anime’s OP is “FLAT” by livetune adding Yuuki Ozaki (from Galileo Galilei). This is a really cool song. The singer’s voice is so cool and calm that I am instantly drawn to it. This is accompanied by a blazing instrumental that has a fun rhythm to it. I absolutely love the guitar riffs as it blends well with the singer’s cool voice. The OP sequence introduces all the characters but the damn thing is cryptic as hell. It features Nice being hunted down by the military with tanks and aircrafts firing at him while he runs to grab a globe. This was nowhere in the anime and it barely acknowledges the actual story. The montage seems to hint at something else and it irks me a bit. You can tell the dry animation in the OP though. Try as they might, with those flashy split second manga panel glimpses, the animation still looks unimpressive. I admire the effort but I had to point it out. It looks pretty bad. The anime’s ED is “Hikari” by Wataru Hatano. This is much like the OP sequence with a cool voice accompanied by a wonderful rhythm. It isn’t as great because of the repeating progression but it is flashy enough for the anime. The ED sequence features all the characters in their flashy glory featuring the wonderful design and style of Yuuki’s illustrations. It’s a cool ED sequence because it had all the important characters looking awesome in a high quality visual not found in the actual show.

Overall Score

7/10 “The story is simple but the execution is outstanding that simple comes off as stunningly amazing. I do wish I could say the same for the characters and the animation.”  

For the narrative alone, I would give this anime a high score of nine but certain elements have brought the score down. The animation hurt it the most and the restrained character development is also nagging since the story was so good, you wanted to enjoy the characters as well. The story is amazing though. The way it was presented is complex but the flow is still simple. This anime had an over ambitious story to tell and it was able to properly present it. I’ve honestly seen it done before but not as well executed like the one here in Hamatora. If you enjoy anime about flashy characters with super powers then you’ll love this anime. If you’re a fan of mystery and a touch of psychological then you’ll be surprised how sophisticated the individual stories are in this show. If you enjoyed Gatchaman Crowds, I urged you to try this one to better appreciate the story it couldn’t properly tell. If you are simply a fan of good storytelling then you’d absolutely enjoy this one.

Thoughts~

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