Black Cat is one of the earliest anime titles that I watched a few years back. A short while later, I started reading the Black Cat manga, which quickly became one of my favorite manga series.
I've read and watched this series many, many times and I thought it was time to add it to the Old School Anime Review series. So, with that said; let's get started.
Kentaro Yabuki's Manga
The manga that the anime was based on was written and illustrated by Kentaro Yabuki. It was serialized in the Weekly Shonen Jump magazine, running from July 2000 to June 2004 and then collected into 20 tankobon volumes.
The series was adapted into a 24 episode anime series by Studio Gonzo which aired in Japan from October 2005 to March 2006.
As far as public reception is concerned, the manga has sold 12 million copies in Japan. The English translation has been featured on best-seller lists in the New York Times and was North America's 9th best-selling manga in 2006. Black Cat has been praised for its use of action, art style and story.
The story follows Train Heartnet, an assassin turned bounty hunter, and his partner Sven Vollfied as they move from place to place capturing bounties as they go.
Train and Sven find themselves somewhat in over their heads when a former colleague of Train's, Creed Diskenth, starts a terrorist group called the Apostles of the Star and attacks a World Summit meeting.
What follows is an all-out hunt to take Creed down, but for Train, the hunt is more than just a job; Creed killed a friend of his and he wants vengeance!
Pros and Cons
As with any review, you have to review the things that the series does well and the things that the series does... not so well.
There were a lot of things done right here. The main characters all stand out—and not just in terms of their appearances! Each one has a unique personality that make them truly stand out. Train is easy-going and kind of a goofball who gets serious really quickly when the situation calls for it. Sven is the more serious of the two and is constantly worrying about their finances; he also has a 'gentleman's code' which he follows when a job involves a lady. Eve is quiet and bookish but puts up one hell of a fight when needed.
The art style and animation are absolutely gorgeous and an absolute joy to look at. As for the soundtrack, let's just say that it's really, really catchy and you'll be humming parts of it for ages.
Plot-wise, the story is interesting enough and for the most part the anime stays fairly close to the manga... note that I said: "For the most part," okay? That's kind of important for the next part.
What doesn't Work?
I'll start out slowly, the pacing is EVERYWHERE!
Seriously, the pacing in this alternates between fairly slow and steady and breakneck speed. I should point out—in the interest of fairness—that this isn't always the case. Most of the time the pacing is fairly consistent, but then you get to an episode that just drags on and on and doesn't really mesh well; playing out more like a comedy sketch. A good example of this would be episode 17, "A Dozing Cat," where Train meets a girl named Saki who bears a striking resemblance to the girl that Creed killed. It's a good episode, but it just doesn't fit well with the rest of the series.
The tone is also more or less everywhere with some episodes being completely serious and some completely farcical (again episode 17 comes to mind).
Some of the secondary characters are incredibly flat; appearing in two or three episodes but without really being developed too much—kind of a shame considering the way the main cast stands out.
The story also had a huge deviation towards the end of the series which felt way too forced, and there was no buildup to i,t so it just beats you over the head!
Manga vs. Anime
Let's look at the source material for the series and do a comparison between the two to see what was changed.
First of all, the story is far more cohesive; it's a straight up hunt for Creed Diskenth. The anime series ends with Eve being kidnapped by a group of traitors and the sweepers that were hunting Creed have to stop the end of the world... literally.
Saya, the girl that Train befriends and whom Creed killed; was introduced early on in the anime and so we get to know her a little bit. When she is killed, it actually hurts a bit. In the manga, we don't learn about Saya until later on. We learn about her in flashbacks and it still hurts when she's killed. The big difference in Saya's role is that when she's introduced in the anime, she does a fair bit before Creed gets her. In the manga we learn about her as Train tells the story of how he met her and how she was killed.
We can't talk about Saya without talking about Train. Something that really stood out to me was that Train, in the manga, is far more intimidating. He gets serious every once in a while but he never becomes genuinely frightening. On the other hand, in the manga, when he gets serious, you shiver in fear as he stares out of the page at you.
In terms of which is better, the manga or the anime; that's up to you. I can't say which one is better. Both are good for different reasons, and I personally really like them both.