“I’ve come to bring you bad luck”, deadpans super-cool assassin Train Heartnet, before blowing away a yakuza. A promising catchphrase sadly squandered by this wayward anime serial. Adapted from a manga by Kentaro Yabuki, Black Cat is the codename Train adopts working as a contract killer for the mysterious, Chrono Numbers. These first four instalments are effectively an origin story, building to later developments where Train quits the shadowy organization and becomes a ‘sweeper’ (bounty hunter), alongside his new friends.
Episode One: “Solitary Cat” opens with our high-flying hero clobbering several nuns, eventually unmasked as gun-toting amazons. Train is assigned to assassinate a yakuza-turned-politician, and runs into dapper private eye Sven. Far more than the vapid title character, food-loving Sven (with his gadget laden briefcase) emerges as the series’ real star. This opener sets the template for the series’ style: a story told in abstract fragments, flashbacks to the deaths of Train’s parents, and moments of poetry such as his rooftop encounter with a beautiful singer. Episode Two: “The Hesitant Cat” introduces kimono clad ‘sweeper’ Saya, who awakens Train’s conscience and brings romance into his life. Saya pursues a serial killer named Preta Ghoul, while a mysterious girl hires Sven to rescue her kidnapped sister. Sly Sven deduces the girl is none other than ace thief Rinslet Walker, his guesswork confirmed in episode four: “The Cat in the Dark”. The spooky, little girl Rinslet is after is actually Eve, a bio-weapon created by evil genius Torneo.
Train tries to assassinate Eve (Like his other killings, the reasons behind them remain unclear), but Sven bonds with the child and decides to save her. When asked why, the would-be-hero stammers a priceless response: “I’ve got a huge pile of bills…er…I mean…” Episode Four: “The Grinning Cat” is all out action, as Train, Sven and Rinslet storm Torneo’s fortress, each pursuing Eve for their own reasons. Torneo triggers Eve’s transformation into a nanotech monster, Rinslet shows off some nifty fighting moves, and Sven demonstrates once again, that he’s the noblest, most self-sacrificing character.
Black Cat was produced by the hugely successful Studio Gonzo. Less ambitious than Gainax (their predecessors as anime darlings), they give fans exactly what they want: action-driven visuals, silly gags and pretty girls. Black Cat’s mixture of vibrant colours, sci-fi, retro-’50s fashions and goofy humour is calculated to appeal to hardcore otaku, but will remain unpalatable for anyone else. Yabuki’s character designs are nondescript, with little Eve a carbon copy of fan favourite Ruri – star of Gonzo’s breakout hit Martian Successor Nadesico (1996). Nonetheless, the theme of killing machines being slowly humanised holds appeal and the plot grows more compelling as episodes progress. Provided Train grows a personality, and the story develops more substance (not usually Gonzo’s strongpoint), this series could be promising.