Witch Hunter Robin Anime Review
Witch Hunter Robin
US Release By
Weirdly pointless unique use of a cliche
26 25-minute episodes
2002-07-03 - 2002-12-24
The STNJ is a secret government organization who hunts the evil witches who lurk the streets attacking humankind. The team includes: Sakaki, the eager rookie; Dojima, the slacker; Karasuma, the competent, telepathic second-in-command; Michael, the hacker; and Amon, the leader and resident bad-ass. Of course in the first episode another member arrives: Robin, a young girl from Italy who's (of course) a witch herself, with the power to control fire.
When I first heard about Witch Hunter Robin, my basic reaction was "Yawn." It looked like it took itself way too seriously for my taste, and seemed one and the same with other popular shows which I have little interest in, Hellsing (even though I just bought it) and Berserk. But, there's been pretty much nothing on recently, so when Adult Swim licensed it I decided to watch it.
The storyline has been done trillions, if not zillions, of times. Silent Mobius, Blue Seed, Gatekeepers, Inuyasha, Evangelion, Dual: Parallel Trouble Adventures, and (dare I say it) Geneshaft. Oh yeah, and how can I forget Hellsing? I speak of the "some evil force is attacking humanity and now we're going to use its own weapons against it" storyline. Witch Hunter Robin does very little to set itself apart from these, aside from the overly serious way it pulls it off, so let's proceed to skip the storyline and go on to the characterization.
This area showed some potential, but ultimately fell flat. Robin ended up being a lot (for lack of a better word) nicer than I was expecting. I thought she would be some kind of overblown bad-ass femme fatale, like Priss in Bubblegum Crisis and like what they attempted to do with the Pickle Girl (Ayane) in Gatekeepers Full Throttle. This was a nice surprise, but what wasn't so nice is that aside from this, she was pretty flat. Karasuma was also pretty flat. Sakaki, Dojima, and Michael were all pretty good supporting characters, but I think a little more could've been done with Sakaki, like an explanation as to how exactly he ended up in the STNJ and a few tidbits about his past. They did that much for Dojima and Michael, but not for him, for some reason. The lawyer Nagira, who shows up about halfway through the series, is initially pretty entertaining, but his role becomes superfluous soon after he shows up, and the big secret about him and Amon had practically no bearing on the plot.
All this became immediately apparent about three-fourths of the way through the series, and the character I was holding out on to become to centerpiece of the cast was Amon. Unfortunately, this never happens. There are some subplots about him that look like they're going somewhere interesting, but once they're finally resolved end up having little to do with anything. Sakaki, Karasuma, Dojima, Michael, and Nagira are all just supporting cast, so the lack of depth to them would be fairly easy to accept. But Amon and Robin, the two main characters, are mechanically kept at arms' length from the viewer. The viewer never integrates with any of the characters, s/he just floats around and watches everything that happens, so without a rung to start on it's impossible to climb up to any of the other characters. Some other reviewers seem to think this show is "character-based" and that this approach is done to be artistic; I think this show is nothing-based and this approach is done to cultivate a contrived aura of mystery.
The execution of Witch Hunter Robin is fairly unique. The first eight or nine episodes are "witch of the week" episodes, but they're unique because a majority of them don't focus on fighting. Of course, this leaves them pretty up-in-the-air since they don't really focus on anything else either. A few episodes showed some potential, like the one with the doctor whose power is to take life from one person and give it to another, but most of them are boring and dull. However, the ones with fighting aren't any better because they all just involve the STNJ setting a trap for the witch somewhere, then jumping out and gunning them down. Robin's fights are slightly more interesting, but still pretty boring; since she can block all the other witches powers, she just stands there and blocks and then sets them on fire. The powers were also boring; the first episode's witch has the ability to trip people who step in his fairy dust. Gee, scary! Practically ever other witch in the entire series has telekinesis, which made me wonder why the hell they're called "witches" and not "psychics" (no, it wasn't any kind of symbolism).
The character designs are unique without being totally hideous (except the owner of Harry's) and reflect the mood of the show. The animation is also quite good, although that's not very hard since there's very little fighting and Robin's blocking used the exact same animation every time. There isn't much music either, and the opening and ending songs are barely noteworthy (the first time I didn't miss the opening in the slightest). Some other reviewers have noted that the dub is filled with unnatural pauses, but I didn't notice any, and all the voices were well-cast and acted.
Later developments in the series made me wonder what the point of even including the early episodes was, although that's kind of a running theme in this show: What was the point? It's not that Witch Hunter Robin is a bad show by any stretch. But what was the point of making it? It doesn't illustrate any kind of moral. It's not going to sell toys or clothes (okay, one time I saw a guy in Toys r' Us with a Witch Hunter Robin T-shirt--seriously. I didn't just make that up because I thought it would be funny). The look isn't unique enough to be an end in itself, like an art film. It doesn't have good or plentiful fight scenes. The story and characters aren't entertaining or any kind of driving force, like Love Hina (the former) or Last Exile and Escaflowne (for the latter). The dark and slow mood wasn't prominent enough to be any kind of point, like it was in Boogiepop Phantom. And, speaking of Boogiepop Phantom, it wasn't created to use a unique method of execution like that was. So what was the point of even making it? And why did Adult Swim license it? They could have licensed Hellsing if they wanted something dark and action-packed, and if they wanted something slow and methodical they could have gotten Haibane Renmei. If they wanted to sell merchandise they could have gotten Naruto or One Piece, and if they wanted to duplicate Cowboy Bebop again (I'm really grasping at straws here) even after the dismal failure of Lupin the 3rd, they could have gotten City Hunter or Noir. So why even license Witch Hunter Robin? Why make Witch Hunter Robin? Why buy Witch Hunter Robin?
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Notes and Trivia
Made by Sunrise, probably as part of their rip off Eva program which includes Betterman, The Soul Taker, and Big O. I heard somewhere that there was another series, but unless they really got off their butts and started making some ends here, I can't even imagine what might happen in it. All the nonexistent questions generated by this one were answered in this one, and (sort-of-spoiler alert) does anyone really care enough about Robin and Amon to want to see what happens to them after the series ends?
US DVD Review
The hybrid DVDs feature DTS sound and a variety of extras; production notes, liner notes, interviews with the voice actors, STNJ Files, art galleries, textless opening and endings, and more.
A few unneeded scenes push it from a 10-up to a 13-up.
Violence: 2 - People were shot and bled quite a bit in two or three episodes.
Nudity: 2 - A few scenes of Robin sitting in bed naked (covered with a blanket).
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - A few mildly mature themes.
Language: 1 - The status quo of slightly coarse language.
Staff & Cast
English Dub Cast
Robin Senna: Kari Wahlgren
Amon: Crispin Freeman
Haruto Sakaki: Johnny Yong Bosch
Miho Karasuma: Wendee Lee
Yurika Dojima: Michelle Ruff
Michael: Dave Wittenberg
Nagira: Lex Lang