Eat-Man '98 Anime Review
US Release By
12 25-minute episodes
1998-10-08 - 1998-12-23
Bolt Crank is a mysterious man with a mysterious power: he can eat metal. More usefully, he can then reproduce anything he ate from his right hand. Obviously this is a handy ability, and it's no coincidence that Bolt is also known far and wide as the world's greatest mercenary. Bolt has a habit of crossing paths with troubled people and messy situations, but, in the end, everything just has a way of working itself out when Bolt is around.
Episodes 1-2: Somebody is killing scientists in cold blood, and the police are at a loss. When Bolt Crank shows up in town, he's immediately a suspect, but seems more interested in solving the crimes than participating in them. So who is responsible?
Episode 3: A small backwater town wants to hire Bolt to help them with a problem--a local corporation is looking to erase them. In addition to their own army, these guys also have hired Hard, known in the area as the best mercenary in the world. May be time for a showdown...
Episode 4: This time, Bolt is only protecting one scared girl, and only for an hour. Of course, there is an entire army after her... but why?
Episodes 5-8: In a desert kingdom, the king has fallen on poor health. The search for his successor becomes increasingly desperate, but the kingdom's magical dagger, which transforms into a powerful sword in the hands of a truly brave man suited to be the next ruler, just doesn't like any of the potential princes. Meanwhile, Bolt gets friendly with a junk dealer and his adopted daughter, who also happens to be a small time demon hunter. When a very big demon threatens the kingdom, off she goes to join the volunteers, and Bolt might just tag along to see what's going on. Between demons, political pressure from the outside, and turmoil within, this kingdom is just the sort of place that Bolt seems to thrive in.
Episodes 9-10: Bolt is attempting to collect on an easy bounty: bring a girl back to her very powerful father. But she doesn't want to go back, and apparently daddy has erased the memory of her past lover. Even more interesting, there may be a past connection between her, her father's only employee, and none other than Bolt Crank...
Episodes 11-12: It's election time, but the candidates have more than questionable vote counts to deal with--somebody is trying to kill them. An ambitious reporter is trying to get the scoop on the story, but in addition to finding out exactly which of the many interested parties may have hired the assassin, she's also going to have to cross paths with both Bolt and his old "friend" Hard, both of whom are involved in (apparently) trying to stop the mayhem.
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Eat Man '98, follow-up to the even more obscure original Eat Man, is a jarring aggregate of unconnected stories that jumbles fantasy and cyberpunk vignettes into one confused series. Individually several are at least watchable, but though the idea of stringing together wildly unrelated (in both plot and style) stories with a single wandering character is unusual, Bolt Crank is as annoying as stoic-as-a-brick-wall anti-heroes come, alternately doing nothing at all and killing many, many people. The first and fifth story arcs are decent cyberpunk, and the long fourth arc in the middle of the series is a passable if slightly slow fantasy yarn with solid acting and lackluster visuals, but all would've been better had Bolt been absent entirely.
In all, though parts may be worth watching, it's a hard series to recommend as the good episodes come with ones that are not only uninteresting, but entirely unrelated to the ones you liked. On the other hand, if Bolt's sort of overcool anti-hero is your thing, you might get a kick out of the variety. At least the previous series isn't a prerequisite, as it's just as unrelated.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Eat Man '98, follow-up to the even-more-obscure original Eat Man, is a jarring aggregate of unconnected stories that jumbles fantasy and cyberpunk vignettes into one confused series. Though individually several are at least watchable, the only constant is the annoyingly personality-challenged Bolt Crank. In spite of the silly name and questionable premise, for some reason I still had a good feeling about it. Boy, was I wrong.
From the premise, you might be expecting a light series--I was anyway--but the first episode starts right off in an alternate-world cyberpunk city with dark characters, subtle machinations, and the oddly quiet Mr. Crank wedged in the middle of it all. Then, after two episodes, that storyline ends with the sad realization that, instead of following any of the interesting characters, the only constant in the series is Bolt Crank himself (well, him and a lot of shooting, which is mostly him too).
I have a big problem with Bolt being the thread that ties this series together. Even setting aside his silly moniker (thankfully, he's never referred to as "Eat Man," though Bolt Crank isn't a lot better), he's the sort of protagonist I can't stand. Theoretically radiating cool anti-hero, he spends the entire series sitting there chewing on screws, looking stoic, and doing nothing. Yes, once in a while he deigns to actually get up and do something mercenary or almost heroic, but frankly his motives are so opaque that I could've cared less. The only positive thing about Bolt is that his super-stoic persona is occasionally so at odds with the not-so serious people around him it's amusing, but those moments are few and far between. They certainly don't make up for the rest of his more-stoic-than-a-brick-wall anti-personality.
In fairness to the series as a whole, Bolt isn't exactly the main character--he plays a central role in all the stories, but he's more of a foil to the rest of the characters, spurring action rather than doing it himself. Of course, that makes it all the more annoying when he inevitably steps in at the end of each plotline to do something dramatic that should have been reserved for another character.
The second problem with the series is its setting, a confusing place to put it mildly. The series begins and ends in a cyberpunk metropolis, but the entire middle takes place in kingdoms more at home in classic fantasy; there are a few guns and airships, but there are also damsels in towers, magic swords, demons, and mystic powers. True, there are hints of technological explanations behind a few of these "magical" things, and Bolt's power isn't exactly standard cyberpunk fare, but the disconnect is huge. Had Bolt traveled to a distant planet, I could have almost bought the total lack of continuity between cyberpunk cities and fantasy kingdoms, but hitching a ride from one to the other is just plain weird.
The stories themselves are just as awkwardly mixed; about half are dark, technologically based, and feature complicated plots. The other half are a lot more mystical, tending toward simple allegory with an obvious message. Both are legitimate genres, but I can see why they don't usually overlap--each made the other seem somewhat trivial or over-simplified, respectively.
The series isn't a complete loss, though. Rather, individual stories aren't--some of them are populated by relatively interesting characters and/or feature decent plots. Since each is self-contained and barely connected anyway, a story-by-story rundown:
Episodes 1-2: The first two episodes are a classic hard-boiled mystery, complete with background characters playing catch-up, foreground characters coldly going about their business, and murky motives all around. It isn't very clever as a whodunit, but is pretty good for this sort of grim story, if a bit short--more time with the characters would have been nice.
Episodes 3-4: The next two episodes are each a self-contained story, and neither is long enough to build up any empathy for the characters or much of a plot. That's probably a good thing--they're not very interesting anyway, mainly showcasing Bolt's ability to do absolutely nothing, then kill lots of people (or vice versa).
Episodes 5-8: After that, there's a big, four-episode story arc that's a lot more like a tech-fantasy fable than anything else, and is thankfully long enough to build some empathy for several rather likable characters. The young girl is the high point--spunky, tough, and a fun minor hero. I also liked the more mature woman; her sub plot is a bit random, but she provides a nice contrast to the spunkier characters. Another positive point is that, although he sucks up more of the "hero" action than I would have liked, Bolt pretty much sits this one out, letting the rest of the cast do the dramatic work. The story in this case is rather straightforward--no real mystery or interesting twists--but functional, and not hurried (if anything, it's a tad slow). In all, not great, but reasonably enjoyable.
Episodes 9-10: Next, we're back to the cyberpunk theme, only this time the story is a little weirder than before. It's well paced and has enough mystery, twists, and emotional conflicts to make it and the characters reasonably interesting. Bolt is back in action, but seems a bit more involved with the rest of the characters (hard to tell, since his face always looks exactly the same), and he also has one or two amusingly awkward moments.
Episodes 11-12: Finally, we have another cyberpunk story, this one a convoluted political drama. It certainly has enough machinations and backstabbing to keep fans of that sort of thing involved, but I ended up rather confused and, frankly, not caring a whole lot. At least Bolt's cold persona matches better with the characters around him, and there's enough action to keep it lively.
One thing that's conspicuously absent from the final vignette is any sort of overall conclusion or revelation; it ends just like the others--with Bolt walking off--and we don't know any more about his past than we found out in the first two episodes. I didn't feel like anything was missing, but it would have been nice to see this story tie the rest of the series together in some way.
Moving on, the visual end of Eat Man '98 stands out for variety and character design, but is inconsistent and of lackluster quality. The city-based episodes are dark and moody, with passably detailed backgrounds and sharp, attractive character designs (except for the reporter at the end, who looks like a leftover from a cheesy '80s show). The other, fantasy-oriented, episodes are much more brightly colored, and much less interesting. The cute, classically-styled character designs (they remind me of Green Legend Ran) are nice, but forgettable, and the scenery is loosely drawn and rather bland with the exception of some nice architecture.
In both cases the uneven character animation ranges from decent to downright stiff, though the action is acceptable given the low-ish budget. The whole thing seems to be computer colored, an in any case the cel art is quite crisp, with a few very minor touches of computer animation (some morphing when bolt produces something from his hand). The only other constant, Bolt, is (visually, anyway) the most interesting-looking character in the series--he has an unusual and appealing style. Some of the guns he regurgitates (so to speak) are so huge it's just silly, though.
Only the first two episodes were ever dubbed (based on the quality that's probably a good thing), and the Japanese acting varies from story to story. Most of the main cast is solid, and there are a few very nice performances in the large central storyline--Vanessa and the more mature woman again, the former voiced with a lot of gusto and the latter with a soft, gentle tone than also effectively conveys her hidden pain. The right-hand man in the next to last part is also an interesting character, and believably acted. Unfortunately, there are also a few really bland voices--almost everyone in the third part, and many of the background characters throughout. Bolt is... well, he's distinctive. His very deep, even tone fits the character quite well, but I can't say anything about the acting since he never has anything resembling an emotion. At least he manages to sound dispassionate without coming across as flat or bored.
The music is, yet again, uneven. The opening and end themes are reasonably good hard-edged jazzy songs, accompanied by stark, grainy visuals that are much more visually creative than anything else in the series. The background music is hit or miss; there are some simple but effective jazz and piano pieces funky enough to match Bolt Crank's appearance, but much of the rest is downright cheesy. The middle arc, in particular, is filled with uninteresting, cheap-sounding synthesizer tunes that, aural assault aside, makes the kingdom at the center of the story feel low-rent.
In all, some of the stories in Eat Man '98 will probably be appealing to some people, but the question is whether you're willing to sit through the entire series for the parts you'll like. I personally thought the first, fourth, and fifth story arcs were interesting enough to spend time with, but even then only by a slim margin. I mostly found myself waiting for the whole thing to finish, hoping for some hint as to what the deal with Bolt is. Some people may not find the protagonist nearly as annoying as I did, but in all, although Eat Man '98 is distinctive, it's also uneven, rather strange, and probably not worth more than a glance for most people.
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I find myself likening this to Trigun, but they are entirely different--both feature unusual worlds and mysterious, super-skilled protagonists, but where Trigun is lively and humorous Eat Man '98 is totally flat. The original Bubblegum Crisis series (particularly episodes 5 to 8) has a lot in common with the first and last two stories, and Violence Jack, bloodbath aside, has an equally lifeless protagonist. Finally, if you like the multi-genre concept and want to see it better executed, Cowboy Bebop is a top choice, with Urusei Yatsura being a comedic alternative.
Notes and Trivia
Based on a manga series by Akihito Yoshitomi (available from VIZ) that is more interesting all around. There's also the prior Eat Man anime series (which would've been Eat Man '97, had it been named the same way as its follow-up), which was available briefly in the US on VHS from AnimeVillage but is hard to come by now. And no, neither of them relate to this series, except for Bolt Crank.
US DVD Review
The DVDs are minimal but at the time of their release impressive in their own way; there aren't any special features, but you got all 12 episodes on one reasonably priced 2 disc set in an extra-thick clamshell case, a rather novel idea back in 2000. The video is very crisp and smooth, and the audio is clean (the disc has Japanese audio, as well as the English dub in the first two episodes). On the down side, although it does include the complete Japanese credits for each episode, there are no translated credits to be found anywhere. Go figure.
Varies a lot by episode, but overall some relatively bloody violence and a very high body count (Bolt kills entire armies), plus a small amount of nudity in the first episode might bump it into the 16-up range, though Bandai's 13-up is reasonable and some episodes barely qualify for that.
Violence: 3 - Not gratuitous, but plenty of it.
Nudity: 2 - Very brief, in the first episode only.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - A small amount of physical romance, also in the first episode.
Language: 1 - The sub is pretty clean.
Available in North America from Bandai on one 2-disc subtitled-only DVD set (except for the first two episodes, which also have an English track), now out of print. Was also available on 6 subtitled VHS volumes, as well as dubbed VHS for the first volume only, all long out of print.