Who knew arms dealers could be so cute?
What They Say:
Jonah is a child soldier and the newest bodyguard for Koko, an international arms dealer with an entourage of hired guns. The cold-blooded kid hates Koko’s line of work, but following her into the darkest corners of the black market might be the only way he can find those responsible for his family’s slaughter.
Besides, his employer isn’t like most merchants of death. She uses guile and cutthroat tactics to keep her clients armed to the teeth – all while cultivating her own warped plan for the future of world peace. With the CIA desperate for her capture, assassins eager to collect her head, and the potential for every contract to end in ultra-violence, Koko and her comrades in arms bring the boom to every corner of the world.
There are two audio tracks for this release: English 2.0 and Japanese 2.0. English subtitles are provided. For this viewing I listened to the English track and the sound quality was fine. The sound came through clear with nice directionality and no dropouts, fading or other types of distortion.
Each episode is presented in full screen 4:3 aspect ratio and it looks very, very good. The picture quality is crisp and clear with no issues whatsoever that I was able to discern. This is a very good looking show.
The first season comes in a standard Blu-ray case with the episodes on both DVD and Blu-ray. This is housed in a slipcover featuring the same artwork as on the case. The front cover features the two main characters Koko and Jonah. Koko stands in the foreground, staring ahead with a rather frightening smile on her face. Jonah stands behind her, holding an assault rifle at rest and staring out at the world with dead eyes. The spine is a dark, red wine color featuring only the show’s title. The back cover is mostly black and is dominated by a brief synopsis of the show. Shots from the show line up on the right and left sides and as well as the standard show information and DVD specifications.
The menus follow the same basic design. The entirety of the screen is taken up by a single, red-tinged image, such as on disc one where we see Jonah pointing a gun towards the camera. The title is displayed near the bottom in large, ornate white font and underneath that are the standard options for play all, specific episodes, setup, and extras. Soft music plays in the background on a loop, but it is so innocuous that it’s barely noticeable.
This is a functional menu, but hardly nice to look at. It’s a little too basic for my tastes. Thankfully, though, it’s easy to navigate.
While this set does contain the standard clean Op/Ed and trailers, it also features commentary tracks for episodes one and twelve, which is a nice touch and definitely a step above the typical extras loaded on these releases.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Jormungand has been compared favorably to one of my favorite series, Black Lagoon. One of the protagonists, Koko Hekmatyar, in particular gets singled out and compared to Lagoon’s two-fisted, hard-drinking gunslinger Revi. I was excited to see this for that reason, and while the two shows do share some superficial similarities, they are actually quite different in significant ways.
The two shows are similar in that they revolve around groups of people who operate outside of the law, but while Black Lagoon took jobs from the highest bidder, Koko’s company HCLI would be the ones doing the bidding. Koko is an international arms dealer running her operation under the guise of her father’s international shipping company. Of course, being an arms dealer places her in dangerous situations, and because of that she must travel with a small army of bodyguards from various military and law enforcement backgrounds. This is where the other main protagonist of the series, Jonah, enters the picture.
Orphaned as a young boy and forced to serve as a child soldier in a military infantry unit, Jonah was stationed at a garrison where Koko’s brother, Kasper, was making a sale. The people buying insisted on a demonstration of the goods and planned to use a group of orphan children who had been living on base as targets. Jonah sends them away and slaughters the base, only to be caught by Kasper’s men. He’s left in a shipping crate for days and brought to the brink of starvation before Kasper returns with a deal: he will spare Jonah’s life and place the orphans in good homes if Jonah will work as Koko’s bodyguard. Jonah agrees, even though the experience instilled in him a deep hatred of arms dealers.
This hatred is put to the test when Jonah actually meets Koko, who is very different (at least so far) from her brother. She’s kind, treats her bodyguards like family, and often acts childish and silly in a way that probably should be annoying but comes off as completely charming. At this point in the series it’s difficult to tell whether or not this is an act she’s putting on, or if this is an honest aspect of her personality that she uses to good effect to endear herself to her men and put her enemies off guard. Whichever it is, make no mistake, for all her charm, Koko is brilliant and ruthless when it comes to her job.
Even Jonah succumbs to her charms, and his hatred might as well have an asterisk next to it that reads “except Koko.” It’s easy to see why he softens his attitude, as Koko treats him like a little brother. She even sets up a sort of makeshift school where the other members of the group tutor him in math, science, history, and literature once she learns that he never had any formal education. Their relationship would almost be sweet if it weren’t for the fact that he has to routinely kill people to save her.
Although Koko and Jonah act as the primary protagonists, the other characters in the show are also nicely developed with their own backstories and characteristics. One in particular, Sofia Velmer, has an interesting story arc near the end of the season that deals with her tenure as a major in the Finnish Rapid Deployment Force and how she lost her eye. So far those three have had the most developing, but each bodyguard is given a moment or two where he is allowed to shine and become more than just spear carriers, creating a strong ensemble cast that you grow to care for.
At the moment the show consists of one-to-two episode story arcs, which works well for this type of series. There is, however, a hint of an overarching story line at the end of the final episode, and I feel a bit ambivalent towards that. Jormungand is the type of show that works well with done-in-one stories, much like Black Lagoon and Golgo 13. Partially this is due to the fact that these are antiheroes and antihero stories tend to be self-contained. There have been times in the past where shows like this, such as in Lupin the Third: The Woman Named Fujiko Mine, had longer, more in depth stories tacked on seemingly because that’s what was expected of them, and once those stories took over, I missed the more fun, self-contained episodes. Whether or not Jorumgand takes this route is up in the air at the moment, but I would hate to see it deviate from this format.
The only area where the show falls short for me is actually one that probably would benefit from this longer story form, and that is Jonah’s supposed antipathy towards arms dealers. Although Jonah clearly states that he hates arms dealers, he obviously and immediately develops a soft spot for Koko and the rest of HCLI. There are a few times when the show plays as if Jonah has a hard time with this and is resisting, but they come few and far between and often get forgotten in favor of the current storyline. It sometimes feels like the writers suddenly remember that Jonah is supposed to feel this way and quickly insert a scene illustrating this. This ties in with the other issue I had with the show and it goes pretty deep into spoiler country so if you wish to avoid knowing how Season One ends then skip the next paragraph and move to the summary. You’ve been warned.
In the closing scene of the final episode we learn that Ren is a spy for the CIA. The reveal was built up a great deal and was certainly intended to be a shock, but when I saw it my first thought was, “Who’s Ren?” The character had made no impression on me and I really thought that it was going to be Jonah. Jonah had the most reason to bring Koko’s empire down from the inside out, and the anime even sets up the expectation that it would be him. It could be that the writers felt that it was too obvious, but right now it feels like a real missed opportunity. It would bring Jonah’s conflict between his hatred of arms dealers (particularly Kasper) and his connection with Koko and her crew into sharper focus, and would introduce a greater sense of interpersonal conflict within his character. Obviously there is more to this story yet to come, and depending on how it plays out, my idea of where it should go may not mesh well with the writer’s and what they choose may actually work out better. For the moment, though, it seems like a wasted opportunity.
While on the surface the comparisons between Jormungand and Black Lagoon are clear, the shows are actually quite different in terms of what they are about. Black Lagoon was about a man from our world (everyday, mundane, and lawful) entering into a world of guns and death and stealing and learning that he had a place there. Jormungand is solely about that chaotic world and the people who already live in it. Other than that, it’s hard to say what story Jormungand is trying to tell. It could just be that it’s providing a fun, action-packed glimpse into this world (which would be fine), or it could be about a young boy who’s only known violence finding a new life free from battle and killing, or it could be something else entirely that hasn’t revealed itself yet. What makes this so great is the strength of the characters, the tight plots, and the excellent animation. So far I wouldn’t say that this show will set the world on fire, but it’s fun and has potential for growth in the second season. Recommended.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Commentaries for Episodes 1 and 12, Textless Songs
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: C+
Extras Grade: C+
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: February 11th, 2014
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Panasonic Viera TH42PX50U 42” Plasma HDTV, Sony BPD-S3050 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection