A show that came out of nowhere to easily be one of my favourites of this year, thanks to a likeable cast, a great action series with plot, back-story and set in a realistic setting, and a cliff-hanger to set up the second season perfectly…
What They Say:
The series follows Koko Hekmatyar, a young arms dealer who sells weapons under HCLI, an international shipping corporation that secretly deals in the arms trade. As one of the company’s unofficial weapon dealers, she secretly sells weapons in many countries while avoiding the local authorities and law enforcement as most of her work is actually illegal under international law. Traveling with her is her team of bodyguards who are mostly composed of ex-military veterans. Her latest addition to her crew is Jonah, a seemingly emotionless child soldier who is skilled in combat yet ironically hates arms dealers. Jonah joins Koko as he wishes to find the arms dealer responsible for his family’s death. What follows is Koko and her crew’s escapades around the world.
Set in English and Japanese stereo/mono at 2.0, this is kind of disappointing especially considering the amount of action and background noises/foley involved with the gunplay and vehicles. It is a shame because otherwise it is fine for what it is, but I did have to increase the output from my default to a suitable level to listen to it. No issues regarding synching in with the subtitles and lip flaps in either language and is perfectly acceptable, just wish could have been better in 5.1 with this sort of series.
Set in widescreen format with a 16:9 – 1.78:1 aspect ratio, no issues regarding the video quality or in sync with the subtitles/audio, and no transition issues regarding to the movement of the animation both watching and when pausing. The series being set more realistically using both standard and CGI animation is hardly noticeable and works really well and it is transitioned well into DVD.
A 2 disc release, both with the same image of our two main characters, Koko and Jonah on the left and right of the centre screen respectively, Koko in her default smug look whilst Jonah in child soldier mode, we see clips of the show showing on the top and scrolling horizontally, whilst the menu choices are just below that with Play All, Episode Selection, Set-Up and Bonus. Easy to navigate both from main menu and from the show and does showcase what the series is about to someone like myself who hadn’t even heard of it before he put the disc into the PS3…
A couple of commentaries are included with this release along with a few other extras, we get the clean opening and ending on the first disc, and then get straight into a first episode commentary involving Chris Bevins (Toujo – voice director) Anastasia Munios(Koko) and Carli Mosier(Valmet) – they talk about how different, how modern it is and in reality, making it unique compared to a number of shows they have worked on, for example Koko enjoys being a badass…without being an over the top fan service character and how researching the pronunciation of the names was important as everything is real –they talk about a bit of the characters, relationships (Anastasia being a bit of a fan girl and tells she likes to get figures or cosplay her characters), how family and unity is actually well represented…and apparently Monica Rial makes awesome cupcakes. (Hey, she is a regular UK con guest, this could be important…)
We also have a commentary on the last episode, involving Chris George (Ugo) Micah Solusod (Jonah) and Chris Smith (Lehm) – again it is about learning about the relationships, pronouncing everything right, but they do talk about how they set up the ending a bit and what it means as they discuss Season 2 (licenced and on the Funi channel but not yet dubbed or released) – considering the intrigue of work and the quality of this season, I do hope they do get to work on Season 2 as the ending was indeed a unique cliffhanger (they talk about the last episode new character and the surprising twist of a mildly important character suddenly looking to be a major spanner in the works…)
The other big extra is a section called Casting Koko’s Crew with Chris Bevins. This is an interview style section as Chris Bevins along with Chris George talk about how this was different than most auditions as they pretty much skipped it and just went with intuition based on the voices and the characters so they do abridged versions of how each character was cast. Koko – sweet to bat shit crazy, Anastasia’s first big role – Jonah – pre teen but mature, Micah. Valmet – Carli, wanted to do something different, Lehm – wanted to find more stuff for Chris Smith, Mao – Patrick Seitz, physical stature, Scarecrow – Rob McCullom, nicest guy they know to play an arsehole, Kasper – Eric, Bevins directed since Day 1 sounding similar to Tasia, Wilee – Akron Watson, almost an audition from theatre work, Ugo – growly for Chris, Schokolade – Brittney Karbowski, good at being loud, Lutz – subconscious with Greg Ayres playing a grown-up, and with running gag with Heaven’s Lost Property getting hit in the ass, R – Ian Sinclair being Ian Sinclair, Tojo – Bevins, has to do a Japanese character because of playing Japan in Hetalia Chan, Jerry Russell, awesome voice for a bad guy, Karen – Shelley Calene-Black, never had a place for her in other roles but works as a tough girl voice and Minami, Gwendolyn Lau – enjoys playing bonkers characters with her energy. Very different extra and very unique (and silly) insight in how it works.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Jormungand is something of a series where it is quite unique in the midst of the current state of anime. Set in a realistic setting, there is nothing really out of the ordinary here – no swords and sorcery, no mythical martial arts, no giants coming over walls, yet it does manage to not only set itself apart from other series, but does it so well that it is easily one of the best series released in the UK this year. The action is intense, the attention to detail is superb, and the characters are interesting and unique enough that you want to know more about them.
The heart of the series is a character named Koko, a female arms dealer who always seems to have a permanent smile on her face, grinning like she always has a plan. We see her with a child soldier she has personally recruited named Jonah as a bodyguard for her group known as HCLI, an international shipping company who also seems to hold a really impressive selection of humans whose skills in firearms, espionage and sheer badassary is very impressive as you get to know their history and back stories. The first episode sets the tone quite well – Koko is negotiating with an air force but a rival arms dealer is getting involved – the group set up a trap so they can cancel the air force negotiations and kill those involved. We see brief glimpses of everyone involved with even a bit of humour at the end with Jonah being welcome into the group.
A lot of the series is basically this – Koko and her group dealing with various ‘customers’ and also dealing with various enemies they make and have made during a lot of their transactions, whether hired assassins or just they are not liked in general. They are played quite differently depending who they deal with, for example in episode 2 they deal with clients who aren’t Koko’s cup of tea from past dealings but are very bullying, but Koko basically tricks them to be lambs to slaughter after they make some errors in the battlefield, all with that trademark grin. Episodes 3 and 4 however deal with the fact a group named Orchestra are going after Koko as hired assassins. The dangers of her profession are very well documented, as we slowly learn more about a lot of the characters, as Jonah for example seems to be developing emotions but at the same time seems way too eager to risk his life in the battlefield. This is explained well later on when we see a flashback to Jonah’s past, how Koko hires him and the relationship between Jonah, Koko and Koko’s brother Kaspar…
Koko herself is very interesting – seems to have influence via her father so when comic agents like the obnoxious Scarecrow tries to arrest her, she is still confident and grinning. Yet behind that smile there is a reason for that, and she has respect for those who she admires – even her enemies such as young Chinatsu during the Orchestra mini arc, which actually leads to minor crisis in her crew when one of the younger members cannot shoot her yet later one of the veterans does kill her, showing the mindsets of the characters even when they aren’t on screen as much.
Outside of Jonah and Koko, the crew itself is very intriguing with all their backgrounds, but the star has to be Valvet. She is seen at first as this gorgeous Amazon that the crew admires but knows not to get close to otherwise they get a broken nose (as one of them did during the obligatory beach shots) – and has a comic crush on Koko (which may or may not be replicated during a serious moment later in the series). Yet she also has a varied history, as we see her recognise a stance over one of the Chinese mafia agents Karen, flashbacking to when her mentor was killed when she worked in the UN. Her history actually takes a big part of the final arc when she tries to go kill the man in question all alone as she has to learn the value of her friendships with Koko, Jonah and the rest of the team.
There is so much intrigue about the cast and their past that everything can turn 360 degrees – one moment you see Koko dining with Chen (the man who would be the person Valvet is trying to kill) and enjoying it with such glee, the next you see a snowbound infiltration mission and people being killed with sniper bullets. One moment the group’s driver is about to be killed but then we see how he was recruited and how he’s a surprising badass…the next we get a moment with a genius Dr named Dr Minami…chasing butterflies in a snowbound area. It is that kind of show where things change quickly but somehow it actually does all make sense, considering how insane Koko can be at times, and the associates she hires with all have some incredible skill…but also some personality issues. Koko has a knack for being able to get out of any scrape using physical or mental capacities, whether bribing a rival agent with a diamond to get them out of China or setting up snipers against a rival arms dealer who only got her way mostly because of her history and looks.
Each of the arcs are small and pretty episodic, but most are good, the rest…are really good. My favourite is just before the finale from episode 9-10 when the group is hired to sneak in 10 doctors into a Balkan region who are trying to dispose of the ethnic cleansing that the Balkan group known as the Dragans are famous for here – their leader Dragan, is already on to them and just wants to kill them without argument. An attempted peaceful standoff fails, so it leads to a battle sequence with Dragan having to escape with the head doctor ready to execute him as an example. Whilst all the other doctors are safe, Koko insists to rescue him as she says ‘the job isn’t done yet’ when you can see she is a rarity in her compassion comes through anything. Using a combination of wit, intelligence and help (and squeezing money out of them) from some old friends, they succeed in rescuing the last doctor and getting the terrorist captured, which is a great showcase of Koko’s brain and character in full bloom.
And mostly that is why this show works. Koko herself is the glue to the entire group, with everyone getting their moments in – we have the old solider Lehm, who is the most skilled and least bothered by any ethical problems but also has many a wise word for the group, Lutz who is the rookie of the group, seems to be the one made out to be a punching bag but offers a lot of humour, the running gag of Jonah running out of his teachers, the character Mao who is a major help in the arc above as we learned some of his history in talks with Jonah come back out of nowhere to be a big help, and of course the intrigue over Jasper, Koko’s brother, and his history with Jonah. Jonah has said to always hate arms dealers because of what happened with him and Jasper, but he seems to be OK with Koko. Of course, Koko doesn’t help by always wanting to hug him in many of her childish moments, but Jonah’s past is explored just enough that you wonder what is going to happen to him in the sequel, especially with the twist ending…
The finale, with a failed assassination of the group combined with Valmet going one woman army to try and assassinate Chen to avenge her mentor’s deaths and deciding whether to return back to Koko…then it hits to a last episode character and a betrayal with one of the members of the team…means there is a sequel coming and I cannot wait. The realism, the characters, the action, the way all these arcs do tie in together and involve characters from previous episodes as rivals or colleagues depending on the situation, there is definitely more to come and this is a series I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on.
JORMUNGAND is an outstanding series which came out of nowhere and became a show that stood out, because of its realistic setting and its kooky but lovable protagonist Koko and her relationship with her crew. Combining this with attention to detail, excellent gun and fight scenes both on the ground, air, and snow – there is enough action, character development, storytelling and even humour to any casual anime fan to at least take a peek. It is something different…and in a good way. A very good way.
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B-
Video Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: July 21st, 2014
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.