What They Say:
Nowhere may seem like just another Yokohama cafe, but as with many of its employees, this apparently innocent eatery leads a double life. Because Nowhere is also where you can find Hamatora, the mysterious detective agency run by P.I.s who are also M.H.s. That’s M.H. as in Minimum Holders, individuals gifted with extraordinary powers and abilities. For the right price, you can hire founder Nice, who moves at the speed of sound, and partner Murasaki, whose super strength and near invulnerability are a significant asset. Of course, with incredible talents like these up their sleeves, Nice may not decide to take a case unless it personally interests him. But when a series of serial murders all turn out to involve other Minimum Holders, that interest is about to become extremely personal. Something monstrous is going on, and Minimum Holders as a class may be targeted for extinction in HAMATORA – THE ANIMATION!
Both language tracks sound clean and clear, though the English dub features some subpar voice acting. The combination of some quite odd enunciations with consistently flat delivery leads me to believe that all parties should have taken a bit more time crafting this dub. Hamatora has some excellent music, including memorable OP and ED songs. Also, and this is going to seem trivial, they really nailed Nice’s finger snap sound effect! His superpower deals with sound, and he activates it by snapping his fingers. Moments of activation were always pretty cool to behold, thanks in no small part to the crispness of that sound effect. If the clarity or tone of that effect was botched, the power of those scenes would be diminished.
There is a ton going on visually in this show. It’s swimming in bold visual design choices, and the 480i encoded DVD does a decent job at conveying the many layers of style while maintaining solid video quality. Due to the limitations of the format, however, the high degree of saturation can occasionally muddies some of the darker colors. I didn’t notice this very often, and, all things considered, the DVDs do a fine job of showing off what is arguably Hamatora’s biggest strength: its visual presentation.
Hamatora comes in a standard 90 x 135 x 14mm black jewel case. The entire series comes on three discs, and there is one flip tray inside the case. Since the production design of this series is so appealing, the package designer was spoiled for choice in terms of cover art. All of it looks bright and attractive. The packaging also smartly reflects the series’ visual motifs e.g. slanted lines and Ben-Day dots.
Like the rest of the show, Hamatora’s menu pops with bright, vivid colors and slick design work. The viewer can easily see which episode they are selecting as a muted red rectangle of paper that represents selection will weave through the green-to-yellow paper rectangle which the episode number and title are written on. None of the lines or edges of these paper shapes are evenly cut, and this selection portion of the menu is set against a backdrop of thickly-outlined boxes containing Ben-Day dot patterns. All of this gives the menu a neat, craft-y look. Beside the selection box is some well-chosen art featuring a pair of characters from the series. Add in the joy of getting to hear choice cuts from the OP and ED songs, and navigating the Hamatora menu becomes an unexpected pleasure.
In addition to trailers and the textless OP/ED, this set contains a couple of extras that don’t necessarily come standard in a Sentai Filmworks release. There is a Japanese PV collection and something I’d not seen included on a U.S. home video release before: Japanese Disclaimers. These are short vignettes displaying stills of a certain character while they warn you against unauthorized copying and selling of the discs and also advise you to watch Hamatora in a well-lit room. I found this technique to be a cute way to disseminate health and legal warning to viewers, and it makes for a fun little extra.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Hamatora is a modern superhero tale meets the story of a small-time detective agency, by way of hyper-stylized visuals. The government has started a secret program, Facultas Academy, to awaken latent superhuman abilities within children possessing this potential. Such beings are known as Minimum Holders, and this series follows the loosely affiliated collection of Holders working out of Cafe Nowhere, a sort of job referral agency for Holders. Folks in the know can request that a pair of Holders–one such pair going by the name of Hamatora–to be deployed to do an odd job, escort or protect someone, or solve a mystery. As the Holders perform these jobs, they begin to learn that each job is actually connected to the police’s investigation of a serial killer who is targeting Minimum Holders. It’s up to the police and the Holders to work together to discover the identity of the killer and figure out their motive before they turn the city upside down.
Structurally, the show is roughly half episodic stories and half serialized narrative. With the exception of the goofy field-trip episode, the one-off stories all tend to follow a formula: quickly establish several seemingly unrelated incidents, reveal over the course of the episode that they’re cleverly tied together, and ultimately illustrate a time-honored moral of superhero storytelling. This strict adherence to formula isn’t necessarily bad, just noticeable after you observe it more than once. What can be bad at times though, is Hamatora’s execution. There are one or two instances where the show falls back on exposition as a form of character development. Couple this with a few moments over-the-top brutality played for shock value, and you have a show that feels kind of uneven in terms of writing quality.
Keep in mind, uneven isn’t the same as out-and-out bad. The series does do a great job seeding its serial narrative by having the seemingly self-contained stories feed back into that larger story, which gives the narrative as a whole the feeling that it was planned out. About halfway through Hamatora, a major event occurs which serves as the catalyst for the series becoming a serial. It’s a pretty big twist that I honestly didn’t see coming, so I was fairly disappointed when they walked it back at the end. And, speaking of the end, the set ends on a massive cliffhanger, so, if you’re invested, you’ll have to purchase the second season to finish the story.
But, quite honestly, what happens in Hamatora isn’t nearly as exciting as how it happens. Anyone who pops in Hamatora is going to be immediately struck by its presentation. People often invoke the phrase “style over substance” to describe visually interesting shows which may lack depth. Well, Hamatora’s style is layered on so thick, it could be considered substance in its own right. There are so many different motifs, visual tricks and just plain bold stylistic choices in this show that pausing the disc and unpacking certain shots is actually quite a fun time. Here’s a brief rundown of the techniques you might see in any given scene: clothing, shadows, or characters composed of Ben-Day dots; a filter that makes the camera lens appear as if someone did some very light sponge painting on it; costumes or hair that slickly blends from one bright, bold color to another; and a burst of a rainbow of colors engulfing the screen to indicate that a Minimum power is in use. While some of the actual character animation isn’t great, the strength of the production design and the aesthetic concepts on display more than make up for that.
The series’ cast of characters is a self-described collection of “weirdos and smartasses.” While this may sound a bit promising, the trouble is that they’re mostly a boilerplate collection of weirdos and smartasses. You’ve got the carefree, naturally gifted guy, the quiet girl who’s always eating, the loud, boisterous strikeout with the ladies, etc. etc. Perhaps the most unique aspect of each character is their name. The show employs quite an odd naming convention in that it gives its principle cast single names that sound more like descriptors such as Nice, Birthday, Ratio, and Moral. With a bit of deduction, the viewer can easily suss out a character’s personality from their name (e.g. with Birthday, everything’s a party!). Cafe Nowhere hosts a passel of attractive boys and a couple of cute girls that I want to like, but they’re just not all that interesting. There is one character, though, that rises above the morass of mediocrity: Yokohama police superintendent, Art.
Art graduated from Facultas Academy, but his Minimum never awakened. He completes superhero training, a feat that not even the series’ most powerful character accomplishes, yet he remains a normal person. As a high ranking police officer, Art works closely with the Holders from Cafe Nowhere. He is in the unique position to understand both the feelings of the Holders and those of normal, everyday folks. Though the government has tried to keep the existence of Holders a secret, during the course of the story the truth comes to light. Understandably, the public is instinctively afraid of superbeings that have been secretly living among them, and, equally understandably, the Holders resent this fear. Art feels both perspectives deeply, and, thus, experiences a great deal of inner conflict over his own course of action.
Hamatora is less concerned with giving its characters room to develop than using their circumstances to communicate big ideas. You can sort the show’s themes into two groups: tried-and-true messages from modern superhero fiction and commentary on internet culture and the youth who have grown up in it. Again, anyone familiar with superhero stories written from late twentieth-century and onward will be familiar with these questions Hamatora explores: Does being born with power make you privileged? Are those born with power obligated use it to help society? Is power a defining characteristic of a person? The show’s final conflict essentially becomes a clash of worldviews with opposing answers to these questions. I don’t want to diminish the importance of such questions; however, it remains true that they are utterly hackneyed ones for this kind of story.
I find the social commentary much more interesting. The series’ villain, a fellow called Moral, feels burdened by the inequality of power in the world. He claims to feel compassion for the weak and wants everyone to have power. So, he seeks out individuals he deems particularly weak and thrusts power upon them by implanting a Minimum within them. Moral locates his subjects by selecting angry people in internet comments sections, people he considers to be prime examples of weakness. What if all these weak people howling for justice from a distance were forced to take responsibility for their words, to take action for the recompense they demand? Well, Moral goes some way toward making that situation a reality, and it’s an ugly sight. Though the messages here can get muddled the more Moral and company talk about them, I think the show deserves credit for raising some important points about the different kinds of problems kids growing up in internet culture will face and that many of these problems don’t currently have adequate solutions. The internet is doing its part to create a population of disaffected young people who can be mobilized for nefarious purposes if preyed upon in a certain way. I’m not sure that the show gave itself enough time to fully explore these ideas, but it does provide some food for thought with a bit of bite, and this is more than I expected going into the show.
Hamatora is an absolute visual treat. There is so much style and flair here that I was able to be fully entertained despite some lackluster character writing and a fair few banal themes. And, to be fair, neither the cast nor the writing is particularly awful. Archetypes and cliches exist because people enjoy them, and, if you’re a fan of modern anime character types or someone who enjoys modern superhero fiction, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy much of what Hamatora has to offer. There are also instances in which the show transcends cliche. Art is a very compelling character, and the show does explore some provocative ideas about youth and internet culture. Considered as a whole, though, Hamatora is too flawed to be regarded as a great superhero story, but it remains entertaining throughout its runtime and actually left me pondering some of its messages after the credits rolled. Recommended for aesthetes, superhero nerds or those wanting a fun ride with some familiar character types.
Japanese Language 2.0. English Language 2.0. English Subtitles. Sentai Filmworks Trailers. Japanese Promos. Japanese Disclaimers. Textless OP/ED.
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: A-
Extras Grade: C+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i
Aspect Ratio: 16×9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Samsung 36 “1080i HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 720p.