Following Noir and Madlax, El Cazador de la Bruja caps off Bee Train’s “girls-with-guns” trilogy as its action-comedy-buddy-pic installment. Bounty hunter Nadie and her supernaturally inclined, lab-grown, wanted: dead-or-alive bounty, Ellis, head south to Wiñay Marka as guided by women’s (or witch’s) intuition and a glowing stone. En route, these two must evade a bevy of less-than-morally inclined bounty hunters, semiautomatic machinegun-wielding ninjas, one of the creepiest stalkers in anime history, and more as abetted solely by Miss Hayward of the auditing department and occasionally assisted by the cutest father-daughter bounty hunting team you’ll ever encounter. Amidst all of this, Ellis tries to remember exactly what happened that put a bounty on her head in the first place and struggles to find out if her memories are even real to begin with.
Roughly seven years ago, I wrote this (somewhat embarrassing) two–part review of El Cazador de la Bruja over at Ani-Gamers, and re-reading that in the here and now, I realize there’s embarrassingly little I’d add to it, regarding the show’s actual content. after watching the same show ten years after it originally aired. El Cazador still proves a slow and steady burn, characteristic of the environment in which it is set, and holds interest mostly via the exchanges between main characters Nadie and Ellis. This time around, I chose the Japanese audio, however, and was not disappointed. The same chemistry cited previously for American VAs Trina Nishimura and Maxey Whitehead applies to the work of the Japanese VAs Shizuka Itou and Ai Shimizu. In addition to some finely written dialog, there’s a slew of one-off situational gags with running themes that bring the chuckles. Needless to say, the conversational writing holds up. What doesn’t hold up so well is the road trip itself.
Innocuous episodic b-plots bolster the development of the relationship between these two girls but are sometimes downright laughably trite or overdramatic, while the real story is saved for the latter half of the series when, ironically, the action spurs investment. The good thing about the series being so drawn out is that it has the chance to grow Ellis’s character by not only having her learn but also having her act. All of the side stories, all of the people with whom the protagonists interact, are, however, hilariously uninteresting – either fodder for comedy or melodrama that’s ruined by bad pacing or a general lack of development/investment. (This stands in direct contrast to the bounty-driven episodes of Cowboy Bebop.) The rest stops en route to Wiñay Marka are mere excuses to serve up bland ad hoc moral lessons that help Ellis shed her naïve innocence, and the big mystery presented, “DID Ellis murder her doctor,” unfortunately unravels with less intrigue than the plot points that define it. (Protagonists in Noir and El Cazador de la Bruja share the same sporadic amnesiac flashback contrivance, but Noir at least keeps the ticking of time a steady theme. The flashbacks in El Cazador seem more a repetitive annoyance than relevant.)
Having consumed so much anime since watching this particular title, I’ve mostly grown to applaud the designs and handling of the female characters. Nadie’s outfit bears a lot more skin than necessary but, like Revvy’s from Black Lagoon, is functional and doesn’t explicitly serve to sexualize the character. Ellis’s garb doesn’t make her a loli-turned-sexpot (although the OP does regretfully strip both her and Nadie bare at one point), and is never a victim of lurid camera gaze. Even poor Miss Hayward from the auditing department (voiced competently by Clarine Harp of Speed Grapher infamy in the English dub and the extremely well-vetted Aya Hisakawa in the Japanese dub) expresses a mature sexuality through skill and power rather than skin and camera angles. I don’t think these characters hold a candle to, say, those in Sayo Yamamoto’s Michiko to Hatchin, which is the most apt comparison I can bring to mind, but to say the character designs are less lascivious than most of what I’ve been watching for the past ten years is a sad revelation.
In addition to being tastefully based on female lead and supporting characters, El Cazador makes a statement on abusive male empowerment via the opportunities for manipulation and perversion that provides, and that is a very refreshing thing to discover so many years on. (Again, a sad revelation.) The show offers a downright acidic introduction to the creepy main antagonist, L.A., via a scene implying his masturbation from afar to Ellis as she involuntarily unleashes her power in a hyperventilating trance while a motorcycle burns. Douglas Rosenburg, the main puppeteer, is made unsavory through his intentional deceit of Miss Hayward and arrogant air long before he’s shown to be a man of much more cruel intentions. But not all males are shown in a bad light; most characters appearing in one episode or many lend support to Nadie and Ellis along their journey. What’s important to note, however, is that none of the supporting male characters occupy positions of power in relation to the independence of the main characters. Later on, the series does spew commentary on lesbianism via observations from townies and L.A. regarding the close relationship between Nadie and Ellis, and it’s fun to view the tale, as a story of affections and jealousies, as positive commentary on lesbian relationships and the adverse, unreasonably violent, heteronormative rejection thereof.
While El Cazador is still pretty, it bears a cleanliness which makes it seem plastic, and there’s not anything really profound in terms of its visual storytelling. Actually, one thing I forgot about this series, after so many years, was that the camera likes to go crazy – turning itself upside down (literally) for both good and bad effects but what is ultimately gratuitous. It doesn’t really help the story in any way but definitely wakes up the viewer. On the audio end, it’s great to hear (and see) Spanish peppered in to remind viewers/listeners that that is the assumed language being spoken. The English dub is understandably more heavily seasoned than the Japanese, and the overall effect is a very welcome one that avoids patronizing accents. The soundtrack, especially the piece behind the menu screen on the 2009 FUNi DVD box sets, is pretty great for its drunken harmonica backed by prison guitar. And let no-one forget that this series has THE BEST GODDAMNED TACO JINGLE EVER!
Ink’s Last Words (I’ll say them now)
This series has survived many an instance of shelf purging since I bought it back in the day. Every time I reached to take it down, I held back from doing so for its humor more than its action, art, or story. Ten years later, the dry and conversational comedy and sight gags are really the only reason to revisit this show. (If the fork gag early on doesn’t slay ya, move on and call it a day.) The series is, in my opinion, a noble effort through a feminist lens but is less sensitive to the cultures it invokes through its setting and plot. El Cazador de la Bruja is still very much worth one watch, but this re-watch convinced me to finally purge this title from my shelf for its overall mediocrity.