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Witch Hunter Robin Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

19 min read
A divisive original series from the turn of the millennium.

A divisive original series from the turn of the millennium.

What They Say:
Robin Sena is a powerful craft user drafted into the STNJ—a group of specialized hunters that fight deadly beings known as Witches. Though her fire power is great, she’s got a lot to learn about her powers and working with her cool and aloof partner, Amon. But the truth about the Witches and herself will leave Robin on an entirely new path that she never expected!

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the previously created English language dub, both of which are encoded at 192kbps. The show is a fairly standard moody dialogue-driven piece that has its moments where it goes a bit bigger. The bulk of it is the dialogue though with some good placement at times and it handles the highs and lows very well. The show is well-accented by the original score for it as that gives it some additional warmth and a fuller feeling to carry some of the dialogue itself as well as the action elements. There’s a solid design to it overall even if it’s one that won’t stand out in a big way but it serves the material and storyline and it all comes across cleanly and clearly, which is the most important thing of all in the end.

Video:
Originally airing in 2002, the transfer for this twenty-six episode TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The show is spread across 4 discs in a standard format to give it a decent but of room to work with. Animated at Sunrise, the series has a solid enough look here but is pretty reflective of its age and source materials. There’s some noise to be had in the backgrounds when dealing with the darker areas or grey fields, for example, and there’s a kind of simplicity to the character designs even at mid-range shots that are a little surprising on a bigger screen compared to my initial viewing far too long ago. The series works a decent range of material overall but leans into the darker side and that holds up about as well as you’d expect for its age. There are some nice areas of details and there isn’t anything with outright macroblocking going on so we get a standard definition release here that captures the source material about as you’d expect, which in a way just feels like it hasn’t aged too well overall. It’s clean and mostly problem free so it should click well for most viewers.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized clear DVD case with two discs against the walls and two on a hinge, giving it a nice little bit of weight while also keeping it mostly compact. The front cover uses the familiar key visual image of Robin looking upward that we’ve seen on releases going back to the very first single disc back in 2004, so this doesn’t exactly do much to really drive attention. It does strike nostalgia and familiarity for those who know of it though, so that helps. With just the title here it’s kept minimal and simple in a good way that lets the colors and shadows stand out more. The back cover works with the brown in a decent way with a nice banner image along the top and a few shots from the show that are mostly just dark and foreboding. The summary of the premise through the middle runs a couple of paragraphs and we get a clean listing of what’s involved for extras along with a small but functional technical grid. I do appreciate that the Digital Copy strip is kept to the very bottom so that it doesn’t break the flow and feel of the overall cover design. While there are no show related inserts included, the reverse side does give us a look at more of the cover artwork from other releases with two more character focus ones.

Menu:
The menu design for this release works with the standard static approach that you’d expect for each disc. With it being just the show that’s available outside of some trailers, the navigation is a bit simpler overall but it’s still standard and easy to use. We get the kind of run down background look with the brown walls that are slowly deteriorating with each volume and it provides for a nice backdrop to everything. The left has a large logo along the top while the selections are lined below it, including what disc number you’re on, while to the right we get different pieces of character artwork, kicking off with Robin as you’d expect. Navigation is simple and easy to use and it all functions as it should to set things up and to get to the episodes you want.

Extras:
None.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sunrise began working on a number of original series in the early 2000s in order to get away from being known just as the Gundam company and one of those was Witch Hunter Robin. The series arrived in the summer of 2002 and ran for two seasons consecutively for a twenty-six episode run. It has a solid director in Shuko Murase and a solid range of writers that were involved with it. It was also a moody kind of show that was appealing in those still early days of DVD and Bandai Entertainment put it out with a slick package and good promotion that got people interested in it, especially since it was coming “relatively” quickly after the broadcast run in Japan. In some ways, the show hasn’t held up over the years but it was also somewhat divisive at the time as it was a project that shifted gears from the first to second half in a way that didn’t connect for some viewers.

The series takes place in a current day setting (circa 2002) albeit with some slightly more cutting edge technology and the fact that witches roam the world in secret. An organization known as STN works around the world to take care of this problem with all kinds of satellite offices, but apparently, the headquarters is in Italy. Naturally, our focus is on STN-J and they don’t do things quite like headquarters would like them. Using some special material in their weapons, their goal is not to kill the witches but to capture them. This comes as a surprise to Robin, a fifteen-year-old witch who has just arrived from Headquarters as a replacement for another Hunter they lost six months earlier. The leader of this group, Zaizen, doesn’t think she’s really here for just that considering the time it took and has his lead Hunter, a brooding darkly clad man named Amon, partner with her and keep a close eye on her. If there’s a larger meaning to her arrival, Robin doesn’t indicate it and instead focuses on learning the ways of this office, a converted cathedral, and trying to make friends with her new coworkers.

In a sense, that’s one of the more interesting facets of this series as it’s an office job, just one with a different kind of purpose, so we get to have the weird dynamics that come from the varying personalities. Such as the Chief, a balding man named Kosaka who seemingly can’t stand any of the people who work there and their strange habits. Or Dojima, the daughter of a very powerful couple who have begged Zaizen to let her work there. Add in a couple of other members, including a hacker who is now essentially enslaved to Zaizen to the point where he can’t leave the office without permission and you definitely have a varied crew. Once the show starts settling into place with Robin getting her arrival out of the way, the show moves into its regular routine that allows us to get to know the various characters and their quirks. It’s very episodic at first here, as we go through various missions with the team of hunters as they go after the witches.

What’s interesting is that even though most on the team are witches themselves, they’re not hunted simply because of the side they’re on and they’re willing to take down other witches. There’s also the smart observation at one point that there are humans eviler than any witch based on the things that they do, meaning that the powers don’t really change anything other than how they must fight them. The powers become an interesting point as the show moves along, though for the most part we really only see Robin on the Hunter side use her powers, which are flame based and pretty wild and uncontrolled. The witches they hunt have some interesting ones, particularly the scarab tattooed witch who uses the insects to fight and deal with those who hunt him. The other aspect that’s pushed is the powers of the regular humans employed by STNJ, giving particular push to Michael and his hacker skills as well as the cost of them for him.

The episodic nature of Robin is something that makes up most of the first half of the set, though it lays some groundwork at the same time as you’d expect. One episode deals nicely with some of the problems of tracking down the witches and just how subtle they can be within society. After getting a ride out of the rain, Robin learns that the driver died just a short time later in a car accident. Though she didn’t really know the women, she felt some kind of worth in finding out what really happened. Amon, seeing that Robin is taking an active interest in the investigative side of their job even though there’s no apparent witch connection, lets her go forward with it even though it pushes the boundaries of abuse of power.

Her investigation leads her and Amon to one of her employees home, one she visited just before the accident. The woman there is quite odd, almost unconcerned about learning about her bosses death and about things in general. All she seems to care for is the numerous dolls that are around her house. Once the two entered the house though, something changed and Amon later finds himself being attacked in his car by one of the dolls. As they research even deeper into what’s going on, there are some really interesting revelations about past histories and witch abilities and how they manifest. This is one of the creepier episodes so far and it plays out very well.

An early two-part episode is intriguing in what it reveals, though it’s engaging for the action sequences as well. We’re thrown into an awkward chase sequence where a young man is haggardly fleeing what looks like a couple of mafia types. The man isn’t wounded, but he’s having a hard time getting along. When he finally collapses at one point, an elderly woman in a wheelchair appears in the shadows and chants to him. At the same time, the mafia types show up and try to take him down, but he’s suddenly full of power and able to kill them both quickly by using some form of electric shock. Before he knows what’s going on, the woman is gone and he’s once again haphazardly making his way down the alleys.

As the Hunt begins from the STNJ side, there are all sorts of small clues that are leading them along. The apparent powers used by the Witch are related to a past case, so investigations begin along there. The other aspect that makes this a difficult case is that it happened inside a section of the city where it’s like a labyrinth of tight buildings and alleys, a place where some 150,000 people live. The place almost feels like it’s outside the law and that what happens there stays there and that the police and others don’t come. So as the team searches for clues, there get no help from the locals and only dark stares.

Something nags at Robin and she prods into strange areas while searching around. Michael’s investigations and the link to a prior Witch with similar powers leads to Amon learning about the Methuselah Witches, a group of Witches whose ability is to live eternally. There are only whispered bits of information about them and little hard fact, but there is enough to indicate that they may indeed be more than a rumor. While their power in one sense may not seem like much, their ability to use information over the course of several hundred years provides them with something more powerful. As Robin finds her way into this unexplored world, she gets something of a crash course in just how Witches have been treated over time and where their origins really lay. The information is presented in a slick way to Robin, but she retains enough doubt in it that she doesn’t fall to the Methuselah Witches side right away. These episodes play out the story of the young man fairly well and give the action junkies some fun, but it’s the tale of the past that provides the most satisfying experience here as it continues to push the idea that there is more to the STN worldwide than what we see here in Japan.

Toward the end of the first half, we start to get the shift in how the series is working. An Inquisitor from the STN has come to Japan to determine whether someone that they’ve been watching is qualified to become a Hunter. The Inquisitor, the spitting image of the elderly religious man with the thinning white hair and glasses while all clad in black, dislikes what he senses in Japan with its oppressive feeling atmosphere. His mission is a simple one, one he’s obviously done many times, and one that he sets out to do with as little interference as possible. His work allows an interesting glimpse into how the STN works in the main office and elsewhere, as we continue to get the feeling that things are done differently in Japan. It also brings to light that this is the same Inquisitor who made the judgment on whether Robin was fit to become a Hunter or not. Those who don’t qualify are them followed as prey, so that they can be properly taken care of. While the story is interesting as we follow the one subject under investigation, the Inquisitor’s arrival has seemingly set off something new in the country where a group is now trying to remove Robin from the picture. This new direction is done very well with a lot of surprising minor twists and elements to it as it moves along, from the type of weapons used to their tactics. The shift from the standalone episodes to this more continuous storyline is a definite plus since it lets the mystery and the feel of the show build nicely instead of being resolved at the end. Well, as resolved as some of these cases can be.

With Touko now in the hospital, Robin is spending the time after the attack on her and the apartment by holing up inside the office itself, where everyone else is trying to figure out what’s going on while she tries to recover. To make matters worse for the group, Zaizen and Amon are both missing and haven’t been heard from in some time now. Divisions start showing up within the office group over this as those whose lives are essentially bound to the hunt and those who are only doing a job begin to clash. The level of tension is interesting to see, particularly since there are those in the group that are bound for their entire lives to this endeavor.

This does go on for a bit, but a bigger event ends up taking precedence when, through a brief series of scenes with Zaizen, we learn that Solomon is about to make a full on attack on the STN-J, ostensibly to take Robin down. For his own reasons he ends up allowing and ensures his own safety. The actual attack on the building is quick and swift as we watch the armored soldiers maneuvering through the building and taking down everyone left and right. Robin’s in a daze throughout most of this but she ends up being rescued at the last minute by Amon. His entrance is amusing in a way since it turns the normally drab and dark offices into a bright blaze.

Amon’s gone against orders to rescue her, but partially because he believes that Robin isn’t the real target. He races throughout the building with her as they’re chased by the soldiers down the various locked stairwells. Amon’s known of a secret exit out of the building and sends Robin down the well, telling her to head off to a contact of his. The way the two part is pretty dramatic as the well closes up over her and she can only hear parts of the firefight between the two. But Robin does what she has to do and eventually returns to her senses and heads off into the city to meet with the man Amon told her to.

This rather quickly brings the series to an interesting place that looks like it’s how things will be for several episodes at least. Robin finds herself working as a courier for a law agency that’s also putting her up with a small room, all as a favor to Amon. What Robin discovers after spending well over a month working there is that Nagira, the owner, is working something similar to an Underground Railroad for Witches and others with latent supernatural abilities. He’s not entirely in it just for the good of things or out of his heart, but there’s still much to discover about him and his business. For Robin, she’s unsure of how to deal with what he’s doing and his relationship to Amon as well as the STNJ in general.

Ever since the attack on Touko and Robin’s apartment, the series has really shifted who the lead characters are. While Robin continues to be the real main lead, the other members that had some status, such as Amon, have almost been shrugged off entirely as his storyline is done virtually off-screen while the other members of the team have gone up a bit more in his absence. One of the characters that came out of nowhere, Nagira, has seemingly almost as much screen time as Robin as he continues to help her move about the city and keep from being discovered. And the more we get to know of him the more we learn about the seedier side of the Witching business.

Nagira’s ability to seemingly know someone who may know something about anything that they need to find out about comes in handy once more as both he and Robin are unsure of how to proceed with the Splinter of Knowledge that she ended up acquiring. While she saved his life using it previously, both of them don’t like that much power in the control of just one person so they opt to put it in a safe until they can figure out more about it. Nagira knows a couple that’s supposed to be pretty knowledgeable about the business of the Witch world so he brings them in to check it out. While they don’t seem to know anything about this particular item, the wife has a strange fascination with Robin that leads to some problem as it progresses.

For Robin, her time being cautious gets even more perilous when she learns that Solomon has sent a new Hunter into Japan, a nasty named Sarte, and he’s come to take her down. He’s gone around killing off all sorts of rogue Witches that are part of the STNJ’s normal hunting list and leaving notes with each of them with Robin’s name on it, letting her know that she’s being pursued. As the bodies pile up, Nagira gets more involved and Robin actual reveals her true motives in coming to Japan and being part of the STNJ. While in a number of series this may feel like a late motivation put in just to change the plot as necessary, the fact that we never really got a handle on what Robin’s real assignment in coming to Japan from the first episode on helps smooth this transition as she’s now more of an actual operative on a mission.

The other character that’s changed much in these last set of episodes is Zaizen. Since the initial attack on the STNJ, he’s basically been moving around in his car and not getting directly involved with the group. He’s had his interactions with Amon but otherwise has just been going to and fro, dealing with Touko and otherwise working on his own mysterious plans. These come to light in this segment though as we find the other project that he’s apparently headed in secret in dealing with the Orbo and trying to bring about a change that will help remove Witches from having to hunt their own. This group, mostly faceless outside of a few people working on the project itself, brings a new element of danger into the mix and sets two groups that want the elimination or control of Witches. The changes in Zaizen since the beginning aren’t quite as pronounced as Robin’s changes, but going back to the earlier episodes it shows his motivations a bit more clearly.

The second half of the series dealt with a lot of things while still building upon the history of the Witches and what they really are. The different tangents that the core group had gone off on started to revolve around a central point and it soon became clear that everything was happening due to how Zaizen was trying to manipulate it all for his own goals. Using Amon as his trusted tool, he set him to hunting down Robin believing that she would be the biggest threat to him from Headquarters and those in Europe. But as Amon continued to learn more and more while keeping her securely hidden away with Nagira, the real threat started to come out. As everyone slowly began to orbit back together once more, the revelation that Zaizen is working towards the creation of a more pure version of Orbo that doesn’t require the use of Witches to use during the hunt but regular humans, they change how they feel about everything.

Interesting enough, and to the point of amusement, when they all finally get back together there’s some small revelations about who is really working for who. You almost get the feeling that other than Michael, who is trapped and cannot even leave the STN-J, is the only one who says who he really is and who he’s really working for. The lack of trust within this group is strong and for good reason, but the various revelations continued to push them closer together to try and solve the problems. Zaizen’s continuing his programs and has his human hunters out on the streets taking down the witches and making some moves against members of the STN-J as well.

Zaizen’s hand gets forced a few times as well, particularly when Juliano returns to Japan and brings with him many revelations that Robin needs to know to understand her true place in life. Dealing much with the concept of Original Sin and the history that preceded her, what’s brought about here is something that takes the show and tries to elevate it to something bigger and more epic. In its own way, it does work, but I’m not sure exactly that what they want Robin to become is something that really needed to be included in the series. It does go a long way towards explaining why the Japanese branch of the STN is continually kept somewhat separate and under surveillance though. A lot of information gets presented during these final episodes that brings all the various tangents back together, some a bit more forced than others, but in the end, I think a lot of it works rather well.

There’s a fair bit of tense action during these final episodes as well, including an attempt to get into the Factory where some of the creepier revelations come about. These are done pretty much like many of the action scenes throughout the series so there is more tension than action as the characters run about and deal with their enemies. Robin gets to use her powers a bit more but we sadly don’t get anything that really takes her over the top in my mind that lets her just cut loose completely. Her use of her powers continues to be quite controlled and she’s still very much submissive to Amon in what he thinks she should be doing with them.

In Summary:
While many people seem to be let down by the show in how it ended as it didn’t go in the direction expected from the first half, I found this path to be much more interesting and enjoyable to watch. The change from hunts and action sequences to more moody and introspective moments while being hunted herself, Robin played both sides of the coin she had to do very well. With a lot of the characters having ulterior motives, the real challenge to the show in the second half was to do it in a way so that it doesn’t feel forced. Zaizen’s and Robin’s revelations were done early enough so that they didn’t feel like they were being pulled out at the end, something that Amon and Dojima suffer a bit from in different ways. In the end, I liked the way the show played out and kept everyone at some sort of distance but kept forcing them back to each other. Atmospheric and moody, beautifully designed and animated and filled with rich music, Witch Hunter Robin is a series that kept my attention overall, though it’s not one that I really recommend binging through but rather working through in chunks. I’m definitely glad Funimation finally got it back on the market and I don’t expect a proper Blu-ray for it, so it’s good to be able to have this tight little package.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles,

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: October 23rd, 2018
MSRP: $54.98
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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