The anime B reminds me of the most is Gasaraki. Both series feel like two disparate ideas crammed into one package– one political and one… esoteric? Something like that.
Gasaraki dealt with a war in the Middle East and economic strife between Japan and the US, all of which was carried out using “realistic” mecha, but said mecha were built off of technology harvested from Japanese oni, and the villains had ulterior motives beyond sparking a an economic conflict with the US. For the most part, the former was a good deal more interesting than the latter, but it made for an interested final two episodes, as one dealt with the political ramifications and the other dealt with the spiritual ones.
B has a similar dynamic at play. On one side we have a police procedural that deals with a lot with the ethics of surveillance and other modern security ideas, and it feels a lot like the sort of stuff that would happen in a show like Person of Interest. It also borrows heavily from Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies– especially The Dark Knight, as the “agents of chaos” in B enact two schemes that play like scenarios straight out of that movie.
This part of the series focuses on the Royal Investigation Service, an FBI-like law enforcement agency in the Kingdom of Cremona. It’s an eclectic group made up of people from different ethnicities and ages, and they’re dealing with the obligatory rash of murders upon which these sorts of series focus. Some of these murders are committed by someone they call Killer B, who kills other criminals and leaves a distinctive “B” marking at the scene of each crime. As the series progresses, they naturally find out that there’s more to these crimes, and that the overall chaos being perpetrated is spearheaded by a group called the Market Makers, a group rumored to work for the government in order to maintain the status quo through stirring up trouble and doing the sort of dirty work that keeps people in power. They wear outlandish make-up and work through convoluted schemes, making them feel like a squad of Jokers if said squad was government-supported.
This political thriller/procedural side of the anime is pretty cool. It may not deal with its topics with a lot of elegance or nuance, and rarely questions the predictive surveillance methods the RIS uses to track down their adversaries, but it makes for some decent fodder from that genre. While the RIS has several members, only a few of them get enough screen time to really develop personalities. Lily, the hot-headed young woman of the group, gets the most time to breathe character-wise, and she’s pretty likable. She’s that unorthodox type who isn’t quite a loose cannon, but plays by her own quirky set of rules. Had the series just been about her and the other RIS members dealing with crime in a Patlabor sort of way, this would be a pretty great series. But B has a lot more on it’s mind, for better or for worse.
The other side of the series deals with a long-gestating government project to create super soldiers and other god-like beings. An archaeological dig uncovered the remains of some ancient angel-like beings, along with a tablet telling their story. The Cremona government undertakes a project to “resurrect” these angelic creatures, enlisting the funding of royalty under the guise of some altruistic, spiritual quest. The true aim of the government is to use this genetic material to create soldiers– the basis for the aforementioned Market Makers organization. But a few people on this project go ahead with the god-recreation part of the scenario and give birth to a few “perfect” children who don’t have the inborn instabilities of the other “Reggies” created through this process. The Killer B murderer, whose name is Koku, is one of these stable entities, and the prophecy in the tablet speaks of various rituals and destinies he and his counterpart, Yuna, will fulfill.
That’s where the series main character, Keith, comes into play. He’s a member of the RIS, but he’s also the son of the main who helped create Koku and Yuna, and he’s well aware of their true nature and their connection to the Market Makers. Keith is your traditional troubled genius detective, cut from the same sort of cloth as the Cumberbatch Sherlock Holmes and similar characters. His mind is filled with puzzles and equations and the drive to find who killed his younger adopted sister. It’s also his role to connect these two loosely-linked stories and create something resembling a cohesive whole.
It doesn’t quite work.
While the connection between the two sides is a bit more concrete in the beginning, as the RIS is dealing with a few attacks by the Market Makers, the sides start to distance themselves as the series progresses. The Market Makers become less concerned with exerting their will on the public and become more concerned with Koku and the various prophecies involving him and Yuna. Even Keith is a bit of a bystander in that side of the plot, serving more as a device for exposition for Lily than anything else. Keith, Lily, and the other RIS members are given another villain to deal with in the form of Keith’s sister’s killer, but despite the killer working with the Market Makers in some manner, the second half of the series feels like two completely different shows that just happen to share the same 20+ minute airtime. It comes together, but in a “by the way, did you know” sort of way, rather than anything organic. I kinda dug the procedural side of it all, even as the final two episodes literally bounced between two completely unrelated finales, breaking the flow of both, but both sides of the story are hindered by the other’s need to come to a conclusion.
None of it really feels rushed or anything, so it wasn’t a matter of things needing more time to breathe in order to feel more organic. It’s just a matter of the two stories ceasing to be related to one another in such a way that having them transpire along side of each other doesn’t make much sense. Had the two plot lines developed separately, one after another, I think things would have played out better. As is, it goes for a big finale and ends up floundering.
That said, there’s a lot to like here. Lily’s a cool character, and most of the action is pretty cool. I also really dug the whole vibe of Cremona. It feels very Mediterranean in terms of its geography, architecture, and cars– Lily drives a Mini, and between that and the way she drives, she lends those scenes a very Lupin the 3rd like feel. At the same time, there’s a lot of Americana stuff going on in the background. There are a lot of old school metal signs decorating the streets– we see a Moca Cola sign in almost every episode. And Keith obsesses over gumbo, going so far as to hide out in a town known for it. Since this was created for Netflix, I wonder if this mix of Western European and United States details was deliberate on their part, going for familiar aesthetics to help catch the eye of people who normally don’t watch anime? Or maybe they just thought it’d be cool to mix all this stuff together. Either way, it makes Cremona an interesting setting, and it’d be cool to see it used again. Things get resolved well enough, but there’s always room for something else to pop up.
Hey, they called it The Beginning, and it does feel like the first season of a potentially longer procedural series. It has the cast of eccentric cops and weird speculative stuff that can be expanded upon. The Beginning might not be the greatest, but it has a lot of potential if they go there again. I’d be down for it.