Jormungand + Jormungand: Perfect Order
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 agencies as most of her work is actually illegal under international law. Travelling 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.
Ah, the manly anime action series! Oh how we've missed thee! The winds and waves of popular trend have moved against thee but I have not forgotten thy silly violence and overcooked story lines; I have not forgotten that there was a time when there were shows without moe girls and cute comedy! If you are new to anime then you might not know that time was 2006 and the glorious release of the wonderful Black Lagoon. I am being facetious, of course, but it is certainly true that the tide has turned against the mature action show (ones not written by Gen Urobuchi, of Madoka and Fate/Zero fame, anyway) and many would argue this is not for the better. I am one of them. While the genre is filled with duds, the genre does not lend itself to the vapidity of modern moe in the same way. Shows like Black Lagoon, Gunslinger Girl and Gungrave successfully balance being thrilling and exciting with exploring interesting themes that anime's standard high school setting isn't equipped for. That all said you haven't come to read a treatise on the state of modern anime but to read a review of Jormungand, a show that doesn't live up to the best of its genre.
I mentioned Black Lagoon before because, in many ways, it is the show that Jormungand bears the closest resemblance. Both shows revolve around an outsider of sorts ending up part of an organisation that deals in an illegal activity - smuggling in the former show and black market arms dealing in the latter - they both have close knit and dedicated teams; they both run in a multi episodic manner to deliver their story arcs; they have similar styles of soundtrack and both shows attempt to explore the human consequences of being involved in the shadowy side of society. I suspect that these similarities are not coincidental. To be fair to the show, these similarities never put it into the realm of plagiarism and if you're planning to go in a similar direction to another very good series then it makes sense to use some of the same effective trappings. The problem lies in that Jormungand never uses them correctly.
Black Lagoon understood that the only way you can get away from having such morally repugnant characters is to give the audience another reason to want to watch them other than sympathy. Black Lagoon's answer was to make them Chow-Yun Fat level bad-asses (to the point of having a character who is basically Chow-Yun Fat) who are awesome to watch, easy to recognise and easy to enjoy - therefore we care about them to a degree. Jormungand, however, seems to play most of its characters pretty straight - Koko's team is a collection of efficient, well-organised but otherwise fairly ordinary soldiers as compared to Black Lagoon's gun-toting nuns, battle maids and flamboyant gangsters. It's not a bad choice to avoid Black Lagoon's self-conscious humour, it certainly sets it apart from Black Lagoon, but Jormungand tries to have it both ways. It avoids all the outrageous elements but still tries to be funny and a bit crazy with some of their odd antagonists and plot elements - meaning it neither has the down-to-earth intensity of a John le Carré style spy thriller or the outrageous thrill of a John Woo action flick. Also Koko's team never feels mortal; the show will spend episodes building up a threat and yet the antagonists will flounder as soon as they come into contact with Koko's super soldiers. There is never a sense of danger which disqualifies the show from any sense of realism. I'm sorry Jormungand, you can't just be sorta kooky - you have to play your premise Gunslinger Girl straight or Black Lagoon insane else you end up with the problem the series has. If a show has inhumane characters then it better go to great effort to humanise them or else make them so cool that I just don't care they are unrealistic and also don't make them come across as inhumanly good unless you've got the style to make that sort of thing interesting.
That all said Jormungand is more disappointing than truly bad. The action scenes are pretty decently choreographed and the militaristic style which they often take is different and effective for the most part. They could have been better if it felt more like there was something seriously at stake but it works as it is. The various plots and challenges the team faces are certainly not boring either despite also lacking in threat. As for characters, Koko and Jonah are by far the most interesting and the best developed people in the show. Koko's ever-smiling façade balances well with her cold, broken interior and poses an interesting inversion to Jonah's cold, emotionless exterior that hides an optimistic and caring heart. Koko's flamboyance also keeps things interesting while she is on screen and her schemes and power-plays are at least as enjoyable as the action scenes. I will also give the show kudos for avoiding the standard action girl cliché for its female soldiers i.e. the slim, beautiful but yet incredibly strong girl who can fight alongside the boys. Jormungand's soldier girls are built like soldiers, often unflatteringly muscular and ripped (unless you like that kind of thing). It's one of those trappings that could have made this an interesting, straight take on the kind of thing that Black Lagoon has gloriously glamorised over half a decade before. Overall the show has a strange but not altogether ugly look to it, lacking a bit in flair and character compared to the beautiful and interesting settings of some of the aforementioned shows, and the music is a good quality if a little lacking in variety.
In the end I could never really get into this show. It does its action scenes well and the two main protagonists are interesting even if the side characters never really shine but the tone is all wrong: is it a no holds barred action thrill ride or a serious look at the arms dealing industry? In the end it is neither and that is why I struggle to recommend it. It's pretty passable, even enjoyable, for the most part (if you ignore the last arc) but you can do better when looking for your action series. The makers could have done better too.
I am probably being generous but even with its problems this show is just about good enough to get an average score. Probably not for anyone but the avid action fan though. — Aiden Foote
Recommended Audience: Just in the vein of its genre, this show is dark, violent and morally objectionable in all the ways you might expect from a show about arms dealers. Also a bit of inexplicit nudity and lesbianism.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital Source
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Jormungand + Jormungand: Perfect Order © 2012 Keitaro Takahashi / Shogakukan / project JORMUNGAND
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