Phantom (Japan 2004)

Rating: **

A grim and violent tale of love and death in the vein of "La Femme Nikita" (1990). Ein is the best female assassin in the business, trained to perfection and brainwashed for loyalty and subservience. When a young man named Zwei witnesses her in action and pinpoints her location from a remarkable distance, he is captured and given two choices: to become an assassin like Ein, or be killed. He reluctantly chooses the former, and soon his abilities equal those of Ein's. As they go on more missions together, a forbidden longing surfaces between them, which is amplified by their disguise as young lovers on a date at the mall. Just when their love is starting to bloom, Ein is kidnapped by the mad scientist that created her, and Zwei is ordered to take her down. This creates a serious conflict of interests for our young protagonist, and the outcome can only be tragic and dreary.

First of all, this is not what I expected. My understanding of the series is that it was based on a girls with guns video game, and having a male lead character was seriously disappointing. Thankfully, he's not nearly as annoying as he could have been, and he actually becomes rather endearing towards the end. For me, the show is all about Ein, and apart from her rather unattractive wardrobe, she's awesome. The gunplay is nicely bloody and satisfying, and the hand to hand combat sequences are surprisingly hard hitting. Ein's fierce determination lends a healthy sense of intensity to the action, and you can expect a lot of furrowed brows, narrowed eyes, and grimacing scowls from the show. Unfortunately, the series falls apart in the animation department, and WAY too many shortcuts are taken. Sometimes entire sequences are made up of lingering static images that overstay their welcome. While the character designs for Ein and Zwei are pretty good, their noses have a considerable, and distracting, Satoshi Urashihara influence. The series could have easily slipped into tasteless "adult" territory (which was a constant fear of mine), but fortunately stays clean and innocent in the romance department. Well paced, compelling, and engaging, but sadly derivative and cheap looking.