So many of Manga's releases nowadays are half-series box sets with relatively similar themes, so another featuring a cute gun-toting anime girl is unlikely to turn many heads. However, Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is more than it may first appear, even if originality isn't exactly its strongest hand.
The story starts with a young Japanese tourist waking up in a
seemingly abandoned factory with no memory of who he is or where he came from
and finding himself fighting for his life against a mysterious gun-wielding masked
but desperate to survive, he fights back against his assailant and is given an
ultimatum - he can join her as an assassin, or she can end his life then and
there. His desire to live overcoming his revulsion at killing others the
man agrees, and so starts his training at the hands of his erstwhile attacker Ein. Now known as Zwei, the young man trains in all forms of combat and
assassination techniques for his new handlers, the ambitious underground
organisation Inferno. Inferno intends to unite the American underworld,
and Ein - under her codename Phantom - is their top assassin and one of their most potent weapons.
Like Zwei she has no memory of who she is or where she comes from, and she has
abandoned her humanity in order to become the perfect killing machine.
However, her loyalty to her handler, the creepy (and stupidly named) Scythe
Master, is causing concern within Inferno, and the addition of another
deadly, brainwashed assassin to his personal entourage could cause a power shift which they are keen to control.
Scythe Master's immediate superior Claudia McCunnen is wary of his ambition, but
needs Phantom in order to maintain her influence within Inferno. She and
Scythe secretly wage a battle of wits against each other with Ein and Zwei in
the middle, whilst Zwei begins to grow increasingly closer to the emotionless
Ein. Zwei has never lost his curiosity about who he is, whilst Ein has
thrown away her past in order to deal with the emotional trauma of being an
assassin. Zwei wants to rediscover his and Ein's past, but doing so could
put him at odds with both his master and the organisation. As plots begin
to swirl around them can he reach his goals? And if he does will he be
able to deal with the trauma of his actions?
Brainwashed, young female assassins are hardly fresh ground for anime, so the question is whether Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom can do anything that hasn't already been done by the likes of Noir or Manga's previous release Gunslinger Girl. On the surface a lot of elements seem eerily familiar. Ein, much like Noir's Kirika, is a beautiful young woman without memories, a subdued personality and incredible combat skills. She even looks similar. Like Gunslinger Girl's young assassins Ein is something of a blank
slate, a weapon shaped by her handler. There are numerous parallels to be drawn within the story too, but in a way doing so does the series something of a disservice. Whilst the main storyline may not always be original and the characters somewhat clichéd, the series as a whole is a pretty classy affair.
The production values are pretty high, with some superb art,
music and animation, whilst the storyline - despite being formulaic in places -
is both engaging and pretty dark. The English dub is also excellent, I
usually prefer watching anime that is set in America or Europe in English
provided they get the accents right, and Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom
does a good job of it. For me there are several things I really liked
about the series so far, firstly I liked the fact that it is very character
focused. The series revolves strongly around Zwei and spends several
episodes showing his training with Ein, it also shares his emotional trauma at
becoming a killer and how he reconciles himself with it. His development
and interactions with Ein are the most intriguing aspect of the series, like Ein
he starts to become an emotionless blank slate to deal with his actions, but
unlike Ein he is given the chance to rediscover his past. Ein has used her
lack of a past as a tool to deal with her actions, having no knowledge of a life
that doesn't involve killing has enabled her to kill without remorse. Zwei
knows that by learning of his past he will have to face what he has become, but
he still wants to know. Ein has been an assassin longer than him, and
doesn't want to face her past. Subconsciously she is scared that trying to
reconcile her life as an assassin with who she used to be will destroy her, and
throwing away her personality and free will is a small price to pay to avoid
this. Zwei sees in her what he could become and knows that she will never
be herself unless she faces her past. He wants to save her, but how can
you save someone who doesn't want to be saved?
It's the relationship between Ein and Zwei that forms the heart of the series, and this emotional heart is intertwined with the intrigue of the power struggle between Claudia and Scythe Master. The mafia storyline refreshingly doesn't pull its punches, showing the true horror of gang war as Ein and Zwei are used to kill the families of rival gang bosses and kill witnesses. In places it's quite uncomfortable viewing, which is a sign of how effectively it sets up some of its darker moments. Strangely what lets it down on occasion, apart from the
originality issues, is the anime tropes it sometimes employs. Whilst it thankfully shies away from comedy, it does let itself down by making the head of Inferno a typical effeminate, long haired anime pretty boy and Claudia a sexy blonde with a colossal chest. It seems out of kilter with the gritty atmosphere of the series to have these stereotypical anime characters in positions of major power, especially when neither of them look like proper gangsters.
In fairness these minor issues and even the relatively unoriginal setup is more than overcome by the sheer quality of the series. Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is a slick and engrossing anime series with a fair few twists and some fantastic action sequences. In places it's unsettling, but the darkness is somewhat refreshing and there's an air of sophistication about the whole series despite the often archetypal characters. The series never gets bogged down in all of its schemes and plots, keeping the relationship between Ein and Zwei firmly at its heart throughout. It's this character focus that allows the series to retain its identity despite the clichéd premise, and whilst the events at the end of the volume may not have been the most unexpected the change in the dynamic between the central characters should make the second half of the series every bit as engrossing as the first. Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom deserves to be measured on its own merits, and on that basis it's a thoroughly engaging series that you really should check out.
Some decent extras on offer, alongside the usual clean opening and ending sequences there are six 'picture dramas' where the Japanese voice actors provide dialogue over a series images. These dramas provide an irreverent comedy aside to the main series, with stories such as Zwei learning to act, Inferno's top brass holding a party and Scythe Master getting drunk. Despite the fact the comedy wouldn't have worked in the series itself it works quite well in this extra, and with each episode clocking in at over 6 minutes long a combined 40-odd minutes of extras is nothing to be sniffed at.