For a time, I was concerned about Anime’s place on Netflix. Mainly, big seasonal shows like Fate: Apocrypha and Kakegurui were being licensed, but not released until the entire series was concluded. Granted, I’m not too crazy about Kakegurui now that I have it, but this was still a sign of Netflix’s misunderstanding of how the Anime community consumes the medium. However, as time has passed, my worries are slowly being erased completely.
Viral hits like Musaka Yuuasa’s recent Devilman: Crybaby or any of the many Polygon Pictures shows are being released all at once exclusively on Netflix. There are still hurdles though, like Violet Evergarden apparently being on Netflix in every other country besides America. Regardless, they are producing a ton of new shows and one recent addition to the roster may have been exactly the type of show that I have been waiting a while for.
Production I.G. is most known- to me at least- for high concept action/science fiction shows like Ghost in the Shell and Pyscho-Pass. These are among my favorite works of fiction, combining elements of police procedural, protagonists atypically mature for the medium and equally mature narratives. B: The Beginning, their latest machination, manages to harken back to these elements, while also merging multiple distinct genres into a tight 12 episode series.
In the fictional nation of Cremona, a mysterious murder named “Killer B” has been hunting down known criminals, leaving an insignia behind. Lily Hoshina of the Royal Investigation Service is assigned to the case, not realizing that the killer is her friend, a boy named Koku. She arrives on the scene of his latest work, where she meets Keith Flick, an eccentric investigator returning to fold after 10 years.
Koku and Keith Flick. Connecting their stories are the criminal acts of a mysterious organization sewing discord throughout the nation, employing killers who possess supernatural abilities. The three sides seek each other out in pursuit of their own goals, with the whole country in the crossfire. Keith searches for answers regarding a case that has haunted him for years, and Koku searches for the memories he has lost and the friends that were taken from him.
B: The Beginning is a merger of a police drama and a sci-fi action show. As stated, the former brings to mind Psycho-Pass and Ghost in the Shell. This half of the show focuses mostly on Keith’s search for the murderer he has been chasing, as well as an investigation into the organization wreaking havoc in the nation. A crew of police officers of various skills working together to catch criminals is always a win in my book and these characters hit the bullseye in that regard.
Keith Flick won me over pretty early on with his hard on sleep demeanor balanced with an underplayed zaniness that I found refreshing for his type. Likewise, I’m always game for shows featuring older protagonists when so much of anime has put adolescent characters at the forefront. Keith has the intelligence of a Sherlock Holmes and watching him utilize it was awesome. He’s cool and composed but has a lighter side that sets him apart from similar protagonists like Kogami from Psycho-Pass. His relationship with Lily brings out the sincerity lying behind that cold grimace.
Lily herself is hilarious, lively, and the perfect counter-weight to Keith. She is not too smart, but apart from one very compromising mistake later in the season, she has great intuition and proves to be a competent officer. She provides a new perspective that helps Keith solve the case. I wish more time was spent developing her, her family and especially her relationship to Koku, the Killer B.
It is acknowledged very early on that they know each other, but we are never given reason to believe they have a deeper relationship, despite that they live in the same place (I think). Their bond is generally underutilized, which is a shame since it could have made for a greater connection between the police procedural half and the fantasy action half of the show. Regardless, Lily is a fun character that shines whether with Keith or not and I just wish we got to see more of her.
I was worried that B would suffer from the Psycho-Pass syndrome where the supporting cast barely gets enough screentime throughout the show. Some of their roles are even pretty one to one as far as similarity to Psycho-Pass. For instance, the blond who is the team’s super skilled hacker/ tech specialist or the younger, orange-haired investigator who discovers a horrible secret only to be a target of an attack within the department.
Not every member shares those kinds of similarities, thankfully, and overall B manages to juggle all those characters a bit better in just 12 episodes than Psycho-Pass did in 22, even if some of the latter had stronger character arcs all around. Kaela, Boris, and Eric are all fun characters, with only Mario and Brandon feeling a bit left out. I’m hopeful that will change in season two, should we be lucky to get one.
The other half of B’s plot is the action-centric plot involving Koku’s quest to uncover his lost memories and find his childhood friend Yuna. Since much of Koku’s story is reserved for the latter half of the series, it is hard to get into it without spoiling anything, but overall I really liked his story. The lore behind his powers is both interesting and heartbreaking given the circumstances of how they were acquired. Koku’s arc also delivered hands down the best action the show had to offer and the strongest aesthetic villains I’ve seen in anime in quite a while.
The problem with the villains is that there are a lot of them, and not all of them are super memorable. Some are so good that they were able to steal the show for an entire episode like Izanami in episode three, but others feel like they get nothing and then die off in an instant. I can forgive this happening to the supporting characters but in the case of the main villain, it seemed like there was missed potential.
B is the kind of show that seems to be aiming at different audiences simultaneously. It wants to offer a compelling drama led by some spectacular characters, but also a seinen action show with a stylized band of antagonists getting into cool fights with our young, cool protagonist every couple episodes.
Normally, I’d say this is a cause for concern, but the merging of the two genres is done really well and strangely enough, that might be because of how the show chooses to separate them. The best illustration of this is found in the finale, where both of the shows genres are given their own separate plotlines to wrap up the show. For Keith and the RIS, there is a dialogue-heavy confrontation with that arc’s chief antagonist. For Koku, there is a climactic action scene that would be the fitting conclusion to any of my favorite action shows.
What B: The Beginning had to do to merge these worlds was already accomplished through the world building and the characters’ motivations and relationships. It’s the best of both worlds and I never felt like one was being abandoned for the other. I’m unsure how future seasons will continue to develop the story and how these two genres will merge, but seeing such a creative mixture of what would typically just be separate ideas for shows really impressed me.
From a technical perspective, B is absolutely gorgeous. B’s director, Kazuto Nakazawa, was the man who directed the animated sequence in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1. Here, he not only directed alongside Yoshiki Yamakawa (Little Busters, Dan Machi) but also serves as the character designer and his work is phenomenal. The last show I remember watching with his character designs was Zankyou no Terror and despite my gripes with that show, it was beautiful.
There is a beautiful balance between realistic looking figures, faces, and limbs, but also the expressiveness of the characters. The artwork and environments look gorgeous as well. The nation of Cremona is a blend of European and Japanese architecture that feels like a Ghibli film while still maintaining a modern feel.
Fight choreography and direction were both big boons for this series. Every major beat of Koku’s story was accentuated by at least one impressive fight. In fact, the animation throughout, whether fight or character animation, was consistent and clean throughout. If Netflix plans to keep releasing Anime like this all at once, with Blu-ray-release-level quality, then I have no worries for the future of Anime on the platform.
Keeping with Production I.G. tradition, there is CG, but the implementation never feels out of place. In the same way that Ghost in the Shell only used CG for helicopters, the Tachicomas, or other mechanisms, B only uses it for vehicles. You won’t get instances where characters are CG, like in some shows. The creators found one aspect to make CG and stuck with it.
Lastly, I was never really impressed with the music in B: The Beginning. Sometimes it could elicit an emotional response out of me, but the soundtrack never really was anything to write home about. The ending theme, on the other hand, was addicting as hell, and I always turned off Netflix’s “Next episode” countdown so I could listen to it. On the flipside, there is only a 15 second opening with some interesting graphic design, but you’ll just end up wishing you were listening to the ending theme.
As for the sub versus dub, I watched with sub by default, although the small doses of the dub I have listened to were pleasing, so if you want t give it a go, feel free to leave a comment as to what you thought of it.
B: The Beginning felt like the kind of cool action show that I’d catch on Adult Swim when I was younger. I end up feeling that way with a lot of shows from Production I.G. and as I bide my time for a new Ghost in the Shell series or the recently announced new trilogy of Psycho-Pass films, this was exactly what I needed from I.G. B: The Beginning has a modern appeal, but it also captures the heart of Anime from the 90s and early 2000s. It may only be March, but I’ve already found a contender for best drama of 2018. Let’s see what the rest of the year offers.
B: The Beginning is available for legal streaming on Netflix
Like my review? If you’ve seen the show already, what did you think? Leave a comment below and tell me what shows you have been watching and what you would like to hear my thoughts on.
As for other content going forward, I’m hoping to review Violet Evergarden when that releases on Netflix in the US this April. Also, while I do not want to commit to any other big projects just yet, I would love to do a month where I review entries in the Fate series, as it is a franchise I’ve become quite fond of as of late.
Thanks for reading and as always, I’ll see ya next time!