Genre(s): Drama, Mystery
Director: Shingo Kaneko
Studio: J.C. Staff
Number of (Anime) Episodes: 26
Licensed? Yes (FUNimation)
Who are the "Blade Children"? That's exactly what Japanese teenager Ayumu Narumi sets out to discover in the 2003 25-episode mystery anime Spiral. This is a show with a variety of themes, including hope, self-confidence, fate, and (perhaps most importantly) TURTLENECKS! But looking beyond the superficial fashion commentary, Spiral is more than just a confusing mystery show. It's a confusing mystery show that seems to have everyone from the viewers to the characters to even the writers confused from the first episode straight into (and indeed beyond) the lackluster finish.
Ayumu Narumi is just your average teenage genius piano player with crazy hair and a mysterious background. His older brother Kiyotaka (also a piano virtuoso) disappeared, leaving only a mysterious message for his fiancee Madoka and brother Ayumu: "I have left to pursue the mystery of the Blade Children." This setup starts off the plot of the Spiral anime, based on a 2000 manga written by Kyou Shirodaira and illustrated by Eita Mizuno. Madoka is a detective, and Ayumu (now living with his sister-in-law) is a kid detective who solves random problems using his SUPERIOR intellect. Oh, you can already see where it's going I'm sure. When a girl falls off the top of the school building with nearly fatal consequences, Ayumu is falsely accused of the attempted murder. Soon, though, in classic kid detective style, he's already solved the case and figured out who the real murderer is. However, Ayumu soon finds that this mysterious murderer is also somehow connected with the Blade Children.
Now determined to find out more about these mysterious "Blade Children," Ayumu enlists the help of the infamous and energetic school journalist, Hiyono Yuizaki. Together, the two look into various crimes and murders around their school and town, and begin to suspect Blade Children involvement in all of the events. Not long after (seriously, only about a couple episodes in), Ayumu meets these murderous Children. They quickly challenge him to intellectual battles of life and death, claiming that he is the only one who can save them from their "curse." Beyond that, the story spirals out of control (no pun intended), changing around one's perceptions of good guys and bad guys while Ayumu and Hiyono continue to play mind games posed by every enemy they encounter.
The primary thing to remember when watching Spiral is that this is not a show that really likes to give answers. But one thing it does like to give? Monologues. Whether it's the bad guy who is about to kill Ayumu, or Ayumu who is about to outsmart the bad guy, there must be someone giving a soliloquy at all times. The funny thing is, as much as these characters talk, they never really say very much. Sure there's some kind of interesting talk about faith in yourself, the "happiness of those who believe," and never giving up (not the most original morals to be sure), but what I really started to want after a while was just an explanation of who or what those goddamn Blade Children are. I hope I'm not spoiling the ending for you when I tell you that you won't find that out from this anime.
Okay, so the story doesn't give you any answers. Is there still some interesting stuff going on? The answer to that particular question is a hesitant "yes." It is clear from the first few episodes that Spiral's primary goal is to be a more sophisticated version of Detective Conan. It attempts to create that experience with a series of attempted (and some successful) murders, life-or-death games, and other mind-bending challenges for Ayumu and Hiyono to go through. Of course, these are often quite over-the-top, but who really cares if you could really kill someone by filling a room with carbon dioxide, or if you could stop a shooting with the heat distortion from hundreds of candles? These are cool ideas, however lame their implementation turns out to be.
As if to remind us of the futility of escaping a spiral, director Shingo Kaneko utilizes repetition as his main storytelling device. Yes, I get it: it's funny that Hiyono is so energetic but Ayumu is really deadbeat. Yes, the Blade Child Rio is cute and she gets excited over eating melons, which is also cute. Yes, Ayumu is really, really cool if he constantly repeats that "the melody of logic always plays the notes of truth." And of course, the only way we'll ever understand the story is if the same catchphrases are repeated every other episode.
To top off the toothless story, Spiral is full of more ridiculous unexplained events than an episode of Lost. Why don't the police investigate things like exploding hotels or the disappearance of their chief? Why does Ayumu stop saying his catchphrase after three episodes? Why are BLACK TURTLENECKS so popular? Heady questions all.
If only the animation made up for Spiral's plot (or lack of such). Sadly, studio J.C. Staff provides lackluster art to compliment the thoroughly lackluster story. All of the characters have similar designs, right down to their nearly identical eyes and generic faces. Costume designs look like something the over-caffeinated intern thought up when, at 1AM, his superior told him to "draw something cool." To top it all off, there is a bit more reused animation than I felt comfortable with. None of this is to say that the animation in Spiral is bad, per se. The problem is that, like the rest of this show, the animation just does not provide anything stimulating or interesting in any way.
Luckily for this severely miscalculated show, FUNimation was able to infuse some semblance of life into it with their moderately good dub. Most of the actors are merely passable--notably Daniel Katsuk as Ayumu and John Burgmeier, pulling off a close-but-not-quite British accent as Blade Child Eyes Rutherford. Of course, some are downright annoying (Kaitlin Glass, trying a bit too hard as Hiyono). Nevertheless, Monica Rial gives a nice contrast of creepy and cute as Rio Takeuchi, Greg Ayres keeps his cool as Kousuke Asazuki, and Voice Director/Actor Chris Bevins provides Kanone Hilbert with an appropriately chosen Southern American accent.
It's a shame that Spiral suffers most from tone, since that is the only thing that could have possibly saved it from being a bad show. When not a single character takes death or violence seriously, it's hard to take the show itself seriously. This clearly is not a kids' show, but with the sugar-coating of things like exploding buildings and murdered schoolteachers, it's hard to see where its audience would sway. This isn't helped at all by the melding of shonen character tropes and shojo-friendly pretty-boy character designs. Spiral essentially tries to please everyone and ends up barely satisfying anyone.
What begins as a mindful, character-based mystery show ends as a lesson in mindless, characterless mystery. Even though the FUNimation Veridian Collection boxset is cheap and seems like an impulse buy for a 26-episode series, there really isn't very much bang for the average anime fan's buck. What could have been a mildly entertaining 13-episode series was stretched into a 26-episode borefest that will make you feel as if you just wasted a full 10 hours of your life. The only saving grace of the set is the inclusion of two commentary episodes with all of the principal voice actors. Their humorous observations and the fun they poke at their own show are really the most entertaining things in the whole box. So, what's the final verdict? Although Spiral preaches the "happiness of those who believe," believing in the virtues of this anime will lead to nothing but sadness.
Release Quality: 2.5