Jormungand is good.

Or at least S1 is. In my opinion, most of what made S1 really fun to watch (and listen to) disappeared in S2. I gorged myself on S1 with a thrill in my heart and a smile on my face only rivaled by that amazing smile blanketing Koko Hekmatyar’s fascinating countenance! I couldn’t get enough of it! Then I got to S2 with cautious hope—change of seasons can negatively impact shows—and I was fairly disappointed. 

My conclusion is this: this show was just accidentally great for a while. This probably happens more often than we think, but this one made the mistake of not realizing what made it good, thereby losing some of its quality as it progressed. So while I definitely enjoyed this show and would jump sky high if a S3 was announced, this is definitely a tale of two seasons, and a somewhat disappointing miss by the producers as a result.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 7

I’d give a higher rating but for what will be the common theme in this review: the authors didn’t realize what was making their creation great. The same follows for the characters.

When I started this series, I was enthralled, in the truest sense of that word, with the ineffable smile on Koko Hekmatyar’s face. It excited emotions in me that I didn’t know how to identify or describe. Paired with that fantastic opening, I was sold on this character, and I couldn’t get enough of her speeches and mysteries and behaviors, all the inexplicable motives hiding behind that vicious smile. I was thrilled to no end.

That smile almost completely disappeared in S2. This is the biggest reason I say the authors didn’t seem to recognize what was making this show great. Because it wasn’t just Koko’s facial expression; that smile embodied a lot of her character, hiding mysteries we got the merest hints of scattered throughout the first twelve episodes. And once that trailed away in S2, a lot of her character went with it, as did much of the interest factor in the story.

It’s pretty unusual for one character to have that much impact on a show, and particularly when it’s just a single aspect of a character causing most of that impact. I found that fascinating as I watched S1. I liked the smile, but it wasn’t in the way one might think. “Must protect the smile” people say. This wasn’t like that at all. It was impossible to describe, unless it was just the thrill of the fight or something akin to that. My blood pumped faster and my senses heightened. And what’s more, I knew it was the smile that caused it. I realized there was more to it than just that—that this single aspect of Koko carried more weight than just physical appearance—but I recognized that the smile was at the heart of all the interest I was experiencing, and that without it, this show would not be what it was becoming. 

On one level, I can’t help but compliment the authors of this tale who envisioned such a character that could have such a drastic effect. But on the other hand, I am most disappointed that they didn’t realize what it took a single episode for me to understand. They let this part of her character evaporate in S2, and the show lost more than they could have imagined.

That aside, Koko is a strange character. While a teenage girl is never out of place in any role in anime it seems, arms dealer was a new one to me. She doesn’t overdo it either. Her subtle emotions and eccentric outbursts are thrilling, inspiring, and chilling all at once, evoking a sense of power and exciting the senses. But it’s never in your face. While I like when powerful female characters show forth their power (and we see a bit of that in this series, and it’s amazing!), Koko’s obvious reticence is mysterious and highly intriguing, almost adding another layer to the sense of power we perceive from her. Her entirely white appearance is intriguing as well. She’s very much in contrast with everyone and everything around her. Her cohorts are sunburned and muscular hard-asses, every last one of them (Jonah’s muscles excepted), and they’re clad in black or various military colored outfits. Koko wears white, has deathly white skin, and white hair. The name “Hekmatyar” is likely truly “Caucasian” in origin, a term which geographically refers to a region from East Europe to North Africa and the northern parts of the Middle East, despite most people’s common understanding of that word. So her family is perhaps Persian in origin, or thereabouts, and it’s conceivable that she could have this combination of hair color and skin tone. But it adds a ton to her mystery, even if we realize it doesn’t have any bearing on the story overall.

I really like her character, and she’s everything to this anime. I’m very disappointed how her character was handled in S2, and so I lost a lot of interest in this show. Koko Hekmatyar from S2 is a somewhat unusual and narcissistic quasi-maniac, just tipping the scale above average as a character. Koko Hekmatyar from S1 is almost beyond description as a character, having the potential to topple names like Revy (Black Lagoon), General Esdeath (Akame ga Kill!; she resembles Koko more than a little), and Motoko Kusanagi (Ghost in a Shell) from the top of the badass female list. If there’s a S3, and she returns to that glorious S1 form, she’ll be a top 10 female character all time in my book.

As far as badass females go, she at least has competition within her own series however. Omg, Sofia Velmer. My adoration of this character comes mostly from the muscles and the zero bullshit tolerance level, but the rest most assuredly comes from her VA: Sayaka Ohara, best known as another of the greatest badass characters in anime, male or female, Erza Scarlet. I adore Erza beyond words, so pretty much anything Ohara-san touches will go up that much more in my estimation just because of her voice. If I was disappointed in Koko in S2, at least Velmer remained consistent. While not forefront very often, she’s such a beast, serving as Koko’s direct lieutenant and empowered with tons of authority therefore, it makes me sweat just thinking about how tough a boss this girl is!

Yet there’s almost an even better hidden gem in this show among the badass females. Chequita is impossible not to love! Where Koko’s unearthly smile disappeared in S2, at least Chequita’s impassive gaze never wavered. I love this character. The wry and emotionless smile is ever present on her face, with just a few exceptions at key moments. It’s her normal face, and I love it. 

She’s a warrior. She’s usually the tallest person in the room. And even though her face never changes, you can tell that she knows how strong she is, and that there’s never a single hulk-bodied, testosterone laced man in the room that can go toe-to-toe with her. Ever watched how people walk around her? She never moves. She’s a rock, her smile never leaving her face, her feet never turning to follow a speaker. Just her eyes. Which brings me to my favorite thing about this character, something that’s not super obvious: watch her eyes. Watch them very carefully whenever she’s around. She’s always looking at the most important thing in the scene, the one thing everyone should be looking at. That might be Kasper or Koko or Jonah or Karen or George Black, etc., or it might be an object, but if you watch her carefully, her eyes will tell you what’s really going on in a scene, because she sees it even if no one else does. It’s fantastic! She’s one hell of a badass bitch, and I say that in a 100% positive sense!

The badass ladies don’t stop there! But I won’t intoxicate myself further with tons of details now. I love these types of female characters, admiring their strength and courage and power. It’s always a thrill for me, and Jormungand does not disappoint in this regard!

Take her advice.

Jonah’s name is interesting in context, given legends of sea monsters and all that in this show. I wonder if they authors knew this when making this choice? I have to imagine they did. The best part about him is most certainly his interaction with Koko. They’re like a pair. Her mysterious countenance bumping against his blank but curious visage is really entertaining just to look at. Their dialogue and other interactions aren’t super interesting, but just watching them interact is enough. 

Jonah is an observer type MC if ever there was one. He has the least dialogue of any character, and only partly because he’s not conversational or emotional. He’s absolutely there just as a participant, our means as viewers of looking into the dealings of Koko Hekmatyar and company. Such being the case, there’s not a lot to him. And that’s fine; observer characters usually aren’t particularly developed. But he’s fun. Or at least, it’s fun to watch the ladies cuddle him and release a bit of their sexual feelings on him. You know he can hold his own, so it’s not exactly like the big girl chasing the shouta like in the memes. He’s the one person that draws emotion out of Chequita too. That scene is so fun when he quits Kasper’s team and Kasper just lets him leave, as Chequita grits her teeth, abandons the smile, and repeatedly punches and kicks the back of Kasper’s seat in their car, wanting him to insist that Jonah stay with them. The child-soldier thing is a bit edgy, but I get it here. If nothing else, he’s a shounen protagonist type, and therefore can’t be anything but diminutive and nearly middle school. And while I understand this is technically seinen, he has that shounen feel. So it works.

Most of the other characters just provide support. They come and go quickly. A lot of the antagonists meet their deaths within a few episodes, which is a little unusual even in gun anime like this. They’re introduced, make a little noise, then get shot or stabbed or bombed. I guess most of the antagonists end up like this, but some of them survive nonetheless. Scarecrow and Schokolade are a funny pair, kind of reminding me of Isaac and Miria in Baccano! Scarecrow is a bitch unlike Isaac, but Schokolade is ditzy and full of odd sayings just as Miria is. Their miscommunications and eccentricities and fumblings are funny. And as her name sort of implies, she likes to eat, and the sweeter the better! Finally there’s George Black. George isn’t a very interesting character, though he is the main antagonist in many ways, but he has his role, and Tsutomu Isobe does a good job with his voice. You likely recognize him as another famous detective character Lunge from Monster.

A large cast, but the focus is so tight on Koko and those immediately around her, and the interesting characters are few enough, and interesting enough, that it’s easy to keep up with anyone worth keeping up with. Usually I don’t like when a show has tons of characters, but since this show does a good job keeping them straight in our minds, it isn’t a problem. I like this group. They could be better here and there, but they’re all pretty memorable in the end. They’ve definitely all “got a screw loose” like the subtitles say!

Artwork

Rating: 6

I like this kind of artwork, where the eyes are relatively narrow, the details are minimal, and shadowing, especially around the eyes, is extensive. But for this series, all the artwork is fairly ordinary. The personal details are entirely in the hair and shadowing (which includes muscles), but everything else is fairly plain. I think it’s effective for this show where otherwise it might be very blah, but plain is still plain. So I like it with some qualifiers.

The coloring is as I’d expect of a gun anime. And of seinen. Even sunlit scenes have a grayness about them. Aforementioned, Koko’s colorlessness is striking amidst the various colors we do see, and even among the grayness it’s pretty remarkable. I really do think her hair and skin tones are exactly the same. It works.

The guns have the most detail. This is definitely one of those shows where everything that isn’t alive or isn’t a detailed structure looks very real. All the weapons have all the bells and whistles you’d expect such weapons to have (maybe the flying weapons such as helicopters and fighter jets are missing details, but I’ll leave that to the judgement of those more familiar with aerial combat than I). I can’t speak for every model of weapon we see, but I think there’s some real-world models mixed in there. It’s one of those things you look for in gun anime, and usually is pretty satisfactory, and Jormungand is no exception.

The best part about the artwork is the action. The designs and animation for these sequences are really good. I remember several of their engagements where a key action would take place in their battle and I’d think “wow!” If I’m getting those kinds of involuntary reactions to action sequences, I know they’re good. I’m hard to impress when it comes to most things, but certainly with anime action that’s definitely the case. The battle with Orchestra in S1 was really good, just how it germinated, how the initial combatants managed it, and how it unfolded all the way to its conclusion. The massacre of the militia group in Eastern Europe was pretty impressive, as was the snow battle where Velmer and Karen Lo settled their score. Velmer’s a monster by the way, if I didn’t mention that. Oh, and it’s not much of a battle, but Chequita’s kick that decks the assassin sent to kill Kasper is one of the bigger wow moments visually in the show. Ouch. The most fun battle was probably when Koko’s group was pitted against a special SEAL squad (probably fictional but probably based on one of their role-defined squads). It was nighttime so it was hard to see, but from an interest factor point of view that had a lot of excitement.

So the art has its good points, if overall it’s a bit ordinary. Still, the show is very visually impressive, even if I can’t accuse it of any great beauty. Personally I’m pleased by it, while recognizing it could be better in certain aspects.

Bet you didn’t think this show had a beach episode? You’d be wrong. Don’t trip over yourself getting there to watch it!

Story

Rating: 7

Probably the most interesting part of this story is that the meaning behind the title “Jormungand” isn’t revealed until S2. S2 followed S1 by only a few months, so people didn’t have to wait a very long in real time, but still, as I approached the end of S1 and still hadn’t heard the phrase mentioned, I was very curious.

“Jormungand” is the name of a snake-like sea monster from Norse mythology that encircles the “world,” the famous Midgard to the Norse peoples. In this series, ultimately it’s a codename for Koko’s quantam computer project that’s designed to control the air traffic on the planet, in an attempt to bring an end to warfare. Hence she plans to “encircle the world” with this technological item. This plays an interesting role in the show. First, it explains the mysterious opening lines of the series, where the narrator speaks of the sky being an unconquered realm or something like that. So the whole main thread of the series ends up being about Koko trying to take over the skies. But it also adds confusion to the show. For those not immediately aware of the origins of the Hekmatyar name in the real world (me), this title combined with Koko and Kasper’s extremely pale visages makes you think they’re Norse. The name “Hekmatyar” could seem Norse if you weren’t aware that it’s Caucasian. When curiosity finally prompts you to action and you learn the real-world origins of the Hekmatyar name, you realize they’re not Norse, and you wonder why the authors chose a Norse legend as the title of this show. Yes Jormungandr and Ragnarok and all that, but given that it adds confusion about Koko’s origins, it’s a little distracting.

But above all, its revelation as the central plotline in S2 is probably what causes the focus to shift so strongly from S1 to S2, and therefore contributes to the negative impacts I mentioned above. Suddenly this show goes from being about Koko and her mysteries and her various encounters (arc-like story structure) to everything being about the Jormungand project and various parties’ efforts to aid or derail it. The focus shifts from Koko and co. to the all the people involved in the Jormungand project, both for and against it. In other words, the story shifts just enough from a character-driven to a story-driven tale that it has a negative effect on Koko as a character, mentioned above. While the focus remains on the characters, enough focus is shifted to the storyline that the way we focus on the characters, and the the particular characters we focus on, shifts dramatically. A slight change causes a drastic effect. Yes the story is still about Koko, but not in the same way as in S1.

And it does a strange thing to Koko’s character. She goes from a gung-ho arms dealer to a mad scientist in pursuit of world peace. Perhaps there actually is consistency in her character between these two seasons, but the switch is so drastic once this motive is revealed in her, it seems contrived. Her behavior doesn’t change, but suddenly we realize she doesn’t really care much about any of the people around her, nor the kind of work she’s engaged in. It explains the meaning behind the title, but feels contrived. Perhaps this is actually a positive for her character artistically, but it feels weak, and I’m not a fan. 

I think the story is carefully crafted. I just think the decision to build up one kind of character in Koko and then shift it so drastically to a place we couldn’t see coming felt jarring, as if the story had gotten out of control and the authors needed an out. The introduction of the Jormungand plotline all the way in S2 exacerbates this feeling. However, I’m pretty sure most of this had been laid out in the story line even at the outset of S1, but for whatever reason the writers chose to bring it into focus in S2 instead of right away. It’s a curious decision and has a curious effect, and ultimately detracts from the show’s quality more than it adds. A plot thread that carries through the whole story ordinarily would be a big positive, especially if you can make everything that occurs connect with it somehow (and mostly the writers do here). But the way they chose to handle it in the anime feels a little poor somehow, and I will always associate that with this show.

Overall: 7

This show starts out like a boss with its characters and action and that crazy opening. If it didn’t devolve a little as it progressed, I would’ve said this was a top 10 seinen action/gun anime. But I think it ends up top 20 at most, and almost entirely because of how it lost sight of what made it good in S1. It feels like S1 was good by accident. And the more I think about it, the more I come to that conclusion. That in itself is pretty disappointing.

I should briefly compliment the dialogue. It’s better than is typical of anime. Most conversations are meaningful and relevant, and the things they say don’t seem contrived or forced. Their personalities come through in their own individual ways very well throughout their conversations. There’s some tough guy/girl lines, and they pull them off well. There’s some humorous lines, and they definitely will make you laugh. It’s decent quality, doesn’t rely on a lot of typical anime dialogue tropes, and it contributes nicely to the show.

The elephant in the room here is, of course, Black Lagoon, the ultimate gun anime in this genre. I immediately wanted to draw those comparisons as I watched this show. But to Jormungand’s credit, I think the comparisons should end at the genre level. This show likely isn’t imitating Black Lagoon. Sure there’s a commando style squad of bad guys and girls that travels their world and encounters adventures with various worse bad guys and girls than themselves, and the worse bad guys get the hell shot out of them and our MC bad guys only get shot in the ass, if at all. But that’s the way all shows of this kind are; even Cowboy Bebop is kind of that way, if one argues it touches on this genre. So I don’t see any need to compare this to Black Lagoon beyond genre. 

I’ve badmouthed this show a good bit, but overall I very much enjoyed it. S2 was pretty disappointing, but I also think that had more than a little to do with how amazing S1 was. You could only go downhill from S1! So maybe I expected too much and was therefore more heavily disappointed, and so my view of the whole show was dimmed too much. It’s a ton of rip-roaring fun, even if it gets off track as it progresses. It’s not as good as Black Lagoon—and I only make the comparison to that as the standard for this type of show—as one can never tire of watching Revy bitch about the world and pour lead from her Berettas (not to mention those thighs), but it will fire you up and spark that lust for battle in us, however small that instinct may be in a given individual. You won’t regret watching this show no matter how you feel about the shift from S1 to 2. 

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go!

2 Comments »

  1. This was a case where season 2 did take a more serious tone and became much more focused on a single story rather than the more episodic approach of season one but I kind of appreciated both seasons. While season 1 is more fun, season 2 has some very satisfying character moments and I like that it kind of brings the story to a conclusion.

    Liked by 1 person

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