You remember when I said Netflix original shows tended to be of generally well-made quality? I henceforth retract that statement.
Netflix, also known as that hobby people take up when they grow old in this day and age. It’s been making a splash in the anime community for a few years now, but 2017 was definitely the period when fans started raising their pitchforks towards it due to how it was licensing shows people were extremely hyped for like Little Witch Academia or Fate/Apocrypha. There’s not too much of a problem if you live in Japan because for some reason they can simulcast anime on that platform over there; but overseas, these hyped shows get taken hostage for months before they get released as part of what has infamously been called the Netflix binge-model. And sometimes the release schedules just don’t make sense. Why did it take Kakegurui more than four months to get released to the States after airing, and why did we have to wait so long for Little Witch Academia’s second half?
The point is that most anime fans prefer watching shows weekly within the day they come out as opposed to taking the entire thing in all at once months down the line. Yes this isn’t going to matter in the near future when the blu-rays come out and whatnot, but we just like staying in the present and we also have really short attention spans. We’ll easily move on to something else if we can’t get it, and it gets even more frustrating when you have anime like Violet Evergarden, which is getting simulcast in quite a few different countries except for the United States. How does that make any freaking sense whatsoever, especially since the existence of the English dub proves it’s ready for us? I dunno. I personally don’t have much stake in this since I’ve mostly given up on watching anime weekly for reasons I’ve already covered before, but that really freaking sucks.
But you know what doesn’t suck quite as much and actually might have a promising future? Netflix original anime. No not shows like Ajin where the company just takes an anime hostage and slaps a big “Netflix original show” label on it. I’m talking about anime specifically made for that platform by creators who see it as the new noitamina block now that the old one has become poisoned by self-insert wish fulfillment it so desperately once stood against. Shows where restrictions don’t exist and creativity is limitless.
I’ve yet to see much controversy on this besides the big one that I’ll get to later, and that’s mostly because there’s not much to really hate about anime that are immediately available right away for everyone. Yeah it’ll ruffle the feathers of some people who like the weekly watch, but if you can only enjoy anime that way, then there’s obviously something very wrong with you. Because if we go by that logic, how many critically acclaimed shows are you going to miss out on simply because you can’t be bothered to do a little binge-watching?
Game of Thrones is still going on strong, but how many current fans actually started with that show from the very first time it came out in 2011 and weren’t forced to sit through multiple seasons of exploitative sex and brutal decapitations in order to catch up to the season with Ed Sheeran in it? I fail to see how you have gone through life at this point without watching at least one original Netflix show given how House of Cards set the standard all the way back in 2013. And then of course, the very first phase of anime fandom is binge-watching multiple shows at once and either getting impressed by what they see or burnt out from all the crap they selected.
Some people say part of the anime fan life cycle is losing the ability to binge-watch and actively rejecting Netflix for creating that term due to how “marathoning” rolls off the tongue more. Sure, do whatever you want with your life, but unless you’re raising kids or something, I fail to see what else you’re going to accomplish with those few hours of free time. Solve world hunger? Watch that awful Cloverfield sequel? Yeah, very unlikely. And to be fair, the preliminary results of this attempt for Netflix to properly make its mark in the anime world have been promising.
Granted, said initial successes were more in vein of those western cartoons that try to ape anime as a style like Castlevania and that Voltron reboot with the former being the only one that’s had major attention drawn to it. Personally, I found both shows to be incredibly lacking, but even if I hadn’t, they weren’t exactly what I consider a gateway for anime’s future with Netflix for a host of reasons mostly related to how they weren’t really what I’d call anime despite articles saying otherwise.
But then Blame came out on the platform as the first anime produced solely for it, and while the film wasn’t exactly a hit, it found its audience in terms of being a well-made sci-fi and showed there was a future for original anime films produced for Netflix at the very least.
Next was Neo Yokio, which despite being a critical failure as well as a show very few people would say is actually good, ended up becoming one of the most powerful memes in the fandom to the point that there is a decent amount of demand for a second season as “good” as the first.
But of course, the big anime that truly opened up people’s eyes to Netflix-produced anime in terms of critical and commercial success was Devilman Crybaby, and do I really need to say anything else about that show at this point?
Well I will say that even though the show was a hit, it seemed like Netflix had simultaneously expended all the goodwill it had to offer the fandom because this is where that big controversy I mentioned earlier comes into play: none of the original anime that have come out on the platform since then have exactly been successful in terms of finding a dedicated audience or achieving any sort of popularity whether it be good or bad.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters was given a so-so critical reception and was poorly received by the fanbase.
AICO Incarnation has received no attention from any major news outlets or even many anime fans to begin with in addition to being an incredibly forgettable show in general.
But when it comes to under performing and outright sucking, both of these cartoons are outclassed by Production I.G.’s tenth attempt at becoming relevant in the eyes of the community as well as their tenth failure in doing so, B: The Beginning. It’s a show that not only fails to be entertaining, but fails to answer my question of why we even keep Production I.G. around in the first place.
Well okay they help out other studios quite a bit with some of the recent big hits like Attack on Titan and Ancient Magus’ Bride, as well as everyone’s favorite Toblerone advertisement. But when it comes to producing their own shows, their hit-and-miss ratio has leaned so far towards the latter that their upcoming adaptation of Legend of the Galactic Heroes is going to need to be as big as Black Panther in order to make up for it. Because not only is B: The Beginning a bad show, it’s one of the most creatively confused products I’ve seen in quite a while. I honestly have no idea what the creators were thinking with it. It’s like they watched that horrible Suicide Squad movie and thought it was the pinnacle of storytelling. And unlike Suicide Squad, I don’t see it winning any costume design awards anytime soon.
B: The Beginning is, according to official summaries, a procedural drama centered on an old fart coming out of retirement in order to pursue a serial killer with the help of a specialized police team. Given how some of Production I.G.’s more recognized critical darlings were also heavily focused on the police chasing down criminal masterminds, I guess it makes sense that for their first Netflix outing, they’d want to play things fairly safe whilst also making something that the elitist crowd on that platform will drool over. Because seriously, how many acclaimed procedural dramas are on Netflix at this point? And if the reception to Altered Carbon was anything to go by, we’re still going to be welcoming them for a long time.
I’d like to describe the plot in more detail, but that would require B: The Beginning to even consider meeting me at some point, let alone halfway. Because right from the very first episode, this simple premise becomes incredibly confusing and unfocused to the point that I’d have better luck trying to decipher the meaning of Jackson Pollock’s abstract art.
Is it meant to showcase his rage? Is it a prophecy of doom that he couldn’t say out loud to the world? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure I’d rather put hours into coming up with a bullshit theory on it than sitting through this crap. And speaking of art, let me just get out of the way first that B: The Beginning is not a very interesting show to look at. I’ve mentioned before how I wasn’t a big fan of Yuasa’s visuals for his Netflix outing because it looked kind of tired by his standards, but the artwork in this series would be tired by anybody’s standards let alone Production I.G. It has the same problem a lot of A-1 Pictures anime have in that it looks like a live-action series that they just threw an animation filter on and called it a day. Aside from some of the artistry used to make some uncensored stumps look pretty, I can’t think of one time the animation was actually used to tell the story. It’s nothing but a soulless aesthetic that isn’t nearly as pretty as most critics say it is.
But hey, if the story is good, I can overcome some soulless production as long as it isn’t a total energy drainer. Hell, I can get through a good chunk of the Persona 4 anime, and while the animation there was mostly energetic, it was also very obviously troubled. Unfortunately, I think even less effort was put into the writing than making the visuals bring said writing to life. In fact, the director for this show is the same guy who did the animations for Kill Bill as well as some other projects, and he has flat-out admitted in interviews that he’s more of an artist than he is a storyteller. And boy does that show.
I intended to make something of a dark hero story. First of all, I was ‘painting.’ I do not have a theory for fundamentally creating a theory of direction and story. I am not interested in that in the first place. I draw original drawings as drawings. I thought that drawing the screen itself is also about making any work, so I combine memory, experience, and technology inside of me. When the images float into my head, I’m going to make something that accompanies it. It was like a feeling. Finally, it seems like it’s painful to draw actions for a crime suspense. – Kazuto Nakazawa
First off, despite that deceptively simple premise, there’s barely any actual pursuit of the serial killer, and it doesn’t help that the identity of said killer is incredibly obvious, mostly due to the fact that his hair and wings match a certain someone in the promo art. And if you were watching the English dubbed version, you’d know who the killer is the moment that character spoke, because he’s voiced by Kyle McCarley, and pretty much every character I’ve ever heard sounding like 9S from Nier: Automata has been a young untrustworthy fuck with insecurity issues. So right away, we have zero tension in our main hook, and we’re not even putting all that much focus on our main hook because it turns out there’s another group of criminals who want the serial killer for their own agenda. Except they don’t mind putting off chasing said killer in order to screw with the police, because why not?
I’m honestly glad this show was available all at once so I could get all the pain over with quickly. When you rapidly introduce all of the important characters with very little background besides what you could gather from an instruction manual, only to have them go on tangents that don’t feel very connected to the main hook, I can only imagine the pain and frustration I would have felt if I was watching this show weekly. You guys know that after apparently seeing people’s confusion, Kyle McCarley tweeted that the show was made to be intentionally confusing for the first three episodes, but everything starts to make sense afterwards?
Okay Kyle, just because Netflix gives me the ability to digest the show all at once doesn’t mean that I don’t demand that every single episode of a series to be good, let alone hook me in right away. You do realize there’s a certain issue revolving around the majority of its original series called “Netflix bloat”, right? Have you seen the reaction to Jessica Jones’s second season as of late, let alone any of those Marvel series? Or how about the reaction to Sense8? House of Cards? Godless? Pretty much every original Netflix series that isn’t Stranger Things? And even if you haven’t, how many anime have there actually been that started off disorienting, but got better as they went along? Not a large number in my experience. Now answer me this: how many of them became good without making things clear by the third episode?
…okay there was that.
Yes that got good eventually too. But just because there are exceptions to the rule doesn’t change how it’s a fundamentally flawed way of storytelling, not helped by how anime has a long track record of getting addicted to habits, so even when things do improve, most of the annoying traits still remain. In B: The Beginning’s case, it’s mostly how I find the characters to be completely unengaging to the point that they’re not even worth going into detail about. Pretty much every single character can be defined with one generic sentence, and said sentences don’t play into the story in any way that goes beyond marking off a checklist. For example, it’s established early on that Keith has a secret past that compels him to hunt criminals. Unfortunately, because it’s so secret that he refuses to let it affect his present-day behavior beyond not getting close to others, we don’t have any context to care about him.
Oh wait, it’s not just that he refuses to open up to others. He also does this…
Leading to this…
Resulting in this…
Yeah I should also point out that I didn’t make that Suicide Squad reference in the beginning lightly. Have any of you guys actually seen that movie? Well if you haven’t, you should first know that it was really horrible; and secondly you should know that the reason it was horrible was because it was this strange combination of “trying too hard” and yet “not trying hard enough”, which is incidentally the best way to describe B: The Beginning as well. Both products have like five different tones going on at once to the point that it feels like twenty different writers worked on the script because nobody seemed to have any concrete idea which way the winds were blowing, and if anyone did, they didn’t want to step up and take charge. So you have these random comedic moments with Keith that in theory is supposed to warm us up to him, but in reality feels like I accidentally changed the channel from an HBO drama to Teen Titans Go, because it’s not funny and it doesn’t tell us anything about him that’s important to the story or his character.
And like I said, the characterization problems don’t stop with him. In fact, more than anything, I blame the majority of B: The Beginning’s problems on the antagonists and their piss-poor motivations. Normally I’d prefer to not spoil anything in my reviews, but let’s be honest, anyone who’s reading about this show at this point isn’t going to care so I might as well get it out of the way: the serial killer driving the story is not even an antagonist. He’s actually a protagonist that the good guys quickly sympathize with and help out in order to take down a group of lesser gimmick antagonists that are evil only for the sake of being evil and have no chemistry with our leads in the slightest.
To make things even lamer, his motivation for being a serial killer is because his female childhood friend is part of the actual antagonist team because she…got tricked into thinking evil was a good thing? The series doesn’t really make that plot point clear, but honestly, who cares? His motivation for doing things is because of a girl he liked before he hit puberty and hasn’t seen since. Do I even have to illustrate how lazy that is from a writing perspective, especially when said girl only has two modes when she’s on-screen: horrible fighter and fetishized victim? Oh, and the antagonists all have supernatural powers. It’s not explained very well and doesn’t add anything to the story other than an excuse for action scenes that are shot too wildly to appreciate, so why bother putting in more effort than the writers did in deciphering how they make sense?
If I know anything that separates the good police procedurals from the bad, it’s this: you need good clashing philosophies and chemistry between the protagonist and the antagonist to be recognized as quality. It’s like superhero films in that there has never been a single good police drama that didn’t have those elements, even if the two sides don’t physically meet each other for the majority of the run time. Just look at those Psycho-Pass sequels and the inevitably awful upcoming film trilogy if you want proof of what happens when the antagonist and the protagonist can’t keep a fair and interesting exchange for long periods of time, especially compared to the first Psycho-Pass. And on the flipside, look at Mob Psycho 100, whose only season so far consists of a bunch of antagonists whose names I don’t remember, but I can at least remember what they stood for compared to Mob.
So when you have a serial killer who isn’t evil and only does things because he can’t get over a childhood crush, a bigger picture antagonist that does evil things for the sake of it, and a police force who only does good because that’s their job, you end up with a baseline that is just too weak to support any kind of strong storytelling. Even the supposed connection between Keith and the final bad guy falls flat because it relies too much on the latter being a bastard and nothing consequential happening as a result. In fact, I don’t think there’s any character development in this series. Pretty much everyone from Lily Hoshina, the morality pet, as well as the only character who’s somewhat likable for her personality (but not her story involvement, which I have no interest in elaborating on), to Keith to the serial killer himself end their stories without learning anything important, let alone anything that deserved twelve episodes.
If this was another Netflix show that failed because it outstayed its welcome, that’d be one thing. I wouldn’t like it, but at least I’d respect it somewhat. But there is nothing respectable about B: The Beginning at all. As animation, this show isn’t that engaging to look at. As a representative of good storytelling, this show doesn’t have it. As likable characters go, maybe this cast would be fun if the show gave them something to do instead of just toss them around from plot point to plot point like a basketball being played with by a bunch of speed addicts. I’ve been informed upon near finishing this review that this show is actually starting to develop somewhat of a cult following, but from what I’ve seen, it’s too miniscule to even consider giving attention to, let alone consider it as a possible step forward for Netflix original anime becoming a thing.
You know why Netflix anime are most likely never going to take off? It isn’t because of the batch releases or the grudges against the company or any of those overcomplicated “you don’t understand the fans” mentality. It’s because their original content is horrible. Because rather than use this platform to take chances that you couldn’t do on broadcast TV, they’d rather try and revive the past, not realizing that said past has died for a very good reason. I certainly can’t be the only one who’s realized that B: The Beginning is basically a poor amalgamation of Production I.G.’s past shows that once worked to the point that it ended up resembling the poor action trash of the early to mid-00s. And AICO Incarnation is basically Bones trying to live up to their mecha/sci-fi past rather than embrace the flashy superhero present we know them for now.
It’s possible the next few Netflix shows will prove me wrong, especially since they come from lesser studios containing premises that are hard to decipher. But the bottom-line is that these recent outings eat. I can’t recall much after finishing them, and I’m most likely to forget everything but my lingering feelings within a few months. Yeah it’s unreasonable to expect a string of hits from this project given how hard it is to make good anime in the first place, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to never again produce an anime as painfully confused as B: The Beginning.
- B: The Beginning can be streamed on Netflix at this link.
- Personally, I find that introducing the supernatural into an otherwise grounded police story has practically never turned out well.
- Also, there’s a second season of this series being considered in case you were under any delusion that we lived in a fair world.