Guns, violence, arms dealers and child soldiers. So, family fun?
Wow. So, this is actually going to be one of the hardest series to review for me. I have a lot of conflicting opinions about Jormungand, but we’ll get to that very soon. But first, plot!
Jormungand is the story of Jonathan Mar (better known as Jonah), a child soldier and semi-hypocritical gun-hater, and his adventures in the employ of kooky arms dealer Koko Hekmatyar as she blazes her way through the seedy world of commercial warfare. Koko ostensibly sells guns as part of her massive, strangled plan to create world peace, which makes me wonder why anyone would employ her as an arms dealer. Nonetheless, she trots the globe with her private security crew, made up of ex-military broken biscuits.
There’s Sofia Valmer (or Valmet), the badass, one-eyed bat out of hell from Finland, who may kind of sort of have an eensie weensie crush on Koko…
Lehm, who is basically the older ‘sarge’ member of the group, a man with a suspiciously Russian name but who comes from the US anyway…
Lutz, a German SWAT (GSG-9) sniper and crackshot with an oddly damage-prone butt…
And a whole bunch of other people who we won’t go into right now. Suffice to say, the three above get the most screen time, but the other members each get a backstory episode to themselves, which is cool.
I could talk about the overall plotline, but at that point I’d have to start talking about the problems I have with the series, so we’ll save that for a little while. In many ways, Jormungand is more of a character study than a full-blown plot-heavy epic like the likes of Fullmetal Alchemist anyway. As befitting a character study, let’s talk characters!
Let it never be said that Jormungand is a series full of bland, uninteresting characters, because the person saying that would be a filthy liar. There are, however, so many of them that I’ll keep it confined to my top 5, in no particular order.
First up, we have Chiquita, the effortlessly cool Cheshire Cat who serves as Koko’s brother Kasper’s head bodyguard. She used to serve with Lehm before he left to work for Koko – in fact, they were married and divorced multiple times. Also, she deflects a sword with her SHOE.
Next is Karen Low, a dual pistol wielding Chinese mercenary with a little too much of a hero complex for her boss. Her boss and Valmet have history, and when the two collide, it results in one of my favourite moments in the series.
Then we have Mildo, Cockney bodyguard of a rival arms dealer. She’s basically insane, and very dumb – a deadly combination.
Liliane is part of a team of assassins who come up against Koko’s crew. Not much to say here, I just really like her character design and that she swears a lot.
And lastly, my personal favourite, Schokolade. Schokolade is a CIA agent, generally portrayed as a dumb blonde, who is more than open to being bribed. She works closely with Koko in several episodes, and loves to eat. Also, she’s voiced by Brittney Karbowski. So, bonus.
Oh hey, all of those characters were female. I’m going to chalk that up as another similarity to Black Lagoon – the men are cool but the women are even cooler.
Also, I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention that practically every major female character also has a nude scene in the series. This starts very late in the first half of the series, and then exponentially increases as it goes on. I’m not complaining or anything, it just kind of comes out of nowhere like Revy and Roberta’s shower scenes in Roberta’s Blood Trail.
Alright, enough picture dumps. We all know the relation at the heart of this series is between Koko and Jonah, and I’ve barely even given them a sentence each. Jonah and Koko have a symbiotic relationship throughout the series. Jonah is both her bodyguard but also her limiter – though Koko acts in a juvenile, eccentric way on the outside, deep down she is a ruthless, calculating fiend who believes that the ends justify the means. Jonah basically becomes her little brother, in place of the older one she dislikes, confiding in him and attempting to build a better world with his help.
What a shame they toss that out the window in the last 5 episodes, huh? Better luck next time, hey lads?
Yes, and now we come to the problems I had with Jormungand. Here we go!
1. Don’t mess with a good thing
The last 5 episodes of the series, while absolutely the most plot-connected overall, suffer from the same problem encountered by Majikoi – when the plot hits, it’s just not as engaging as everything that came before. Majikoi had a good thing going – it was funny, and it played off the characters in isolated, self-contained scenarios. But then they brought in some nonsense about a group of anti-Japan terrorists (a plotline that was barely in the original visual novel) and everything congealed into a big boring mess of poorly argued philosophy the likes of which even Hideo Kojima would turn his nose up at.
Jormungand constantly presents itself as a more grounded Black Lagoon. Black Lagoon worked because it laid out the main cast, put them in situations that made them interact with other interesting characters, then moved on to the next situation, all the while subtly evolving characters and carrying an understory.
Jormungand doesn’t work because while it got the characters and situations mostly right, they forgot the subtle plot, which left them near the end of the series with a big question mark to resolve and 5 episodes to do it in.
I suppose I can’t complain that the series did this – it’s a direct adaptation of the manga series which as far as I know ends just as abruptly and clumsily.
2. Know when to end
“But Ace!”, I hear you cry, “You just said the series ended abruptly!”
Well, yes. But I’m not actually talking about the series as a whole, more specifically the last episode. I would have walked away with a much more positive attitude about the whole experience had the last episode known when to quit. People shouldn’t be scared of a little ambiguity. I’d argue that the entire series is full of ambiguity: Jonah works for an arms dealer, but hates guns – is that right? Jonah is a child soldier – is it right to employ him to kill people? Koko has a plan that could kill a lot of people to save many more – do the ends justify the means?
But the last episode bizarrely abandons that subtlety in favour of directly spelling out everything we didn’t really need to know – and if we did, it didn’t tell us very well.
Without spoiling anything, if your last episode includes a beautiful credits sequence, which shows every character’s own little endings and wraps the series up in a hasty (but pretty) bow, why, oh why would you decide to end the episode five minutes later with an annoyingly high-pitched rendition of the most aggrivating song on the show?
3. Wait, who are you again?
You know all those characters I mentioned earlier? The cool ones? I gave them short descriptions because I’m keeping it brief, right? Ehhhhhhhhhhh
Annoyingly, as cool as the characters are, they’re not exactly deep. Jormungand doesn’t really delve into the backstories of more than a select few characters. I love Schokolade, but I don’t really know anything about her. She’s just there, being funny but ultimately a bit shallow. Don’t even get me started on her boss, Scarecrow, whose only character traits are ‘asshole’ and ‘works for the CIA’.
Now, you could argue that the same can be said of the characters in Black Lagoon. And honestly? I don’t know if I could argue against that. What I will say is that in Black Lagoon, characters not having huge backstories isn’t as… noticeable as it is in this case.
Whew, that was a lot of ranting. Time to talk technical.
Jormungand has quite a unique visual style in its animation. It features the same impressive vistas and environments that feature in Black Lagoon, but the characters who populate it are far more angular and sharp, their worlds paler and more clinical, to emphasise their stature as more ‘respectable’ gunslingers. It sometimes results in some weird character proportions, like tiny heads and huge bodies, but it’s difficult to tell whether it’s an intentional design choice or just clumsy animation.
The music, too, is very nice (aside from “Her Name Is Koko…” which they kept using for some reason). I especially like the ending themes and the series’ ‘fight scene’ soundtrack.
Voice acting? Oh, Jormungand has voice acting fo’ days, son. Along with Black Lagoon, Jormungand‘s dub is (in my opinion) easily better than the original Japanese cast. There’s a solid mix of relative unknowns and well-established actors that combine to make something good to listen to, but also be interested by. In much the same way as Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero put actress Felicia Angelle on my radar (she has since gone on to do some great dubbing work, so I feel an ‘I told you so’ is required), Jormungand brought to my attention Anastasia Munoz (Koko) and Micah Solusod (Jonah). Veteran actors Jamie Marchi (Hex), Greg Ayres (Lutz), Caitlin Glass (Mildo), Eric Vale (Kasper) and the aforementioned Brittney Karbowski put in some great performances (Caitlin Glass’ in particular impressed me for being the only ‘English’ accent in the series that didn’t sound forced and unnatural), and even the ‘B’ list actors – who I often think don’t get the credit they deserve – like Carli Mosier (Valmet) and Shelley Calene-Black (Karen Low) are completely in their element, truly embodying their characters.
So, y’know, what I’m saying is it’s pretty okay.
I said at the beginning this is going to be one of the hardest series I’ve ever had to review. I say this because although I have a lot of problems with Jormungand, and I’m not going to sugar-coat them, I have to speak from my heart a little bit. I really enjoyed so much of Jormungand that it makes it painful to rag on it so much. Pretty much everything up to the last 5 episodes is absolutely 100% worth a watch. It’s fast, it’s stylish, and some of my favourite scenes ever are in there, and damn if I don’t feel like watching it all over again every time I hear that theme song. It’s just unfortunate that the last 5 episodes are what they are.
But, while writing this review I came to realize that all of my problems with Jormungand stem directly from the last few episodes, specifically the last one itself. I was all ready to give the series a big fat NOT PROVEN, but my heart won’t let me. Would I say the Mass Effect series was nothing more than a ‘meh’ just because the ending wasn’t up to par with the rest of the series? No, no I wouldn’t. The Mass Effect series is my favourite game trilogy ever. Taken as a sum of its parts, does Jormungand fail? And is the ending really all that important when the rest is so entertaining? A good ending can save a flawed series (Angel Beats!) and a bad one can ruin an entertaining one (Majikoi), but does Jormungand‘s ending really ‘ruin’ the series? Gah, my rating system was supposed to eliminate situations like this! Alright, enough debating. Time to make a decision.
Jormungand receives the verdict of…
NOT GUILTY (but only just)
A flawed, yet intensely watchable series from start to almost finish, Jormungand comes with it’s fair share of problems but provides an experience I still think shouldn’t be missed. Enjoy it while it’s good, because while it doesn’t last, it’s worth at least trying.