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Review: “Code:Breaker” Has Too Many Broken Parts

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Code:Breaker

Code:BreakerI did not have high hopes for Code:Breaker upon sitting down to watch it. I have been a reader of the long-running manga, and I knew the story, at a mere 13 episodes, would either be incomplete or end on an original note that likely would not be satisfying to me. As a result, I began watching the show with a sense of trepidation, waiting for the moment for the adaptation to fall on its face and make me feel justified for my worrying.

Was I right to feel that way?

Code:Breaker is the work of Samurai Keeper Kyo creator Akimine Kamijyō, and couldn’t be more different than the feudal era Kyo. Taking place in contemporary times, we follow a girl named Sakura who witnesses a group of people burning to death from blue flames while commuting to her school. Haunted by the experience and believing it to be a dream, she heads to school, only to bump into a mysterious, tall young man named Rei Ogami, entirely unhurt even though she had seen him standing in the blue flames. Her efforts to uncover who he truly is pull her into the world of the Code:Breakers, superpowered individuals under the command of the Japanese Prime Minister to do his dirty work.

Code:BreakerWhat makes this different from many shows of its type, and indeed, much different than the light-hearted Kyo, is that the Prime Minister is not necessarily a good man, and the Code:Breakers are well aware they are thugs being sent to kill people who may not necessarily be evil. Stunningly, some of them even relish this aspect of their lives. It is like we are following what would normally be the antagonists in any other story, and Sakura, with her pure sense of justice and relentless empathy is the one person who might help them discover their humanity. At least, those that even want to. Rei certainly doesn’t want to, when Sakura confronts him at school, he flat-out says if she forces the issue he will kill her without any hesitation or regrets. His behavior to other people throughout the series certainly backs that statement up.

At first, the show is episodic, following Rei performing his job while Sakura is pulled deeper into this world, becoming increasingly horrified by what she is witnessing. Human experimentation, animal cruelty, drug abuse, corrupt cops and politicians, and Rei only has one solution to the evil he sees: burn it all. Sakura tries vainly to talk him out of this and to see the value and nuance of human life, but Rei steadfastly refuses. To him, regardless of what his victims otherwise say or do, they are evil, and he is making them atone for their sins by fire.

Code:BreakerThe story does eventually develop a story arc, as we are introduced to Rei’s associates as they are drawn to fighting a former Code:Breaker with an agenda of his own. The scope of the arc will be dizzying to a first-time viewer, but as I expected, the need to end the anime in 13 episodes made the final couple of episodes rushed endeavors and the ending subsequently falls flat. Up until that point, though, the anime remains fairly engaging, with a host of strong, handsome male characters (and one tomboyish woman) who surround Sakura with unique personalities. Some even have a few redeeming qualities to give Sakura a little bit of hope.

At the same time, Sakura is not exactly a great character. She claims she is not helpless, and she punches and kicks a couple of people in the first episode to prove this, but every subsequent episode seems to go out of the way to highlight how helpless and useless she really is in any sort of stressful situation. She would have been killed several times over if it weren’t for Rei and the other Code:Breakers. Her efforts to stop Rei border on aggravating as she screams at him again and again to stop killing. It’s as if she forgot that her previous five or six attempts didn’t work. The definition of insanity is to do something over and over again while expecting a different result, and Sakura’s tendency to do that makes me wonder who is truly the crazy one among this cast.

Code:BreakerThe animation is not stellar. After a couple of impressive moments in the first episode, the animation budget clearly got cut to less than normal for an action anime. While the characters themselves are nicely detailed up close, they turn into faceless, almost formless multi-colored sticks at any distance, which becomes a distraction. The action sequences often get reduced to dramatic stills as opposed to anything resembling dynamism. This makes the action sequences in an action show undeniably, unjustifiably, boring. The first rule of doing action scenes right is to make them nail-biting, tense, exhilarating, and ultimately engaging. Code:Breaker‘s action sequences absolutely fail to do that, which is an unforgivable sin given the genre. Yasuhiro Irie has never been one to direct engaging action (his action sequences in Kurau: Phantom Memory also fell flat, and what worked in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood seemed to be in spite of him), but these shortcuts take his directorial failure to bring urgency to proceeding to a whole new level. That being said, the stills do look pretty nice. But that’s not even the thinnest silver lining in this dark cloud.

The background music, composed by Takayuki Hattori, tries its best to bring to the show what the animation does not. The score is largely orchestrated, it feels like it got a bigger budget than the animation department. Stirring strings, mournful horns, and warm woodwinds bring out depth in the quieter scenes, and when things do kick into gear the orchestra almost has a James Horner flavor as it brings a dark melody, creating the sense of dread, as Rei and his companions get to work. It’s effectively and stands out on its own, making importing the soundtrack a worthy option.

The opening theme is “DARK SHAME” by Granrodeo, undeniably kicking major ass as it combines the of 80’s speed metal with the singer’s engaging, multi-ranged voice. The animation in the opening is honestly superior to anything in the series, which makes the subsequent events in the series feel even more like a broken promise. The ending theme, “Shiroi Karasu” by Kenichi Suzumura, is a hard rock song that is also memorable, if not as loud, as its opening counterpart.

Code:BreakerThe dub is directed by Colleen Clinkenbeard, who brings in Seattle-based Jackie Ross to voice Sakura. It’s not hard to see why, Ross has a voice pretty similar to Clinkenbeard’s own when she voices teenagers, which means she sounds much like an actual American teenage girl. Micah Solusod is an interesting choice to play Rei, clearly he is attempting to channel Johnny Yong Bosch when Bosch voices villains, but Solusod isn’t as successful as Bosch has been. Jessica Cavanagh is pitch-perfect as Rui, whether tough and firm, or warm and kind. Perhaps the most memorable performance is Todd Haberkorn as he is, for better or worse, Todd Haberkorn as Toki. What hurts the dub is that J. Michael Tatum’s script has a tendency to fly off the rails, though not as much as in Future Diary. However, the dub very frequently stops just short of outright changing the story and the characters’ intentions due to heavy rewriting. The Japanese performances have an inferior, more girlish choice for Sakura in Yoko Hikasa, but Nobuhiko Okamoto can get absolutely terrifying as Rei. As a result, both dubs offset each other, though if you prefer fidelity the Japanese is probably the way to go.

Extras are minimal, with only commentaries and clean opening/closing credits. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great, but the DVD version looks pretty good as well.

Overall, Code:Breaker likely needed another season in order to truly fulfill its potential, but nothing can help a show that calls itself an action show and yet goes through so much effort avoid actually animating the action sequences. Misfires on the character end put the final nail in the coffin, and ultimately, this anime should be buried for its sins. The redeeming value in here is just not enough to warrant a purchase.

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