Bad anime generally consists of lazy crap which relies on pandering to specific tastes so the deficiencies are glossed over. Then you have the truly awful anime, these are rare gems of badness which warrant special scrutiny and examination of why they are bad. Anime is often an adaptation of a manga or light novel and bad ones are usually explained by the source material not amounting to anything, but original animations have a unique capacity for sucking that adaptations don’t have. First part will be the broad strokes followed by a more detailed, spoiler filled analysis of the best worst anime known in the West as: Knight Hunters.
Originally called in Japan Weiß Kreuz, Knight Hunters is the confused mess of a tale about a team of vigilante assassins (we’ll refer to as Weiss because copying and pasting the B thing is annoying) who… got a dayjob in a flowershop as a cover? They might also live in the same apartment complex or it’s different units in the back of the building which has the shop, the details are not well explained. You can tell Aya is sorta the leader because he wields a katana and his story is central to the main plot. Yoji is the lady’s man and former detective; while Omi is the baby faced amnesiac who does everything that requires the magic of computers. Ken is the fourth guy. Okay, Sporty Spice does get a backstory episode and an episode for his inner crisis, but Ken really gets the short straw and later ends up neck deep in an episode exploring a villain’s backstory just to give the poor bastard something to do.
The series usually follow a basic formula: Cartoonishly evil people get away with horrible things, the heroes fart around until they are spoon fed what’s going on, then they kill the badguys, all problems are solved or glossed over. Each episode is its own foray into the seedy underbelly of society and so the series tries to throw everything at the audience in an attempt to compensate for lack of storytelling ability with variety of premises. There was even an episode where the gang fought Zoanoids. Really!
At first blush, Knight Hunters looks like a well made show for its time, yet there are ample times when a shot loops derpy and there’s no denying it. We’re not even talking about background characters looking a little odd when cropped from the shot and focused on, but things going on front and center where the action is. One battle late in the series imposes the fights onto still background images, which really sticks out when the angles don’t match at all and makes what should be an intense scene one of the goofiest moments in the show.
What we have is a cocktail of angst, storytelling like that of a 12 year old who wants to feel like a grownup, and a delightfully awful dub shaken together into a bizarre kind of perfection that makes Knight Hunters essential viewing.
PLOTPOINT HEAVY DETAILED EXAMINATION:
A good first episode sets the tone, and boy howdy does Knight Hunters succeed on that point. Our opening scene has an assassination which gets a little sloppy and crashing into the life of a nondescript girl in manner reminiscent of Bambi Meets Godzilla. Somehow a McGuffin in the form of a floppy disk safely skitters over to said girl instead of getting destroyed in the explosion or smashed up in the process of bouncing around on pavement.
When the badguys finally make their presence known, one of them swings a handaxe in a vertical chopping motion at the girl’s face… which somehow only gives her the horizontal cut across the cheek instead of taking off a chunk of her face. Contrivances happen and the day gets saved while the heroes pull some Clark Kent shit that even the slowest characters should be able to pick up on.
The formula has a shadowy figure exposition the who, what and where of badguy activities; and in one case completely rendered pointless the investigation done by the team. That the information is so reliable and detailed leaves one wondering whether the writers were just being lazy as they tried to write stories that would finish within the runtime they were allowed or if Weiss were taking marching orders from someone with insider insights on the evil organizations.
In the second episode we establish that the recurring villains of the series are going to be the corrupt Takatori family who have insinuated their way into positions of power and influence, free to put their devious imaginations to work. Turns out Aya’s motivations have to do with the Takatori family, which is fine because it keeps the plot from branching off in too many directions. What does get annoying is that Aya continues to keep mum about the specifics for many more episodes, dragging out the explanation of his animating principle for far too long.
Then again, it’s understandable to keep mum because once we see the flashback things get silly because even though the Takatoris are connected with all kinds of sway, Aya could well have testified against the patriarch and shadowy figure could have offered some degree of protection along with corroborating his story. At the very least they could have brought down the head of the family before he acquired even more power and a position that would make going to war with him even harder.
Midway through the series there is a concerted effort to frame Weiss for acts of terrorism, which would have been an alright way to raise the stakes because even if they succeed in killing the badguy they still have their names to clear and honest cops trying to catch them. However, this fails because regular people have no idea there even is a Weiss going around and murdering nefarious characters. It’s not like someone they know socially is going to hear about these horrible deeds then drop the dime on them. This also highlights the absurdity of the teammates all having codenames when they just refer to each other by their regular frickin’ names while on missions and don’t even wear masks. Yoji still wears those silly glasses which are more a fashion statement than for corrective purposes.
Have I mentioned all the romances are really messed up? Ken is the only guy who has something resembling a normal relationship but that’s for one episode where he wavers on how he’s living his life. After that episode there’s nothing to indicate he even gives her a second thought. Then again, Ken might have done here a kindness ‘cause it gets cringey. There’s one romantic subplot which was started off from the beginning of the show and about ten episodes in takes a sharp turn into “Why would you do that?!” territory. Aya’s sort of relationship really exists for the plot to have silly twists, turns, and otherwise impractical exposition.
Then there’s Yoji… holy shit, there’s Yoji. First it turns out the war with Takatoris were just the first major arc of the series and the second one follows the fallout and machinations of people way more superevil than the Takatoris. Also, Weiss actually have two evil parallel teams, one comprised of pretty boys in league with the big bads and an all girl team who were the angel’s of a Charlie the heroes sort of bested (though as I recall he was undone more by his own stupidity than by the actions of the heroes). So after beating the Takatoris (who established a police state for about one night before it all came tumbling down) Yoji goes back to aspiring gigolo when he encounters a woman who bears a striking resemblance to his former partner and best bud in his private detective days, Asuka.
The two get acquainted; they go to his place and it turns out she is Nue/Noi from the all girl, evil parallel team. Yoji is baffled, trying to put together whether it was a ruse or if she might have been his former partner with amnesia and somehow got mixed up with the badguys. Tying in Yoji’s new motivations with a defining moment of his backstory would be a good thing if it didn’t remind us of the episode where he got a civilian killed because he repeated his mistakes… and apparently never tried to contact the police when as a private detective learned about a forced prostitution ring. Yoji dropped that ball so bad he should be should make Matt Hasselbeck feel better about his fumble.
Later on a trap is set for the team, Yoji has to fight her to the death lest his compatriots are killed. In and of itself the scenario isn’t so bad as how Yoji gets to where he mentally able to do the deed. It’s not desperation to save his teammates, it’s not even accepting in his heart that Asuka has truly died and he’s willfully lying to himself because the truth meant going through the agony of losing her over again. None of that, it was Neu saying that she loved another man that made him snap and deal the fatal blow. The anime stay ambiguous about whether or not she was Yoji’s former partner, but later on Yoji makes it clear he really believed Neu was indeed Asuka and one is compelled to cringe.
Then there’s the love affair between the two child-like members of the evil parallel teams: Nagi and Tot. This dynamic gets established well into the series but stays largely in the background. Stuff happens, and the male evil parallel team offers the female evil parallel team a chance at revenge on our heroes, seeing as the girls have been losing loved ones and valuable members lately. Male evil parallel team also has their own agenda and getting those two teams fighting is conducive to their goals.
Considering that the male evil parallel team also wants Weiss dead, one would think that they would team up with the girls to make sure they win. In fact, if the girls won the fight getting what they wanted would be pretty easy. What does happen is the single most idiotic betrayal in the history of idiotic betrayals. One guy from male evil parallel team takes out a gun and shoots the women as they are losing because they attempted to play a trump card the guys want for themselves. Nagi tried to convince Tot earlier to bail on this half assed revenge plan, but she refuses and is fatally wounded in the idiotic betrayal. Nagi flips out brings the whole building down as his psychic powers go berserk.
Yeah, he’s got telekinesis and all that jazz. In an earlier scene as Tot mourns Nue, she asks Nagi if he can bring her back. He says he’s not powerful enough and he’d die if he tried. Setting aside that somehow our heroes emerge from the rubble totally fine, the heroes also seem fine to just walk away and not see if anyone else is alive. After they bail from the scene we see Tot rise from the rubble, Nagi apparently noble sacrificing in order to bring her back to life and that seems to have been the entire point of that moronic betrayal.
There are ways that this could have been utilized to great effect: Tot could have teamed up with the heroes because she had a desire for revenge even stronger than the one she felt toward our heroes. Could have been that final member who really completes the team as they muster their resolve for the climax, but in actuality Tot just vanishes from the plot to only show up in a montage as the end. Squandered opportunity aside, this development creates a plothole which almost completely derails the entire final act.
On the eve before the big finish we see the male evil parallel team… and Nagi is right there with them!! He looks pretty healthy for someone who just died, and seems to have gotten over his crew murdering the woman he loved along with everyone precious to her. The end of the world is the goal of the badguys, and without that loved one in the world it would make sense for him to be okay with that… except it would make more sense for him to betray the badguys, if not become the fifth member of Weiss, in a wish to avenge Tot. If he knew Tot was alive, he might not be holding as much bitterness to his compatriots but ending the world she lives on wouldn’t sit so well with him.
First there is no reason for him to still be alive, and second there is no reason for him to be an accomplice to the plot… except the show wants a four on four matchup for the climax and having one of the masterminds be the fourth combatant apparently was never part of the plan. One might suspect they had the ending written out ahead of time, only to realize they contradicted themselves with where they wanted to go with the romance subplot too late to change anything, and hoped nobody would really think about it.
Speaking of death, Knight Hunters does one of the big no-no’s of storytelling by killing off important characters then making the deaths not matter in the long run. Case in point, Shadowy Figure turns out to have been tight with the Takitoris and from his position was feeding Weiss vital information. He dies at the end of the first arc and when the team reassembles to fight evil, they seem to have absolutely no problem getting the same quality of information as quickly as they had with a man on the inside. Then there’s the guy who’s supposed to replace Shadowy Figure in his general role, who in turn dies early on in the second arc and that void apparently never gets filled by a known character.
Let’s talk about the lawyer in the second arc. In one episode, Omi has a bit of a moral crisis as he encounters a defense attorney who uses underhanded means of getting his clients off. With warped rhetoric the lawyer defends his actions and expounds the importance of law in civil society, except that he does things which are expressly illegal like stealing evidence, telling clients to kill police/witnesses, and even using psychic powers to murder witnesses on the stand.
At the time, Omi doesn’t know all that and has some doubts. In the broad strokes, this would have been a good episode to have in the first arc. The lawyer’s arguments would hold more sway if Omi had not personally witnessed the corrosive legacy of the Takatoris, and his motive for getting back into Weiss was to stop a group of lunatics who were abducting high school girls to burn alive. A character who has seen the dark underbelly really should have better mental defenses even if he’s the more juvenile of the team.
Short of delving into every episode, the above should be pretty illustrative of just how terrible Knight Hunters was, and why it’s so special in that awfulness. Thank you all for reading. Hopefully this was eye opening about a series which you may have overlooked, and helpful for those who have seen it to explain why it’s so lousy.