Anime’s fastest-moving adaptation in ages screams to a close with a finale straight out of the Alan Moore playbook.
It’s seemed to me from the beginning that Masakazu Katsura was trying to create an extremely faithful manga take on the dark superhero genre pioneered by people like Moore and Frank Miller, which has spawned countless incarnations and imitators in the U.S. and become almost a default style for superhero comics. There was no real clue to this in his earlier works, but that can’t mask the fact that Masakazu-sensei is clearly a fan, and that’s what comes through in Zetman. This is clearly the work of a writer who loves the genre, and cares very much about getting all the big emotions and little details right. And in doing so, he’s succeeded in delivering something – even in abridged form – that feels more authentic that a lot of modern incarnations that seem to be going through the motions. I’m sure much of the essence of the story was lost in the process of adaptation and now that the anime is over I’ll be seeking out the manga, but the anime still manages to capture the heart of the genre for me.
Now, some may say that the series tacked a little too close to the wind when it comes to stuff like “The Dark Knight” as portrayed by Moore, Miller and Christopher Nolan (poetic justice perhaps given Nolan’s uncredited plagiarism of Kon Satoshi with “Inception”) especially when it came to the ending. And that could set off an argument about the line between homage and imitation, but for me Zetman always managed to stay on the right side of the line. And let’s face it, there are rules and conventions for this sort of fiction that are awfully hard to ignore outright, and it’s hard to imagine any sort of ending for Jin and Kouga besides the one TMS ultimately chose here. Viewers will have to settle those questions for themselves.
For me, all I can do is speak to the anime in its own right and not worry about the manga. It was a story that was steeped in pain and loss right from the beginning, so it’s no surprise that it ended the same way. Hanako’s end certainly qualifies as one of the more unabashedly bleak I’ve seen – turned into a Player by the man she loves and ultimately cut in half by a glory hound. One casualty of the breakneck pacing in Zetman is clarity, and I’m not quite sure what we’re meant to believe with Hanako – my take is that she was unaware of her true nature (thus, the headaches) and that she wasn’t knowingly deceiving Jin, who she truly did love.
It could be argued that Kouga ended up having a much larger arc than Jin in the conventional sense. Once we got past the initial stages Jin didn’t really change all that much – he was always a fundamentally good young man trying to keep the darkness that was a part of him in check (there’s a metaphor for you). With Jin it was mainly circumstances that changed – with Kouga it was a true psychological and philosophical journey, and a trial by fire. Let’s not forget that in the end Kouga killed his father (and his mother) exactly as Jirou had intended, and he pulled that trigger fully intending to kill Jin. He ended up pretty much dancing to Jirou’s tune and accepting Jirou’s world view. Jin, by contrast, never stopped being Jin – avoiding the spotlight, living amongst the invisible in society, avoiding those he loved for fear of bringing tragedy down upon them. So which one of these two of these two is the “Dark Knight” – who’s the protagonist of this piece after all? One of the most interesting elements in this very traditional dark superhero tale is that Masakazu has effectively split the stock character in half, and explored the journey from two separate perspectives.
I’m disappointed that so many threads of the story were never really developed to their potential but again, I guess that’s a concession to time. Konoha’s role in the story was never well-defined. Was she a love interest? A friend? She saw Jin so rarely that there was never a chance for their relationship to develop, and she ended up mostly as an observer and occasional victim. Then there was The Sweeper, and the bartender/head of EVOL – and EVOL generally, for that matter, which ended up being a tease more than an actual plot element. And who was the guy who’s shadowy profile we saw in the alley at the end – was I supposed to recognize him? Oh, for 26 episodes or better yet 52 – there’s so much more that could have been with this story.
I ended up liking Zetman quite a bit, in spite of the ever-present awareness that I was only getting a taste of what the story and characters truly had to offer. The fights were well-choreographed, and the intentionally ugly-yet beautiful elements of the visual style suited the material well. In a strong season like this one it ends up getting rather lost, but it deserves a better fate than that. The fact that a quite popular manga like this got only one cour speaks, I think, to the widening gap between the manga and anime fan base. A series like this was never likely to succeed as an anime – it’s too violent and subtle for younger kids, and offers no fashionable draw for the modern otaku. Without toy or BD/DVD sales an anime simply isn’t going to make money, and there’s no “in” for Zetman in those markets. In manga the fanbase is still diverse enough (and production cheap enough) for a series like this to survive even in a mainstream publication, but the anime market has become so niche-oriented and specialized that there’s simply no room any more for series without a commercial hook – certainly not for them to receive an extended run, at the very least. It’s a shame TMS only had one cour to tell the manga’s story but in retrospect, it’s surprising that it even received that. Under trying circumstances, I think they did a pretty good job.