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Bolt Crank, a mercenary who can eat metal objects and then rematerialize them in times of need, wanders from city to city in a futuristic wasteland helping people in trouble.

Based on a manga by Akihito Yoshi-tomi that is similarly high in concept and low in plot, E-M takes the raw material of pulp TV and remolds the wandering heroes of The Incredible Hulk and The Running Man, adding a dash of Clint Eastwood and Ken from Fist of the North Star. However, it lacks the believable background of its similarly pulp-inspired contemporary Cowboy Bebop-the world it creates is little more than a desert backlot, and it soon sinks into a quagmire of episodic setups and showdowns.

E-M shows both the good and bad aspects of a limited budget. Art director Jiro Kono deliberately uses flat, uniform colors (like Tenchi Muyo! without the shine) to exploit the talents of his Chinese animators, and it works well. There are some neat compositions (a face in a cracked mirror, the sky in a puddle), but also some blatant corner-cutting. A cheap loop of a girl's running silhouette is used for a total of three and half minutes. A staring match reaches ridiculous levels of stillness, which may be fine for free on late-night TV, but stretches the patience of video buyers.

Paramount among the series' problems is Bolt's peculiar ability itself, mystifying a succession of writers who push the titular "eating" into the background. Setups are drawn from the staples of U.S. law shows (a would-be dancer is forced to work as a stripper), SF (a clone hunts down all her sisters), and fantasy (a feisty young lady is a lost heiress), but Bolt merely watches the action unfold before producing a gun out of thin air instead of a holster for the finale. As Manga Max famously observed, "he could have pulled it out of his ass for all the difference it made."

The second season, Eat-Man 98, replaces director Mashimo with Ehrgeiz's Kawase and injects hints about Bolt Crank's past. In rip-offs from Genocyber, Ghost in the Shell, and Akira, it suggests that Bolt was somehow involved in a genetic experiment, and that the titular "98" is the percentile of subjects who did not survive the process. Though the new direction is at least a plot of sorts, Bolt's habit of munching on metal objects is still little more than a display of macho toughness-you'd get the same effect if he regularly smashed a bottle over his own head. Though the animation is still limited, E-M98 at least duplicates the look of Bolt's powers from the manga, but much of the storytelling remains shoddy and illogical despite a high-quality translation in the English-language version far better than this show really deserves. NV

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Name Eat-Man
Publisher ?
Start Year 1997
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