SO by the title above, it should be obvious to any reader that what I am saying is that this anime, Jormungand, is the closest thing to black lagoon that I have watched in anime. Now whether that comparison only applies to my own personal watch list or anime in general, that is up to more informed minds.
So let’s get to my review.
I have always found it tricky to determine through which eyes the Jormungand story is played out. The primary conflict here is between Koko and Jonah's characters. Mind you I get the idea that a series will have a male and female protagonist, but I always thought that with Jormungand , there was always one primary story that took the first and most prominent position over the rest.
I would personally prefer Jonah’s character to take the lead in this case, but as the over all plot of the show has developed over 20 something episodes, it’s pretty safe to say that Koko runs the show.
Anyway, that’s me arguing with myself, ignore those first two paragraphs.
In Jormungand, we have the story of Koko Hekmatya (I know I spelt that wrong), daughter of Floyd Hekaetya, president of the HCLI company, an organization that deals primarily in arms.
Koko runs the company’s European and African division with her specially selected team of eight current and ex service men (service men here meaning that they once partook in fighting of one form or another but not particularly in the army.)
Koko is white haired, pale skinned and quite girly, but what none that have ever come up against her can deny is her ruthless cunning and unmatched thirst to succeed in her goal as HCLI’s operative.
Koko could better be compared with Nicholas cage in the old movie, ‘the lord of war’. She facilitates war and conflict where she can, and she will not hesitate to sell anything and everything to the highest bidder.
Like any arms dealer, Koko sees her self as nothing more than a middle man in man’s race to destroy himself. Her work will se her traversing Europe and sometimes Africa, primarily visiting war ravaged countries where different rebels and factions are more than willing to empty their nation’s coffers in an effort to acquire the latest guided missiles or machine gun.
And Koko complies, she never misses a deadline and no road untaken or land unmapped is too difficult or dangerous for her that she would fail to deliver her demanded goods.
At any one time she will meet with clients ranging from black listed rebel leaders hiding in their caves in an attempt to stave off the scent of international forces, to notorious dictators determined to slaughter their own people for the sake of achieving delusional ambitions, to powerful heads of states in powerful western countries determine to support one warring faction over another in some poor war torn state, without the knowledge and support of their people.
And through all these missions, Koko is guided and guarded by a rag tag team of elite vagabonds, more blood thirsty than any savage, more skilled than any force and incredibly loyal to their equally doting and capable master, Koko.
Under the auspices of the HCLI and her own personal guard, Koko goes about spreading the name Hekmetyar to all corners of the earth and making as many enemies as she lives dead.
The series picks up only months after Jonathan Mar joins the team. As a dark skinned white haired boy of Arabic origin, Jonah is a former child soldier who, through the events shrouding his past in the mountain infantry and subsequent assignment to a military base following the death of his parents and total destruction of his village, Jonah was forced into Koko’s care via her brother’s canning game.
From the start, Jonah states his total and utter hate for guns and the arms dealers that deal with them. And that acts as the puzzle that occupies his disturbing days as part of Koko’s team. Because if he hates guns and hates arms dealers, why is he travelling with one. In fact, not only is Koko an arms dealer, but she is one of the biggest in the world.
As Jonah tries to work this conundrum out, he finds himself a home among the crazy men and women of HCLI. He learns of the true nature of the arms industry and through that, begins to develop an understanding of Koko, the woman whose side he’s sworn to protect even if it cost him his life.
Koko is a conundrum to Jonah’s little mind. Yes she is an arms dealer, but she claims that the reason she sells guns is to bring peace in the world. Koko is a fun and playful girl, that much Jonah can say, especially the way she will tease him, and the little games she engages in with the killers and murders of the team, killers and murders that would die for her.
But underneath it all, Jonah knows that there is more to it. He has felt it from time to time, that beneath her never ending smile, Koko hides a monstrous secret, a dark side of her that she has chosen to hide and protect Jonah from.
Equally puzzling are the men that follow her. Jonah has seen them kill enmass without so much as blinking. The very men that will take him aside during breaks in missions to teach him Math and English and every other subject he never got to learn due to the war, the very same men that will carry him to the beach on one hot summer day, the men ad women that will share a light coffee with Kasper, Koko’s brother, in an airport, minutes before riddling a disembarking passenger with bullets.
Jonah can’t help but puzzle at this anomalies. More than that though is his sense of duty to protect Koko and the attachment he develops to her over time. Jonah hates guns, but he travels with an arms dealer. But maybe this one is different, maybe this one isn’t like all the other murderous lunatics ready to spread war to every corner of the world.
And maybe, because she saved him, he can saver her as well.
On her part Koko holds Jonah in a much more sacred place within her than even he knows. More than merely the little brother he never has and dotes over, Jonah plays a greater role in Koko’s life, beyond his impressive combat and tracking skills.
To Koko, the description of a successful mission isn’t merely completing the delivery and getting paid. To Koko Hekmatyar, a successful mission and making a delivery,getting paid, and getting every single one of her nine man team out alive.
To Koko, these eight men and women are more than hired guns. She single handedly picked every single one of them through the past 7-12 years, at a point in their history when the future was bleak and uncertain. She knew them intimately, before they ever saw her face, and she trusts them not only with her life, but with the life of her family and her company, HCLI. And she will not hesitate to react excessively violently when their lives are threatened.
This of course only goes to show Koko’s resourcefulness, because even without any combat capabilities, Koko has shown herself more than capable of unleashing unknown hell down upon those that unnecessarily threaten her people.
Here in enter one of Jormungand strongest elements, the villains. IN the world of arms dealer and guns, there are no good guys. But even then, there are men and women that will prove themselves more ruthless and vile than the job requires. These are elements that are in it for more than the money , and will usually target the HCLI team for a variety of reasons, chief among which is revenge.
The most impressive elements of this anime will be the wacky collection of hit men and assassins assigned to eliminate the competition, with the employers varying, from competitive arms dealers, to revenge fueled elements, to the CIA and all other security agencies that eventually ran out of patience when it comes to the legal game of apprehending Koko and her people, and instead decide to eliminate them entirely.
Whatever the driving purpose, these team of assassins will have to make use of outlandish and unique tactics in order to contend with a group as dangerous as Koko’s; most times the series expands on the characters behind the assassins, and it isn’t out of the ordinary to find the interactions between these killers more entertaining that their duels with Koko. More often than not, you as the viewer routes for Koko to emerge victorious, but when done right, it isn’t so out of the ordinary that you will hope that the assassins themselves survive the battle with their lives.
At the end of the day, Jormungand is about guns, big guns and even bigger guns. We are given an insight into the democratic processing littering the arms business and that not every deal is settled with explosions. More often than not there is more talking, marketing and blackmailing and threatening.
Even fickle elements like beauty and popularity matter when it comes to convincing an African dictator that your company will enable him to annihilate the rebel factions much faster and more brutally than the other 20 companies vying for the same contracts.
The series isn’t shy in tackling boring elements like technology and how it has changed the face of arms dealing. And the show does its best to make episodes less about endless lectures and statistics, and more about explosions even while it educates you. Even as a young arms dealer, Koko finds herself learning more and more every day, specifically when it comes to modern war fair and the idea than she might have to adapt to the changing landscape of war before the HCLI is left behind.
So I find it difficult to properly review this series without giving away all the little bits and pieces of information that makes it one of my top 5 anime of 2012. Yes, it is all about big guns, and smuggling operations through dangerous territories, but more than that are the stories that puncture the notorious gun battles that Jormungand is known for.
As far as the comparison with black lagoon is concerned, It was hard to watch Koko and her team operate without regurgitating memories of Revy and that Asian guy travelling the high seas of Japan.
True, Jormungand operates on a much bigger scale that Black lagoon, with their individual purchases and sales having serious consequences on whole nations, and in time, the world as a whole.
But it is more than Koko’s team being a bigger whale than Black lagoon’s fish that endears me to the show. It is the light heartedness that the series presents in the darker moods of the arcs.
I always thought that black lagoon was a little bit too depressing, not in the way it told the stories or presented the characters; but that was the basic idea they tried to lay out for the viewers, of a very dark group of characters in a very dark and ugly world.
Even at the most light hearted moments, the show always managed to create a sense that this, the life that Revy lived, was more hell than anything.
This is in comparison to Jormungand, whose characters make light of the business they are partaking in. Wait, that is it, the deciding factor that separates Jormungand from black lagoon. I was going to waste several paragraphs trying to explain this, but I think it all comes down to fun.
When i watch Koko’s team out in the field, taking on dictator presidents or rebel armies, the one thing that you will almost always pick up on is how much fan they are having. Of course I am not saying that the black lagoon company were a gloomy bunch. The writers make an effort to show us those scenes during which the team seems to revel in what they do, but that, more often than not, comes off as more like a display of blood lust, like savage warriors in the wild thirsty to kill and maim; and that only impels Revy and her people into the realm of psychopathy.
What Jormungand shows us and what the characters themselves state on multiple occasions is that working for Koko, even in the most savage of circumstances where they raid complexes and kill on a large scale, all that is merely a job, a career with good pay and some interesting perks.
There is none of that speech found in black lagoon about how you were chosen by a certain life and are doomed to follow some dark thuggish path to hell and what not. basically Koko and her people do no make light of what in the end is a villainous task, but more than that, they don’t let it consume them.
Anyone of them could just as easily leave HCLI, ran off to some farm somewhere and start a life and family; and that is only possible because work as an arms dealer is merely a career; there is no fatalistic talk about death and how all that tread that path are doomed or whatever that scarred woman said to the asian guy in an attempt to convince him to head back home in black lagoon.
Because of this mind set, you find that Koko and her people are able to craft a little world of happiness in the midst of all the blood shed. And I am not merely speaking of the occasional hours spent at the beach to relax before a mission, or the strange hikes into the mountains to the watch butterflies…though all these can be weird activities in the light of the actions that they eventually have to take later on…
It is the little moments they have during the gun fights, the funny jokes, chats with old friends that happen to be shooting at them and who they know they will have to kill once their little reminiscing ends, that make all the difference, especially how genuine all this interactions sounds.
It don’t want to be so corny as to call this small group of ten a family, but in battle, that is what they are. Funnily enough, black lagoon will have such light moments in the midst of battle, but you can sort of tell that they aren’t nearly as genuine as they are meant to sound like. Most times, the scenes play out rather tragically.
With the description i have given above, it isn’t hard to guess that Jormungand is a primarily character driven show. You would be right, as Koko’s group is an intriguing group of characters to watch. While the writers haven’t exactly done a perfect job in juggling all ten characters, it has been a treat to watch in the instances where this juggling act has been done right.
At the start, we are introduced to Koko and her people as ready made men and women. It is only in later episodes that we begin to understand a little more about them. Revealed knowledge about these characters, through episode long flashbacks, only makes them more intriguing with time.
So far I have been fondly impressed with Lehm, the oldest member and Koko’s deputy, ex delta force operative with impeccable leadership skills. So far all we know of him is that he used to work for Kasper as his bodyguard, along side his wife, now ex wife..
Then there is Valmet, an ex major with the Finnish Rapid Response unit, whose incursion into African territories led her down a revenge fueled path under the guidance of Koko.
It is really hard to make mention of these characters and detail what it is that makes them so interesting to watch without giving away their secrets and how they eventually join the team, because that is the fun part of the series. Even Ugo, former professional gate away driver for the mafia has an interesting story to tell about how he met Koko and under which circumstances he made the jump to HCLI.
But clearly the most interesting of these is Jonah. The young Arabic boy is as expressionless as he is quite, well known for going through entire hours of transit without saying a single word. Clearly his young burgeoning mind has been scarred by events that transpired during his days as a child soldier. But it is amusing to watch him in those rare moments, when his stony façade breaks, to reveal a joyous smile and the excitement of a child watching a rocket launch or a rare butterfly hover.
While he tries to hides this side of him, it is more interesting that it sounds to watch Koko try to break that cold casing he has entrenched himself behind. On his part, Jonah will spend most missions, not questioning or even trying to understand the logic or morality behind an assassination or kill, but attempting to reason out the logic behind Koko’s decisions, and the mask she screws on for everyone in the form of the smile that will creep upon her face in times of trial.
Little is revealed about Koko’s true nature through out the episodes that I have watched. Sure we get some sense of who she really is, especially during the business with one of her people, Renato (big surprise there, if you haven’t seen it), but it is hinted upon on more than one occasion that there is more to Koko than meets the eye. Some have referred to her as a dragon, and Jonah believes this to revolve around the grand master plan she has been plotting with Doctor Minami for the past year, a plan which only she and Koko are aware of, and which Koko has promised to kill everyone that finds out this secret (even Jonah, who she warns against snooping in that part of her life.)
It has been hinted upon by a certain CIA agent (scarecrow) that to Koko, Jonah is a wall, not protecting Koko from the world but the defending the world from Koko. If Koko is the dragon she has been said to be, then bringing in Jonah created a buffer, to restrict the part of her she fears loosing to the world, a part we catch a glimpse of when an assassin with a grudge, Hex, makes a fatal attempt against the group.
While only hinted at, I will assume that there really is more to Koko that meets the eye; after all even with Hex acting as a CIA operative, scare crow was quick to point out that they couldn’t allow her to take down her target, Jonah, because only he could keep a lid on Koko.
No doubt it is intriguing to watch these two, as well as the miscellany of characters that make an appearance in Koko’s life. I am thinking of Scarecrow, the CIA agent that, rather than interrogate Koko, thought it better to beat her up instead in a police station, surrounded by astounded police officers, to make it known that he could do what he wanted, when he wanted, so long as he captured her.
Despite there rather disturbing introduction, Scarecrow and his partner schocolade prove to be as hilarious a set of characters as Koko and her people.
Kasper’s brother, head of the Asian branch will make an occasional appearance, with his visits marred by Jonah’s constant attempts to kill him. Koko will try to assuage Jonah’s hate for her brother, but she is seldom successful, with Jonah’s hate stemming from Kasper’s involvement in the destruction of Jonah’s home-he sold the rebels the weapons they used to burn the village down.
Like Koko, Kasper is white haired and pale skinned, and has an uncanny resemblance to Koko, even though they aren’t twins. While they have agreed to stick to their separate businesses and will not hesitate to put their respective businesses over each other, the siblings have one rule that governs there lives as arms dealers; if any of them ever needs a hand, the other can never refuse a request of assistance.
I haven’t watched a show like this since Hyouka, another top 5 favorite of 2012; if you read my review of the series, I mention that the anime’s greatest factor is its ability to create a group of characters who, by themselves, are pretty interesting to watch. I doesn’t matter if they are spending an afternoon preparing for their high school festival or fighting ghosts; basically it doesn’t matter what kind of plot or story the characters were placed it, I was simply content watching them. And that is a rare attribute in an a anime.
Jormungand seems to capture the same spirit, in that I would be just as content watching Koko’s team talking to their assassins as I would be seeing them do battle. They are all simply too fun to watch, and that goes some way into making this a much more impressive show than Black lagoon.
Don’t get me wrong, Revy was a fun female character to watch in action; but in truth I had more fun watching Koko, in her neat white suite, seating at a table and verbally dueling with a widow, a former model that, rather than work, decided to take over her husband’s business and,even at forty had a way of charming the competition into submitting to her supposedly nocuous demands.
This show is a must watch for all black lagoon fans. I can guarantee (maybe 70%) that you will get a kick out of its 22 episodes. If you were not fan of black lagoon, then this show will taste even better for you. It’s got as much action, adventure and comedy as you would want, with all the tales and warnings of war and its consequences that you would expect from a series about arms dealing. If you aren’t watching it, then I hope I have convinced you to give it a try.
Animation and Music: I usually don’t bother mentioning this unless it matters; in the case of Jormungand, the animation is clean and crisp, with superb sound tracks and scores accompanying the madness.
Jormungand is adapted from a 2006-2012 manga by Keitaro Takahashi, serialized in the monthly Sunday Gene X magazine. With eleven volumes in the manga, the anime has been released in two seasons, Jormungand and Jormungand: perfect order, totaling 22 episodes all together, with the second season ending its run in December 2012.
The animation studio, White Fox, has done shows like Katanagatari, Steins;gate and Mobile suite Gundam 00.