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B The Beginning (2018)

In the country of Cremona, the Royal Investigation Service (RIS) investigate crimes and ensure that criminals are captured and prosecuted. Many years before a horrific murder was committed forcing their brightest star Keith Flick left the force.

Something is stirring again in Cremona. What appears to be a serial killer is on the loose but there is no apparent link between the victims apart from the mark of killer B. Keith and his unconventional methods return to the RIS so can they catch the B and hopefully untangle the web of intrigue around it them.

B The Beginning is an original anime from Production IG (Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex 1st and 2nd Gig amongst many great shows) that is licensed by Netflix (Devilman Crybaby for me is one of the standout shows they have facilitated into production). It tells the tale of Keith Flick who is hunting the killer B and Koku a young man who is a violin craftsman and who just happens to be superhuman. Koku has the ability to sprout wings and seems to be on some kind of quest of his own. The journey of both Keith and Koku will take in conflict, conspiracy, prophecies, deceit, tragedy and scientists trying to play god. It is a mix of crime procedural and fantasy.

The animation quality on display is consistently high during the season. I found the character designs quite appealing. This is not a surprise as director Kazuto Nakazawa has a background in character design including Samurai Champloo. Keith Flick with his slightly dishevelled just out of bed look was a great contrast to the up-and-at-'em Lily. She, in turn, was well cast against her partner Boris, the grizzled veteran of the team who looks a few years off retirement. You could see the experience etched into his face as much as you could visualise Lily's energy. Whilst the other members of the RIS team all looked like people who you might meet in the street, their personalities were a bit forgettable. They all had a part to play in both their looks and personalities but were not given enough time to develop into something more than a predictable trope.

It must have been fun designing the Market Maker crew, the antagonists of the series. Taking the character who is pulling all the strings first, they look both ordinary and creepy in equal measure. It's a simple and disarmingly effective design. With the rest of the Market Maker posse it's as if someone went to a twisted UV-lit rave where fluorescent face paint was handed out. They look great. Dressed a bit like clowns at a circus with black and white checks, stripes, suits and dresses with the only colour on display splashed across their faces. This is exceptionally striking, at times childlike and often menacing. As with the RIS team, we only spend time with a couple of the Market Maker outfit. Mostly it is Minatsuki who has an unhealthy obsession with Koku and some kind of prophecy.

From the outset the story and premise were strong. For the first third they kept to a high standard, building intrigue, misdirection and tension in equal measure. They wove a great web of intrigue from which to take the rest of the show. Frustratingly into the next third it lost its way a bit and became bogged down in exposition and the mythology of the world. For the final third it found itself again mixing exposition and action in the right amounts. They did a great job of working through the web but I must confess I did lose a bit of interest in the middle section - the undefinable quality that compelled me to watch the next episode just ... vanished.

There are some frenetic and stunning action sequences. The majority of these happen at night where blows appear like mini-stars exploding against a beautifully realised starry sky. One such sequence finds Koku chasing his target, who outruns him on her skateboard, from the city centre out to a candle-lit lake in the countryside. The setting for the culmination of this personal conflict was almost romantic. Under different circumstances, I could imagine a declaration of love or proposal of marriage.

Following the story the early action scenes really are superb but as we move into the expositionary section the action feels more mundane. There is not really the sense of peril and danger the early sequences had. This was a real shame as those early sequences were sensational and set the bar high.

The way the show handled its violence and gore was pitched at a level that was *just* the right side of uncomfortable viewing. It was pitched at a level where you would wince and be close to looking away from the scenes. This was especially the case for the more real elements within the story. For the more fantastical aspects, scenes with a similar tone were a bit easier to watch and were more horrific because of it.

That said there is a prolonged piece of violence between two members of Market Maker that, whilst it made logical sense for the characters involved, went on too long and skirted close to glorifying the violence. On top of this, it almost felt as if they had been singled out for such nasty treatment, bordering on abuse, throughout the show.

Whilst I enjoyed B the Beginning it felt like I was watching two initially compelling and interesting stories unfold. By halfway through these stories were competing for my attention and the way in which they were partitioned and presented left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. That's a real shame given the starting point. It's really easy to pass judgement and criticise when you are not aware of the other factors that went into creating a piece of entertainment. It must be especially challenging when there is no certainty of a follow-on series or film.

For a single season there was ample material for one Keith or RIS-centred storyline that could be explored more fully. It could have shown us why Keith was so revered by his colleagues for his detecting abilities. It could have fleshed out the characters more so we cared about them. Equally, there was plenty to fill a Koku-related season of its own. Whilst these stories would have intersected at key points across both seasons the separate arcs would have had more time to breathe and display their strengths. As they were crashed together we got something that felt like a compromise. That B the Beginning has been picked up for a second season is really positive. It is an entertaining thriller and even with my views of the story there are certainly avenues that follow on season can explore and I would certainly start watching it.

Even with all my reservations, I enjoyed B the Beginning. It is a decent thriller with fantastical elements mixed in and some great action sequences. Production IG have developed a show full of gorgeous night-time scenes and interesting looking characters. As the story progresses they try to build tension and suspense but for seasoned viewers the twists and turns are not that surprising. Had more time been given to either of the stories featured this may not have been the case. As such it feels like a missed opportunity, albeit a very pretty one.

FROM Netflix
12 Episodes [TV Series]

IN A NUTSHELL: An entertaining dark thriller which could be much more than the sum of its parts.