Witches are real. Their powers are genetically inherited and include things like ESP, telekinesis, mind control, the ability to control electricity or the ability to stop other people's hearts. They're basically psychics, in other words. STN Japan Division (STN-J) is part of a secretive global organisation called SOLOMON that hunts down witches, although STN-J is unusual in that it tries to capture them alive in order to find out more about them. Robin is a new STN-J Witch Hunter, transferred to Japan from Italy as a replacement for a hunter who got killed. Let the witch hunts begin.
I found this show boring. Things got interesting for a bit at exactly the halfway mark and then again for the last four episodes, but I wasn't grabbed by the characters, the plot or the world. It's one of those series that you'd swear was adapted from a relatively short manga and wildly padded out for the sake of a 26-episode anime, but apparently there never was a manga and it was all original to the TV show. If so, there's no excuse. The first half is a bunch of "monster of the week" witch-hunting episodes, after which it descends into conspiracy theory territory. Oh dear.
My most fundamental problem is with the world. The show's premise is that among us are psychics known as witches who must be hunted down by other official psychics, called hunters. The hunters are basically witches with a badge, but they think they're completely different because they're the good guys. Uh-huh. Right. Obviously this preconception will get challenged during these 26 episodes, but unfortunately it's so shallow and obvious in the first place that I wasn't very interested in seeing it get overturned. It's not a metaphor or anything. It's just a hackneyed idea being played completely straight. Interesting twists develop later on, but they all fall victim to the fact that they're permutations on a cliche.
Shadowy organisations work behind the scenes - the Solomon organisation, some acronym or another, some other guys... you know, despite watching these people manipulating each other for 26 episodes, I can't remember their names. Not a good sign. Admittedly I'm not a fan of conspiracy theories and espionage plots (e.g. the R.O.D. TV series) but this series did nothing to change my mind. It kinda cool at one point to see soldiers in combat armour going after our heroes, but their bosses are just middle-aged men behind desks. Be still my beating heart.
The characters are underplayed, like a particularly humdrum police procedural. We get lots of workplace scenes at the STN-J office, complete with a "little Hitler" supervisor. He even has the moustache. I must admit that this is a refreshing approach to the show's lurid cartoonish subject matter. The hunters are mature, intelligent professionals who do their job and don't let their personal lives interfere with work. I suppose that's admirable. It would have been easy (and lazy) to create the usual anime gang of squabbling halfwits, although I can't help feeling that that would have been more fun to watch. Nevertheless it's easy to imagine many viewers responding positively to the fact that the characters are grown-ups in a realistically portrayed workplace.
It also has a chilly kind of style. I've seen praise for its soundtrack, its English dub and its visual design that's slightly reminiscent of The Matrix. Imagine Goths who've grown up and got themselves jobs, guns and trenchcoats.
In fairness my best friend loved this show. However if like me you find yourself getting bogged down at the beginning, jump ahead to episodes 14-16. You'll miss a bunch of "monster of the week" episodes and a little foreshadowing, but nothing essential. Having got straight to the action, if even those episodes do nothing for you, give up and watch something else instead!
It's po-faced, with the only exception being an occasional smile from me at Robin's understated reactions. She's so soft-spoken that she'll often deliver a deadpan "sorry" or "thank you" when a stronger response would seem more appropriate. I liked her. She's a 15-year-old convent girl in a black chin-to-ankle Victorian gown, but she's also intelligent, sincere, thoughtful and not afraid to take extreme action if necessary. In addition she's a pyrokinetic. As the situation becomes more complicated and Robin comes to question her calling and the morality of witch hunting, she gets an unusual amount of screen time and character development. She's nothing like anime's usual cute hyperactive heroines, but she always held my attention.
This show may be dry enough to dessicate rainforests, but it has a certain watchability. If you don't mind a grey humourless series that sometimes almost seems to be trying to bore you, these are sincere stories set in a brutal world of double-dealing and ruthless bastards. At least it takes itself seriously. The ending's quite good too, though I felt it left a little too much unresolved. This show has a respectable fanbase and at one point was even going to get a live-action adaptation courtesy of the Sci-Fi Channel in America. Fans of conspiracy theories will probably find it sinister and compelling. I'm tempted to call it the X-Files done right. At least it knows where it's going with its secrets! I'm glad I saw Witch Hunter Robin, but I've absolutely no interest in ever watching it again.