B: The Beginning – Anime Review
Synopsis: Genius investigator Keith Flick rejoins the royal police force just as serial killer “B” emerges. Mysterious youth Koku may be an ally, or a target. (Official Netflix Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
As Netflix takes a greater and greater role in anime production and distribution it’s not always going to hit a home run, and B: The Beginning is a perfect example of that. While never terrible, and often enjoyable, B: The Beginning is a bit messy. Beneath the generally solid, strong action scenes, moody visuals, striking lead character designs, sits a story that never quite melds together as well as it could.
Focusing on the visuals before we dig deeper, B: The Beginning is a mostly solid production. The animation work here is fluid, strong, and captivating, although a few aspects of the production fall flat. There’s some outlandish, if not outright garish, character designs for the more minor villains that never properly jive with the overall mood of the series, often feeling more off-putting than captivating. There’s periodic usage of CGI to depict vehicles, and while generally on point, there’s a handful of shots that look outright terrible, pulling the viewer right out of the series otherwise strong atmosphere.
Delving deeper, let’s talk about characters. The series bounces from well realized leads to ho-hum side characters that are thin, or perhaps never given the opportunity to shine. Keith Flick, our brilliant and genius detective lead, is the most captivating character. From his cold demeanor, his methodical focus, the man is a modern anime Sherlock Holmes. He’s the most interesting and explored character, although that’s largely because B: The Beginning is truly his story. His motivation to find the killer of a loved one, a murder still haunting him, is what ultimately sends B: The Beginning moving forward for large chunks of its run time. We spend the most time with Keith out of any of the characters, and by series end he feels the most familiar.
While we begin the series by focusing on Lily, Keith’s Watson if you will, she quickly becomes more of a side character, rarely given anything to do that befits her strong-woman character type. While she periodically acts as a catalyst to push Keith Flick into action, that sometimes seems the most her character is ever given. Many of the other cops fair worse, acting as bit players to help keep the story going when needed. One character, Brandon, sets off a series of events involving an internal RIS (the FBI of this nation) conspiracy, yet quickly becomes inconsequential otherwise, only popping up again for late exposition and a small burst of comic relief.
Other members of the RIS work much the same way, available for exposition, but never character exploration. It’s the same for many of the villains, save our ultimate baddie, who seem to exist more as warm bodies for our other main character to slaughter, rather than to provide interesting individuals to latch onto and follow the story through.
Switching gears, let’s talk about the characters on the other side of the isle. B: The Beginning isn’t just meant to be Keith Flick’s tale, although it largely is. B: The Beginning’s side plot is a narrative baked in an entirely different genre. While Keith’s main plot is one of mystery, thrills and chills, the other half of B: The Beginning is decidedly sci-fi or supernatural super power based. That’s where Koku comes in, a young man blessed with incredible powers that can sprout large black wings from his back for him to take flight across the city, and turn his arm into a deadly sword that can cut through anything. At the heart of it, Koku’s narrative is one of his quest to defeat an evil organization and reunite with the one woman he loves. The story is steeped in its own layers of mystery and reveals, so I don’t want to spoil too much.
That said, Koku is as plain as we can get with a protagonist in this kind of narrative. He’s the classic hero pushing back against destiny, but otherwise his character remains largely thin, so focused on reuniting himself with the woman he loves that there’s little else to his persona. That said, his story is a naturally compelling one, and while comparatively thin to Keith’s more fleshed out characterization, his story works on a fundamental and relatable level.
B: The Beginning’s troubled nature is a little deeper than a few thin characters however. The biggest problems of the series stem from its wildly different, yet fused together narratives. The issue is how poorly both stories are tied together. The connections between the two are largely superficial, and consist of inserting Keith and his ultimate nemesis into the origin story of Koku and his enemies. Niether Keith or his nemesis play that meaty a role in Koku’s narrative however, feeling like quick inserts to justify the more action packed narrative’s inclusion. Their roles in the tale are crucial, but nothing character specific, meaning you could envision Koku’s narrative as an anime series by itself, without Keith or the ultimate baddie from his plot line. They play significant roles, but short-lived ones, before Koku is off on his own and fighting far and away from anything else going on.
B: The Beginning attempts to keep things feeling a little more connected than that, by having Koku as an acquaintance of Lily early on, yet that pays off in the most minor of ways mid-series, and never matters again. In fact, outside of Keith and his nemesis featuring to what capacity they do in Koku’s origins, no one else from the main plot crosses over. The rest of the RIS members never feature in that story, and Koku’s more minor villains as cast as minor annoyances and minions of the central villain, never allowing our law enforcement heroes to truly glimpse what’s going on in the other half of the series.
It might not be much of an issue if Keith’s story wasn’t so much more compelling. Not only is Keith the more meaty an individual than Koku, with a greater cast of characters surrounding him, even if they are largely underused, but his villain is so much more interesting. Once we learn the identity of the grand mastermind behind things the series picks up considerably and the final few episodes form the best of the series.
Koku’s plot seems to almost entirely exist for action, as outside of a flashback to catch the audience up to speed on the truth behind the mysteries, near all his scenes focus on brutal action-focused content. It’s as if this B-plot was designed to be a way to up the violent, action content of an otherwise thriller-based detective series. The lack of proper inter-connectivity between the two has me easily imagining these two narratives cut into two entirely separate anime with little rewriting required.
While the connection between both narratives is thinner than ideal, the series still manages to entertain, which is what matters most at the end of the day. Koku’s plot provides plenty of action, perhaps helping to keep B: The Beginning overall engaging for anyone less enthused with crime drama. And since neither narrative is awful, the connections may be slim, but the end result is still one of quality.
B: The Beginning is flawed, but not so much that it can’t make do as is. One great narrative and another decent are wrapped in generally solid animation and wonderfully atmospheric music that help to smooth things over. It’s not the greatest Netflix has yet to offer in the anime medium, but there’s no doubt in my mind that B: The Beginning is an otherwise solidly entertaining series, and there will be missteps for Netflix far less successful than B: The Beginning. If you’re someone who enjoys crime, mystery, and thrills with a sprinkle of crazy anime, over the top brutal action, then B: The Beginning is sure to satisfy.
B: The Beginning is available for streaming via Netflix.