Title: El Cazador de la Bruja
(Note: Translated, the title means “The Witch Hunter”, a reference to the mysterious particle refered to in the show as Maxwell’s Witch, among other things, but in keeping with the Central American theme, the show retains its title in Spanish in both Japanese and English references)
Length: 26 episodes (approx 25 mins each)
MPAA Rating: Unknown
My Rating: 3.5/5
Maxwell’s Witch is the name given by a professor to a particle he discovers that can control entropy, but while he’s still investigating its potential, he is shot to death in his mansion. Fast forward a few years. Nadie is an attractive young bounty-hunter, a professional gunslinger making her way from town to town across a desolate Central American landscape. Ellis is an enigmatic but innocent young girl who has lost her memory, but when Nadie rescues her from a gang of armed thugs, it seems there’s more to this conversationally-challenged little lady than first meets the eye. Together the girls set out across the desert to stay ahead of the bad guys, and at the same time discover the secret to Ellis’ past hidden within the Inca Rose.
A strong, confident gunslinging heroine paired with a troubled but seemingly innocent youth, being pursued by a relentless force of bad guys while seeking to uncover some [in]conveniently forgotten truth from the past. Sound familiar? It ought to. El Cazador is the third installment in Koichi Mashimo’s Girls-with-Guns trilogy, and carries with it many of the same elements that held Noir and Madlax together and, in this reviewer’s opinion, made them great shows.
However, while the premise might be similar (and yes, dare I say it, even a little tired), Cazador is a very different show to either of its spiritual predecessors. The opening couple of minutes already highlight two sweeping changes. The first is the visual style. While not shirking on attractive landscapes and atmospheric sets, Cazador has chosen to go far more cartoon-esque in its representation of the characters, with none of Noir’s stylized realism or Madlax’s attractive bold characters. Instead, the show’s two heroines look, well, like little girls. Mashimo’s gone… cute on us?
Next up is the humour. While Noir and Madlax struggle to raise a chuckle between them, Cazador is by contrast replete with visual gags and running jokes- including [horror of horrors] the use of big mouths, oversized beads of sweat, and both feet flying off the ground during temper tantrums. I suddenly feel ten years younger.
Finally, it appears somebody’s forgotten to tell the production team that this is a girls-with-guns storyline. Sure, Nadie carries a gun, and she even uses it from time to time, but it’s hardly central to the unfolding storyline. In fact, unlike the first two series Nadie and Ellis seem to manage several of their escapades without ever firing off a shot.
And while I do have to say that on one level, Cazador was a little dissapointing (especially after the trouble I went to trying to get a fansubbed version so I could actually understand what I was watching) on the other hand, not only is it a little unfair to give it a hard time just because it compares unfavourably with what are undoubtedly two of my favourite shows of all time (anime or otherwise), but in fact I actually quite enjoyed it. Once I grew used to the change in visual style, the cuteness of Nadie, and Ellis in particular, makes them quite endearing. Bee Train’s usual high-quality backdrops and attention to detail make the show worth watching even without a plot, and the open desert with its sweeping blue cirrus-feathered skies were a nice variation following Noir’s European ruins and Madlax’s tropical jungles.
Even the humour grew on me- something that I wasn’t expecting, as not only do I have a hard time with some of the stylized humour in anime, but I actually quite prefer my shows bleak and poignant. The contrast between naive Ellis and uptight Nadie leads to some predictable but entertaining situational comedy. Ellis’ propensity to respond ‘yes sir’ to every instruction only makes her more charming, while the running Amigo Tacos joke, which at first wound me up, elicited more than a few chuckles from me by the series’ end.
Again, Mashimo, you’re going cute on us…
The lack of gunplay was undoubtedly the biggest hole in the series as far as I was concerned, especially after the goods we know the Bee Train team can deliver in that department. As such, the series is far less an action thriller or a girls-with-guns story, and much more just a road-trip with an edge story, which focusses very much on their relationship and interaction as the driving force of the otherwise episodic storyline. While there is an underlying narrative, it has none of the compulsion of Madlax’s alternate reality, or even the dark, brooding threat of Les Soldats in Noir, and I never really got into it in Cazador.
I also missed the poignancy, again something I look for in a series. It did have its moments, and as the series continues there is a growing tension as to what will happen in the final scenes. The character of L.A. in particular is a somewhat sinister and tortured addition who elicits both a considerable degree of pity and revulsion. I will say that the characters, as with Cazador’s two precedents, did certainly engage, and again like Madlax there was a greater supporting cast than the two-girl-show that Noir tended to be. Gunslinger Ricardo and his silent little milk-drinking sidekick Lirio are a charming and entertaining addition, although I confess that Blue Eyes, the secretary turned special-operative was a somewhat obtuse addition to the plot from my perspective, and never really did much for me.
I can’t talk about a Mashimo production without talking soundtrack, however, and yes, the first thing I looked for when I saw the series specs come out was to see whether Yuki Kajiura was back for the score… and she was. Again probably the strongest part of the series, the music lends a real mood and atmosphere to scenes that might otherwise fall flat. A pleasing and melodic opening theme gives way to Kajiura’s classic haunting vocals fused with orchestra and electronica. The soundtrack has taken on the latin American theme, with melodic use of flute, pipes and earthy beats recurring throughout, and while the upbeat jangly tunes that accompany some of the show’s hijinx aren’t really my thing, they work well. As always, however, there are a couple of tracks which really stand out on this score, one being the haunting and melancholic L.A., themed for that troubled young character, with its blend of bells, strings, vocals, and electric beats and guitar. The other is the epic theme Inca Rose, which reappears throughout the series as a mainstay and which remains one of my favourite pieces from Kajiura’s work with Mashimo- another poignant vocal arrangement backed by a pretty looping synthesizer track, some classical picking, and a softly moaning electric guitar.
All up, I did genuinely enjoy Cazador, it just never really took off into the series I hoped it would be given the quality of the first two shows. And maybe that’s because it wasn’t dark enough for me. I came to care for the characters and what happened to them, and looked forward to each episode, even if it wasn’t with the same sense of foreboding that Noir and Madlax drew me on. It has humour, heart and great visuals, and although the plot isn’t the strongest, I’ve not got a lot to hold against it.
If you enjoyed Mashimo’s first two contributions to this genre, you’re probably going to be dissapointed by Cazador. Feeling like a rehash of the same central premise, but with none of the gunplay or the sombre plotlines that gave the predecessors a certain weight and seriousness, Cazador feels considerably younger and brighter. And maybe this is a good thing, all things considered. Of the three, it’s probably the most accessible and least offensive, and certainly more appropriate for a younger audience. While I’m not going to give Cazador an unreserved recommendation, this is still a fun series with endearing characters and considerable adventure and dramatic tension. Unfortunately, when I last checked, Cazador still hadn’t been released outside of Japan, so you may struggle to find a watchable version of it.
And in the meantime, who knows, maybe Bee Train will throw out a fourth girls-with-guns series one of these days. I can always hope…
Cazador is about bounty hunters and gun-toting bad-guys in the wild west. There’s shooting, and yes, there’s even a bit of killing. However, compared to the very violent Noir and Madlax, this is a pretty tame entry into the genre. There’s minimal blood, although L.A. with his razor-wire does sometimes get a bit carried away. Cazador does deal with a few more adult themes, including the death of children, which aren’t really all that tasteful for sensitive audiences, and there are a handful of somewhat scary scenes what young kids probably won’t enjoy. A little bit of incidental nudity, and some fan-service that seems to be more of a parody of itself than anything really designed to titilate. I haven’t seen an MPAA rating on this, but I’d guage it somewhere between a PG and a soft M.