Taut Action Thriller Anime
A blend of Western and Eastern influences, B: The Beginning is a bold original anime. Director Kazuto Nakazawa and anime studio Production I.G. (Attack on Titan) created B: The Beginning for Netflix. The streaming channel was looking for original content and anime’s growing popularity in the West caught their eye. Having already worked on animated projects for Western audiences with Kill Bill and The Animatrix, animator and director Kazuto Nakazawa was the right man for the job.
B: The Beginning is a mature suspense thriller with incredible superhuman action and a few shocking twists. A gritty police hunt for the mysterious “Killer B” unveils a deepening mystery for former detective Keith Kazama Flick, leading him down a darkly personal path.
A cross between Sherlock Holmes and L from Death Note, Flick is an investigative genius who lost someone close to him eight years ago. Now back with the Royal Investigation Service (RIS) team after a long absence hunting the mysterious killer, Flick and Killer B become entangled in a grand scheme that reaches the highest levels of government.
B: The Beginning is a thrill ride from beginning to end made for anime fans
B: The Beginning is a thrill ride from beginning to end made for anime fans
The premise in B: The Beginning goes far beyond the initial mystery, which at first plays out like a crime-driven procedural. There’s a purpose behind Killer B’s gruesome murders as we learn more about his fearsome winged powers and origins. The plot becomes more complicated as a shadowy group behind the scenes starts interfering with Killer B. Heavy-duty action and a truly compelling mystery fuel the intriguing mythology.
Keith Flick is an interesting and likable protagonist, always one step ahead of everyone else. Solving crimes through math equations only he can comprehend, his amazing abilities are off-set by his lack of interpersonal skills. Deeply respected by his peers, other officers still view him as out of touch. His search for Killer B will lead to answers from his past and conflict with an even greater evil.
B: The Beginning isn’t without a few rough edges. Despite the interesting backstory with hints of a unique mythology, the details are half-baked and largely skipped over despite a sprawling first season. Killer B’s past reads like a litany of anime tropes plucked from other fantasy and sci-fi anime, down to the childhood friend.
Taut suspense, crisp action, striking animation and memorable characters cover up the anime’s deficiencies. B: The Beginning is a thrill ride from beginning to end made for anime fans. Peppering in fantasy and sci-fi elements with stark procedural components, the anime is imaginative and ambitious.
All twelve episodes from season one of the anime are spread equally over two BD-50s. Most run no longer than 25 minutes apiece. Animated by well-known animation house Production I.G. (Psycho-Pass, Ghost in the Shell, Attack on Titan) in traditional hand-drawn style, B: The Beginning features creative and fetching character designs. The grittier animated vibe from Psycho-Pass is a clear influence on its aesthetic choices.
Both Killer B and his adversaries from Market Maker have bold, fresh designs with interesting and unique visual elements. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about the designs found in B: The Beginning. That’s incredibly refreshing considering how derivative anime has become in the last few years. Netflix got their money’s worth on the screen.
Directly overseen by Kazuto Nakazawa, his influence over the animation is seen in the stunning fight sequences, fluidly rendered with smooth key frames. Made in the mold of an intense crime procedural, darker colors and night sequences dominate. This is a crisp action anime with a variety of different locales. Like most televised anime that bypasses the theatrical market, primary characters receive far more drawn care and level of detail. Killer B revealing his intricately-colored eye is always a striking visual.
Banding is a problem in the erratic AVC encode. Always a potential issue with modern anime at vivid 1080P resolution, thick gradations in the flat color shading are obvious in certain scenes. Shout Factory’s previous anime releases haven’t had this issue. The 1.78:1 presentation has perfect black levels and contrast. Beyond the banding, any other deficiencies in the video are from the source material itself. Some gimpy CGI and a few curious lighting choices appear to be animation that was rushed for a deadline.
Moody music by Yoshihiro Ike (Blood: The Last Empire, Tiger & Bunny) and an enveloping array of discrete action cues are delivered in high-quality Japanese and English 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The surprisingly superb English dub boasts the voice talents of Johnny Yong Bosch, Allegra Clark, Ray Chase, and Brianna Knickerbocker. Given how B: The Beginning was financed by Netflix for international markets outside Japan, the English dub almost feels like the more natural choice for the thriller. English listeners should enjoy the English dub without guilt.
The surround mix captures the whoosh of Koku flying through the skies with excellent panning and directionality. Fights sound realistic with bone-crunching power and pinpoint imaging. Dialogue isn’t overwhelmed by the full dynamics and deep soundstage. The subwoofer workout is a little light with less impact than expected. Action is nicely portrayed with convincing sound design and realism.
Musical fidelity is strongly highlighted when the ending theme song from former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman plays each episode. It’s a perfect piece of music for the dark, intense series. While unusual, some anime in the past have used English songs as theme music.
There are two sets of English subtitles included, one for the Japanese dialogue and one for the Japanese text occasionally flashed on screen. It is imperative for English dub listeners to enable the subtitles for Japanese text, listed as “signs” in the menu. There are a few important narrative developments that would be missed if you can’t read the text on screen. Both subtitles play in a white font.
Shout Factory is jumping into the expensive collector’s edition market that has taken over anime in recent years. B: The Beginning sees a normal Blu-ray edition and an “Ultimate” edition that will retail for over $100. What separates the two editions? The limited-edition Ultimate set comes housed in a visually striking slipcase, with three art cards and an exclusive 160-page hardback book.
The book is a comprehensive series bible, packed with information about every element of the anime’s story, taking fans behind the scenes of its production with staff interviews, character designs, background artwork, location information and more. The Ultimate set also includes the original soundtrack CD. While the book is lavish and detailed, there doesn’t appear to be any differences between the BDs found in either set.
Merely an ordinary fan looking to own the series on BD? The regular Blu-ray combo edition has you covered with a few bonuses of its own. It comes packed with two art cards, a mini-poster and a slipcover. You also get the series on two DVDs.
Like most North American anime releases, the BDs are coded for Region A. One annoying thing is that changing subtitles on the fly as episodes play is blocked.
Interview with Kazuto Nakazawa (23:59 in HD; Japanese w/ English subtitles) – A nice, lengthy sit-down with the director he gave at some 2018 anime festival. Discusses his approach working on an anime made for Western markets, his experiences working on sequences for Kill Bill and The Animatrix, the genesis of this project, why he became an artist and more food for thought. It’s a relaxed, informative interview, a rarity from anime creators.
Bonus Test Film (01:49 in HD) – This is the 2014 demo reel put together that codified the art design and many elements found in B: The Beginning. Think of it as a sizzle reel made to help sell the concept to interested studios.
Clean Ending (01:57 in HD) – The end credits and song play without intrusive text. A fairly common extra found on anime releases.
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B: The Beginning
An interesting premise driven by a superhuman killer and fresh anime visuals mark Kazuto Nakazawa’s dark criminal thriller made for Netflix.
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