Black Cat had a lot going for it: the manga was something of a success in Shounen Jump, by far the best place any shounen mangaka can get published, the character designs were appealing, and the theme song was alternately pretty and kinda cool. The first episode did a good job of introducing its characters and setting: in a cartoonishly noir world, bounty hunters called ‘sweepers’ struggle to make ends meet by going after wanted criminals. Standing above this underworld system are the Chrono Numbers, top hitman and assassins, and amongst the most accomplished is number XIII, Train Heartnet, also known as Black Cat. When this young prodigy meets a surly but good-hearted hitman and the two of them get mixed up in the rescue of a young girl - the subject of some sinister experiments - their old ways of life have to be left behind and new paths found.
To put it like that makes it sound a bit epic, and let’s face it, Black Cat isn’t epic, and really ought to have either been half as long as it was (and it didn’t quite make 26 episodes) or have somehow embarked on a much more exciting quest, because as it was, it sort of hopped between story arcs and as a result never really got anywhere. When the series’ main arc ends and there are still two or three episodes to go, and they start a whole new storyline that’s supposed to tie up all the loose ends. And then it just…stops.
Every cheesy anime cliché is here: cute little girl with big power, lots of pretty boys and big-breasted and/or excessively up-front women with amazing abilities, mad obsessives who want to purify this rotten world, and even magic spells that make adults into children for a novelty episode. This is more low-brow than Naruto. This is down with Pokémon and Shaman King, but actually lacks their cuteness and charm. Yes, Black Cat has its moments – the central threesome getting more like a family, some of the showdowns between the Apostles of the Stars and the Chrono Numbers, but in general the series falls flat: none of the characters develop to an extent that they actually become likeable, and there’s no overall story. Everything’s a series of small subplots that don’t have much significance and are largely nonsensical – madman goes after main character, small boy is beaten up until he remembers he really ought to be looking after his young friends, main girl turns into giant world-cleansing blob…
Black Cat has some solid ideas, and there are some decent characters, but overall, it’s a mess. Possibly the manga has more coherence and…well, intelligence, but as an anime, I can recommend this only in a very limited way. Characters are nicely-drawn, and it is quite fun, but honestly, it’s anime’s lowest rung.
(originally written 24.4.08)