Something is rotten in the state of Cremona, a fictional island kingdom (not to be confused with the real-life city of Cremona in northern Italy) where old-world style meets near-future technology. Cremona is the setting for B: The Beginning, a Netflix original anime directed by Kazuto Nakazawa and Yoshiki Yamakawa and featuring animation by Production I.G (Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex). A deranged serial killer known only as “B” stalks the tiny island nation, killing without a conscience or a clear pattern, and the officers of the Royal Investigation Service have no clue concerning how to end Killer B’s reign of terror. Only Lily Hoshina, a hotshot rookie who favors action over strategy, and Keith Flick, a genius investigator who has spent years moldering in the records & archives division, have any chance of bringing the perpetrator to justice.
That’s the premise of B: The Beginning, and it’s a solid spine around which to build the narrative of a taut psychological thriller or a tense police procedural. There’s just one problem: that premise comprises maybe 10 percent of B: The Beginning‘s 12 episode run-time. The remaining 90 percent is grade A, high octane, Looney Tunes nonsense. This is the kind of show that makes you want to use “anime” as an adjective or a verb. The plot of B: The Beginning includes: secret conspiracies, a team of assassins with a Pierrot the Sad Clown aesthetic, clone super-soldiers, visual cues stolen straight from the BBC Sherlock series, a character who is literally just Mads Mikkelsen’s take on Hannibal Lecter from the TV show Hannibal in anime form, an ancient prophecy, illegal experiments, chemical weaponry, cyber-terrorism, petrified angel skeletons, and a secret blimp base in low Earth orbit that is true to its moniker (“Moby Dick”) by being able to launch hundreds of harpoons at a moment’s notice. In short, B: The Beginning is a modern anime that is utterly bonkers in the same transcendent way that only a handful of anime movies and OAVs from the 80s and 90s managed to achieve. The best and most proper reaction to it is stupefaction.
This is not to imply that B: The Beginning is unwatchable. Quite the opposite. I think everyone should view it at least once, if only to experience the anime equivalent of drinking a Pan Dimensional Gargle Blaster. Aside from the spectacle and the constant surprises, the show is beautifully animated, with only the 3DCG cars sticking out in glaring opposition to the well-realized characters and the beautiful background art. The ending theme—a collaboration entitled “The Perfect World,” which combines the musical talents of Marty Friedman, Jean-Ken Johnny of MAN WITH A MISSION, KenKen, and Koji Fujimoto—is also smoking hot. When B: The Beginning is in its police procedural mode, it’s genuinely suspenseful and thrilling. When it’s not, well, it’s the kind of anime where a suspected terrorist dressed in clown regalia clashes with a blue-skinned angel with a sword for an arm while skateboarding down the side of a skyscraper. If that doesn’t sell you on the show, I don’t know what will.
Currently streaming on Netflix in multiple languages (Japanese, English, German, French, and Spanish), B: The Beginning is a glorious mess, both easy to access in terms of availability and completely impenetrable in terms of inscrutability. Production I.G should have stuck with its original title for the series, Perfect Bones, because that title is perfect in ways that I’m not sure the producers, writers, and animators intended. While I personally wish that the script (the first major writing credit for Katsuya Ishida) had received another three or four passes through the revision and editing process, and while the ending (which features a post-credits reveal that is both head-scratching and tantalizing in its teasing of a potential sequel) is more of a weak raspberry than a bombshell blast, I maintain that B: The Beginning needs to be seen to be believed.
Rating: Not Rated