Review for Canaan - Complete Collection
Usually when trying to figure out what I want to watch next when it comes to anime, it can quite often turn into a long and involved process of reading reviews, researching various shows, comparing them to other similar shows in those genres, and finding out just what else the creators have worked on. It can on rare occasion take longer than it does to actually watch the thing. Click on your average anime forum and you’ll find several threads of people asking for advice on just what to watch next. But sometimes, all it takes is a single word to capture my interest.
That happened with Canaan. The word was synaesthesia, a medical condition where the senses become mixed up. People see sounds, or taste colours. There are neurological differences that link senses together that should otherwise be separate. It sounds like a fascinating and indeed unnerving experience, and it’s hard to understand just how sufferers from the condition perceive the world. But it also is a very compelling concept. When it turned out that synaesthesia plays a part in Canaan, I was curious to see just how it would be represented in anime form. That’s before I even knew what the actual show was about.
Maria Osawa is a rookie photographer who’s travelling with reporter Mino to Shanghai. She has an ulterior motive, as she’s looking for her friend Canaan, who rescued her from a bad situation and befriended her on a previous visit. Maria is also a survivor of a bio-terror attack in Shinjuku, when an engineered virus called UA was unleashed. Canaan too survived an UA attack that wiped out her village, but the disease left its mark on her. She’s developed a sixth sense, a different way of seeing things that helps in her work as an assassin. She was raised and trained by a mercenary called Siam, but Siam was murdered by the leader of the Snake terrorist group, Alphard, and Canaan has been looking for revenge ever since. Snake also claims responsibility for the UA attacks, and as Maria and Mino arrive in Shanghai, the Snake group’s plans are coming to fruition.
MVM present the complete series of Canaan, 13 episodes across three discs.
1. Evil. Flood-Colored City
2. Worthless Games
4. Lingering Sunset
6. Love & Piece
9. Flowers of the Past
12. The Seasonal Train
13. The Promised Land
Canaan gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, which on these three discs, sourced from Australia’s Siren Visual are in the native PAL format, with the requisite 4% speed-up. The most recent anime being released in the UK and in Australia, has been mostly sourced from HD masters, which allow a better than NTSC resolution on the higher resolution PAL format. This lets anime look as good as possible when it has an extra 100 lines to play with. However, with Canaan, it looks as if they only had a 480 line source to create the DVDs with, and consequently the image on this disc looks soft, and of lower resolution. Aliasing and shimmer is apparent in certain scenes, most notably the start of the opening theme which looks obviously zoomed in. There’s also a smidge of edge enhancement that becomes apparent when the image is up-scaled on an HD screen. That’s a shame as Canaan was released on Blu-ray in the US, and HD masters should have been available for the show.
It’s also a shame as Canaan is a very splendidly animated show, with great character designs, detailed world designs that make full use of the Shanghai locations, fluid character animation, as well as excellent action choreography that makes you want to skip back and watch it again in slow motion to really take it in. This is my kind of fan service, consistent, quality animation that makes you appreciate the medium even more.
You get a DD 5.1 English track, and a DD 2.0 Japanese stereo track, along with optional subtitles and a signs only track. The US release from Sentai offered DD 5.1 Japanese, and it looks like Siren have downgraded this, which is a little disappointing, especially given how action oriented the show is, and just how good the surround effect in the English dub version turns out to be. As always I stuck with the Japanese audio, and found it to be enjoyable, with appropriate voice casting, and a fair bit of prologic working to expand the soundstage. I gave the dub a shot, and found it too to be well cast, with the 5.1 surround excelling in enhancing the action in the show.
My big concern with the UK release of Canaan was reading about Sentai’s release having grossly mistimed subtitles in episode 8. Thankfully that doesn’t happen here. However, this is a port of Siren Visual’s release from October 2010, one of their earlier releases, and it’s a show from the period where they were still ironing out the kinks in their own subtitling. On this release, there is only one line of subtitles shown at a time. If two people are talking over each other, the subtitles will alternate between the two, and you have to know the context to know just to who the dialogue text applies. If there is dialogue in the background, this complicates matters, and if there is on screen text to be captioned, this adds another complication. It isn’t uncommon to see four lines of subtitles flash by in quick succession, and you have to be quick on the pause button to catch them all. Siren make sure that all the text is there that you need for the translation, but the way that it presents this doesn’t make it easy to take in. As I said, Canaan was one of their earlier releases in Australia, and subsequent releases have improved on the subtitling.
At 1.28:37 into disc 1, there is an odd drop in the background music in both English and Japanese, which sounds like a glitch, but may be by design.
Extras are light on this release, and are confined to disc 3. The US release from Sentai has a 12-minute Minorikawa's Report featurette, but as it is merely a recap of the early episodes in the run, not much is lost by leaving it out.
All discs get animated menus and on disc 3, you’ll find the textless credit sequences, and trailers for The Tower of Druaga, Welcome to the NHK, and Needless.
I wanted to like Canaan, I really did. The production values are high, the animation is excellent, the voice actor performances are of good quality, the music’s good, and the premise is intriguing. While there isn’t exactly a scarcity of fiction that explores terrorism and social alienation, especially since 2001, Canaan brings enough to the table that is different to make it stand out from amongst the crowd. There should be every reason to indulge in some Canaan, but then there is the story, which is where it all falls apart. You could say that Canaan is a triumph of style over substance, a dose of eye-candy so energetic and atmospheric that you could watch it with the brain switched off, and just take in the gorgeous visuals. But the story is so lacklustre; the writing is so poor that it actually detracts from the look of the show, so it’s less of a triumph and more of a nice try.
The first problem, and indeed the biggest problem is that it’s really only half a story. It was a little worse for me, as I only found out after I had watched it that it’s actually a sequel to a visual novel, one of those narrative video games that are so popular in Japan. These are all characters with back stories, and pasts, inter-relationships and context that has all been established in a story that we in the UK do not get to see. The anime doesn’t exactly go out of the way to fill in the gaps either.
Then there is the story structure, which begins with a five episode stretch of random events. As I said, it’s all lacking in context and in retrospect obviously related to that game that we don’t see, but the story flits from character to character, dropping little snippets of plot, nudging the story forward a tad, with the odd flashback and allusion to add some more mystery. It keeps throwing in bits of jargon and sowing seeds of plot to tantalise the taste buds. You expect this kind of narrative to coalesce in a refreshing and innovative way, the way that shows like Baccano and Durarara do it, except that along comes episode 6 and begins with an info-dump burst of exposition that basically sets it all out. It’s a bit of cheat that renders the first five episodes a little moot.
It’s alright though, as what then follows is a six episode stretch of story that unfolds naturally, puts what has been established to use, and develops as a very engaging, suspenseful, action thriller. Good guys and bad guys, a terrorist threat, bioweapons, Vash the Stampede as the President of the United States, lots of action and excitement, and if this was the extent of Canaan, I would be quite satisfied, if a little disappointed at a failure to reach its potential.
But there then follows a two episode coda which leaves something of an ashen taste in the mouth. The show’s protagonist and main antagonist confront each other, in a more personal showdown, one which harks back to their shared history and mutual antipathy (that which is only alluded to in flashback and is most likely developed in that game that I mentioned), and this leads to an open ending which is no doubt left hanging for a sequel. So Canaan has no beginning and no end in this series, just a series of events that comprise a middle of a story, and it is this which induces the most deflating feeling about the show.
Personally I was a little deflated too by the way that synaesthesia was developed here. Perhaps I was a little too optimistic in seeing something like a realistic depiction, as in this show it’s portrayed more like a superpower, something like X-Ray vision. Canaan is the synesthete, but her ailment allows her to see feelings as colours, making her an empath as well. She uses this ability in her work as an assassin, the intent to kill comes out as bright blue, and she can use that to target her foes. Other emotions manifest in different colours. It’s a cool concept and one that is depicted imaginatively and effectively in the animation, but it, and the other abilities manifested by the survivors of the UA virus reach into the paranormal and superpower realm, rather than anything realistic.
Canaan has an interesting premise, or rather a collection of interesting premises. You have the synaesthetic angle, the UA virus that causes certain victims to manifest abilities, the idea that the UA virus was engineered by a government agency to create an army of mutants, the further idea that the virus was co-opted and deployed as a weapon of terror by the Snake group. There’s an anti-terror conference with the world’s major leaders that plays a part in the show, there’s complex politics and ideology in the story, but Canaan has a tendency, much like a fickle cat, to pick up an idea, toy with it for a while, and then discard it, never to bring it to mind again. When an anti-terror conference is attacked by terrorists, the world’s leaders held hostage and threatened with a lethal virus, you expect that to have ramifications that last through the series, but Canaan uses that idea as long as it is relevant to the story it’s trying to tell, and then forgets it once its usefulness ends. In the real world, you’d expect Shanghai to be locked down under martial law for a month following such an incident. Here it’s business as usual.
The characters, what we get to know of them are interesting as well. Canaan is something of a childlike and naive killer, while her link to the real world comes in the form of rookie photographer Maria, and their friendship as shown in the story is the glue that manages to bind it together, even when it’s on the verge of falling apart. The antagonist Alphard too is an intriguing character, whose hatred of Canaan is evidence of a dark past. She’s not too villainous an antagonist, and has enough shade of grey to hold the attention. The same can’t be said for her sister Liang Qi, who is a stereotypical blade licking psychopath, and whose devotion to her sister goes beyond obsession, managing to sexualise any act of violence that she contemplates. Other than her masochism towards her lieutenant Cummings, there’s very little too her. She’s really the comic relief of the show despite, or maybe because of her exaggerated violence, and she does outstay her welcome. On the bright side, her exit from the story does make up for that.
There are plenty of other character in the story that appeal, the bartender Santana and his mute girlfriend Hakko, the ubiquitous street vendor Yun Yun, the teen pop loving taxi driver, and these little points of interest keep sparking long enough to hold the attention, and keep you glued to the screen. The problem is that Canaan has a sight too many loose ends, a smidge too many plot holes, and it feels like a half-baked, half-cocked, half-story that never lives up to its promise. Canaan is never less than watchable, and there’s more than enough going on in its five hour run time to keep you interested, but in the end, it’s never going to be memorable either. Style over substance, but not by much, and not that much in the way of substance either.