Super powers, the great fictitious unequaliser. Wherever there is one possessive of skills beyond the norm, society combines into that overwhelming force that screams opinions ’til the cows come home. But we know this. We’ve known this since authors bestowed inhuman abilities on their creations decades ago. Thus we find ourselves in an interesting time for those imagined, long gone are the days when powers equaled superhero status, yet the era of heroes remains. Enjoy, if you will, the stories of those who make a choice regarding the person they wish to be, empowered or otherwise. Some rise to protect, whilst others turn to harm. Still classic in its form, just with a little more introspection and societal woe thrown in. Yet the main creation of this moral grey zone are those that exist within the middle, those whose abilities have no effect on their concepts of championing. The above average average, the impartial gifted…the ones without capes. Then there are the bad guys…
Hamatora, where do I begin with this one? Joining a bevy of acquaintances and co-workers, we find ourselves jumping right into the offices of the Hamatora detective agency, and of course by offices I mean a table at a cafe. Staffed by the…memorably named Nice and his partners Murasaki and Hajime, this particular agency specialises in whatever job happens to come their way, because they really need the money. Despite this apparent dry spell, the duo (labelled as such due to Hajime’s overall disconnection from any actual casework) are quite effective when they begin and investigation. This is due not only to their natural acumen, but also somewhat connected to their status as Minimum Holders, the classification for superhumans in this particular series. As you might imagine, this is a major asset in the field, especially given the frequency with which villainous Minimum Holders turn up. The powers themselves also provide a neat little aspect of the series, especially in their requirements for usage. You see, in order to activate their abilities, individuals must perform a specific action, such as removing their glasses or blowing a bubble with gum. Arbitrary tasks to be sure, but it does add a visual aspect to fights that is fairly unique, though the telegraphing nature of this should’ve been quite the problem for combatants, a factor never once mentioned. Another benefit of the Minimums within the series was their effect on the visual. With each activation, the colour palette would undergo a unique re-saturation that shifted everything into an almost dream like state. The first colours that spring to mind are pink and green, though the overall inverted vibe contains much more of the spectrum. Though somewhat bizarre and even a touch unsettling at times, this visual effect adds a uniqueness to the combat sequences that shades opinions towards the realisation that superpowers really are an unknown factor.
Okay, how about we talk about some detective work now? It is the premise of the series after all. That being said…I was not entirely a fan of the execution of said premise, which is to say that I wasn’t a fan of the execution at all. Now I’m going to dive into some specific examples here, so the spoiler squeamish have been warned. Now, if you’ve ever read a detective story, you know that mystery is paramount. It sounds simple, but it is true nonetheless. You must build a story of intrigue, a believable world populated by believable characters who naturally convey the vibe that their existence began before your tale began and will continue after it is solved. You must also lay clue in a way that the reveal is one of excitement, as the mystery unfurls and all the discoveries made finally make sense. Hamatora doesn’t do this. Okay, to be fair the characters do feel like they belong in the pre-established world for the most part, but the mystery thing? Not really happening. Take the first episode for example. After desperately seeking work, Hamatora is given the choice of two jobs, one whose paycheck is a whole digit higher than the other, a result of being requested by a rich client. Whilst the high paying job requires the cracking of a safe, left unopenable by a secretive and recently deceased father, the other focuses on a series of kidnapping centered around college attending women. Now, to divert slightly, the disparity of payment was a simple way to showcase the series ideals of morality vs reality and sets up Nice as a good guy despite his apathy an later statements to the contrary. Anyway, this episode also sends side characters Ratio and Birthday off on their own odd job, bodyguarding a woman who Nice happened to meet pre-title sequence when he single handedly foiled a bank robbery. Now, as you may notice, this is a whole lot of plot to wrangle in a single episode, so the series decides to just do it all at once. You see, the woman B’day and Ratio are protecting is also a college student, one who just so happened to have an intimate relationship with a rich, elderly man. Said man was notoriously secretive and would not reveal anything to anyone, not even the combination to his private safe, of course that was only when his stress wasn’t causing him to talk in his sleep, a phenomenon Murasaki happened to discuss with Ratio after finding a single book about it in the elderly man’s library. Anywho, Nice’s detective work leads him to discover that the college kidnappings are not random and instead designed to fin one particular girl, one who knows the combination to a particular safe…see what I’m getting at here? That’s right folks, literally everything that happens in the first episode is connected and I mean literally everything, in the truest, least over dramatic way possible. I know I went into a lot of uinecessary detail there, but I really wanted to convey to you the sheer coincidence of it all. Mind you this isn’t something that just happens in the first episode, no, every single episode plays out the same. It gets to the point that even something shown on a television in the background is an integral part of the story, for no discernible reason. One case sends Hamatora to a spa? Guess what, Birthday, Ratio, Hajime, Koneko, Honey, Three, Art, literally every major character winds up there for some reason. Birthday and Ratio’s old friend comes back to town? You know it, they’re the centre of the latest case, meshing nicely with some random thing Hamatora was doing in the background. Now don’t get me wrong the convergence of stories is a well worn and rather effective trope, but not when handled this way, not when arbitrarily presented tasks that are revealed necessitous to the solution of each other. It just feels far to coincidental, to the point that it seems lazy, which is not the feeling you want to have about a series, especially one with a detective premise.
As the series progresses, it slowly moves away from these single episode cases in order to give more screentime to the background plot that has been slowly, and mysteriously unfurled since the clearly evil Moral appeared. With an unhealthy connection to the main character, this particular villain inspires the traditional fear of those with abilities, all in aid of his plan to change the world for reasons. While a touch on the cliche side, this larger plotline is far more interesting than the individualised cases Hamatora investigates, at least from a pacing perspective. That being said, it is still far from a cohesive story. The main element that confounds me is the apparent fact that the world at large was unaware of Minimum Holders and that their sudden reveal causes a terrible riot across all of Japan. Again, whilst not a bad concept per se, this secrecy was never hinted at. Hamatora always uses their abilities out in the open, Ratio, Birthday, Honey and Three also never make any big deal about throwing their weight around, and that’s not even mentioning the villains. Yet somehow, the world didn’t know about them, not even with the parent run petition group speaking across the city about the disparity of the empowered versus the “normal” people of the world. It just doesn’t make any sense. As if Hamatora was a vessel for a bevy of ideas, without too much thought as to how it would all hold together. There’s just so many ideas running around in this series, not in tandem, but at each other. There’s a quirky villain with delusions of grandeur and even greater delusions of helping society, there are plot elements that tie up to neatly for a series that is apparently trying to convey the complexity of the world, there’s so much mystery about the central cast that after a while you don’t really understand them, nor do you care. I don’t like being negative about series, I really don’t, but Hamatora just perplexes me, and not in a good way.
At the end of the day, Hamatora is just a stilted series. For all the concepts and potential crammed into it, nothing ever truly happens. Sure there are positive segments, namely Nice’s oddly pragmatic view of the world, my personal favourite being the verbal beatdown he delivered to the anti-Minimum Holder woman who led the protests, describing her drive to balance the world was not born out of wishing to help her son in life, but rather her pity and doubt that he could ever accomplish anything without her. That I liked. But those moments are few and far between. After watching the first episode, and having your suspicions confirmed by the second, there is no mystery in the series, as everything on screen will be crucial to the third act. No misdirection, no trickery, everything is relevant, even that random background event that went on for two seconds. It’s just a weird formula that hinders the very nature of the series. Combine that with the plethora of side events and conversations that I haven’t even mentioned, and what you get is a chaotic series that never truly explains anything…the gradient effect on their clothes was nice though,so there’s that…
Sometimes the only one who can beat a Madman, is a sane one…or an irked one