Though not nearly as dangerous as the name implies, cliffhangers are something that have existed in the world of fiction since time immemorial. Designed to hook in an audience, draw out their interest and leave them itching for more, these little beauties will forever proliferate finales the world over. However, there are some case wherein the recovery from this precarious dangle, this threat of uncertainty that are far less than what is wanted and, occasionally, far more than needs to be written.
Hamatora is not a great series. I know that’s a little blunt of an introduction, but at least you know what angle I’ll be tackling this from. Now, that isn’t to say that it is devoid of redeeming qualities (as I will discuss later on), simply that they are far from enough to cover for its numerous shortcomings. The biggest offender in this regard is the atmosphere. Although the soundness of the analogy escapes me, Hamatora is a series that wishes to have its cake and eat it too. Half dark melodrama, half wacky funtime jamboree, Hamatora just can’t settle on what it wishes to be and, in doing so, fails to be either. Coming straight off the back of Art’s surprising revival and murder of Nice, Hamatora almost immediately returns to being a goofball comedy whose tune is distinctly flat. With Nice’s funeral revolving around little more than a few sad looks and multiple food based jokes, Muraski and Hajime return to the field and attempt to quell the false fears of a woman convinced an invisible man is peeping on her. Now, as a plot element, I loved that Hamatora’s caseload increased due to a combination of public knowledge of Minimum Holders and their own recognition for defeating Moral (the big bad of season one). What I did not like however is that their cases continue to involve every single conversational element in any given episode. Example: Whilst the woman is regaling her tale of invisible peepery, a new pop idol works his way into the background conversation, naturally. But, what’s this? He is also helping this woman? What a coincidence. Oh, he’s also integral to the plot of this episode and tied to not only the case at hand, but a second, secret case that Nice was working because, spoiler alert, he’s somehow alive? Of course. That all makes total sense…except that it’s annoyingly clean. Why? Why is everything connected? Not one red herring, not one piece of dialogue that provides us character development without being immediately necessary. It’s just so ridiculous. It removes any sense of scope to the world as anything that is oncreen is relevant to the one case at hand. It is legitimately hard to feel for these characters who never move forward unless it’s through a paying job.
On the absolute other hand, Hamatora also wishes to present us with a terribly dark tale of segregation, racism and the clash between freedom, society and civil rights…oh, and religion. Can’t forget about that. With Art flipping his switch from humble police officer to radical extremist with a messianic complex, which is one hell of a perspective pivot, this former ally with a ridiculous name is revealed to be Jesus…I’m not even joking. Okay, I am a little, but the series really drives home how much this guy is perceived as such. With the ability to revive upon death, our old buddy even stands arms outstretched at one point, light beaming all around. You see, it’s symbolic. It’s okay if you didn’t see it yourself, it’s probably because you were feeling a little off balance after the series slammed this imagery across the side of your head as hard as they possibly could. Now to be fair, there is an in-universe reason why this symbolism is played up so much, but still, it’s a little excessive despite that. That particular aspect aside, this darker half of the series comes at you fast, hard and out of nowhere. In the same episode as a wacky romp through the world of the theatre, we find a rally for the downtrodden and broken that culminates in a promise to tear down society…it’s a pretty epic switch. Now, I know that anime is known for its ability to alternate between these two aspects of story telling, but Hamatora does so with the finesse of a freight train. Wherein one moment we are supposed to be laughing (emphasis on “supposed to be”), the next we find ourselves being drawn into a dark and sombre environment that is only meant to enrage and depress…with zero time to adjust. Oh, unless you count the multiple bumpers that proliferate every scene change, you know, the ones that sound like they belong in a Tony Hawk game. Again, though a well known trope of anime, these bumpers are misused and only serve to fracture the already unstable layout of these episodes even more. Thus, regardless of whether light or dark, any attempt to find a foothold within a mood is swiftly ripped away, leaving you just plain confused. Which is so not how you want to feel when watching a series that purports to be about investigation work.
Complimenting this modal instability, through its own actions, the series completely removes any sense of believability from its more intense moments. With the aforementioned false death of Nice still very much the introduction to this tale, this series pulls the ol’ fake death routine five more times. Now I’m not sure if the writer ever heard the story of one particular boy and his penchant for crying wolf, but the moral of that story would do well applied to Hamatora. After the first unceremonious reveal, it’s nigh impossible to actually care when a character is supposedly dying…because it never happens. Whenever the plot has any inkling of following through on a promise, it completely shirks its responsibility to commit and creates some bizarre way for everything to work out fine. Case in point: Art. With zero inclination that he even possessed a Minimum in season one, he is suddenly bestowed one of the strongest ones to date. Not only that, the explanation for why it remained undiscovered seems so tacked on that is hard to swallow. You see, despite all information presented thus far, Art’s Minimum is not located in his brain, but his heart instead. Why? Well there are some convoluted reasons, but since they aren’t crystallised until the last episode, I couldn’t care less. Yes mystery is important, but their resolution should not be a deus ex machina, they should feel natural. Unfortunately, nothing about Hamatora feels natural. Art is the one Minimum Holder with a unique “Minimum Nerve”, why? Solely because it let him be brought back for this series. Art can steal powers with a syringe, why? Because it allows him to pose a threat whilst also doing away with the need for any surgical abilities (a la Moral’s brain surgery). Nice can survive death, why? Because the series wrote itself into corner regarding who actually poses a threat to villains. Example after example of why the plot of Hamatora falls apart every time it tries to get going. Does it have good elements? Yes. Are they presented well? No, no they are not.
Now, in the midst of all of this negativity, I feel as if I should detail my favourite aspect of this series; its reasoning behind Minimums. Not Art’s weird exception mind you, but their initial creation. With their inception found within the human ego, Hamatora actually explains why each characters power is so specifically tied to their personalities. Why can the doctor see in x-ray? Because he possesses a desire to analyse and heal. Why can Murasaki amplify his strength? Because he desires to better himself and strives to best those above him. Pretty sure Nice’s power comes from him being resoundingly nonchalant about any form of action and Birthday’s may have been born of him longing power, though that might be pushing the thematic integrity of this series just a touch…or a few touches. that being said, this theory is ultimately underexplored as there are only a handful of characters with any depth of personality and the overall origins of powers are still left a mystery…okay, so it’s not a perfect aspect of the series, but I’m trying here. Additionally, with just a touch of extrapolation, this information also furthers the understanding of characters various Minimum activation procedures…I guess…maybe. Okay, not really, but I’m just going to chalk it up to personal preference and put a tick in the pro column…not that it cancels out the numerous ticks on the con side. So…that paragraph of positivity kind of turned didn’t it?
To put this whole, long winded thing simply; Hamatora is a series in shambles. As much as I dislike residing in negativity, this series left me with little other choice. Despite being two seasons in, the characters hardly feel developed (Nice’s romantic subplot with Hajime kind of came out of nowhere), the world at large feels ready to turn on a dime for the sake of the plot and, speaking of, the plot feels messily paced and lacking in any resolve. Whenever a choice is presented, the series feigns in making one and then pulls out some convoluted nonsense to ignore the consequences. Honestly, it’s frustrating. Combined with tonal instability and an almost indecipherably odd script, Hamatora struggles to capture audience attention long enough to tell a story…which may explain the excessive exposition and rapidity with which plot elements are revealed. It also doesn’t help that the English dub is somewhat limited in its emotional range, culminating in a series that is just sort of…lackluster. Thus, apart from the interesting fragments found within this monsoon of mediocrity, Re:_Hamatora and the season that preceded it are far from the prime of anime viewing, superpowers and opinions on social rights included. Oh, and Jesus II…can’t forget about him.
Like always, the Hamatora crew can be found at Cafe Nowhere. Alternatively, Madman isn’t a bad place to look either