Nabari no Ou (Episodes 1-8)

Anime typically has both an opening and an ending theme song. As a big music fan I generally find these songs pretty mediocre and skip them. There has been a few random opening songs (generally referred to as the OP by the anime community) that I have enjoyed, namely a few of the Naruto ones. But even of the ones that I enjoy there has been only one that I view every single episode: “Crawl” by Veltpunch as featured in the opening credits of Nabari no Ou. It is a song that starts off like a standard guitar rock tune ala the Foo Fighters, except when the vocals come in they are really bad. LIke, bad emo bad. However, after the first awkward, horrible line a female voice kicks in and all of a sudden the song stabilizes. The lead male voice sounds good and the backing female voice? To die for.

Nabari just started airing in Japan this season (along with the previously reviewed Soul Eater) and sparked my interest due to a friend calling it a smoother, less silly Naruto. After viewing the first eight episodes I have to admit that there are a lot of ways in which Nabari is comparable to Naruto, but somehow it feels like a completely different show. The tones and settings are just so vastly different that it marks it for two different crowds. It is a lazy comparison, but I like lazy comparisons, so I will liberally use Naruto as a point of reference in this little write-up.

Rokujou (see picture, center) is a withdrawn, silent kid who leads a quiet, solitary life and he likes it that way. He is none too ecstatic when he finds out that hidden within him is a great power that would make him like a god to not just the hidden ninja community, but the world. A team forms around him to protect him from competing ninja clans. His teacher, Kumohira, leads the group with Kouichi (see picture, right) and Raimei (picture, left). Rokujou at first blush might seem to bring to mind Naruto himself (due to also having a great power sealed away within his body), except that Naruto’s personality is the polar opposite. The closer, more satisfying comparison is to Gaara, who’s quiet, detached demeanor, aligns quite a bit closer to Rokujou.

There are several really satisfying elements to Nabari no Ou. Unlike in Naruto, where many of the squad leaders/teachers feel just about invincible, Kumohira is portrayed as extremely flawed and weak. He is leader due to his position and age, not because he is a Kakashi-like genius.

The other impressive element is how the sides aren’t shown as being black and white, good vs evil the way just about every other show of this sort is. The side of the protagonist has obvious ulterior motives and one of the leaders they consult even admits as much. The side of the antagonist has one of the most sympathetic, interesting characters of the series. The lines blur and you root for people, some on different sides, more than the sides themselves. No side is morally superior than the other.

The setting is much more modern than Naruto. While Naruto occasionally makes use of modern technology, as a whole it feels like a different world. Nabari feels set in the current era, with cities and phones and computers and such. As such, the artistic style takes on a more modern feel. It uses a more muted palette as opposed to the flashier Naruto. It is a thoroughly moody, industrial ninja world.

Through eight episodes, a fairly remarkable amount of stuff has happened. This is no slow developing show. A show like Naruto or Bleach would have burned through 15 – 20 episodes to reach this point. This speed serves it well as it keeps entire episodes from being battle-oriented. Fights are fluid and happen in a more realistic speed, without pausing for testosterone-fueled shouting matches.

Without a doubt, Nabari no Ou is one of the highlights of the current season. Its modern setting and fluid flow serve it well. Hopefully it can keep up the pace.

Title: Nabari No Ou
US Distributor: none yet
Number of Episodes: 26
Availability: Fansubs, and a whole mess of groups do it.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 80 (this rating, since it was applied after this review, is probably more indicative of my overall feeling of the episodes that I’ve seen. However, as I don’t plan on doing another review of this until a complete US release, I have no qualms with that.)

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