Monday Anime: Canaan

Coming two years after El Cazador, Canaan isn’t part of Bee Trains Girls With Guns series, but it certainly feels like it should be. It’s got a highly skilled female mercenary, a girl with amnesia, and a secretive group plotting against both. That Bee Train had an influence on the development of Canaan is obvious.

Unlike any of the Girls With Guns shows put out by Bee Train, however, Canaan actually had an original source material, the highly successful video game, 428: Fūsa Sareta Shibuya de. Serving as an anime sequel to 428, Canaan picks up the story two years after the events of the game. In fact, the game itself came out in 2008, a year after El Cazador, and was an unspoken sequel to another game called Machi, that was released back in 1998. While neither 428 nor Machi had the elements found in the Girls With Guns trilogy, Canaan adopted many of them, though it appears to be more coincidental than anything, as there was no real connection between the shows in terms of people who worked on them. Or at least that I could find.

Regardless, Canaan feels like an epilogue to the Girls With Guns shows put out by Bee Train, following many of the same story and character beats. Like the official Girls With Guns shows, it doesn’t ever feel repetitive, or like a rip off, either, but a fresh take on a gathering of story elements. How intentional any of that was is hard to say, and most likely really is just pure coincidence.

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Canaan is set primarily in Shanghai, China, as an anti-terrorism summit is gearing up. Reporters Minoru Minorikawa and Maria Osawa are sent to cover it, but quickly stumble on something much more sinister taking place as a powerful terrorist organization known as Snake prepares to attack the conference. In the midst of all this, Maria reunites with a mysterious Middle Eastern girl known only as Canaan, a highly skilled mercenary with synesthesia, that she met two years ago.

Meanwhile, Snake has liberated their leader, a woman known as Alphard, the former bearer of the name Canaan. With the clock ticking, Canaan has to stop the terror attack, protect Maria, and capture Alphard, or the deadly Ua virus will be released on Shanghai, resulting in a death toll that would be unimaginable. Even worse, those few who do survive often develop superhuman abilities, making the world at large a much more unpredictable and dangerous place.

Nor is that all she has to worry about, as her CIA handler seems to have an agenda of her own, and other players in the fate of Shanghai and survivors of the Ua virus begin to make moves of their own, for both good and ill. All of which eventually leads to a climactic battle between Canaan and Alphard, where old scores will be settled, one way of the other.

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Unlike the Bee Train shows, Canaan is only thirteen episodes, so everything moves very quickly, as there’s a lot of plot to cover in a short amount of time. This sometimes causes characterization to suffer, and it’s hard to ever get a solid feel for the various players involved, especially since the cast is rather large. That’s a minor quibble, however, as overall, P.A. Works does a good job of balancing things in general, though repeated viewings offer little in the way of extra reward.

The larger issue with the series is that, at only 13 episodes, it takes a good three to really get a solid sense of what’s going on, who’s who, and why we should be invested. For many, that’s two more than should have been spent, and the show can feel too densely packed and unfathomable to warrant getting through those initial episodes.

Which is a pity, as overall, Canaan is a very good series. Yes, characterization suffers somewhat from the crowded characters and dense, fast moving plot, but as I said, overall, the studio does a good job of balancing it and not making any of that overtly obvious. Again, extra viewings can make it more obvious, but the initial experience is really good.

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With ease, the standout character in the show is Canaan herself. It’s pretty rare to see a Middle Eastern character in anime, and even rarer to see one cast as the hero in a terrorist themed plot these days, so Canaan is a breath of fresh air. While the shows use of synesthesia is not overly accurate to the actual disorder, it’s also nice to see a protagonist with an actual disorder that really exists. Plus, Canaan is just a cool character who’s a lot of fun, for a gun toting mercenary.

We really just don’t get enough fun loving mercenaries these days. They’re all so grim and gritty.

Sadly, most of the other characters are fairly forgettable. It’d been a couple years since I’d last watched Canaan, and I couldn’t recall anything about anyone but Canaan herself. Even after rewatching the series last week, I can’t really tell you much about them. They were interesting as I was watching, but they don’t really stick with you.

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In terms of animation, Canaan is a very good looking show. The character designs are mostly good, though I’d be hard pressed to point to any character and tell you they were from the show beyond Canaan herself, who has a pretty distinctive look. Still, the designs were good overall, and the animation fluid. The backgrounds were well done, and the animation quality was very high. It’s a pretty enough show to look at.

The action scenes are where the animation shines the brightest, however, as everything that happens feels very dynamic and intense. Since Canaan is basically an action adventure series with shades of science fiction, that stands to reason. If you’re a big lover of well done action sequences, you’ll definitely enjoy these.

The music is decent. It’s well done and adds accent when it should, but never overshadows what’s happening on the screen. It isn’t anything you’ll likely remember latter, though. That’s not really a mark against it or anything, as the music is good, just not memorable, or worth buying the soundtrack over. The opening theme is “Mind as Judgment” by Faylan, which is good, but not as good as most of their other work. The ending theme is “My heaven” by Annabel.

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All that aside, Canaan went on to enjoy a lot of success, spawning two light novels, a manga adaptation, two radio DJ CD’s, and a couple of collectible figurines. The DVD release placed in the top thirty, while the Blu-ray release hit the top ten. Canaan’s voice actor, Miyuki Sawashiro, also received a Best Actress award at the Seiyu Awards for her role. All of which means my minor issues with the series aren’t really shared by Japan, which is totally fair. They know anime better than me, after all.

As an overall experience, Canaan is a good introduction to the Girls With Guns genre. It isn’t as tightly woven as any of Bee Train’s offerings and lacks the heavy moral examination of Gunslinger Girl, both of which can be off putting to people not familiar with the kinds of themes often explored by the genre. It’s got good action and just enough characterization to keep people invested in a fast moving plot. While there are other shows from the genre I prefer, this really is a good one to introduce people to the genre with.

Personally, I advise getting people interested before dropping them into the heavily thought provoking Gunslinger Girl, which really does deserve all the acclaim it has received. I may even talk about it one day, but it’s pretty well known even outside anime circles, so we’ll see.

In the meantime, if you haven’t given Canaan a chance, you should. It’s worth wading into.

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