A review of Cop Craft

Let’s finally close the book on the summer 2019 anime series Cop Craft.  My weekly review posts were all extremely spoiler-laden, so if you’re looking to go into Cop Craft more or less blind, read this spoiler-free review instead to find out if you might like it enough to check it out on Funimation’s streaming service (or to find the episodes in other very obvious ways that I won’t address here.)

Tilarna will chase down and arrest all pirates

Our tale starts with Kei Matoba, a grizzled detective in San Teresa, a large American city on the Pacific coast (which I’m still positive is meant to be alternate universe San Francisco.)  San Teresa has a special status as the gateway city to a group of immigrants called Semanians from a planet connected to Earth through a mysterious wormhole gate thing that appeared out of nowhere some years back.  At the beginning of the series, Kei’s partner is killed by a corpse being controlled by Semanian magic during a sting operation gone wrong, and in the course of the investigation a new partner is assigned to him: the Semanian knight Tilarna Exedilica, a young noble lady with a haughty bearing but an honest and straightforward personality.  Kei and Tilarna clash at first, but they end up working together and even developing a strong bond as they learn to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

They also live together in an Odd Couple-style arrangement

If that sounds familiar, it might be because this is the basic setup of every buddy cop series and movie ever made.  Cop Craft was a bit different from most of the other series airing last season for just that reason — it borrows a lot from western sources, namely from American cop dramas, and throws in a whole lot of sci-fi and mixes them together.  This invited a lot of comparisons to Bright, the Netflix original movie with a somewhat similar premise that took a beating from critics in 2017.  Cop Craft is based on a light novel series that started in 2009, though, so there certainly wasn’t any inspiration from that film here.  In fact, a better comparison might be another Will Smith movie: Men In Black, only Tommy Lee Jones is 30 years younger and Will Smith is a cute sword-wielding girl from another planet where due process and defendant rights don’t exist.

Tilarna-style interrogation. I guess this alternate-universe USA doesn’t have Section 1983 protections against police misconduct.

The story of Cop Craft is decent enough — there are a few plots that start and get resolved throughout the 12-episode run that are presumably taken from writer Shoji Gatoh‘s light novel work.  These plots are contained within a larger story about the clash of cultures between Earth natives and Semanians, a clash that plays out on a small scale between Kei and Tilarna.  This both gives our protagonists more depth and raises the story’s stakes, especially in the second half of the series, which deals directly with issues relevant to real life like nativism and xenophobia.  Thankfully, Cop Craft deals with these issues in a way that’s neither preachy nor heavyhanded.  Tilarna does face discrimination while working with Kei because of her origin, but the show doesn’t treat her detractors as faceless villains — they’re all depicted as real people with real fears.  Misguided fears, to be sure, because Cop Craft has an obvious anti-xenophobic message.  But that message is effective precisely because it treats these issues as complex.

The greatest strength of Cop Craft lies in its characters, however, and specifically in the relationship between Kei and Tilarna.  Kei is the jaded old cop who’s been forced to accept corruption and the influence of money and politics in his work, and Tilarna is the young hothead who acts before she thinks but who also forces Kei to remember his old ideals.  Beyond that basic archetypal stuff, these characters are just really well-written and grow closer over the series in a believable way.

The context to this scene is pretty interesting, but I’ll let you find out about it for yourself.

There’s not much more I can say about the plot or characters without spoiling, so I’ll leave it at this: Cop Craft is worth watching just for Kei and Tilarna.  A few of the surrounding cast of characters are interesting as well, particularly the police coroner Cecil, but Kei and Tilarna are almost always at the center of the action, which is a good thing.

Speaking of action, there is action in this show and a lot of it looks lousy.  The animation in Cop Craft is wildly inconsistent, ranging from decent to awful.  If you saw the above stills and thought “wow, this show looks beautiful” — yeah, some of the still shots are detailed and nicely show off the excellent work of character designer Range Murata, but the action scenes look rough, with a lot of obvious animation shortcuts.  I don’t know much about the technical aspects of animation, but I do know what looks good to me and what doesn’t.  Most of Cop Craft looks like it was made on an extremely tight budget, with 95% of the detail reserved for the scenes where the studio obviously wanted to make Tilarna look really good.  Even some of the still shots lack detail to a distracting extent.

There’s also one episode that’s so dark you can barely make out anything.

I have to assume the studio (Millepensee, who also co-produced the widely hated 2016 adaptation of Berserk and what look like a few “cute girls doing cute things” comedies I’ve never heard of) just didn’t have the funds or time to make something that looked better. It’s a real shame — I know there are people who will avoid watching Cop Craft because of its rough animation, and I can’t blame them for that. This is a visual medium, and the visuals matter.

Still, if any of the above stuff sounds interesting to you, I recommend checking out Cop Craft, even if it is visually rough around the edges sometimes.  Look at it this way: if I told you the visuals and animation in Cop Craft were beautiful but that the characters and story were dogshit, I wouldn’t be recommending it at all.  If I want to see nice visuals and nothing else, I’ll look at my artbooks again.

We got a lot of shots of Tilarna being cute and pouty, and that’s all that really matters

And that’s about it for Cop Craft.  Sadly, I don’t think we’ll be getting a second season considering how little attention the anime series seems to have gotten.  The light novel series is still being written and published, though, so there’s always a chance.  Maybe when the isekai craze finally dies down, there will be more demand for an urban sci-fi fantasy cop show and a better studio with more resources will be able to produce it, and then I won’t have to qualify my recommendation at all.

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, ep 8

What the fuck did I just watch?

I know how this looks, but it’s not what you think

Summary: Tilarna and Kei confiscate a shipment of illicit Semanian goods.  While Tilarna inspects them to sniff out any latena that might be in there, Kei’s cat Kuroi accidentally shoots Tilarna in the arm with a miniature crossbow in the collection that somehow transfers her consciousness to Tilarna’s body and Tilarna’s to hers.  “Tilarna” wakes Kei up the next morning by crawling into bed with him and trying to lick his face much to his confusion, but the real Tilarna in cat form freaks out and stops her.

Cat-Tilarna doing her best to prevent any weirdness/misunderstandings

Kei thinks Tilarna has just come down with a weird illness and leaves her to sleep it off while taking out the trash on the way to work (the crossbow also toppled into the trash can, so now it’s out in the dumpster.)  In a panic, cat-Tilarna texts Cecil that she and Kuroi have switched minds and asks her to come over and get the crossbow out of the trash, because she needs it to return to her own body, but not to tell Kei anything.  Cecil gets the gist of what’s going on after cat-Tilarna frantically gestures for a few seconds and uses her cell phone to write out messages.  Unfortunately, when Kuroi sees Cecil, she leaps on her, accidentally knocking her out.  When Cecil awakes, the dumpster is empty.  Cecil and cat-Tilarna take off to follow the garbage truck, but not before Cecil is forced to run back inside to close the blinds because Kuroi in Tilarna form is currently roaming around Kei’s apartment half-naked.

MY ASS IS HANGING OUT OF THE WINDOW, PLEASE FUCKING CLOSE THE BLINDS

And would you believe it?  For this episode, there’s a fucking cliffhanger ending as the garbage truck passes by their car while Cecil is in Kei’s apartment, and then she drives in the opposite direction.

Analysis: It’s not much of a cliffhanger if you ask me.  There were certainly a lot of stupid coincidences that came together to cause this problem, but we know Tilarna and Kuroi are going to get back into their own bodies in the end.  Unless this is going to become a show about a cop and his cop cat partner.  Like Turner & Hooch, only Hooch is a cat.  Now that would be a shitty twist.

Meanwhile, Kuroi doesn’t seem too concerned with the body swap situation

I guess this episode, and probably the next one where Tilarna and Kuroi switch places again, are the big fanservice episodes of the season.  I have to admit I didn’t see this coming at all.  I was thinking more like a beach episode, not Tilarna crawling around like a cat in her underwear and taking a dump in a litter box (this actually happens in the episode, though the camera tastefully pans away while cat-Tilarna looks on in horror.)  I know I’ve pretty much admitted to being a weirdo who likes catgirls, but this isn’t what I had in mind.

Wait, the cat’s name is Chloe? The subtitles call her Kuroi.  Whatever, I’ll keep going with Kuroi since I’ve been using it this whole time

I don’t have much else to say this time.  I can see some people being put off by this episode, I guess.  I’m still on board, of course, but it was definitely a strange one.  If you’re still on board too, I’ll see you next episode.  Until then, stay safe, and try to avoid getting shot by a magical crossbow that can switch your mind with a cat’s mind.

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, ep 5

Cop Craft time again.

Kei and Tilarna at the office. It’s good that they included a little administrative work in the story.  Police work isn’t all magic swordfights, after all.

Summary: Our supernatural cop adventure continues as we follow Tilarna to the morgue, where she’s trying to defend Cecil from the corpse-turned-hot lady monster that killed her assistant.  Kei shows up at the last minute to help out in the fight and the monster vanishes after losing one of her arms.  Back at the office, Tilarna tells Kei that that thing was a vampire that has regenerative powers, as we learn when she later attacks and feeds on more humans around town.  Tilarna uses her magical nose to sniff out Vampire Lady (what I’m calling her now since she doesn’t get a name) at a mall where she’s holed up.  When they storm the mall, Kei gets knocked out and Tilarna ends up tied up in the vampire’s makeshift lair in a vacant shop lot.  Vampire Lady is trying to learn more about the world she’s just woken up in and questions Tilarna about it, but after Tilarna calls her a monster, she decides it’s time to feed again.

In a different context this could be quite a nice scene, but no, she’s a vampire.

Thankfully, Kei has recovered and bursts into the room with backup before Vampire Lady can kill Tilarna (or turn her or however it works.)  Tilarna warns that the vampire is invincible, but the cops fill her with bullets that seem to hurt her before she disappears and escapes again, this time into the subway.  Vampire Lady is guided by a magic light into a tunnel that leads her to a young man in a suit speaking in a familiar voice (the man doesn’t name himself, but he is definitely Zelada possessing some poor guy’s body.)  Almost-certainly-Zelada offers to help her but she bites his neck instead for some reason, killing him (but probably not killing Zelada himself; I’m sure we’ll see him again soon enough.)  Kei and Tilarna meanwhile hunt Vampire Lady down in the subway tunnels and fight her, there’s a suspenseful moment as she and Kei grapple in front of an oncoming train, and Tilarna saves Kei at the last second while Vampire Lady is run over by the train and dies, her body shattered into pieces like a broken vase.

Tilarna kicks Kei for again not thanking her for saving his life, and the episode ends.

Analysis: RIP Cecil’s shitty lazy assistant coroner.  You died before we knew anything else about you.

Also, god damn but was this episode dark.  I don’t mean in tone, though I guess it was a bit dark in tone with Tilarna almost getting her neck sucked dry by Vampire Lady.  About 80% of the episode takes place in the dark, either outside at night or in a mall after closing time, so it was sometimes hard to make out the action.  I also don’t get what happened when Tilarna grabbed Kei away from Vampire Lady before the train would have hit them both.  They were all covered in glowing light.  More magic, I guess.

I like Vampire Lady’s design, very classically vampiric-looking. But since her body shattered at the end of the episode, I don’t suppose we’ll be seeing her again.

This episode feels as close to “standard action show” as we’ve had from the series so far.  That’s not a bad thing, it just feels slightly filler-ish.  It does establish that Zelada is still around causing trouble (unless that’s some other evil wizard voiced by the same guy who voiced Zelada, which seems unlikely) and drop a few more hints that Kei has some latent magical power.  It also gives us a few more moments between Tilarna and Kei, like the one in which Tilarna tells Kei she knows a form of magic that can only be performed while naked (I think it’s supposed to be the magic Vampire Lady is using to regenerate) and then yells at Kei because she thinks he’s now picturing her naked.  Yeah, the show is going in that direction.  I’ll bet real money that there’s going to be an episode soon in which Tilarna and Kei have to go undercover to the beach and she yells at him for looking at her in her swimsuit.  Who’s taking?

Another bet: a closeup shot of Tilarna getting pissed off at Kei will be in every episode in the series.

A couple of the side characters other than Cecil are also becoming a little more prominent, especially Kei and Tilarna’s new supervisor Zimmer.  He’s sort of the stereotypical cop movie angry boss, but he also seems like the “tough but fair” type who has their backs as long as they’re in the right.  We’ll have to wait and see if he tells Kei and/or Tilarna to turn in their guns and badges at some point.  I guess Tilarna would get to keep her sword, at least, since she brought it from home.

I also look forward to learning more about Tilarna’s magic, especially that one kind where she has to be naked to use it.

Sorry, sorry! I was just kidding, I swear.

That’s all for now.  Until next time, stay safe.

The Seasonal Anime Draft: Cop Craft, ep 1

Welcome to the site’s newest feature, which I thought of today while stuck in downtown traffic: the Seasonal Anime Draft.*  The idea behind this feature is that at the beginning of each new season, I’ll pick one anime series to watch and review episode by episode.  My pick will be based purely on what I think I’d like from the plot synopsis and previews, but even if I end up hating it, I won’t drop it: I’ll keep the reviews going until the very end of the series, along with an all-around review of the entire season at the end, even if it turns into absolute garbage.  That’s a promise.  My apologies to all the real anime bloggers out there: it’s been actual years since I wrote anything substantive about an anime series, but I hope I can contribute something meaningful with my own dumb opinions.  Also, this feature is going to be an addition to, not a replacement of, my usual stream of infrequent game and music reviews and bitter, drunken complainy rants.  Rest assured, I still have plenty of games to play, music to hear, and complaints to air.

So, what’s the first series to receive this great honor?  I don’t know why I’m trying to build tension, because it’s in the title of my post: it’s Cop Craft, an adaptation of a light novel series written by Shoji Gatoh and illustrated by Range Murata.

I won’t lie: the fact that Murata is involved is most of the reason I’m picking it to review.  If that sounds like a silly reason for watching a show, you might be right.  But Murata has such a unique style combining realistic, futuristic, and fantastic elements that I have to believe any show he works on is going to be special in some way.  Hell, I own two of his artbooks, so I’m bound to check out anything he’s associated with.  Of course, nice visuals alone don’t necessarily mean a show will be good, or that it will stay good throughout its run, but that’s the gamble we all take when we start watching something, isn’t it?

Anyway, on to the review.

Summary: Sgt. Kei Matoba is a gruff detective living and working in San Teresa, a coastal city situated near an interdimensional portal that suddenly appeared over the sea one day and that a bunch of aliens and fairies and demons have entered Earth through.  Matoba loses his partner during a sting operation involving the illegal sale of a fairy trapped in a jar that ends in a gunfight with two suspects.  Matoba believes a powerful group of wizards from the Farbani Kingdom is to blame , since they apparently have the power to possess people’s minds and control their actions.  The main perp manages to escape with the fairy, who seems to have great importance, though it’s not yet clear why or to what effect.

If your name and titles take more than one subtitle to say, they’re too long.

Shortly after his partner’s death, Matoba is sent off on a ship to the portal to meet a noble VIP from Farbani named Tilarna Exedilica (her full name is a lot longer, but she shortens it for our convenience, which is nice.)  Tilarna is a knight and apparently an important official of her native kingdom, despite being a kid.  Or maybe she just looks like a kid, but she’s really not.  Either way, she’s come to Earth to look for that kidnapped fairy from the first scene of the episode, and as a consequence she’s named Matoba’s new partner.  Tilarna and Matoba don’t get along, and both object to being paired up at first.  But they’re convinced to go along with the arrangement and start their investigation for the greater good and all that stuff.  Matoba starts out treating Tilarna like a kid he’s been given to babysit, but it turns out that Tilarna is both great with a sword and able to literally smell danger, both of which come in handy in a fight.

“Stop or my extradimensional cosplay girl partner will slice you with her blade!” doesn’t roll off the tongue so well.

After getting a tip from a corrupt priest who runs a combination church/brothel (yeah, I don’t know, that’s my best guess of what that scene was about) Matoba and Tilarna conduct a raid on an apartment and end up in the middle of a gunfight with a couple of bad guys, which is where the episode ends.

Analysis: Are you fucking serious?  Ending the episode in the middle of a gunfight.  These guys have some nerve.

Matoba and Tilarna have a cute dynamic going on so far.  He’s a bitter, jaded detective who’s seen everything, and she’s a haughty noble girl who can kick ass in a fight but who also doesn’t know how elevators or cars work.  Even though the two don’t quite trust each other, it seems that they need each other’s skills to solve the case they’ve been tasked with.  The funny thing is that this is exactly the kind of setup your standard buddy cop show has.  I’d find this boring if it were taking place in a totally realistic setting, but the fact that one of the cops is a sword-wielding alien girl makes it better somehow.  Sort of like how Men In Black was different from other buddy cop movies too.

I also like the art style.  Maybe it’s just the fact that Tilarna stands out so completely, both from the environment around her and from the other characters, all of which are taken straight out of your typical cop show.  She also goes through an extremely quick magical-girl-style costume transformation before she’s ready to fight, which is a bit weird.  Maybe they’ll address that next episode.

Ready for action!

Hopefully now that the basics of this setting are established, the pace of the next episode will slow a bit.  Despite the infodumpy feel I got from this opening episode, though, it did get me interested in the series.  I’m not one for cop dramas, and that’s exactly what Cop Craft seems to be.  If it weren’t for the fantasy/sci-fi element, there’s no way I would have picked this show to watch.  But it’s there, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the writers do with it.

*After writing this post, I realized the acronym for this series is SAD.  Which makes it the perfect name for the series, since I am a sad excuse for a human being, so I’m definitely keeping it.