Jormungand - Complete Season 1 Review
There's an intriguing moral question at the heart of Jormungand, and it's really over who exactly are the good guys. In fact, to be honest, there aren't really any obvious good guys at all. Among the cast of Jormungand are ruthless arms dealers who thrive on death and conflict; the criminals, militia, assassins and plain maniacs who they sell weapons to; and between them a corrupt, violent CIA agent whose motives and methods aren't entirely consistent with someone whose duty you would expect (if you didn't already know any better) is to uphold the law. If you're happy enough to settle with the compromise that the "good guys" in Jormungand being merely the least evil characters, then you'll probably get on fine with the series. If you'd like the moral position to be clarified or modified in any way, well, you might not get the answers you're looking for, but there is at least an effort made to show that the morality of arms dealing is not quite as clear cut as it might seem...
The "good guys" in Jormungand are indeed the arms dealers, running under the cover of the HCLI shipping corporation, led by the enigmatic Koko Hekmatyar. There are other competing operators in Jormungand who are inevitably less scrupulous than Koko's team, but surprisingly (or perhaps not), those with a code of conduct guided by some kind of conscience do tend to live longer than those who are rather more hot-headed, greedy and ruthless. Let's not be too kind to Koko though, those principles are probably just basic self-preservation rules. You screw someone over and you're likely to find things have a way of coming back on you, literally with a vengeance. No, Koko's associates are quite capable of making mistakes, showing personality flaws, harbouring grudges and flying off to settle scores, but not when it comes to business.
And, essentially, that's what arms dealing comes down to in Jormungand as far as Koko is concerned. It's strictly business. You don't have to be crazy to work in arms dealing either, but it helps. "Koko is loco", as the theme music tells us, smiling like a maniac even in the stickiest of situations, but she knows exactly what she is doing and she knows exactly who she is dealing with. That goes for her clients, but it also holds true for her team of operatives and bodyguards. You'd wonder then why she hires Jonah, merely a kid, a child soldier that she has picked up from a conflict zone somewhere in East Asia, but there's a method to Koko's madness. Jonah hates weapons, hates the people who use them, hates the misery that they've brought to his family, his country and his life, and he's not exactly likely to be endeared to the people who supply those weapons either. He is however highly skilled in the use of weapons, which is probably the only reason he's still alive.
Jormungand applies the same principles (or twisted view of morality, if you like) to the question of arms dealing. There are several exchanges where Koko tries to explain her position to Jonah and to the others. The bearing of weapons is an everyday fact of life in many countries, and hypocritical governments invest vastly more in military and defense spending than they do to help alleviate world poverty. They aren't above supplying weapons to murderous tyrants either when it suits their own national and financial interests, assisting ruthless militia elements that only inflame situations and cause further death and misery. It's just business, it's the way of the world, and you can either ignore it and let others determine your fate, or you can choose what part you want to play in it for yourself. That's how Jonah has survived this long, and it's why Koko and her team thrive. "Our job is evil..." she recognises, "but take pride in your comrades". It doesn't quite justify her position, but at least she's honest about her part it all.
As far as the first season of Jormungand goes, it takes these issues on board even as it follows a fairly conventional formula with regards to action and characterisation. The initial few episodes set the scene in a way that gives the viewer a sense of the global scale of operations and the kind of people that the HCLI are involved with. Basically, anyone who pays them. That includes armies, mercenaries, assassins and criminals in all continents and environments, and it involves lots of extremely violent shoot-outs, stand-offs, car chases and lunatics firing guns. There's a little bit of Gunsmith Cats here in the love of weaponry and the kind of dealings that go down with shady characters, but there's also a bit of Cowboy Bebop or Black Lagoon (considering the levels of blood and violence) in how a mixed-bag of a team operate on a somewhat dubious level of self-interest and necessity. In terms of animation style however, Jormungand has much in the look-and-feel style of Steins Gate, another series form the same White Fox animation studio, in its character designs, in the light hazy desaturated look of the animation and in how it employs CG effects for technology.
The early episodes also serve to gradually introduce other members of the team, but this aspect comes into play much more as the series develops. Each of Koko's team have talents that have no doubt been shaped by previous experiences, but they've also been scarred by those experiences or carry something with them that still remains unresolved. Latter episodes, for example, focus on the back story of Valmet, but they also serve to show how much Koko is in control of these wild elements (like Jonah too) and is able to put them to use in the dynamic of her team. There are a few other figures who are likely to pop up with regularity such as the CIA Agent 'Scarecrow', but the brief appearance of Koko's brother Kasper (also an arms dealer) and hints of her estranged father Floyd Hekmatyar also being a person of influence and position, suggest that there are plenty of other mysteries and backstory elements to explore in the second series.
Jormungand - Season 1 is released by Manga Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray. The DVD set contains all 12 episodes of the first season on two dual-layer discs. The set is in PAL format and encoded for Region 2. As mentioned within the review, the animation often employs hazy lighting and colouration, but it looks fine in as far as its Standard Definition transfer allows. The transfer flows smooth, is properly standards converted and as a consequence shows no real issues either with artefacts or interlacing. Colour banding can often still be a problem with animation series, whether on DVD or Blu-ray, but Jormungand exhibits no significant issues with that on the DVD release. The Blu-ray release wasn't seen for review, but is unlikely to look much better than this, although larger screens and projectors will undoubtedly benefit from the High Definition resolution.
Both the original Japanese audio track and the English/American dub are straightforward Dolby Digital 2.0. In terms of sound quality, there's not much difference between them, both are more than adequate in terms of clarity of dialogue and punchiness of action scenes and bullet fire (of which there is quite a bit). The actual voice acting on the American dub is fine and is a good alternative for the original Japanese language track, although I think Jonah sounds much too old in the American version. The English dub however does have much stronger language than the subtitles translation and can be unnecessarily crude in this respect. The subtitles aren't perfect either though. They're a bit stiff and literal and not as idiomatic as the spoken language track. The optional subtitles however are white rather than bright yellow, so that at least is a point in their favour.
There's not a lot in the way of extras, although at least there is some effort made by the English versioning to avoid the standard textless opening and closings. In addition to the US trailers, there's a Commentary for episode 12 and a 20-minute featurette on how and why the cast were chosen for the English dub.
There's not too much to distinguish the arms dealers of Jormungand from other amoral mercenary team anime series, but the twelve episodes of Season One at least provide plenty of action, violence and intrigue at the same time as it lays out the characteristics, personalities and backstories of the team members. As well as leaving plenty to explore in later series, there are also a few other open threads that should come together to sustain interest through to Season Two.