While some enthusiastically proclaim Weiss Kreuz to be one gripping anime that strikes an interesting balance between angst, romance and action, complete with a dash of horror, others insist with much vehemence that it is nothing more than an incoherent, plotless mish-mash of incongruous elements bursting with incredulous and maudlin surprises.
Cutting through all the hype that my friends forced onto me, I can safely assert that episode 1 starts off with an ambitious premise - what strikes me as interesting is the incorporation of multiple plot-stereotypes into a single episode. The hijacking of the van is an appropriate "violence-explosive-start" to action-based plots; Michiru's encounters with Kimura recalls the "heartbroken-girl-meets-new-man" situation of romance plots; Michiru's experience in the library hearkens back to the "artless-heroine-being-stalked" scenario of horror plots; Michiru's decision to investigate turns her into the "normal-girl-becomes-embroiled-in-deadly-intrigue" icon of conspiracy plots. Also, the grotesque, masked Sukaruku armed with the most bizarre and sadistic array of weapons could have jumped straight out of those Friday the 13th flicks - remember the ice-hockey mask man wielding the axe?
To conclude that Weiss Kreuz is an impressive genre-blending series (a tamer version of Cowboy Bebop perhaps?) by virtue of the scope of its pilot episode is a grave error. Virtually everything else, ranging from the scanty art, to the flaccid animation, to the limpid sense of direction, atmosphere and structure works to undermine the potential offered by the plot.
Taking technical qualities into consideration first - the animation, during the better moments, is barely acceptable. The battle scene, the first in the entire series, is nothing short of dismal with its slavish and crude use of still shots to indicate attack, as well as speedlines to demonstrate motion. While the characters' visual designs are relatively pretty on the eye (at least the good-looking characters look consistently good!), the rendition of the backgrounds looks sketchy at best. Perfect Blue is a good example of how careful artwork enhances tense atmospheres superbly; in the case of Michiru's nervous experience in the library, the artwork and the shading of colours and lighting receive minimal attention. To this extent the scene is not made out to be as vivid as it could and should have been; tension further deflates due to a palpable absence of a chilling BGM, which can work wonders in creating eerie atmospheres.
Indeed, the lack of effective BGM, or even general sounds and noises, is certainly a loss to the overall experience when one thinks of how important sound is to Serial Experiments: Lain. To be fair, the aural component of Weiss Kreuz is not hopelessly bad. The opening and closing themes, "Velvet Underworld" and "Beautiful Alone", are well tailored to the mood and feel of the series. "Beautiful Alone" is a wonderful ballad in its own right, and I purchased the soundtrack mainly for this piece.
The greatest weakness, however, is the uninspired direction. After all, despite having equally pathetic art and animation, Fushigi Yuugi still succeeds because the direction assists in focusing one's interest on plot developments. The direction in Weiss Kreuz, however, is a weak attempt to cram as many plot-patterns into a half-hour slot. The various scenes do not meld into a seamless whole, resulting in a contrived and unsatisfactory viewing experience. The various plot-patterns appearing in episode 1 are not mutually exclusive, yet the limp pacing and loose direction creates a tenuous plot structure that mixes all these borrowed elements together in a jarring fashion. Far from lifting Weiss Kreuz from the confines of specific genres, these borrowed elements emerge as clichés. The plot becomes rather predictable, and the various surprises dropped occasionally are easily dismissed as hackneyed and predictable twists in the tale, with a few exceptions.
Characterisation of the heroes is but bland at this juncture; this is because the events are more centred on Michiru, Kimura and their investigation. One is merely invited to view the four heroes as bishounens with certain distinctive qualities; no subtleties of their personalities are even vaguely hinted at yet. Those who find themselves enamoured by specific categories of bishounens - the aloof (Aya), the stud (Yohji), the jock (Ken), or the boy-next-door (Omi) - will find at least one of the heroes worth rooting for.
Unimpressive as episode 1 is, it does establish a foundation for certain key features, themes, and symbols that will mould future action and atmosphere. Mindless bishounen anime to be shelved at this point? Not necessarily so...
- JW, 2001.03.26