They live among us. People born with special powers, but they look just like you and me. But no, this isn’t the story of the X-Men, it’s an anime called Hamatora.
Hamatora is the story of a group of mutants (or “minimum holders” as they are called) who have opened up a private detective agency. So it’s pretty much Peter David’s X-Factor only with a different cast—on the surface at least.
Like in any superhero story, there are the common superpower staples like super strength and electricity manipulation. But it’s the odd powers that the series comes up with—like mind-controlling sweat pheromones or appearing beautiful but only on camera—that make the series so fun. Nice, the main character of the show, has powers that allow him to travel along sound waves—basically letting him move at the speed of sound. And interestingly, each mutant’s power is activated by an external trigger—e.g., removing glasses, putting on headphones, biting a taser, chewing gum, or praying to God.
Also, the world of Hamatora, while having more than its fair share of mutants, has managed to keep their existence a half-secret. The rich, powerful, or just well-connected know of their existence—and are thus known to hire them—but the general populace has no idea that mutants live among them. This setting thus allows the characters to use their powers without repercussions while on a job, but also lets them live relatively normal lives and move among non-powered people with ease.
While the mutant-run Hamatora detective agency is often hired by the police, they are not your typical superheroes. Rather, they are running a business and will accept potentially any contract if it seems reasonable. Moreover, the two owners of Hamatora, Nice and Murasaki, have two totally different opinions on what kinds of cases they should accept.
Murasaki is concerned with the bottom line—how much they'll get paid. Nice, on the other hand, only cares if the job is interesting to him personally. This often has the effect of the two working totally different cases and sometimes working for opposite sides of the same one.
Of course, just because they aren't actively in the superhero business as we tend to think of it doesn't mean they don't have their own supervillain to take care of—and boy, is he a fun one. Moral is one of those villains who plays on the darker side of human nature to reach his goals. His plans are directed at the weakest among us: the oppressed, the bullied, the socially awkward, the under-appreciated. He then gives these people superpowers and asks them to do nothing more than follow their own selfish desires.
In his own twisted way Moral wants equality among all people. And in a world with mutants, the only way to do this is to give everyone powers—no matter how many people he has to kill to do so. He pities the weak and believes they need external help to become strong. (Of course, he also pities the uncommonly strong as it is a lonely place at the top.)
Nice is the perfect foil for Moral. Nice is also concerned with human strength, weakness, and inequality like Moral, but he doesn't believe that people can be made strong by external forces. Rather, he thinks that only by fighting against his or her own weakness is a person worthwhile and interesting. Thus he is unlikely to help people who come begging for assistance but will readily step in to save those who have already done all in their power to overcome the problems they are facing but have failed. Thus, while they both have a similar philosophy on the state of equality in the world, the two are opposites when it comes to how they deal with the problem.
For the most part, Hamatora is a series of one-off cases that have little to do with the main villain and his plan directly. So while there is an overarching story, it is often relegated to the background. This allows for fun, lighthearted adventures with superpowered mysteries to solve and decently interesting guest characters.
What's great about Hamatora, however, is how these guest characters are not forgotten about as the series moves on. In the final few episodes, nearly every client and villain returns for the series' climax. This helps make the world feel bigger and more connected—as well as add tension by showing how the story events are affecting people we know instead of just random people we have no investment in.
A dark story is in no way a bad thing. In fact, it’s when Hamatora gets serious that it is at its best. But unlike many series that start off happy and gradually grow dark, in Hamatora, it’s a lot like whiplash. It grows dark suddenly and graphically, but then it's back to the status quo.
Most threats—i.e., the one-off episode bad guys—are a joke and something the team can easily overcome once it becomes apparent who to hit. However, this means that later in the show—and as long as Moral isn't involved directly—it’s hard to tell whether a situation is actually dire or not. So when characters start dying, it's more of a surprise than an emotional blow. Moreover, even in the final battle—the dark dramatic climax—there are still random comedic moments which serve to completely undercut the mood and drain the climactic tension. Independently, both the lighthearted comedy and dark action work; but combined as they are, they only get in each other’s way.
Hamatora is decent at building up to big reveals—only to flub it when time comes for the reveal. The character Hajime does little more in the series than eat. Yet, it's implied that she is one of—if not the—most powerful mutant in the show. So when her powers are revealed, we, the audience, have high expectations. What we get doesn't live up to the hype and does little to reveal what her powers really are and how they work.
The final fight is similarly anti-climactic. For the entire series we await the ever-impending battle between Moral and Nice. But in the end, it’s a lot of talking and three 15-second beatdowns.
Even the end of the series, which is indeed shocking and well built up to, falls into this category—since, as the series ends with a sudden cut, we'll have to wait for the second season for any payoff. In the end, the series felt like it made many grand promises; but while it did deliver, nothing really lived up to what the story was building towards.
Hamatora is an interesting series, but it is not without its problems. For the most part, they can be overlooked thanks to its creative take on a superpowered community and excellent villain. If you like the idea of lighthearted superhero detectives with the occasional dark twist, Hamatora is worth a watch.
Hamatora aired on TV Tokyo in Japan and can be viewed for free with English subtitles in the US at Crunchyroll.
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