The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Golgo 13

Title: Golgo 13
Genre: Action
Company: The Answer Studio
Format: 50 episodes
Dates: 12 Apr 2008 – 28 Mar 2009

Synopsis: Duke Togo, alias Golgo 13, is the world’s greatest sniper. For $3 million, he will take on any job no matter the circumstances or difficulty involved. All that he requires is that the employer be totally truthful about why he or she is ordering the hit, and that the employer not act against Golgo under any circumstances.

The Highlights
Sniping: 100 percent accurate no matter how crazy the shot.
Aesthetic: Grim, gritty and sharp-edged.
Formula: Repetitive, but sometimes inspires great creativity.
Golgo’s face: Never changes expression. Ever.

Golgo 13 is a reminder of an earlier era in anime when ultraviolent, adult shows were the most popular and when Japanese animation was held up (accurately or not) as a mature alternative to the “kids stuff” that formed Western animation. The TV adaptation of the long-running manga has an old-school appeal that both helps it stand out from the pack and holds the series back a bit.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Golgo 13 is definitely repetitive. The show has a few basic types of storylines it uses formed around how Golgo executes his job. Every story is constructed around the given that Golgo will complete his assignment no matter what. He is the best sniper in existence, and is 100 percent accurate regardless of a shot’s difficulty. Nearly every episode begins with a client hiring Golgo; every episode concludes with Golgo finishing the job.

But the fun of Golgo 13 is not in whether the eponymous sniper will complete his assignment; rather, it is the ridiculous lengths to which he will go to make the hit. At its best, the series finds creative solutions to spice up the inherent limitations of its structure. The most memorable episodes of Golgo 13 involve Golgo making the impossible possible, whether through totally unbelievable but awesome means (such as hitting a shot so absurd that no jury would possibly convict him, even though the police have all the necessary evidence), or ingenious means (the episode where Golgo sneaks a gun into a football stadium).

Unfortunately, the series is frontloaded. Many of the best episodes are in the first half; after episode 25, there’s a definite lull in quality as several second-half episodes are either tedious or resort to ripping off the basic framework of earlier episodes. However, during Golgo 13’s stretch run, the quality shoots up again. (Particularly memorable are the episodes where Golgo takes on a small army in the style of a Hollywood action star, and the one where he takes on a soldier in a mecha suit that seems ripped straight out of Patlabor.)

That run of bad episodes in the second half highlights the tightrope upon which Golgo 13 balances itself, however. When everything is working and in sync, the series can pull off great entertainment. But it’s easy to see when the stories are simply mailed in; those episodes run through the basic formula in the most uninspired ways possible. The exploits of the world’s greatest sniper should never be boring, but dull episodes do exist.

The look of the series may be a turn off to some, as well. Visually, the character designs and settings are a throw back to a time when seedier series had a hard-edged, menacing feel. Golgo 13 makes no bones about what it is: A show that revels in the dark underbelly of the criminal underworld, where the buildings are grimier, the men are meaner, and the violence nastier. Golgo 13 is not a pretty series – technically or aesthetically – and that’s just what the show wants. Anything different would likely feel strange, but it isn’t a style meant to inspire beauty.

Golgo 13 is not a brilliant series. The entertainment value hinges on the inherent ridiculousness of the series, and taken too far, the show often becomes quite campy. But when Golgo’s plans unfold in just the right way, and he lines up and hits that shot nobody ever sees coming, there’s no denying that the show is tremendously entertaining.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

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