A witch hunter named Robin hunts witches
Witch Hunter Robin is pretty interesting. Not to watch, mind you, but as a case study. The anime itself is dreadfully boring. It starts off decent, but quickly gets dull and repetitive, and by the time it’s over you’re left wondering what the point of it all was. What makes it interesting is that it fails basic levels of storytelling.
The show begins with Robin joining the STN-J, the Japanese branch of a global witch-hunting organization. The entire first half of the series follows a witch-of-the-week format. That’s not bad in and of itself. The episodic stories could’ve been interesting. But they’re not. They could’ve taken the opportunity to develop the characters and setting. But they don’t. In fact, it’s so bad at these things that by the halfway point I could barely tell you anything about most of its characters, and was left with many questions about the core elements of the story. For example, what’s a witch anyway?
In the world of Witch Hunter Robin, a witch is kind of like an X-Men mutant. Some people have latent powers called ‘Craft’ which can start manifesting at any time. There’s a heriditary element to these powers but this only ever comes up as a convenient plot device. Looking for a suspect with a specific power? Just check the database to find the relevant bloodline. So a witch is anyone with a Craft power, right? Well, that’s what I was led to believe, but then about 15 episodes in Robin started insisting she’s ‘not a witch’, and I was left confused. So, then, maybe a witch is not just any craft user, but a ‘bad’ one that needs to be hunted? Well, there’s a whole other can of worms.
We spend ten or so episodes following the STN-J on their usual business. And in every episode, some crime occurred that involved witchcraft, they track down the culprit, there’s a fight, and the witch either dies or gets captured. Almost every one of these witches is a murderer, or at least killed someone. So it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that the STN-J exist to hunt down people who use their powers to break the law. But that’s wrong again.
Two-thirds into the show, after Robin is no longer with STN-J, she sees a little girl using witch powers. Nothing major, just harmless telekinesis, but she immediately starts thinking about how “a month ago, I would’ve hunted her”. This creates a total disconnect, because not only does it not match what we’d been shown up until that point, but if the STN-J was hunting down innocent people all along we might’ve found the characters somewhat less than sympathetic. I mean, beyond the fact that captured witches are shipped off to a place called “The Factory” and nobody thinks there’s anything suspcious about that. Another character later compares their actions to the Salem witch trials (which is a little confusing on its own since witches are real), but this apparent global persecution of witches is largely happening off screen.
That’s not the only plot point that’s poorly conveyed. Another one is Robin’s predecessor. When she arrives at the STN-J in episode one, she’s referred to as a replacement, which suggests another hunter either died or quit. And since it’s quickly established that hunters aren’t allowed to quit, that only leaves one possibility. You might expect the other characters to have, well, any sort of feelings about that. In fact, I initially assumed that was the reason why they were treating Robin so coldly at the beginning, because they couldn’t accept this newcomer taking the place of a close friend. But then nobody ever talks about this dead hunter, not to Robin, not among each other. It’s downright weird, like she never existed. It’s not until much later that her fate is brought up, for one episode, and then never mentioned again.
There are many little things like this. Even after watching half the show, you feel like you still don’t understand the world it’s set in because it’s not properly showing you. It’s not the worst thing I’ve watched, but it seemingly has no idea how to tell a story. Even a simple question like “are the other STN-J hunters also witches?” is left unaddressed. You’d think so, and one of them does indeed have scrying powers, but the rest apparently doesn’t. The concept of a ‘Seed’ is lazily introduced, apparently referring to people with witch blood whose powers haven’t awakened yet, but it has little interest in doing something with that.
The show plods along for a while, but at the end of episode 15 there’s a sudden dramatic shift. A swat team breaks into the STN-J office, several main characters are gunned down ruthlessly, and Robin barely manages to escape as her partner lies bleeding on the floor. It was pretty shocking watching it for the first time, especially having to wait a week to find out what happens next.
But then episode 16 begins, and everyone is back at work again as if nothing happened. You see, they were actually only using plastic bullets, which are apparently fired from P90s and cause large blood stains on impact, but are completely harmless. It’s an insultingly bad fakeout.
The one thing that does change is that Robin is now a fugitive, with headquarters sending multiple witch hunters after her. But even this is much less interesting than it sounds. These hunters have zero personality or backstory. They’re just there to fight Robin. And in case you were hoping that at least the action is good, witch battles generally consist of people standing still and throwing objects at each other with their mind powers. As a result, even after the plot kicks in, things never get very exciting or engaging.
I haven’t even touched upon what the plot actually is, because it’s not worth mentioning. It’s as uninteresting as everything else. The final episode has several minutes of dry exposition, some of which doesn’t even seem to have direct significance to the story. In the end, everything gets wrapped up, but witches are still getting hunted exactly like before so nothing’s changed either. Which is a fitting end to a story that made little attempt to do or say anything.