Recently I’ve been selling off a lot of my multi-volume collections of DVD ‘singles’ that I acquired during my days of purchasing £0.01 2nd hand discs from Amazon Marketplace. They take up too much space and, once watched, often have little replay value for me. But one series I’ve kept – largely because I doubt it will ever be re-released, is Spiral (The Bonds of Reasoning) – a taught, morally grey thriller series that sees school kids turned killers. Half Battle Royale, half Death Note – on first-viewing I became absolutely charmed by this series, only to find it all but forgotten these days – despite it being one of only a select few titles released by Revelation films in the UK, in the days before the UK branch of Funimation distribution transferred to Manga UK.
The original Spiral manga ran between 2000 – 2005 in Shonen Gangan magazine, best known for Fullmetal Alchemist and Soul Eater, with the anime coming in 2002 from JC Staff and running for 25 episodes.
I’ll keep the ins and outs of the plot brief, but essentially Spiral revolves around a boy-girl high school duo who go around solving a series of mysterious murders, while simultaneously trying to evade the mysterious ‘Blade Children’ – trained, violent killers who present a number of game-like ‘tests’ which our main duo have to extricate themselves from. What follows are a number of Sherlock Holmes-esque deductions and escapades that invariably favour logic and mental capacity over any kind of Shonen-esque brute force. In much the same way as Death Note, the vast joy of this series is in the ‘how they did it’ reveals as our heroes continue to outwit the Blade Children.
So far, so good. The script is deftly written, and the direction solid. The artwork is typical of early 00s digipaint – in fact, I’d even go as far to say much of it is *worse* than the norm – the colours are bizzarely garish in places, while backgrounds are pretty much as undetailed as it’s possible to be without everything turning into an amorphous blobs of shapes. But all this adds to show’s certain dorky charm – perfectly typified in the character design of plummy ‘perfect’ student Hiyono Yuizaki who plays like a combination of the Monogatari series’ Tsubasa Hanekawa and the classic ‘school newspaper journalist’ character archetype. Her hair ends up looking like one, immense braided pretzel.
There are other choice character highlights. One of the ‘Blade Children’ is a grey-haired loli played by Monica Rial (in her trademark loli style, of course) in the English dub chief among them. At one point, desperate to kill our two heroes, this precocious loli goes as far as to involve herself in a self-detonated bomb blast – just so she can get close enough for the bomb to be effective. This botched suicide attempt is the first in a lengthy sequence of episodes that starts to shade the Blade Children as morally grey – as we see the loli confined to a hospital bed, yet continuing to try and outwit our heroes as she and her villainous compatriot move onto poison as there weapon of choice.
Filling out the rest of the cast come more bizarrely memorable roles in the English dub – including one of the worst ‘Southern’ American accents, and one of the worst ‘British’ accents you will ever here attempted in a dub ever. But even in their awfulness, they become oddly charming – adding a deliciously hammed up feel to the incongruous mix of childish sleuthing and hard, invariably brutal violence.
At the crux of this show is a simple truth – young kids trying to rip the shit out of each-other. Bombs and poison – just another day’s work. Drawn in an almost shojo-esque, colourful style, Spiral’s visual trappings pair oddly with the darkness of its subject matter – it certainly never reaches the excesses of something like Elfen Lied, but it shares a little of that show’s garish, almost tasteless appetite for wanton violence.
All in all though – I remember this show as one of the better pure ‘thriller’ anime series out there – one that harks back to a purer age of ‘sleuthing’ tropes – and the idea of pairing a genre like that with a high-school setting was still relatively novel. If you can track down the DVDs and give it a watch (and I implore you to do so with the Funimation dub switched on) – then please do so. Spiral has without a doubt aged more poorly than other shows of the 00s – but if anything, it only adds to its charm.