As anyone who knows me is aware, I'm not really all that much into anime.
Oh sure, I have a nostalgic fondness for the Guyver, Fist of the Northstar, Vampire Hunter D, Akira, 3x3 Eyes, Area 88...all of those classics that I watched before Hayao Miyazaki started winning academy awards and anime became the subject of fanatical teen leg humping...but mostly I think the stuff that Japan is pumping out these days is garbage. Most I said...there are a few rare gems like Full Metal Alchemist, Kurokami, Canaan, or Chevalier D'Eon that keep me sloughing through a mire of kiddy dross in search of new material.
One such gem that I've found is a recent series called Tatakau Shisho: Book of Bantorra. The story takes place in a world that resembles a fantasy version of the industrialized west, circa 1900 or so, where souls are stored on stone tablets called "books" when people die. These books are then stored in a vast and cavernous underground "library."
The protagonists are an X-men-like ensemble of superpowered beings called "Armed Librarians," who guard the Library, maintain the books and seek out new stone encased souls. The Library itself is a vast subterranean dungeon comprised of several different levels inhabited by pucker inducing monstrosities that grow exponentially in power the deeper one goes (gee...wonder what that reminds me of) hence the "armed" part. And the librarians themselves are pretty kick ass...with wild kung fu powers, gunslinging and swordswinging, and one bare midriff Annie Oakley type who telekinetically fires an armada of six shooters at one time.
The leader of this gang of ass kicking librarians is a foxy and inscrutable femme fatale named "Hamyutz Meseda." (some very strange naming conventions here) Now one would expect, this being anime and all, that she would be a bubbly teenaged girl with technicolor hair (because for some reason teenagers are the ones you really want to trust with things like the fate of the world)but not so! In a refreshing change of pace, most of the cast are adults, and Hamyutz in particular is something of an antihero, being a bloodthirsty, manipulative sociopath whom the rest of the librarians barely tolerate because she can produce results and also because she could easily kill all of them. Plus, she makes using a sling look awesome...which hasn't happened since David slew Goliath.
In addition to the monsters roaming the underdark...err...Library...there is also the "Church of Living in God's Grace," a rival gand of superpowered crowley-esque dilletantes and hedonists who seek certain books to help further their ambitions. Sort of like an issue of Marvel's "What If: Ayn Rand Had Kick Ass Magic Powers?"
The inaugural story arc, comprised of the first four episodes, centers around a young man who was brainwashed by the Church of Living in God's Grace into beleiving that he is not a human being, but rather a bomb (complete with explosive device implanted in his chest cavity) who exists for the sole purpose of killing Hamyutz Meseda. During the course of his living bomb misadventures, he comes across the fragments of a book detailing the life of a young woman who had the gift of seeing the future, and as a result was labeled a witch by the superstitious and used as pawn by the ambitious and greedy. Hapless mister 'splodey-chest eventually falls in love with this long dead vixen inbetween being sucked into the power struggle between the Armed Librarians and the Church. other stuff happens too, but I can't tell you everything, or else you'll have no incentive to watch it.
For the most part, the animation here is top notch, with a lot of creative visuals and interesting design (check the girl with the spider-rapier on her right arm!) and some nice action sequences. Best of all, 6 episodes into the series and I have yet to see a character spazzing out across the screen super-deformed style, which immediately lowers the credibility for any anime series in my eyes.
I don't speak japanese, so I have no educated basis upon which to draw reasoned criticism on the quality of voice acting, but unlike most anime series, this one doesn't make me want to hammer large drill bits into my ear drums to avoid shrill, squeaky Tokyo schoolgirl jabbering...so take that for what it's worth. Oh...and the subtitles use some nice fonts.
All in all, Book of Bantorra is shaping up to be a top notch fantasy series (that is, if you can stretch your boundaries of fantasy to include things like cargo freighters, trains and gunslingers)and one that I will watch with interest. I suggest you do as well.