He tries though. Really hard.
B: The Beginning follows dual protagonists: a jaded genius detective seeking redemption, and an angel-winged super assassin vigilante with a sword for an arm. Already, we’ve struck at the heart of the show’s fatal flaw.
It’s indecisive. It doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a no-nonsense detective mystery-thriller? Or is it an epic fantasy action piece? The show attempts to be both, unsuccessfully for the most part. This is not to say that these genres are necessarily mutually exclusive. Only that B: The Beginning fails to find an appropriate balance between the two. Through its grounded visual style and heavy dialogue it builds itself up as dark and gritty. But it instead undulates messily between discordant poles, with jarring results.
In one scene, detectives apply their wit in an attempt to prevent chemical gas from spreading throughout a building. In the next, a member of the Insane Clown Posse skateboards down a skyscraper, flinging hand grenades in their wake.
What the actual fuck is happening? This tonal dissonance is far too prevalent. What’s worse is that I don’t think it’s intentional. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that the the two protagonists occupy parallel story lines that don’t intertwine in any way they ideally should. And when these plot lines do overlap, it’s so utterly contrived it’s funny. Time is therefore split between the two main characters and neither receives the attention they need to make them truly interesting.
Bipolarism and underdeveloped characters aside, there are a still a number of nitpicks to be had. Despite the esoteric literary references and dramatic narration, there is no subtext to be found. Not that there has to be. But all these elements manage to contribute to is the gritty tone (edgy, if you will), which as we’ve outlined is prone to sudden upending. Furthermore, as opposed to any actual police work, the brilliance of our genius detective is established by way of his ability to sketch portraits using mathematical equations. Similarly, vital exposition is delivered via clunky info dumps. Any major female character exists in order to be damseled. Shortcuts like these are lazy and uninspired, making for a shaky first half of the series.
Fortunately, the show picks itself up during its latter half. Here, the mystery element comes to the fore, burgeoning into a genuinely engaging game of cat and mouse. The central villain is a serious force to be reckoned with, and the ensuing battle of wits is good old fashioned high tension fun. It’s here where the detective is shown to be cunning in ways beyond mathematical finger painting through his actions and powers of deduction. It helps that the side cast is quite likeable. The fantasy plot kicks into gear too, but simply lacks any weight.
If there’s one thing Production I.G can rarely be faulted for, it’s there audiovisual design. Crisp, realistic, and dark, B: The Beginning looks like what a sci fi mystery thriller should look like. It's all really pretty. An interesting visual choice is the presentation of the detective’s thoughts via text and mind maps and such superimposed over the screen, Sherlock style. Take that how you will. The action sequences are by no means mind-blowing, but are mostly fun to watch nonetheless.
Both the subbed and dubbed version are fine. Meanwhile, the end credits are fucking amazing. Marty Friedman of Megadeth fame teamed up with Jean-Ken Johnny from Man with a Mission and KenKen from Rize to create - without trying to overstate anything - one of the best ending songs in recent memory. Chances are you won’t be skipping the outro.
B: The Beginning exists in a state of flux. It lacks focus, thematic or otherwise. It is comprised of two separate story lines that fail to complement each other as they should. Rather, they conflict tonally and in terms of substance matter. They detract from each other and from the show as a whole. I suspect that if the fantasy elements were removed altogether, the show would have improved significantly. Because when the pacing quickened, the mystery story became pretty exciting. With a second season in the works, perhaps the divergent story lines will somehow converge better than they did here. Or better yet, be done away with altogether.