Whenever people ask me for recommendations of underrated anime serials, Witch Hunter Robin is one that immediately slips to mind. It was one of those titles that left an imprint for many years to come, making it rather unforgettable and always waiting to be shared. There were so many details about this particular anime that stood out to me in the vast ocean of similarly-themed shows and because of that, it has cemented itself as one of my favourite occult, crime serials to date.
It was created by Hajime Yatate (Cowboy Bebop) and Shūkō Murase (Ergo Proxy), so that should be a good indicator of Witch Hunter Robin’s storytelling quality. Very much like the two examples mentioned, the series appears to be episodic on the surface yet has an overarching plot that really comes to its own in the second half. It can be contemplative and sombre while also being rather exciting and marvellously seductive. If I had to pin-point my favourite attributes of Witch Hunter Robin and why it’s always on my laundry list of must-see seinen anime, these are the five things that I would highlight almost immediately.
Excellent Musical Score
My appreciation for musical scores in anime actually began with Witch Hunter Robin. Prior to it, it wasn’t something that I paid much attention to, at least not within this specific medium. But the opening song, “Shell,” really captures the interest with an evocative element. It stirs a deep feeling of yearning that is very reminiscent of the motifs hidden within. This is further complemented by instrumental titles like, “Flame,” “Harry’s,” “Robin,” and “Allay Pain,” just to name a few.
The musical score works phenomenally to craft an ambiance that is excellently gritty, dark, and ominous. When faced with characters whose motives and beliefs are just as murky as the laws that were created to control them, these songs come in handy in riveting the audience with their plights and sense of complicated alliances.
[Full playlist can be accessed here.]
Not Your Typical Witches
What do you think of when you hear the word “witch?” For most people, it’s broomsticks and cauldrons, or some kind of occult-related symbols and chanting involving dusty old tomes. What I love about witches in this anime is that they are more akin to what Western audiences know as “mutants” from X-Men. They are people who have unique abilities that set them apart from the normal individuals of society. Some have telekinesis. Some can control soundwaves. Others can cause inanimate objects to move as if they’re alive. A few can even control fire with a single glance. No chanting, symbols, candles, or other familiar stereotypical accessories necessary.
This centres it more on the genetic components that lead to an individual to have special powers and abilities. This almost scientific quality helps to ground Witch Hunter Robin in a rather realistic setting and steers it away from standard fantasy genre tropes. For me, this was a cool and unique thing at the time (twenty years ago before I truly got into X-Men). Combing “witchcraft” with solving crimes and disturbances in a contemporary city with normal-looking people as “witches” adds a very intriguing bit of dimension to the criminal and occult subgenres that I think lots of people can either relate to or find quite fun.
Gritty Ambiance of Oppression for the Occult
Speaking of being different, how to do we separate these gifted folx from the drudges of boring normalcy? Should they be seen as high-risk threats? Or are they just “people” like you and me? What quantifies a “witch” versus someone who is merely “skilled?” If someone can start fires with their mind, are they a witch to be feared? Or, so long as they use their powers to assist in capturing others like them, are they just “endowed comrades?”
One of themes that is explored in Witch Hunter Robin is the oppressive inclinations that society has when it relates to things they cannot understand or explain away in simple words and science, and how there is always a separation between those who help criminalise what’s feared and those who oppose said interdiction.
When I think about our society today and it’s intense hatred for all that doesn’t fit a very particular box or mould of ideas, no matter how harmful or toxically incorrect and blown out of proportion, this aspect of the anime always comes to mind. Not a lot of serials can place these dualities into such powerful perspective as it’s done in Witch Hunter Robin, thus making it one of its most invaluable characteristics.
Conversations Between Characters
Sometimes when I watch an anime with a lot of dialogue, it can be hard for me to focus on it, especially if the dialogue is purely a bunch of jabbering and bickering back and forth for the sake of “entertainment.” Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy two characters exchanging quips just as much as the next human, but I also prefer there to be an element of depth to what they’re talking about. When all it boils down is nonsensical ramblings, I get bored and my ADHD is switched on like a brilliant flame.
The dialogue and conversations that the characters tend to have in Witch Hunter Robin centre on the things that I have mentioned above. A lot of it has to do with dissecting how a particular unit created to hunt down witches goes about “doing business.” Where should the lines be drawn? What truly separates those in the unit with incredible skillsets from the folx they hunt down? Is it really oppression if the person is a supposed criminal? What constitutes a crime when one is a “witch?”
These are some of the things that drive home many of themes within the series, and I absolutely adore that its depicted via meaningful dialogue exchanges between characters. Not only does it make it that much more cerebral and engaging, but it also helps to create a foundation for various sorts of rapport. Ones that involve friendship and respect, as much as resentment and fear. The conversations are the factors that have left such strong imprints behind within me for the anime, so naturally, it had to be my number two pick.
Esoteric Unravelling of Robin
The number one reason for watching this anime is the namesake, Robin. I will admit that the series can have a bit of a lethargic start to it. The first few episodes helps to introduce us to Robin and the other characters, and so her particular place in the overarching narrative can seem almost non-existent. However, as new pieces from each of their cases start to come together, we learn more and more about Robin, and the unravelling of that mystery is impeccable.
There is a lot to Robin that we learn and a lot that’s left wanting, but the beauty of this main character is what she represents as a whole from beginning to end. The divergences from “acceptable” and “abnormal” become blatantly eviscerated as information is revealed about Robin’s past and present. The obscurity of the whole bloody mystery hangs tight until the very last episode and that is really what makes the anime so stealthily unputdownable.
When I recently re-watched it, I would only watch an episode or two every few days. But the deeper that I got into it, the more connected I became to our dear protagonist, the more compelled I became to increase my episode consumptions. I was sneak-attacked and when a series can do that to me, unflinchingly pull me in with total effortlessness, I know that the writing and the main character, especially, have to be absolutely wonderful, which in Witch Hunter Robin, they completely are.
If you are someone that has a fancy for occult qualities, mysteries, and crime dramas, then you most definitely should give Witch Hunter Robin a try. While I have shared five of my favourite bits about the anime, I’m sure I could provide you with many more if asked. It’s underrated, not only because it’s twenty years old and uncommonly spoken of, but also because of how understated the writing and narrative attributes are. In some cases this could be a fatal flaw, yet here, it’s a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED shining gem of positivity.
Native: ウィッチハンター ロビン
Genre: Occult Supernatural, Action
Season: Summer 2002
Created by: Hajime Yatate, Shūkō Murase
Written by: Aya Yoshinaga
Director: Shūkō Murase
Content Warnings: Violence and action. Blood. Deaths including child and animal death. Burning bodies. Suicide. Depiction of mental illnesses. Depiction of imprisonment. Mild language. Alcohol consumption. Preparation and consumption of food.
AniList: Witch Hunter Robin
Streaming: Funimation (Dub & Sub)