Disaster Report: WEISS KREUZ

This story begins with a man named Takehito Koyasu.

He's a prolific seiyuu best known these days as the voice of Dio Brando, but in the mid 1990s he was known and loved for voicing smug bishonen such as Hotohori in Fushigi Yugi, Touga on Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Zechs Marquise on Gundam Wing.  He was enjoying a level of success at that time that only a handful of voice actors ever get to enjoy, but that was not enough for him. 


He saw how much money producers were making off of the shows he worked on and wanted a cut of his own.  He also had an ego that demanded that the world recognize him and his other seiyuu friends not just as voice actors, but as superstars of many talents.  To achieve both of these goals, Koyasu need to create his own original work, and he already had a concept in mind.  It was a tale of four tormented young men fighting against the evils of the criminal underworld.  By day they worked as florists; by night they worked as assassins.  He initially wanted to call it The Cat People, but later settled on a new title: Weiss Kreuz.

Soon enough Koyasu began to pitch his idea at any animation studio that would listen.  Most studios were wary of such a blatant vanity project, but eventually the show found a home at Magic Bus, a studio that mostly worked on in-betweens.  He managed to convince a branch of TMS Entertainment to fund it, along with the anime merchandise store chain Animate.  The producers swiftly brought in writers to expand on Koyasu's ideas and a mangaka to come up with appealing character designs for what was becoming a multimedia franchise.  There would be manga, light novels, audio dramas, a boy band fronted by the lead actors, and all of it anchored by an anime to premiere in the spring of 1998.

Over 30 years later, all of that effort seems to have been all for naught.  Weiss Kreuz is largely forgotten by anime fans, and I think that this is a mistake.  Weiss Kreuz should be remembered.  It should be remembered as a showcase for some of the worst animation of the 1990s.  It should be remembered as a landmark in the wave of fujoshi-friendly shows that followed in the wake of Gundam Wing.  It should be remembered as one of the worst anime of the 1990s.  It should be remembered as one of anime's greatest unintentional comedies.

Weiss Kreuz was doomed from the start by the inherent ridiculousness of its premise.  It's not enough that Aya, Omi, Ken and Yoji are florists by day and assassins by night, they are florists/assassins who go individually go by cat-themed aliases and collectively by "Weiss."  They struggle against two separate evil assassin groups (one of whom is naturally called "Schwartz").  Over the course of the show, they fight against not only against a wicked politician scheming to take control of Japan but also a trio of elderly death cultists using human sacrifices to help regain their youth and power.  That's not even getting into the equally ludicrous episode plots, which include:
This is not so much a plot as it is a convoluted, plothole-riddled garbage fire masquerading as a plot.  Yet all of it delivered in stone-faced seriousness, and it's part of what makes this show so easy to ridicule.

Sadly, the show can't maintain itself on nonsense alone.  It certainly can't rely on the sparkling personalities of our leading quartet to carry it, as they all have one-note characters: sporty Ken, flirty Yoji, sensitive Omi, and pissy constipated lone-wolf Aya.  Thus, it spends most of the time trying to tug on the heartstrings of its thirsty young audience with loads of poorly written angst.  It turns out all of the Weiss boys have tragic backstories that involve girlfriends/partners/family members who were injured, kidnapped or killed.  Weiss Kreuz then compounds that angst by piling on many more victims upon their actions over the course of the show, all to justify the many sequences where one of the boys stares moodily into the distance and screams/monologues about their pain.

Then there's the animation.  This isn't the first time we've talked about a Magic Bus production, but the difference in quality between  They Were 11 and Weiss Kreuz is vast.  There's virtually no behind-the-scenes information on this show to be found in this day and age, but one gets the feeling that most of the production's money was spent on the voice cast instead of the animation.  This disparity becomes obvious within the first few minutes of the first episode, as the audience is treated to a fire that appears to have been animated by a young child with crayons.

The animation never improves after that point.  If anything, the show becomes a veritable nexus of nega-sakuga over the course of its twenty-six episodes.  By the show's mid-point the animation all but melts before your very eyes.  In-between animations disappear, character models shift wildly, and the curiously bloodless fights only grow more stiff and crudely animated.  I wouldn't be shocked to learn that this production dealt with tight deadlines on top of its limited resources that forced it to go to air as-is.  I'm sure that the fact that it switched directors 2/3rds of the way through its run only added to the chaos.  There's no way I could document all of the bad animation - there's simply too many instances to count.  All I could do was make gifs of some of the worst examples to record them for posterity.

There are only two moments where Weiss Kreuz manage some degree of competence in animation.  The first is the show's first opening, directed by noted director and animator Masami Obari.  Its slick editing and kinetic action briefly gives this show the attitude that it so desperately wishes it could possess.  The second are the heavily stylized gearing-up sequences that are thrown in fairly regularly over the course of the show.  They are all clearly meant to make the Weiss boys look cool and alluring, but their randomness renders them hilarious and they too ultimately suffer from the show's declining animation quality.

Weiss Kreuz can be a very different experience depending on whether you watch the sub or the dub.  The show was licensed by Media Blasters in 2001, despite the fact that neither the marketing staff nor company founder John Sirabella had any faith in it.  That lack of faith bleeds into in the dub, which was an extremely early, loose, and amateur effort from NYAV Post.  It certainly can't compare to the original Japanese audio, which was a far more competent and serious affair that's studded with all of Koyasu's famous friends, including Hikaru Midorikawa, Shinichiro Miki, and Tomokazu Seki.  Yet I would argue that the dub is the only way to watch Weiss Kreuz.  The Japanese voice actors may be the primary reason this show exists, but the lackluster dub is the perfect match for the bizarre story and broken animation.  It is not the dub the shows' producers would want, but it is absolutely the dub the show deserves.

Perhaps the strangest thing about Weiss Kreuz is that despite failing on almost every level of production possible, the show was a success in its time.  Fangirls across Japan lined up to buy all the tie-in books, image songs, audio dramas, OVAs, and other pieces of merchandise.  Despite their initial skepticism, Media Blasters also made bank on Weiss Kreuz (sold under the title of "Knight Hunters") and they kept the show in print for a decade.  The fandom flourished worldwide with piles of horny slash fanfiction and fan art on self-made tribute sites, Fanfiction.net, and Livejournal blogs.  Ironically, the only thing that could stop Weiss Kreuz's runaway success was its own sequel.

2002's Weiss Kreuz Gluhen (retitled "Knight Hunters Eternity" in English) was in many ways an improvement on the original.  Instead of focusing on many nonsensical plots, it was focused around a single storyline.  Sure, it was pile of edgy nonsense involving a series of suicides at a mysterious high-tech private school that required reading a bunch of tie-in manga and books to make sense, but it was at least a focused pile of edgy nonsense.  While the animation suffered from the flat garishness of an early digipaint anime, it's far more consistent and competent-looking thanks to the work of a brand-new studio called Ufotable.  Even the dub improved, thanks to some new actors and the direction by voice actor Dan Green.  Yet the fandom on both sides of the Pacific turned on Gluhen for one reason: the character designs.

In the years between the original series and Gluhen, there was a falling-out between the production staff and original character designer Kyoko Tsuchiya.  Again, the details are nigh impossible to find on the internet these days; maybe it was due to money, maybe it had something to do with her lack of credit on the TV show.  She eventually left the production, taking the rights to the Weiss boys' original designs with her.  Personally, I wouldn't call this a great loss considering that her designs were generic at best and outright derivative at worst.  She was replaced with Toshimitsu Kobayashi, who gave the cast a look that was meant to be more mature and serious but mostly comes off as a mixed bag quality-wise. The fandom was far too attached to the old designs to accept such a radical change in style.  They rejected the new show en masse, even before its dour ending, and the franchise ground to a halt shortly after Gluhen's finale.

Weiss Kreuz may have been forgotten by anime fandom at large in the intervening years, but not so by the fujoshi who thrived during the anime boom of the 2000s.  They carried the torch for this show along with other slash-friendly shows of the era such as Gravitation, Saiyuki, and Kyo Kara Maoh.  I can personally remember reading discussions about it on bad fanfic-mocking Livejournals in the late 2000s, years after the show's heyday.  Even now, you'll find over 2000 fanfics for it over at Archive Of Our Own, many of them brand new.  A quick search of Tumblr reveals new fan art and small but thriving fan communities.  I can't say that I share their passion for the material, but in a strange way I kind of admire the perseverance of these fans. They don't let Weiss Kreuz's poor visuals, dated looks, silly plot, and wildly inconsistent canon get in the way of their fandom.  If anything, they like it that way, as it gives them license to reshape it in whatever fashion they so please.

You could argue that Takehito Koyasu will always get the last laugh when it comes to Weiss Kreuz.  It may have been an absurd and shoddy vanity project, but it achieved his goals of making lots of money and boosting his career.  That's more than can be said for most bad anime.  As for me, while I cannot say that I sincerely enjoyed this show I cannot entirely hate it either.  After all, I've had far too much fun laughing at its badness and sharing it with others.  Perhaps someday it will join the pantheon of so-bad-its-good anime, something that's talked about in the same incredulous tones as Chargeman Ken or Garzey's Wing.  If that day ever comes, I will be there to grouse about how I was making fun of this anime before it was cool.


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