Under the Dog Episode 0 Review

This anime was crowd-funded through Kickstarter!


Let us rewind all the way back to 1997. Before he would produce Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Jiro Ishii conceived of a sci-fi story that would not see the light of day for quite some time. Fast forward to August 2014, when a Kickstarter launches for Under the Dog (UTD), an original anime OVA based off Jiro Ishii’s sci-fi story from way back when. Now, two years later, Under the Dog has rolled out to backers of the project.

Under the Dog garnered quite a bit of attention during its time on Kickstarter. Most shows find funding through production committees, which have some control over the creative process. By crowdfunding, the UTD team was aiming to bypass this process to retain as much control over the project as possible. As a result, they were able to make an episode on their terms and present a story the way they wanted it to be told. Under the Dog is not the first crowd-funded anime, and it probably won’t be the last.

The Story

“Episode 0,” as it’s been titled, follows a high school girl named Hana, one of seven ability-laden “Flowers,” members of an intelligence organization whose objective is to assassinate other teenagers with the same abilities. Hana has been tasked with protecting Shunichi, a boy in class who could be their “only hope.” Only hope for what? Well, that’s all part of the mystery. The school is raided by the U.S. military, and Hana must protect the boy while defending against the soldiers sent after them, as well as against a Pandora, a man-turned-monster.

Under the Dog Review (Pandora, a man-turned-monster)

A major tagline for Under the Dog has been “our enemy is the light of humanity.” This cryptic statement doesn’t really make sense until you watch “Episode 0.” It starts out pretty run-of-the-mill sci-fi, but it progresses into something more complex and engaging. Enhanced assassins and monsters are anime staples, but it’s the weaving of these stories that makes Under the Dog so interesting.

There’s more to these agents and their circumstances. Their enhancements, where they come from, and what they possibly turn into are all big mysteries. The episode seems to suggest that the Pandora (the monsters) were either man-made or a consequence of these abilities, but there is obviously more at play here. There’s a lot that suggests major political workings going on, with the UN a seemingly big player behind the scenes. It’s these political possibilities that expand the scope of Under the Dog past just gun-wielding teenage assassins. Letting my mind run loose on speculations to all these questions was a real treat.

Under the Dog Review (United Nations)

Still, all of this open-endedness could have made this first, and possibly only, episode of Under the Dog somewhat of a double-edged sword. On one side, not receiving any real answers to all the questions presented by UTD could make the episode feel hollow.  On the other hand, it could build engagement in the world and anticipation for the future, if there is to be any. I tend to favor the latter, although the possible lack of continuation does make some of the mysteries slightly frustrating, slightly. All of these questions help make this feel like a prologue to the main story, as the “Episode 0” titling may imply. It’s a little taste of the meat of the story. Even though as of now there is no second episode in sight, this is a pretty sweet taste to leave on the tongue.

Characters

Adding to the plethora of questions regarding the story are the ones having to do with the characters, and more specifically, the Flowers. Experiencing the opening act through the eyes of Hana rather than Shunichi was a good choice. It allows the viewer to get a sense of just how complicated the lives of these assassins are. These Flowers have no option when it comes to missions. Failure means death, not just for them, but also for their families.

Under the Dog Review (Hana)Under the Dog Review (Hana's Family)

The opening scene is dedicated to highlighting the tension between Hana and her family. There’s an air of awkwardness, as the family knows that any big mission their daughter embarks on means not just life or death for her, but for them as well.

But why? How did these girls become so special? Why were they chosen? Why are their families at risk as well? If there is one thing that pushes sci-fi past just entertaining action, it is a layer of complexity, mystery, and intrigue, and Under the Dog has plenty of that.

Hana herself is pretty normal when it comes to character archetypes. Her sincere love and affection for her family provide the the emotional beats for the episode. It’s easy to tell that she feels bad her family is involved, and that she wants to make it back after the mission, not just for her sake, but for her loved ones as well. This kind of complexity adds stakes to the situation. If there are to be any more episodes, it would be something to keep in mind when looking at the rest of the Flowers.

Under the Dog Review (Anthea)
Anthea

Speaking of which, there are three other enhanced agents that make an appearance. There is Anthea (Agent No. 03),  Estella (No. 02), an excellent sniper, and her usual partner, Sayuri (No. 08). Every girl is different, and it would be exciting to see their stories explored in later episodes. Aside from Anthea’s awesome involvement near the end, what we get here are only small cameos that without any future episodes will remain just that.

Under the Dog Review (Estella)
Estella

It’s also important to note that Anthea is the source of the episode’s fan-service, which includes a shot at the beginning, and a bit of nudity towards the end. Thankfully, it fits pretty naturally and doesn’t detract from what the episode is offering. The creative team doesn’t seem to try to be highlighting it or making it the focal point, which makes me very happy.

Under the Dog Review (Sayuri)
Sayuri

The Animation

Under the Dog Review (Hana)

About half a year after the Kickstarter ended, Creative Intelligence Arts, the original production company, pulled out from the project, handing full reign to Kinema Citrus. This may have added to the production delay, but it definitely didn’t take away from the episode’s great aesthetic.

The episode’s visual strength doesn’t lie in its designs and environments. They’re pleasant and serviceable but nothing spectacular, mostly devoid of any striking details, especially character faces. What makes it special is the fluid animation and the attention to character movements and gestures. A hand twisting as it pulls back on a revolver, or a few strands of hair falling out of place, ground situations and add to the atmosphere.

Under the Dog Review

Under the Dog is stuffed to the brim with action. Edge-of-your-seat gunfights and hand-to-hand combat are brought to life with fluidity, while quiet moments are very atmospheric, thanks to direction provided by the wonderful Masahiro Ando (Blast of Tempest, Canaan).

Sound & Music

Under the Dog Review

In addition to an already great production is the original score composed by Kevin Penkin. It beautifully compliments the episode; accompanying bombastic action and shootouts are epic orchestral sequences or rapid synths. Serene tracks and melancholy pieces fill the smaller moments. It’s a great fit for the world of Under the Dog, and one can only hope Penkin will stay on board for any future installments.

Final Thoughts

Under the Dog Review

If another episode of Under the Dog were to never see the light of day, “Episode 0” would be able to stand on its own. It gives us a little taste of the nation relations within the UTD universe. We get a little insight into the lives of these “Flowers,” and just how complicated their situations are. Simplified, this OVA is a guns toting, action story about enhanced teenagers, or in this case Hana, who must sacrifice their lives and family to fight a war that is not their own. It’s a wonder to watch, and even though it raises a lot of questions, it drops just enough hints to have you speculating the answers.

Under the Dog is a display of what can be done when a team is given creative control over a project, without the intruding hand of a production committee. It’s engaging and fast paced, with a level of mystery and political workings. Nevertheless, even after all the backing on Kickstarter and through PayPal later on, there was only enough money for one episode. Moving forward, a committee may be unavoidable. Hopefully, the team is able to continue with the vision on display in this first episode.

You can check out more information on the Under the Dog website, Twitter, and Facebook page.

The Good

  • Fluid Animation
  • Intriguing Political Workings
  • The Mystery Behind the 'Flowers'

The Bad

  • Only One Episode
  • Possibility of Unanswered Questions Frustrating
  • Bland Character Designs (Especially Faces)

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About the Author

Zach Breland

Just a guy who has many different interests, ranging from basketball, to cooking, to video games (Avid PS Vita Supporter). But I love to discuss anything anime/manga related, so contact me if you want to do that, or talk about anything else that's on your mind.

You can find me, and more of my writing, at thegeekmedium.com, as well as on here occasionally.

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