"Then, basically, I'm gonna walk the earth...you know, like Caine in Kung Fu." - Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction
Although no one thinks about it, the archetype of the wandering nomad is actually one we see quite often in modern entertainment. Although it's obviously the force behind shows like The Incredible Hulk and the newly revived Fugitive, many ensemble shows rely on the concept as well. Certainly, X-Files and Star Trek rely on the same concept to keep going--they focus on adventurers trying to find out what the universe has in store for them. However, the most powerful image is that of the lone outcast forced to wander by fate or by fortune, and Bolt Crank, the hero of EatMan '98, fits that image perfectly. Although EatMan '98 is by no means a perfect show, it is certainly a uniquely entertaining anime that breaks a few molds as it winds its way through its 12 episodes.
EatMan '98 is very much an anthology series, with the mysterious Bolt Crank at the center of each episode. He is a mercenary who carries out each job he receives without fail. However, for his lack of smiles and speech, he's not Golgo 13--unlike the well-known assassin, Bolt has a sense of ethics that go beyond each assignment. Bolt also has a unique ability--he eats metallic objects all along the way on his travels, which he can eventually reproduce from his hand. The first two episodes give us just a smidgen of an idea why Bolt can actually do what he does, but from there the series shifts gears and presents Bolt in action. There are two single episodes, three two parters, and one four part epic that make up the six hours of material. Though there is a very small amount of continuity within the show, anyone could really watch any one of those six separate stories by itself. Those adventures take Bolt from strange, fantastical lands where mechanical demons ravage the countryside to cyberpunk technocracies where genetic testing is all the rage...and he stops at a lot of places along the way. The link between the widely varied stories and settings is the enigma of Bolt Crank.
There are three points that will determine whether or not you will like EatMan '98, and they are very straightforward. The first is whether or not you can accept the fact that Bolt can reproduce massive structures many times larger than himself out of his hand. It's actually the show's weak point in that it just doesn't seem physically possible in any reality...I mean, the X-MEN may be mutants, but you can rationally explain most of their powers away. Bolt's power is not this way, and if you can't get past it, you won't like the show, as it will seem really pretty silly. The second point is whether or not you can accept a show that has little character development. I mentioned Bolt as being an enigma, and that is very true throughout the show--you learn things about him as you go, but he never really changes. Don't expect it, and you won't be disappointed. Finally, Bolt is a mercenary--he's not out to find a cure for his condition like Bruce Banner or to find his wife's killer like Richard Kimble. Thus, there is less room to relate with him than most wanderers. If you can handle these points, you should be in for a good time.
That being said, I found EatMan '98 to be an enjoyable show overall. The animation is nothing special, and it ranges from reasonably good to just good. However, it doesn't run into the problem that some shows do where some shots just look terrible, especially when money runs tight. The voice acting in the Japanese is, for the most part, excellent, and I often found myself wanting to emulate Bolt's dead-of-night baritone walking through the halls at my work. Not that that's a good thing, but...the biggest thing that EatMan '98 has going for it is that the stories told are actually interesting. The biggest stories got more episodes and had plenty of time to develop, whereas the single episode stories got things done in short order and kept things simple yet fun. I usually complain that most movies and OVA series try to pack too much into too little time, but that is not the case here. (I still like the single episodes best, but possibly because they have the lightest tone of any of the episodes.) And although the ever-changing locales were annoying at first, they added variety and interest to me. One of the failures of another wanderer show, Fist of the North Star (aka Hokuto no Ken), is that the situations and places just didn't seem all that unique each time. With Eatman, you don't know exactly what to expect next, which is a pleasant surprise.
All of that isn't to say that EatMan '98 is without flaws. Some of the stories just aren't that incredibly exciting, and frankly the first two episodes were probably the least interesting of the lot. There's also a few plotlines you've seen before, so don't expect to be blown away by the ingenuity of the scripting. There is no grand finale, which is fine if EATMAN were to eventually continue, but there is no sense of closure for those who need it. I could nitpick things here and there that bugged me, but I can't find the will to do so, because I still liked EatMan '98 quite a bit.
My advice? Even if it's not the best show ever made, pick up the DVD. The double DVD set is available for as little as $27 on the Web, which is just a ridiculously low price for 6 hours of anime. There are two subtitle glitches I noticed, but they are easily fixed. EatMan '98 is solid entertainment, nothing more and nothing less, and a steal at its current cost.
EatMan '98 -- mild language, violence -- B