Jonah is a child soldier who is given the job of working as a bodyguard for an international arms dealer, Koko Hekmatyar. He hates guns and those who sell them but through circumstances beyond his control he remains reliant on weapons to live. While at first he resents Koko, Jonah slowly learns that there is more to her than meets the eye.
Jormungand is a tricky show to sell to someone. It’s about an arms dealer and a child soldier. It’s about selling weapons and the perpetuation of violence and war. It has a child soldier in it and doesn’t continuously drive home the point that this is immoral and wrong (they touch on this occasionally but it isn’t the central theme). When you put it that way it kind of makes it tricky to convince someone that this anime is entertaining or that the subject matter is actually palatable.
Breaking it down, Jormungand is an amazing anime to watch. It is sometimes funny, sometimes action driven, sometimes character driven, sometimes thoughtful and thought provoking, and occasionally (but not too often) preachy.
It acknowledges that the main characters in this story are selling weapons and are not the ‘good’ guys. They aren’t fighting for a noble cause. They are selling guns for profit (and don’t try to pay Koko in drugs, it does not end well). It also does a great job of first convincing us to like these characters and yet strategically giving them moments where you see them as true villains. This rich contrast is actually quite interesting because you see them as real people. Yeah their job is kind of morally reprehensible but a lot of them fell into after their former lives as soldiers or the like fell apart. Or they just enjoy the rush or they like Koko. They aren’t trying to make these guys out to be underdogs. Just showing a group of well trained soldiers brought together by Koko.
Koko is a fascinating character. A little over the top in places and not as nuanced as she might have been, but her views on weapons and the world are interesting and provide a fairly ground perspective even as she acknowledges that she is becoming a monster of a human being. Running through both seasons of the show is the ongoing storyline that Koko is up to something outside of selling her weapons (and various agencies and parties are interested in finding out what). When it is revealed you realise fully that Koko is crazy. Somewhere along the road she was pushed too far and she has come up with a scheme that should never have been followed through with. It makes for an interesting frame to hold all the other missions and characters together because there isn’t a lot of coherence in the plot outside of Koko travelling around and selling her weapons.
And if you know the legend of Jormungand you kind of already know what Koko is up to though how they interpret that legend in this anime is unique.
The relationship between Koko and Jonah is also intriguing. Throughout the story they develop what kind of looks like an older sister and younger brother relationship with Koko regularly imparting some ‘wisdom’ upon Jonah (who due to his background has an understandably warped view of the world). However, Jonah also acts to keep Koko from crossing too many lines (you know besides selling illegal weapons and travelling with a child soldier). While Jonah’s around, Koko maintains a facade of civility and rationality.
We do delve into Jonah’s backstory. His reason for hating weapons and how he ended up being recruited to work for Koko. It’s a tragic story but Jorungand doesn’t really try to make you feel sorry for Jonah. It isn’t that sort of story. Mostly we see him develop from someone who simply follows orders, to someone who questions orders, to someone who becomes very confused because he doesn’t know what he should do, to someone who makes a clear decision. While we may disagree with his decision it is an important step as a character and an important step for Jonah as a human being. Most of his life was dictated by circumstances and to actually take control of his own life and make a choice is a massive progression. Jonah is a much more understated character than the extravagant Koko and he is also younger. At times he seems very mature but at others we see the child beneath.
Of the other members of Koko’s bodyguards, R is my favourite. No spoilers on his character development but pay attention to him early on. I must admit the first time I watched this show when the episodes suddenly focussed on him I was like ‘who are you?’ but on rewatching you see he’s actually there the whole time. He’s certainly the character I remember fondly when I get to the end of the series.
The other bodyguards all have their moments and as I said earlier, the show tries hard to make you like this crew. In between action set pieces we see them trying to tutor Jonah, messing about at the beach, relaxing while eating, and generally just being people. The relationships between the members are realistic and feel comfortable despite their different backgrounds. They each have their specialties but at the same time, they all work together for common goals.
While we are focussed on characters I just want to say the American agents are probably the worst portrayed in the story. They are either idiotic, arrogant, clueless, a combination of all three, or just plain crazy. These characters do not get any real development or growth nor are they given any particular human characteristics. In a show full of characters doing horrible things, Jormungand really wants you to hate most of these agents and gives them very little in the way of redeeming features.
The other character who I haven’t mentioned yet is Koko’s brother, Kasper. Mostly because he is a bit of an enigma and a jerk. He is necessary for the plot but mostly he’s a pain in the neck and he doesn’t feature very much.
I’m not going to comment on the weapons themselves or whether or not any of the combat sequences are realistic. I’m not into weapons and I don’t really play first person shooters so to be honest I don’t really care whether it was realistic or not. Most of the action sequences were exciting or dramatic and they all served their purpose in the plot so that was good enough for me.
So down to business, should you watch this anime?
I’d say yes. It presents an interesting premise and doesn’t try to direct you to take a certain view of the situation. Rather it tries to get you to question the circumstances surrounding each event and draw your own conclusions. It has a rich cast (though at times they play them up a little too much in order to soften the quite dark themes) and develops some interesting characters. Visually it is interesting (not amazing but it does do some interesting things) and the diverse range of settings used actually makes it feel like these characters are travelling the globe.
I really loved this anime. I thought going in it would be a bit too confronting but was pleasantly surprised. Certainly there are moments of sickening violence (more so because unlike a lot of anime this isn’t a fantasy or set in a future time but is firmly grounded in the world we know) and there are confronting ideas at times but it makes for a thought provoking piece of entertainment. And it is entertainment rather than a diatribe against weapons and arms dealers. At no point do the themes get in the way of telling the story.
If you’ve watched Jormungand, what did you think?