BEM – 02 – It’s a Nice Face

Bela, or “Annabella”, as her high school friends call her, may be a youkai, but she has a human form and dreams of one day becoming a real human. So she “practices” by going to high school, having friends and interacting with them, including teasing a young man who likes making very nice drawings of her.

But when a woman in her late twenties recognizes Bela as Mary, someone she went to high school with, the question arises: where exactly did Bela get her human face? As it happens, she got it from the corpse of Mary Russell, which is now nothing more than a skeleton when Sonia and the police find it. But who killed her?

After a very weird (and animation-wise, pretty lazy) canvassing montage, Sonia is no closer to learning the actual truth, just that different people say the opposite things about Elaine, the blue-haired woman who recognized Bela. The next day, Bela is assaulted by three guys at the mall, but who comes to her rescue but Elaine.

Elaine then proceeds to tell Bela her side of the story, in which Mary was blamed by their mutual friend (and queen bee) Dominic Vali for stealing her jewelry, then punished by being forced to undertake a test of courage in the Outside, and ends up never returning. Elaine says the piece of jewelry Bela wore when they first met, along with the one she gifts to Bela, were made by Mary, who dreamt of becoming a jewelry-maker.

The more Bela thinks on it, the more she wants to tell Elaine the truth, since she seems like a nice person. That turns out not to be the case, as she has both Bela and Dominic meet up at the cemetery where Mary died, just so a hitman she hired can kill them both.

This entire scene feels like it comes out of the blue, but more importantly, it’s just patently silly that the bad guy is some kind of “bowling greaser monster.” Both Bela’s transformation, youkai design, and the ensuing battle that ends with Bela victorious, are pretty mediocre.

The disappointment continues when Bela (who doesn’t bother to change after transforming back into a human) pays Elaine a visit, and Elaine immediately drops the nice lady act and becomes a leering villain, complete with a “covering one eye” move. When she cops to having Mary and Dominic killed, Bela loses her cool and transforms into a kind of Alien Queen-type monster, only lamer.

Bem ends up intervening before Bela kills Elaine, and also calls Sonia to arrest Elaine, the culprit in the case of Mary and Dominic’s murders. Basically, by helping the cops clear homicides and assisting them in other ways, Bem hopes to one day become human. Bela shares that dream, and despite being very aloof about it, so does Belo (he does play video games with kids “his own age,” after all).

Bela comes away glad she learned more about Mary Russell, whose face she took, and hopes to honor her memory by leaving the youkai life behind. But who knows when or if that will happen. In the meantime, while BEM is pretty solid in some areas (the jazzy score for one), it seems odd that a show heavily featuring monsters would do such a bad job visualizing said monsters and their battles.

BEM – 01 – It’s All Elemental

Across the bridge from a gleaming “Upper City” lies a “Lower City” where crime and corruption are rampant…and a water monster is preying on humans, drowning them in his aqueous body on the spot. That’s where idealistic rookie cop Sonia Summers is headed, partially for the challenge.

When she stops her Range Rover to chase down a purse-snatcher, a mysterious man in a wide-brimmed fedora saves her from getting run over before vanishing into the night. But he can’t stop her car from getting stolen.

Turns out the police are corrupt too, taking kickbacks from organized crime to look the other way. This is something Sonia “the girl scout” is extremely not okay with. Little does she know cops on the take are the least of her problems, as the serial drownings mount.

The man with the fedora (and string tie and skull cane) confronts the monster, who is growing increasingly murder-happy. It mentions that it was once human but has shed that humanity and now couldn’t be happier.

The man, the titular Bem, is also not quite human despite his appearance, and after electricuting the water monster and forcing it to flee, he meets with his two compatriots, Bela and Belo. Belo says Bela values humans too highly, while Bela says Belo values them to low.

Bem seems to be the man in the middle of a group that’s also in the middle of the struggle between monsters and humans. Bem believes (and the other two follow along) that if they save enough humans, they can become full-fledged humans.

The episode culminates in a final battle between Bem, who transforms into his true, beastial youkai form, and the water monster, who keeps resolving into a joker-like form. Sonia is there to witness, and three of her fellow cops are sliced to death in the crossfire. Once Bem defeats the monster, Sonia is so frightened of him, both in youkai and human form, that she empties her sidearm into his chest.

The bullets bounce off and he’s fine, but the message is clear: getting a human, even one as virtuous as Sonia, to trust him and his kind is not going to be easy. And yet still, he won’t stop trying, just as Sonia won’t stop turning down kickbacks. No doubt they’ll cross paths and Bem will try again to reach out (but not with his beast claws).

Bem is a sleek, elegant supernatural noir, supported by some excellent “camera”work and night lighting, a very tight soundtrack by MICHIRU and SOIL&”PIMP”SESSIONS, and character design by Range Murata (joining Cop Craft as the second show this season with his designs).

With a mysterious lady (voiced by Sakamoto Maaya) in a board room in one of those gleaming towers in Upper City apparently after Bem, it looks like monsters roaming the mean streets and befriending Sonia aren’t all he needs to worry about. Definitely worth a watch, even with another cop show in a gritty city airing this season.

P.S.: This is the second remake of the series Youkai Ningen Bem, which first aired in Fall 1968(!) and was remade for the first time in 2006. I’ve never seen either of those, so I’m coming at this with a clean slate.