#1 Lack of pay-off
The story of EAT-MAN is set in a futuristic dystopia and follows the exploits of “Explorer” Bolt Crank. Bolt is really more of a mercenary who journeys around, picking up jobs wherever he pleases. His one special power is that he can eat almost anything and then magically reproduce any objects that he has consumed.
A merc taking on jobs in a rough sci-fi world sounds like a recipe for a cool, action-packed anime, but that is distinctly not what EAT-MAN is like. Most of the anime’s episodic storylines play out as mystery plots or character dramas, neither of which are a particularly good fit considering Bolt’s personality. In fact, in many of these stories, Bolt doesn’t even play an active role at all. He just becomes a passive observer to an ongoing plot, for which you aren’t given much context at all.
It feels like the scriptwriter was determined to always be as indirect as possible, which makes a lot of the plots unsatisfying. Bolt just shows up in peoples’ lives and hangs around them while weird stuff happens. Some stories literally feel pointless, like one where Bolt crashes at a stripper’s place, looks on as her relationship with her adopted father deteriorates, and then just leaves. I am not leaving anything out, that’s literally the whole plot of that episode.
In other cases, the lack of world and character-building mean that plot twists get dumped on an audience that lacks the context to make adequate sense of them. Events feel like they occur for little reason or to characters we barely get to know at all. One story, for example, tries to fit in a surprise twist at the end based on a random villager that got 1 line of dialogue prior to that moment. In these cases I got the impression that there was some intended meaning to the plot—you are just not allowed to know it. A good mystery story makes the audience feel like they get to puzzle along. EAT-MAN, by comparison, feels like the audience is occasionally permitted to glance at a puzzle that is being solved in another room.
#2 An utterly boring protagonist
The first time you see Bolt Crank just eat somebody’s pistol is admittedly hilariously, but that one joke ends up being the peak of his characterization. He has no charisma, no fun, no opinions, no anything.
Bolt is utterly passive. He’s a big dude who just kind of stands around while other character fix the plot. He doesn’t emote much outside of the occasional awkward smile and he rarely speaks. Even when other people are talking to him, Bolt will often just not react in any way whatsoever. Voice actor Masahi Ebara got the easiest main character credits of his entire career out of this role.
Outside of his stoicism, the one defining trait for Bolt is that women can’t keep their panties dry around him. Each story sees him team up with a new female sidekick, most of whom end up being attracted to him. I think this was done to make him seem extra cool, but it usually makes Bolt seem like kind of an asshole. There’s one story where he ends up stealing a girl away from this poor bloke who obviously has a massive crush on her. In another episode he coerces a girl into sex before she commits suicide.
And yes, even in romantic matters Bolt is completely unemotive.
#3 Unexciting action scenes
Violence does play a big part in EAT-MAN. Bolt’s missions often involve assassinations or hunting big monsters, and his power to materialize things he has eaten is mostly used to suddenly make guns appear in his hands. A character and setting like this play to director Kouchi Mashimo‘s greatest strengths, making it all the more painful to watch this anime fail.
Action scenes end up being largely static. Lots of dramatic poses and characters firing at off-screen enemies; moments that feel like action segments with none of the complexity or impact that would make them exciting. A good example is a type of scene that happens in episode 1 and is repeated a few times. You got a single dude with a pistol who is ambushed by several armed enemies. You get a close-up of said dude firing a few shots and then it cuts back to all the assailants being dead or wounded.
A zoomed-in perspective of a pistol being fired isn’t that exciting by itself. You don’t get the catharsis of seeing the gunman actually take down their enemies, not even a dramatic freeze frame of these guys being hit. In fact, the enemies in this scene technically just cease to exist for a while. They don’t take cover, they don’t shoot back. It’s like the world runs on turn-based logic and they’re just politely waiting to get shot.
This is just one recurring example, but other action scenes don’t fare much better. Not even Yuki Kajiura’s music can salvage anything, because EAT-MAN has probably the blandest soundtrack she has ever produced.
More anime & manga like this
The Big O: Episodic mystery stories building towards a greater story.
Madlax: Kouchi Mashimo anime about an eccentric mercenary.
Trigun: Sci-fi anime about a mysterious gunslinger travelling between cities.