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« Musaigen no Phantom World – 12

Musaigen no Phantom World – 13 (END)

「永遠のファントム・ワールド」 (Eien no Fantomu Wārudo)
“The Eternal Phantom World”

I consider Excel Saga to be the archetypal absurd gag anime of its time. In its penultimate episode (depending on how you count the deliberately not-fit-for-broadcast one), it actually dropped all of its comedy and went into full plot mode, just to see if it could. I thought that maybe Musaigen no Phantom intended to do something like that too. Even Ruru is suddenly domesticated, cutting off a major source of hijinks. And really, these final two episodes are certainly much more serious than any other. Is Phantom World better for it? Possibly. Is the end result as a whole, good anime? That, I’m afraid, is harder to say. I have issues with this finale, just as I have issues with the rest of the show, and I think it’s best I address them together as the final impressions. If I were to nitpick at everything that annoyed me in this episode, I’ll miss Spring 2016.

Final Impressions

Let me start with the conclusion, which I am quite loathe to actually say: I think that Musaigen no Phantom World‘s writing is fundamentally broken. This is an anime that has, beyond necessity, twisted itself into a sort of unique mess that seemingly could only be resolved with even more bad writing. A major problem, I felt, was that Phantom World had no idea what it was about. It had a theme about children’s family issues, but that certainly wasn’t what it was about because it didn’t tie into the theme about human cognition, which was not what Phantom World was about either because it didn’t tie into the theme about human/phantom coexistence and so on and so forth. The result is that the ‘plot’ is not something that is cohesive and overarching, like proper plots should be, but simply something that our characters stumble into on occasion, then stumble out of. Usually the plot is tied to the goals and motivations of characters, but I can’t honestly tell you what they are in this case. Fighting phantoms is just something our protagonist group happens to do when one shows up. Reconciling with family is also something that they just happen to do when a phantom inspires them to do it. As such, I couldn’t really bring myself to care for anything these folks actually did other than on the, ‘oh, you’re the protagonist, I should pay attention to what you’re up to’ level. And, really, I’m not sure Phantom World cares either. What happened in this finale? ‘Oh, by the way, this. By the way, we’re hackers now. By the way, we have a stuffed bear who can do it. By the way, huge corporate conspiracy. By the way, Enigma plans to TAKE OVER THE WORLD. It could be Phantom World deliberately being comically irreverent about its narrative (until, of course, it decides not to be), or it could be Phantom World simply lacking the capacity to give a damn (until it decides it wants you to), but it hardly makes a difference at this point.

Some of you may recall that Steins;Gate had a very similar turn as the one in this final episode of Phantom World. They wanted to hack CERN, needed specific technology to do it, and uncovered a huge conspiracy. But the technology needed in Steins;Gate was something the characters actively worked towards acquiring, as opposed to something that just fell into their lap like in Phantom World. In Steins;Gate, it was an obstacle, and gave its characters agency, while in Phantom World it was an arbitrary magical plot key. And in Steins;Gate, this all happened relatively early in the story, while in Phantom World it’s all packed into the finale. ‘Well, duh, Passerby,’ you might say, but it illustrates another thing I really don’t understand about Phantom World: why didn’t they set this up earlier? Sure, they showed the plot coupon once in a while, and also Haruhiko trying to fix it, but all of that was irrelevant in the end. This could have been the overarching plot. This could have been used to draw all those disparate themes together. And at the very least, Phantom World could have eased us into this final arc instead of their chosen strategy of Suddenly! Stuff!

I sometimes see people describe Phantom World as just a mindless comedy that doesn’t need a plot, or even coherence, but I think that this finale arc proves that it had at least some aspirations for more than that. And even gag-heavy shows can do plot if they want. I think Amagi Brilliant Park is a useful comparison here, as a ‘KyoAni show’ that manages to do it better. Amaburi establishes its premise in its first episode, with a clear goal. They need to attract visitors to a theme park, gotcha. There’s an overt reason why our protagonist acts, so no matter what random hijinks comes along we have at least this context. And, perhaps subtly importantly, at the end of every episode Amaburi would display a counter, as if to remind us, yes, they’re still doing this. Come episode 12, the big finale needs answer only one question: did the protagonist achieve the goal? That’s it. We’re done. Premise, progression, denouement. It’s clean, at least more so than Phantom World‘s approach of more or less winging it.

It’s a shame, because Phantom World definitely had the potential to be more than this. The augmented-reality-esque setting could have been interesting. The corporate conspiracy could have been interesting. Some parts are exciting, some parts are cool, some parts are funny. I would note Reina’s episode as having an excellent aesthetic, and being the first real sign of the potential depth in Phantom World. The cat episode also had some really interesting visuals for a brief moment, showing that a show about hallucinations made real could have worked as something more surreal. Episode 11 showed us that director Ishihara Tatsuya might just have a bit of CLANNAD left in him. The tiniest flashes of brilliance here and there, and then it’s gone. I can’t even honestly say that I’d recommend Phantom World as a good comedy. It’s much too muddied for that, with the narrative not really serving the jokes, nor the jokes really serving the narrative. Humour is the most subjective thing, though, and I’m not saying there are no laughs in Phantom World, but if you just wanted a funny show there are many better, just as there are better action shows, or better dramas, and even better shows at mixing those elements together.

I don’t particular enjoying criticising anime. I am, at heart, an anime apologist. I don’t hate on shows. I simply despair. If you personally enjoyed it, I am genuinely glad for you, but on my part, I could only look on what it could have been, and sigh. If only I even knew what it wanted to be.

March 31, 2016 at 11:11 am
40 comments »
  • March 31, 2016 at 11:20 amHalfDemonInuyasha

    If this sort of stuff had been happening since the beginning and built up from there as opposed to so much of the Charlotte-style slice of life, Phantom-of-the-week hijinks that we got and then whiplash us into sudden plot and drama and such, things probably could have been a lot better.

    • March 31, 2016 at 12:07 pmShinmarizu

      I’m going to pick up on one word you used and apply it: whiplash.

      This series was a bunch of ideas on someone’s brainstorming wall, made to fit Kyoto’s animation chops while constantly throwing us from one concept to another. My brain / common sense / suspension of disbelief was hanging on for dear life.

      A roller coaster of eye candy. It was fun as a light watch, but there were many possible things that this series could have been, and those passed us by.

      • March 31, 2016 at 12:22 pmWorldwidedepp

        i could not write any better, same thoughts as you

      • March 31, 2016 at 1:45 pmLyfe

        A more serious tone, with more emphasis on the story while retaining the phantom elements would have made this series a lot more interesting. It’s not like we needed so many character of the week/phantom of the week episodes. A lot of what was covered about certain characters could have been explained in a single episode.

    • April 1, 2016 at 1:48 ammike

      you know i was kinda hoping like a plot twist in the end like the world is an a post apocalyptic era and some unknown character watches the haruhiko’s explanations about phantoms then suddenly stands up and moves forward in the ruined city/town that they lived at. And the story itself just starts to makes sense from there on. I know sounds kinda way over the top right? but at least something like that might have made the story a bit more interesting right? rather than just ending it right there and then. But then again maybe it was for the best. It’d would have sucked if the story kept dragging as it was in the previous episodes

  • March 31, 2016 at 11:31 amIsaacGS

    Nailed it. Lots of elements with potential but too little too late in terms of tying these toghether. Shame since the premise actually had potential and was original enough to be enticing, which isn’t common nowadays. Lots of shows have very limited potential and don’t amount to much. This one actually could have amounted to something interesting but never seemed to pick a direction. Good on you for sticking with it ’till the end I guess.

  • March 31, 2016 at 11:56 amL002

    It feels so fast T_T

  • March 31, 2016 at 12:01 pmDalicht

    This series had some very interesting and beautiful visuals. It’s so disappointing that the story was so lackluster in the end.

  • March 31, 2016 at 12:12 pmWorldwidedepp

    So this strange device is an simple Key.. and also an Server key.. oh.. nice…

  • March 31, 2016 at 12:12 pmLyfe

    There’s one more unaired episode to come in the final Blu Ray volume in October. I think it’ll probably be a fanservice episode.

    Anyways, I thought this series was okay. For all its faults it wasn’t awful but I don’t think it deserves a second season. I’d like that honor to go to Amagi Brilliant Park if Kyoto Animation feels the need for random.

    • March 31, 2016 at 12:24 pmWorldwidedepp

      yeah, i saw something about an Beach Episode, and of course an Phantom work on the females bikinis, so heavy on fan service

      • March 31, 2016 at 1:38 pmLyfe

        It just about sums this show up sigh. But it should keep some people happy.

  • March 31, 2016 at 12:33 pmSynic

    I just like to think that episodes 12 & 13 was a two part OVA and the rest were just specials made to get us pumped for how bad ass Haruhiko could have been this whole time had the writers focused on his mommy problems. That’s what they should have focused on.

    Hell they could have done so much more with that landline phone docking station plot device. Like finding out Haruhiko’s mom was actually a researcher at Alayashiki after they used it to hack into their system. Maybe find out that oka-san was on a two man team with step-daddy working on Enigma and step-daddy developed a darker side and decides to do some shady things to Enigma (all those hands that touched her? yep. Step-daddy). Oka-san tries to stop step-daddy and goes missing. Mom shows up at Haruhiko’s house and then the story progresses as normal. This ladies and gentlemen, would be episode 6.

    http://randomc.net/image/Musaigen%20no%20Phantom%20World/Musaigen%20no%20Phantom%20World%20-%2013%20-%20Large%2002.jpg
    Step-daddy’s got a bad side guys. The haircut says it all. Closet S.

  • March 31, 2016 at 1:19 pmspikerman87

    As a reviewer, as a critic, you go by lots of things. Does it follow the source material? If the source material was bad, and they made the anime better I can see past that, but never reading the source material I judge it by what it is. The only time when I had even slight interest was the last 3 episodes. The other 10 were just not good.

    Does bad anime exist? Of course it does. Anything can be bad: books, comics, films, plays, tv shows.

    I don’t have hate towards this show, none of it makes me angry or despise it, but this show’s main focus is about its world and how the characters interact with that world, and it’s not engaging, and it’s not interesting, mainly because we have almost no understanding of how the world even works. In that regard, as I said before, it’s an anime trying to capture a world like Harry Potter, and these characters are suppose to be the anime equivalent of Ghostbusters. It’s not exciting, it’s not funny, and it’s not even fun.

    I think it’s more sad than anything really. This show is just a Fail.

    • March 31, 2016 at 1:37 pmLyfe

      Personally I thought the lack of structure in this series was its biggest downfall. There was no goal, nothing to work towards, nothing to look forward too each week or a reason to watch. Had the show had some kind of an overall story to drive the narrative forward it would have worked a lot better.

      I did like some of the random phantom of the week episodes, but the vast majority were quite frankly awful.

  • March 31, 2016 at 1:25 pmSindbad Daykay

    The series weren’t THAT bad. They all had some good parts and some bad parts. But over all, they were enjoyable

    • March 31, 2016 at 7:58 pmPasserby

      If you enjoyed it, good for you. I mean that with no sarcasm whatsoever. Enjoyment is a subjective thing, and one can enjoy an anime even if it’s bad. Is it that bad? Depends on your standards. On my part, I feel the very occasional good just makes the bad stand out more.

  • March 31, 2016 at 1:48 pmYellow Mellow

    Musaigen no Phantom World once again proved to me that Kyoani is a studio of talented story tellers, not story writers. When they have a story to tell, their outstanding work pulls through. Unfortunately, this time around there wasn’t a story to tell and instead we get this jumbled mess of an anime.

    • March 31, 2016 at 7:51 pmPasserby

      It’s quite true that KyoAni has traditionally been incapable of writing original anime while also being very good at adaptations, which is curious because one might think that when one has adapted enough stories one would be able to work out what makes them work. Or at least, steal techniques. I won’t make light of the art of adaptation though; it’s difficult in its own special way, and quite a different skillset.

      I think it’s also important to pay attention to who’s behind what works and what doesn’t, if only to spot a trend. I’ve been told that Amagi Brilliant Park also goes original in various areas, but it didn’t fall apart like MnPW. I don’t know if it’s because Takemoto Yasuhiro is just better at this (though I for one rate him as the higher of the main KyoAni duo) or if the original author was more involved or whatever, but my point is that even within KyoAni some are more prone to error than others. I’m just not sure why.

  • March 31, 2016 at 2:18 pmweird d

    I wondered why Kurumi’s “Albecht, Onegai!” made me think of Serara’s “Wolfie, Onegai!” in Log Horizon. Turns out they have the same seiyu…

  • March 31, 2016 at 2:22 pmSteven Den Beste

    One reason the ending seems incoherent is that the LN has an entirely different finish. Which DOES make sense in terms of the story being told. The problem is that it’s a huge tragedy, written by someone who saw The Matrix one time too often.

    Kyo-ani clearly liked the general idea of the LN but didn’t like the tragic ending, so they came up with another, happier one. And as you say, it doesn’t really tie anything together. The only real advantage it has is that it doesn’t motivate the audience to band together to hunt down and kill the director, which is what might have happened if they had stayed with the LN’s ending.

    • March 31, 2016 at 3:15 pmLyfe

      Thanks for explaining, I’m not too familiar with the Light novels. But I do find it odd how they could shy away from tragedy when they’ve done quite a few depressing shows.

    • March 31, 2016 at 4:26 pmVoyager

      Thanks, that bit of information may actually clear up some of the doubts Passerby has written about, and that I share 100%.

      You made me curious so I did a bit of research.
      The LN has three untranslated volumes out (it may be completed, it’s difficult to tell from the scarce info I was able to find), and the anime “adapts” the first one. I went and read some brief intro to the remaining volumes, and I’m now more confused than before.

      If you happen to have read the LN, you may help me (WARNING – the following contains HEAVY SPOILERS on the other two volumes, intended for LN readers only):
      Show Spoiler ▼

      • April 2, 2016 at 10:31 pmSteven Den Beste

        Show Spoiler ▼

    • March 31, 2016 at 7:23 pmPasserby

      Thanks, Steven Den Beste and Voyager, for looking into the source material. I can guess at what the twist was, and can imagine why they wouldn’t want to go with it. I’m more interested in this volume 1 that’s supposed to be the basis of this anime, because while the ending has its own issues I think the more grievous problem was how they got there.

  • March 31, 2016 at 4:38 pmDvalinn

    Really, this is the ending? This is the story it’s been building up towards? I’ve seen freaking Pokemon pull it off better. And that bear suddenly knowing how to hack just screamed ‘deus ex machina’ to me. This…this is not good writing. Wow man, just, wow.

    But then, what did I expect at this point? To get serious for once, this show was a complete and utter mess. It failed to pull off the story it set up at the start, it failed to get me invested in the characters in their limelight episodes and it failed to install me, the viewer, with any kind of fondness for this show. The bad, bad writing is mostly at fault in that regard. Its comedy and drama both were more misses than hits, it was frequently boring and every time it showed any kind of potential, it let you down again right away. The comparison with Amaburi is a good one: if that’s an example of how this format of storytelling can be done well, then this is a good example of how to cock it up.

    Thus, this is a typical example of all flash, no substance. Thirteen episodes have come and gone and I still don’t care about anything that happened in this show. While it isn’t the trainwreck that, say, Kyoukai no Kanata was, it ís so incredibly mediocre to bad on every single level but the visuals that there’s no real point to watching this – you really might as well watch pretty much anything else, as this season alone had loads of better shows (hell, even lower-tier stuff like Pandora was an improvement on this).

    In the end, I think I’ll remember the Lovecraftian blog posts more than the show itself, to be honest. At least those were funny!

    • March 31, 2016 at 7:15 pmPasserby

      If MnPW truly had no substance, it would be easier to dismiss, but it also wouldn’t have bothered with bringing up parental issues. It’s something quite rarely discussed in anime (since they just get in the way of playtime, usually) that MnPW is almost standout in this regard. Almost.

      • April 1, 2016 at 2:17 amDvalinn

        In my opinion, that’s more the illusion of substance. While the episodes dealing with said issue have a few nice moments (hence the potential it occassionally showed) in the end it failed to truly deal with the issue in a satisfactory way and, for this show, it’s nothing more than a variation on the typical parental abandonment that a lot of anime protagonists suffer from. It tried to bite of more than it can chew, basically. The vapidness of the rest of the show it contrasts with isn’t helping it in that regard.

      • April 1, 2016 at 2:38 amPasserby

        I don’t think being a variation disqualified a show from having substance. After all, nothing under the sun is original (including this figure of speech). Rather than biting off more than it can chew, I would argue that it didn’t bite off enough. I think they could easily found time to dwell more on the cast’s families, and even link them to the whole phantom thing, as opposed to a tangent that only briefly touches the rest of the plot.

      • April 1, 2016 at 8:01 amDvalinn

        You’re right, it being a variation in itself isn’t. But I felt the show handled it half-heartedly, so it wasn’t really…genuine.

        Basically, if the show did or didn’t want itself held to a higher standard, it either might as well not have bothered dipping into such a subject to begin with or just, y’know, do it well. Because I agree, if they properly tied it into the whole Phantom aspect and dwelled more on the characters’ backgrounds in general, I wouldn’t have looked at the writing in such a negative way. As it stands now, though, it only contributes to the whole show feeling like an unfocused, unsatisfying mess.

  • March 31, 2016 at 8:07 pmstarss

    This adaptation should’ve been two-cour or not adapted at all! The light novel (I hear) takes a drastic detour in its contents making it vastly different than the first volumes, meaning that 1 cour will only be able to cover the first half… a round-about, aimless parade of fanservice, gags, cliche characters, and poor storytelling!! KyoAni only produces under half the number of TV shows as other anime studios, which means they cannot afford to waste time on lower-quality other than the best. Who the hell made them different enough to take an adaptation and fill most of it with their own original ideas!?!

  • March 31, 2016 at 8:47 pmvincent

    you’re right it could have been more. but I can’t help but wonder if that was the point. as far as stumbling in and out of the plot isn’t that normal when you’re in highschool? yeah you got nifty powers but so does a whole bunch of other people. they really had no motivation to investigate anything because for them that it’s normal so i wonder if the writers were told to developed like that. at it’s core that makes for a pretty boring story which it’s why we got the hijinks and drama of family reunions. (on that note i can tell you it is actually like this for some families, some doesn’t even reconcile until they have children of their own) this is one of those series in which your mileage may vary depending on what mood you see it on.
    PS it sounds like I’m justifying this wreck but overall it was entertaining.

    • April 1, 2016 at 2:29 amPasserby

      I’m not against coincidences are necessarily unrealistic or has no place in storytelling, but too many of them leave the story feeling contrived and artificial. This is doubly true for coincidences that help our protagonist resolve the plot, since it robs them of agency.

      If the characters don’t start with any motivation, then they need to be given motivation, or else we don’t really have much of a story. If they don’t have much to care about, we don’t have much to care about either.

      Intentional or not, I think one can simulate reality without making it look so aimless. Slice-of-lifes can do it, a more plot heavy show like MnPW should have been able to too.

  • April 1, 2016 at 1:39 ammike

    wow that ended quickly. I’m hoping for a season at the same time not. So far the story was able to bring out a magnificent end but the rest of the episodes felt like a drag just to make the last episode look way cooler. I’m hoping for a next season since i feel that i’ve grown attached to the characters but at the same time i don’t if the way they make story is the same as this season 1. But if ever they do i hope they bring out something good not half baked and expect the ending to be blast of everything.

  • April 1, 2016 at 11:16 amSv

    Ruru chan is best girl

  • April 2, 2016 at 1:53 aminfo600

    It did looked a bit rushed, but they are applying the concepts/ideas/items from the previous episodes to be applied here.

    Meh, it’s still entertaining, no bad aftertaste (yet). Unlike a certain anime that I literally downvoted in its last 2 episodes for some very bad twists (and breaking whatever hope I had left for it).

  • April 5, 2016 at 10:38 pmfomite

    I had high expectations for this, but after a few episodes, I gave up expecting anything to come out of it. I think the only thing exceptional about this series is the art, which is fitting as is always, from KyoAni.

  • April 7, 2016 at 7:07 pmWhyY

    They spending so many effort hinting at the device to be something important… but resolved in 3 seconds just as a hacking key… facepalm…

  • April 8, 2016 at 11:01 amiron2000

    I don’t know but I enjoyed the show :)
    I think of it as short stories in the characters’ life.

    Didn’t mind the more serious finale.

    Wanted to know more about Ruru.
    Why did she suddenly act different after Enigma’s attack?
    Where does she stay?
    What is the detailed circumstance that brought about Ruru?
    Her detail origins besides the vague assumption by Himeno-sensei.

    Also the coolest moment to me for this ep is Albecht going elite fixer and super hacker :P
    Really got caught off guard, lol.

  • April 12, 2016 at 11:57 amLyfe

    Now officially the worst performing Kyoto Animation show in years as 2,076 copies sold first week on Blu Ray for volume 1. I doubt anyone is surprised lol