「光まとう街」 (Hikari matō machi)
“City Adorned in Light”
The time skip happened quickly, as suspected – though even faster than I expected given that most of the OP is given oven to Shion and Rat as 12 year-olds. As episode two opens, Shion is already 16 – though still hopelessly naïve and defenseless. He appears to work managing the Sanpo (sanitation robots) in the city park along with co-worker Yamase. It’s a dull, spirit-crushing job. But a rather ugly incident where a Sanpo finds a prematurely aged corpse – and really, penguins are everywhere this season, I’m surprised it wasn’t picking up a Dr. Pepper can – breaks up their boring routine.
Some rather clumsy exposition from Shion to Safu (now a somewhat hot teenager herself, who still digs sweaters, even if her taste in them has improved) reveals that Shion was questioned after Rat’s escape. He was banned from the gifted program, stripped of all his elite privileges and sent to live in in a studio apartment above a bakery sharing bunkies with his Mum (!), the both of them kicked out of their fancy apartment in the neighborhood where all the good schools are. This is “Lost Town”, what passes for the wrong side of the tracks in No. 6.
The dialogue between Shion and Safu, whom he hasn’t seen for four years, is somewhat stilted – in fact the dialogue isn’t the strength of the show at all so far. But the early scenes are effective at subtly painting a picture of life in this Orwellian nightmare of a paradise. Safu is about to go “abroad” to No. 5 to go to college, and mentions that her grandmother is about to head off to the “Twilight House”, which immediately brought images of “Logan’s Run” to mind for me. It was also interesting to see that Shion had to pledge eternal loyalty to the city at the start of every shift at work. What really struck me, though, was just how much more alive and vibrant things seemed in this supposedly lost neighborhood, and how much happier Shion’s mother seemed than she did in her luxury apartment.
Before heading off to university, Safu offers Shion what may the most refreshingly direct confession I’ve seen in a mainstream anime – “I want your sperm. Let’s have sex right now”. It says something about Shion’s cluelessness that he’s surprised at all. Her follow up question is amusing, and no doubt one many viewers were asking last week – “Don’t you like girls?” But even more amusing is his response – effectively, “When you come back in two years, I’ll look you up and bang you then.” Definitely one of the oddest exchanges I’ve seen for a while.
This is all really setup, of course, for the reunion of Shion and Rat, who briefly makes his presence known via what appears to be a trained rat (an actual one) with a transmitter on it’s collar. Shion dares to raise questions to his co-worker about what the city isn’t telling them about a 31 year-old man whose corpse looks 80 – really, you couldn’t have guessed that the office was bugged? After warning him of just how unwise this is, Yamase promptly ages before Shion’s eyes and dies looking like an old man. A wound opens in his neck, and out emerges what looks like a bee. Shion is arrested for being a malcontent and is on his way to a re-indoctrination center when the 16 year-old Rat finally shows himself (taller than Shion now, he’s quick to point out) and engineers their escape through the sewers after a high-speed chase that could have come from “The Blues Brothers”. But what was that on Shion’s neck…
Whew. Well, we’ve certainly heard this record before – an adaptation of a big, complicated story in 11 episodes is never an easy thing. There was a huge amount of development packed into the episode, even discounting the time skip. But this appears to be a show that handles its plot and pacing well – I had no trouble following what was happening and things never seemed ridiculously rushed or cut short. The setup looks to be a fairly straightforward dystopian nightmare scenario – a Big Brother government which offers creature comforts and demands the surrender of all personal freedoms as payment, and a rag-tag resistance than lives in comparative squalor but enjoys a measure of liberty. The issue with the corpses and the bees – and we can probably assume this is what will turn Shion’s hair white – is an interesting sci-fi twist that adds a nice element of mystery to the proceedings. In terms of plot and premise, this is a promising series.
No. 6 is less successful when the characters are actually talking to each other. The dialogue never achieves a natural feel somehow – it sounds like a script, and not people talking to each other. But of course, the best dialogue in the premiere was between Shion and Rat and there wasn’t much of that this week, so hopefully that relationship will feel more organic than the others in the show. Their chemistry is still evident, though apart from Rat’s tossed-off comment about Shion being too embarrassed to undress in front of a lover (begging the question of whether he’d been secretly observing Shion for years) the undertones that were present in the premiere are toned down considerably.
At this point the series plays very much like what the books are – a boys adventure story for young adults. It’s imaginative and interesting and I expect it will continue to be, though whether it becomes a really good character piece remains to be seen. Judging by the preview – that’s right, an actual preview in a NoitaminA series! – things are going to get rough for Shion next week.