Sometimes, it’s smarter to stop waiting on pins and needles for a show to fail and just let it breathe – not only is it easier on the mind, it makes a viewing experience more pleasant all around.
First off, I should obviously take back what I said about Shiro in the premiere; he is a rather nuanced character, and despite his seemingly jocular attitude, he turns out to be smarter – and more deceptive – than he looks. While there’s no trace of that psychotic gun-wielding “evil King” from HOMRA’s video clip, this slier aspect of Shiro’s character does make the transition more plausible. It adds a shade of grey to his personality that calls into question what he’s capable of, and what he’s actually thinking. He’s not above lying to save his own skin, and he’s willing to spin a situation to his own benefit – these traits might not seem very significant because after all, who wouldn’t resort to lying if it meant avoiding certain death? But these traits do not coincide with Shiro’s characterization in the last episode, which is why it’s so noteworthy. It’s important to keep in mind that the discrepancy isn’t shoddy writing at work, though. What it is is a development that challenges previous perceptions and twists the viewers’ understanding of Shiro’s character.
In K’s case, his duplicity also adds dimension to the story. From the broadcasted clip alone, there are several possibilities that can be gleaned: the psycho is not Shiro; the psycho is an alternate personality of Shiro that he’s not aware of, or conversely, the murder is Shiro, and he’s completely conscious of all that he’s done. The premiere gave the first two possibilities the most credibility, but this week’s hints at a more nuanced, and in my opinion, a far more interesting option. The development of the main character is an important aspect of driving a sensible plot – especially when dual identities are seemingly involved. It’s a tricky issue to handle since split personalities are often such a clichéd cop-out that it becomes an irritating trope unless handled with finesse. Shows often get around the problem entirely by choosing different aspects arising from split personalities, whether it be the angst resulting from the discordance (e.g. Elfen Lied), the reason behind the alternate ego (e.g. Tasogare OtomexAmnesia), or the effect it has on the cast (e.g. Gundam 00). With K, Shiro’s duality is a key aspect of the current storyline; hence it’s critical it gets explored thoroughly so that no matter which route the show decides to take, viewers can look back at the clues and say, “Oh this makes sense”. Right now, there are ample explanations for the identity of the colorless King, and proper evidence to support any of those options. And that’s a proper way to set up the story. Good story-telling is never about revealing all the cards right off the bat; it’s about building a sturdy foundation so that the completed fortress won’t be knocked down by whatever huffs, puffs, or blows at it.
K’s biggest criticism is its lack of a concrete plot. If the production seemed in any way incapable of telling a coherent story, this would be a concern worthy of a DEFCON 1 warning. But so far the show hasn’t given any indication that it doesn’t know what it’s doing. The events are happening at a pace which seems assured, and the characters – however they may seem to individual viewers – don’t seem like the bastard child of Bad Writing and Godawful Execution. Point is, the writers of K do have a story to tell. They’re telling it piece by piece at their own pace, building the blocks up as they go. A more expansive, comprehensive plot might not be in the picture yet, but that is not synonymous to “no plot”. Things are just occurring in an overarching manner instead of in an episodic one, and a plot is certainly there for those who are willing to look for it. For example, HOMRA’s reason for joining in on this whole debacle is rather clearly explained, even though it was possible to guess what it was already. They have a solid motivation to hunt Shiro down, and that already helps to clarify the situation and provides a link to the Shiro/HOMRA storyline and the HOMRA/Scepter 4 storyline. The two worlds are starting to converge a bit by bit through their common link; the moment they finally collide will also be the moment when everything comes together.
Neko’s present involvement might seem sketchy at best, but she exceeded expectations (which were admittedly very low) with her first appearance. Putting her sudden baffling anthropomorphosis aside, her ability to use spatial manipulation and what seems like golems are interesting enough on their own and hint at an involvement in the plot that stretches past “fanservice material”. Her nakedness may seem superfluous, but it’s rather in tune with how animals act – most animals, domestic or wild, aren’t normally fully clothed like humans are, so it’s understandable why Neko would rather run in her birthday suit than take the time to seem decent. If her animalistic dislike for clothes happen to come with some pleasing visuals, then it’s just Christmas come early. The important thing to keep in mind is that character-wise, Neko’s actions make sense. It’s not that she’s like a cat, she is a cat – it makes perfect sense then for her to act the way she does. Her penchant for running around naked isn’t some random phenomenon that doesn’t have a plausible explanation. It’s an integrated part of her character that wasn’t immediately apparent before.
Komatsu Mikako’s performance certainly helps portray Neko’s willful, but mischievous cat-like nature that it’s easy to see why she was cast in the role. Her voice is endearing enough to establish rapport, but not so sickeningly sweet that it turns viewers off. Any more attempts at a girlish and demure voice would have sordidly put Neko in a category she would never be able to escape, and it would create a discrepancy between the way her character is portrayed through her actions. But with the way Komatsu voices her, there’s just enough whimsy and dynamicity to give the audience a chance to judge Neko more objectively.
And while the comedic turn of the episode that resulted from her entry into the show was somewhat baffling, it’s not a transition that’s jarring. The events progress fluidly enough that the change in mood isn’t too abrupt, which can partly be attributed to the music. The tracks never veer towards too comedic or too serious, staying just energetic and lively enough to give the scenes proper life but not take it too far in either direction. One other way to look at the atmospheric shift is to consider it as a reflection of the characters themselves, particularly Neko and Kuroh. The chase lacks gravity; Kuroh is a straitlaced character, and he clearly works to achieve the justice passed onto him by his late master. However, he’s easily swayed and at the end of it all, there’s a clear sense his perspective has changed somewhat – his policy is to judge people by their actions, so perhaps the end of the episode is an indication he has started to judge Shiro as he is rather than what he saw. Neko is also such a light-hearted character that there was no way she would have countered Kuroh in any serious manner. Cats do love playing, and that nature really shines through with the way she uses childish tricks to make a fool out of Kuroh and lead him in circles. It’s very reminiscent of how felines toy with their latest object of interest. For K it’s a nice attention to detail that once again, shows rather than tells.
Last but not least, the ED is quite beautiful to listen to, dialing the tension back both auditorily and visually as endings are wont to do. The composition is nice and harmonious, and the simplistic stills that accompany the song are pleasant to look at with the flower and vine motif surrounding them. The mood was surprisingly somber though, although it’s difficult to tell if it’s foreshadowing/implications of Neko’s character or just a separate byproduct entirely. Either way, the song is a wonderful ballad that’s easy on the ears, and hopefully the full version will sound just as melodic and pensive.
The roundabout manner of story-telling is most likely going to be a fixture in K – these writers seem intent on sticking to whatever story they had to tell, and it’s definitely not a style or pacing that is going to suit everybody. The visuals continue to be stunning, but for some viewers, it’s not going to be enough to keep them coming back for thirteen episodes. It’s too early to tell whether or not it’s worthwhile to convince them not to drop the show, but one thing is for sure: K does have a plot. The elements are actually all in place – it’s really just a matter of putting them together at this point. So while it’s impossible to force the audience’s hand, dismissing K as a vapid show that relies solely on visuals and star power alone is probably an unfair judgment to make.
NOTE: So sorry for the lateness of the post – my health has not been the greatest lately. Here’s some extra full-lengths to make it up!
ED: 「冷たい部屋、一人」 (Tsumetai Heya, Hitori) by 小松未可子 (Komatsu Mikako)