OP: 「daze」 by Jin ft. MARiA from GARNiDELiA
「人造エネミー」 (Jinzoo Enemii)
The Short: Although a testament to the growth of an important Vocaloid video series and the Kagerou world, observers familiar with Shaft and the series may be slightly disappointed at this premiere episode, but should indeed wait out longer to see if conditions improve and speed up.
The Long: It is important to examine MEKAKUCITY ACTORS from certain viewpoints. Collectively, these perspectives give this anime’s premiere a very conflicted feel. Given my own familiarity with the Kagerou Project and SHAFT’s potential ability, I am personally disappointed in this premiere. Before you go ripping my head off fellow fans, let me explain myself slowly, piece by piece, as to what lead me to this conclusion and that was I’m saying is that this premiere was disappointing, but that I still have hope for the show.
Ironically, Ene points out that Shintaro is always on the internet complaining about the faithfulness of a show and choice of seiyuu–that is exactly what I’m going to do here, except for much different reasons.
Part 0: The History
Before we delve too much into specifics, we should first delve a little into the history that preceded this week’s episode. Feel free to ignore this part if you’re already familiar with the Kagerou Project.
MEKAKUCITY ACTORS is an anime adaption of the manga, Kagerou Daze by Shinzen no Teki-P, which in itself is an adaption of a light novel written by the same person which in itself is an adaption of the various Vocaloid music videos written by the same person. Of these, arguably the most famous one is the titular Kagerou Daze, which depicts a sad story reminiscent of a butterfly effect tragedy. Each story of the videos, collectively labeled the Kagerou Project, depicts an individual with a cursed power or situation, all of which supposedly occur in the same world as every other video.
The reception and popularity of these videos was largely positive, due to a number of factors. One, each video specifically tells an emotional story within the span of approximately five minutes, a sort of musical storytelling that was different from a large majority of Vocaloid songs. Second, each video was animated with unique characters in their own distinct style. Third, as each video came out, people began connecting the dots and envisioning the world which all of these stories were set in. Instead of being individual standalone stories (which they easily were as is), there was a sense of connectedness between the stories, which lead people to anticipate even more the release of the next video, not just for the sake of quality story and song, but for the sake of continuing to expand the universe. Lastly, the songs were outright catchy in themselves, with Vocaloids Miku and IA providing beautiful vocals for the majority of the songs. People loved the series for all these reasons, leaving thousands of comments and generating many covers of the song on Nico Nico Douga. The entire video series is 22 videos long, which eventually culminated in synthesizing all the character’s worlds together.
Eventually, Shizen no Teki-P decided to formally unite all of these stories into one cohesive plot, which gave birth to what we now formally call the light novel Kagerou Daze. This soon also gave birth to a manga, which started in June of 2012. Given the popularity of the series as a whole, it was eventually picked up by animation company SHAFT, and as a result producing what we see today.
Now that we’ve reached this point, shall we see how the adaption has fared thus far?
Part I: The Adaption
Episode one of MEKAKUCITY ACTORS corresponds with the first two chapters of the manga, Artificial Enemy I and II. At a macro plot level, the series is very faithful to its paper counterpart thus far, with the only significant addition being the foreshadowing of future characters as a prologue. We are properly introduced to Shintaro (Terashima Takuma), a NEET whose main defining quality is being the constant center of attention of a digital avatar and program, “Ene” (Asumi Kana). Having been forced to go outside thanks to some soda spilling on his keyboard, Shintaro finds his lack of social ability damning, as well as his lack of resolve to deny Ene a ride on the ferris wheel. However, Shintaro soon finds himself meeting interesting people, being in interesting situations, and slowly finding out that he can’t go back to his NEET lifestyle any longer.
In terms of plot faithfulness, everything is okay. However, what’s important to note is the interpretation of characters from the manga to the anime. Here, let straight out say it: it’s not looking good.
Within the manga, Shintaro is portrayed in a less pathetic manner, where it becomes a bearable trait to witness. In the manga, we see a Shintaro recognizes how bad his NEET life is, to the point where he’s at least making Vocaloid songs to try and make it big. His interactions with Ene are also much more gentle, where he perceives Ene as a definite annoyance, but has a lot more heart and patience for her.
Within the anime though, Shintaro has become transformed into a real pathetic mess, where all he does is browse and comment on image boards and forums (supposedly), all while accepting his lifestyle freely. His dynamic with Ene is also a whole lot harsher, where it seems he derives no benefit with her being around. Whereas in the manga it was alright to view Shintaro as a struggling individual accompanied by Ene, we see a distinctive transformation in the anime that makes his character a whole lot more boring.
The real change though lies with Ene, who is much more annoying and harsher than she was in the manga. Whereas in the manga her subtle wit and careful manipulation of Shintaro allowed her to accomplish the goal of getting Shintaro outside, it seems that the anime portrays an Ene with more…stubborn methods such as, “bother master until he loses his mind and just goes, and then continue to bother him and never stop talking.” It is true that Ene is supposed to be a persistent character, but her portrayal here takes it to an almost unbearable level.
Due to this, the premiere episode was actually extremely slow and borderline boring to watch. While it was interesting to see the rest of the Kagerou cast introduced, the pacing of this episode was way too slow and drawn out. Even without the source material for reference, it was a borderline pain to witness Shintaro get verbally abused for half an episode.
But alas, it was not just the adaption that made things bad, but rather something else–the production.
Part II: The Production
I respect SHAFT as a company. I also respect a lot of the people onboard the staff, with Shinbou Akiyuki, known for Madoka, as director, Shizen no Teki-P as scriptwriter himself, and TeddyLoid (Panty and Stocking) on the music, it seemed that MEKAKUCITY ACTORS was destined for greatness.
Or so we thought. It could very well be that this show ends up being the greatest thing we see in 2014, but as of episode one, it seems far from that goal. Firstly, the animation and draw quality is VERY lazy compared to usual SHAFT standards. Standalone, the animation is passable, but when we see how much work was put into SHAFT’s other Spring 2014 offerings of Hanamonogatari and Nisekoi, it seems like MEKAKUCITY ACTORS got well…shafted in the percent of work the company dedicated to its production. Animated segments throughout the episode usually were hiding these production cuts with awkwardly composed scenes (that TV falling scene anyone?), and anything that wasn’t a foreground element was terribly drawn by second animators. The backgrounds were also overly simple, not in the minimalist elegance that the Monogatari series is known for, but just flat-out lazy and uninspiring.
Lastly, in terms of animation, it seems that whoever was in charge of animation direction for this show really wanted to put that SHAFT-style into the show, even if it feels out of place and overused. Certain examples that stood out were the Zetsubou-sensei despair shots, the signature SHAFT-tilt, the Monogatari-esque eye definition, and the Hidamari-like widening. Perhaps this last point is more a personal peeve than anything else, but at least, having seen all these styles, it seemed inappropriate to stuff them all into this show–it makes the series seem like a SHAFT homage lazily done than a story about the Kagerou Project.
Part III: The Future and Conclusions
Perhaps I’m being too harsh because of the high expectations I set, but I can’t be the only person feeling this way. For many a SHAFTed fan, for many a Kagerou follower, this premiere was not the lighting flame that we were hoping to see.
However, this is not the end, and I swear this isn’t me saying I’m dropping this series (ironically, I have an apology to make for that soon). I still have hope for this series to really pick up and become interesting, since the characters that the Kagerou Project portrays and the powers that they hold are one of the finest pieces of storytelling I’ve seen in anime thus far. I just hope that the story does pick up, and that it really isn’t the case that this has become a back-burner story to appease fans, but that the first episode was merely a hiccup that precedes some amazing things to come.