OP: 「Naked Dive」 by SCREEN mode
「ファントムの時代」 (Fantomu no Jidai)
“Age of Phantoms”
It’s a bold move, I think, for any anime to start with a lecture on optical illusions, because that calls into question the legitimacy of the very medium itself. The traditional art of animation is, of course, a giant optical illusion in and of itself. Things are not actually moving on the screen; the sequential frames merely create the illusion of movement. However, our brains’ vulnerability to this visual trickery is not, as Musaigen no Phantom World posits, any particular defect on their part. Rather, it is proof that the human brain is, in fact, extremely good at what it does. Our senses are not keen enough to pick up every detail in our environs, and so our brain actively infers and implies what is missing. This ability to draw instantaneous conclusions based on limited information is part of what gives our brains such incredible efficiency (how much power does your computer draw, by the way?) and prevents them from crashing from the most minor logical leaps. Perfect sensory data is impossible, but instead we have a highly functional system. So when an object seems to have moved we automatically see it as having moved—thus anime was possible. The trade-off is that we can’t always trust everything we see, which opens us to various philosophical discussions, something about Plato, and so on. This is actually fairly interesting territory.
Unfortunately, this is as intellectual as Musaigen no Phantom World gets. Or fortunately, if the idea of reading the musings of dead Greek guys make you nauseous. I can already taste the vomit myself.
Musaigen no Phantom World is Kyoto Animation’s nominal foray into the world of the magical-fantasy-action-harem light novel adaptation, and considering the derivative nature of many of these stories, one should perhaps not peg one’s expectations too high—and keep in mind that there’s nothing particularly wrong with the tried and true. Indeed, we can see the general forms already. The apparent male lead (Shimono Hiro) is just some nerd who likes books (also, incredibly wealthy to have a personal library. Also, from the last century). The apparent female lead (Uesaka Sumire) is infused with both boobs and violence—men’s two favourite things!—which means she’s already a complete character. I’m not even joking; her athletic ability and the jiggle-factor of her breasts (you need to buy a bra, girl) serve as the major plot points that ultimately resolve this episode’s conflict. Yeah, I wish I can make this stuff up. In fact, despite all the praise I gave the human brain at the start of this post, my one couldn’t handle this episode and required a pause in the middle so it could restart. This is after it weathered hairstyles designed to get hair in your eyes, characters forgetting that they can fly, and, er, whatever. No, I’m fine. It was an educational experience. This is what a stroke feels like. Now I know.
To be fair to Musaigen no Phantom World, it probably never intended to be a ‘smart’ show, or else it wouldn’t be about unsupervised children going around getting electrocuted for fun and profit. It’s certainly aware when it’s being dumb, sometimes, like with the whole Catholic!Limbo/drunk-party-game!Limbo/tortuously-mixing-your-mythologies thing. And certainly, there’s no requirement for any show to be smart. We’ll have some fanservice, some silly hijinks, and we can all just enjoy harmless fun. But then Musaigen no Phantom World tries to end on a sentimental note, and suddenly I have no idea what to think of it. It had almost reached parody levels, but suddenly pulls back into the serious. No no no, you can’t do that! It undermines both the silliness and the seriousness. This is one example where trying to have your cake and eat it too ends with nobody getting any cake.
So I’m not sure what Musaigen no Phantom World is trying to do, let alone what it’s trying to say. I still think it’s possible that it’ll pan into something though. Ishihara Tatsuya and Shimo Fumihiko (on direction and series composition) are more or less Kyoto Animation’s A-team, after all (though I could make arguments about Takemoto being better, but that’s neither here nor there). Is there really nothing more here? Is Ishihara looking at what he has to work with and quietly weeping? Actually, if we compare Musaigen no Phantom World to one of his earlier works, Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai!, we find some interesting parallels. In Chu2koi, all the magical-fantasy-action fare was all just figments of imagination, just delusions in its character’s heads. In Musaigen no Phantom world, they’re also figments of imagination, but made manifest by brain-virus-plot-device. In Chu2koi, the delusions were deliberately juvenile, embarrassing, but still kinda awesome for it. In Musaigen no Phantom World, it’s played completely straight, without an ounce of shame. Hmm. If we think of Musaigen no Phantom World as a companion piece to Chuuniyou demo Koi ga Shitai!, it becomes fascinating in its own way.
But eh, it’s probably not. Still, I’ll still give Musaigen no Phantom World another episode or two. To its credit, it is quite the visually interesting show. I enjoyed the 16-bit style, especially when it intersected with normalcy (someone on the staff knows this show is silly). I think the phantom designs are neat. And I was disproportionately amused by someone transmogrifying into a Peanuts character to devour them. I could stand for more of that and less of the Gainax bounce. Hopefully with the introduction of the last of the major cast we’ll start to see the main thrust Musaigen no Phantom World. I do believe that it has some potential to show within three episodes. And the idea of Ishihara crying into his sake after work is just too sad.
ED: 「純真Always」 (Junshin Always) by 田所あずさ (Tadokoro Azusa)