「模造家族」 (Mozō Kazoku)
Once again we have a more serious episode of Musaigen no Phantom World this week—relatively speaking, of course, since Phantom World is unlikely to abandon its gags in entirety any time soon, which should be a relief for all the aficionados of, er, classy comedy tuning in. Still, even with much of the humorous atmosphere still intact, Reina’s character episode is still a weighty one in many respects. The foreshadowing about her family situation finally bears fruit, and family has always been a fairly serious topic in anime. As anthropologist-with-strange-hobbies Haruhiko notes, all cultures have some opinion about the family unit (which is not really an observation of much value, since figuring out how the baby-making works seems to be a necessary preresquisite to civilisation), and as far as social constructs go it’s arguably the oldest and most important one. It’s no big deal for Phantom World to throw in its two cents on the topic, too. Why rabbits, though? I guess Reina was subconsciously yearning for her parents to be cuddlier; I would too if my father was a security camera.
The story itself is one whose general shape you may have seen before; it’s straight off the island of the lotus-eaters. I’m actually fond of this device, and have yet to get sick of it despite the frequency of its use, because it’s so very straightforward. The hero is offered all of his or her deepest desires, and must actively refuse them. It fleshes their motives and demands a sacrifice, all in one fantasy package. If you really want to force an emotional reaction from a character, that’s how you do it—and here you don’t even need to worry about the status quo, because it was all a dream! How neat. The thing is though, stories featuring a Lotus-Eater Machine—whether it be a virtual reality device, a dream world, or an unsustainable utopia—often neglect to explain exactly why it’s a bad thing to just stick around and munch on lotuses. Sure, there’s usually an implied aesop about how indulging overmuch on fantasy is not healthy, but that’s usually more a begged question. For my part, my reading of The Odyssey is that Odysseus forced his crew off the island of the lotus-eaters and continue with him on his voyage home, and you know what happened to them in the end? They all died.
And thus I quibble about the story of Reina’s little head trip. Make no mistake, I enjoyed this episode a fair deal, but there are small things that I find unsatisfying. It’s not just characters acting impossibly stupid (the allegedly knowledgeable Haruhiko should have known better than to eat the food of the youkai, or of the underworld, or really, food in general) and then being bailed out by little more than coincidence (I guess Haruhiko snaps out by the inspirational power of the bathroom). I’m used to Musaigen no Phantom World‘s ways by now, and I know how it rolls. I am simply not convinced that Reina’s decision to not go with the phantoms was fully explored, emotional moment though it was. Perhaps it’s because we still know so little about phantoms. How ‘real’ are they? What is this ‘phantom’s world’ to which they will go? And on Reina’s end, maybe she would be better of with foster parents, phantoms or no; the rabbits seemed benevolent enough. Sure, she eventually sorts out the club situation with her real parents, but we don’t really know how that went down either—including whether it was a positive compromise, or more strain on the relationship. It’s notable that Haruhiko convinces Reina to not cross to the other side not with wise counsel or optimistic encouragement, but by narrating his own his own life story (stop trying to upstage her, you drama queen) and appealing to her sense of responsibility. She stays not because it’s necessarily better for her to do so, but because she still has duties on this side—which is, I suppose, very Japanese. I can understand the decision—family are ties that bind, for good or ill—but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. Reina’s elder sister leaves. Reina cannot. I feel a bit sorry for her.
Looking ahead ~ not the neko-bus
My wish for more exploration of the thematic conflict aside, this was, again, a good episode on the whole. I daresay that Musaigen no Phantom World is getting better as it goes, and can probably improve further still. It’s greatest strength is still it’s visuals, though, and not just because Kyoto Animation makes things shiny. I especially enjoyed the storybook filter used over the phantom dream world, especially how it contrasted with ‘awake’ characters (compare). I liked how they made the bus look supernatural only with lighting. And I continue to wonder about the Lego World effects they continue to use from time to time. If nothing else, Phantom World is very interesting to look at.
I still don’t think we’ve seen the full form of Phantom World yet, since the cast has yet to be fully assembled. I’m not sure if they’ll get to it by the next episode though; having had two relatively serious episodes in a row, I won’t be surprised if they switch back to something lighter to switch things up. Or perhaps this is actually the balance that they’ll be using from now on. We shall have to see.