「模造家族」 (Mozō Kazoku)
“Fake Family”

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.

26 Comments

  1. even tho i find enjoyment from musaigen, i lately find myself also being frustrated by the thought of what it could be. The setting that musaigen presents is an intriguing one and i feel like it would get the best out of its setting if it presented it in a sort of x-files-like, visually trippy, euphoric allegory of the insecurities and human tribulations come to life. Each ep could be a sort of ghibli-esque/makoto shinkai (which the visuals already kind of remind me of their style) fantastical look at the different aspects of the human mind and culture and how it plays into modern life. If anyone has ever seen the anime paprika, I would like that sort of satoshi kon visual direction; and if the series wnated to add comedy, it could in little spurts; id be perfectly fine with that. I believe that if musaigen was like this from the start, i would find it much more compelling rather than the lukewarm enjoyment i get out of it. It’s very vanilla with slight sparks of something more, and while i think that’s fine, a part of me gets frustrated because it isnt more. This ambivalence i guess is why i watch this show????

    I agree that musaigen is getting better but where i feel this ep had a misstep was in building the emotional payoff. Sure the catharsis was executed well and i intellectually understood reina’s strife, but i didnt feel the emotional build up and the conflicts inbetween for reina to reach the desperation she had for yearning for a surrogate family. Perhaps if we saw more of her home life, saw how she began to see her club members as family and the dissonance being in her family situation caused her, her catharsis would have meant more to me. Visually speaking this ep looked immaculate and it really enhanced my enjoyment of this ep; kyo ani does animation directing so well

    sonicsenryaku
    1. Keep your expectations balanced, I suppose. I’m not familiar with the source, and am not sure if it can rise to loftier heights. So while I feel that Phantom World could be more, and that it even teases something more, I don’t know if it necessarily has the foundation to be—not if it wants to be a faithful adaptation anyway.

      1. Yea i keep having to remind myself that this is an adaptation of an existing source material. Well, anyone who knows me knows that i am a strong believer that one is allowed to deviate from the source material if it enhances the work; and this would be one of those cases. I guess at the end of the day, im still strangely satisfied with what im getting tho

        sonicsenryaku
  2. Perhaps this is unrealistically asking too much out of Phantom World, but this episode developed an interest in me to see more of Reina’s sister. At least to put some conclusion to their relationship.
    My favorite episode so far. Hope it gets even better.

  3. I’m surprised how early in the series they developed 2 of the main character while not making it feel exceptionally awkward. The characters are so lovable.

    So….. Where’s the loli?

    ptyw
  4. Haruhiko ate food and became possessed.
    He went to the bathroom and his mind was cleared.

    The first one is common knowledge for most people since everyone watched Spirited Away, but going to the bathroom should be new to people. It made for a good dichotomy too. Also, Mai wasn’t going to save Reina. Her whole reason for being there was to be the stand-in for the older-sister in Reina’s messed up nuclear family.

    Also, this whole review and not one mention of Haruhiko finally shedding some insight into his own family XD.

    Also, you seem pretty tired of the Lotus Eater trope, but this is my first time hearing it coined. Off the top of my head, I can only remember it being used twice, and that’s This and Life of Pi.

    ===============

    Oh I have to add one more thing.
    Regarding the pacing.
    KyoAni is doing their best. A lot of the more interesting stuff happens later on, but they can’t take their time like Light Novels can. If you got the emotional catharsis but wished they could’ve made the impact bigger, I’d say you’re being kind of greedy. Especially since it’s a 12 episode show.

    TitanAnteus
    1. I may be asking much, but would you mind giving the post another pass? Notably, the problem with the bathroom was not lack of explanation but its narrative convenience, I was explicitly not sick of the lotus-eater trope quite yet, and I did mention Haruhiko unloading his own life story (though admittedly only as passing snark). All of this will be on the exam.

      Also, although I recognised the climax as being emotional, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it cathartic, at least not for me. For the reasons I noted, the tragedy felt undercut. I know KyoAni only has 12 episodes, but I felt this was less a pacing issue and more a hole in the writing.

      1. Hmm… You’re right. You did mention those things.
        Hmmm. I don’t feel you on the writing hole thing still but I do see where you’re coming from. They didn’t foreshadow it at all so it feels like a cop out to you right? Like we need to fix this situation and they do it in such a way you can’t predict. Not only that, but they wreck the situation in the most nonchalant stupid manner possible.

        I felt catharsis. They were definitely building up Reina’s internal problems and by the end it felt like a weight was off my mind and her shoulders, so I considered that point in the anime cathartic.

        Anyways, you wrote a great impression. Always love reading your stuff btw. Keep it up.

        TitanAnteus
  5. During Reina’s first bus ride, i was kinda hoping the Phantoms would look like the ones from Spirited Away movie, where they look bizarre and monstrous like how most of us perceive supernatural creatures. But then i figured out that that kind of setting simply wouldn’t fit with this series’s colorful and humorous tone, and then we’ve got this Alice in Wonderland-esque dreamland which is fine with me. But hey, one could hope right?

    Amiluhur
  6. I’ve been ragging on this show for the past month, but this episode was actually pretty good.

    That said it did have holes in it, the main one (as pointed out) being a lack of insight into Reina’s real world situation. I don’t agree that only having 12 eps is a valid excuse for Kyoani here. They aren’t managing their time well. There’s been too much messing about with filler material in this and earlier episodes.

    Horker
  7. So this is like Coraline, only the other world is caused by our warped perception of what we call reality instead of the powers of a witch, and the other Mother has no ill intentions.

    starss
  8. …appealing to her sense of responsibility.

    I took something slightly different away from this episode.

    I thought that wanting to be there in case for when her sister returned was the turning point
    for her decision not to with the phantom foster parents. Haruhiko lent her his strength by,
    not upstaging her story, but by relating to her circumstances with his own struggle waiting
    for his mother to return and showing empathy for how she must have felt wanting her sister
    to return home.

    Yeah, there was the general setup silliness we seem to expect with this series, but I think that
    was really the point of this episode. And I thought it was effective at communicating that idea.

    mac65
  9. So Haruhiko and Reina have common ground, with a family member that left because of conflict with other members. But Haruhiko still hopes that one day that his mom will return, and they’ll have a chance to be a family again, and he doesn’t want Reina to live with regret that she might get to see her sister again (besides the unstated fact that he and Mai might not get to see her again). And so she chooses to stay, but not without fond memories of her Phantom parents that could’ve been. Overall, I don’t think she regrets her decision, if the expression she gives Haruhiko near the end is any indication (my personal favorite little scene…I’ve got the goggles on, don’t I? Dang it!).

    I think this might just be my favorite episode so far. It definitely brought the most feelings out of me.

    P.S. When she called Haruhiko “knowledgeable,” was she complimenting him? I can’t tell.

    starqo
    1. I think “atama ga ii” is a compliment.
      “monoshiri” just means knows things.

      I don’t think it was a compliment but just adding an adjective for further emphasis.

      TitanAnteus
  10. I’m only watching this to turn my brain off. For a one-cour series with this kind of setting, there isn’t much happening. So far, the show isn’t necessarily bad, but it could have had more going for it. If it does blow, hopefully KyoAni will move on and start on a new project rather than a sequel or movie like they have been doing with their recent shows (Chuu2, KnK, Free) but if it does justify for a sequel cos of sales, I probably won’t be coming back for more. Unless the show does prove to have something more than what it’s doing now. I’m not loving the info-dumps and unnatural resolutions that seem like ass-pulls every episode either.

    dude
    1. Wasn’t Hyouka like 24 episodes, and the epitomy of nothing happens. Of course there’s small mysteries every now and again, but the show basically ended the way it started. I still enjoyed it because I just enjoyed what they were giving me.

      Also a lot of people have been saying that “A Lot More Going For It.” To be honest, I like the show for what it is. I don’t want it to be more actiony phantom hunter stuff and I don’t want it to be some surreal Paranoia Agent/Benmashi Cecil affair. I don’t want it to be X-Files either because these are just kids in a club. I’d rather it be a lot more fun.

      The middle-ground Phantom World’s found is really comfortable for me. It’s at the perfect spot for what I want. I like how every episode has a central theme that ties back in to reality. Stuff like

      1)Perception
      2)Illusion
      3)Memories
      4)Family

      It’s self-contained but still continuous, and I like every character in the show except Koito so far.

      This show compares positively with most of their other works. I just can’t see how people are bored watching this.

      TitanAnteus
      1. What I’m saying is the plenty that “happened” in Hyouka is the same here. If you look at Hyouka, then by the end of 24 episodes most of the characters were largely the same with some small differences.

        Stuff is happening every episode of Phantom World too. The characters are definitely changing slowly, but it’ll probably end with most of the characters being largely the same as they were in the beginning with small differences.

        TitanAnteus
      2. I suppose it depends on what you consider to be ‘largely the same’; I would argue otherwise. Of course, I would also argue that Hyouka and Phantom World so far have been not comparable, so our opinions will have to differ here.

  11. My biggest issue with Phantom World right now is that it feels really heavy-handed with its storytelling. It’s like the opposite of Hibike!Euphonium, which was amazing at letting its visuals do the heavy work of the storytelling. And like you said, Phantom World has pretty unique art and animation, so I wish that there’d be less plot-splaining and more art-splaining.

    But I enjoyed this episode though! Bunny parents were funny and adorable, and seeing Reina go to town at an all-you-can-eat buffet was easily a highlight.

    Ren

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