「久瑠美とぬいぐるみ王国」 (Kurumi to Nuigurumi Oukoku)
“Kurumi and the Teddy Bear Kingdom”
I suspect I read Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland when was too young to properly do so. I didn’t have enough mathematical ability to understand Carrol’s plays on logic, and didn’t have enough language ability to understand almost anything, so all I really got from the book was a pile of nonsense about a girl with an eating disorder. Yes, the nonsense was arguably the charm, but a child Passerby still grasping at mundane things like meaningful narratives wasn’t going to appreciate that. It also didn’t help that he also kept confusing Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis—it’s talking animals either way, right? But yeah, in the end Alice in Wonderland left an enduring, negative impression on me, not even after watching the Disney version, which is a shame because I think I would have liked it more if I read it while aided by a tad more maturity (and perhaps LSD). I don’t blame Lewis Carroll for any of this, of course—if he had deviated from his nonsense I’m sure the objective quality of Alice in Wonderland would have been reduced. It’s important to stick to one’s guns. If it’s supposed to be weird, then make no apologies for the weirdness.
This week’s episode is also plenty weird, and likely inspired by Alice in Wonderland, considering Japan’s fondness for Carroll. There’s a proverbial rabbit hole, and the giant, multicoloured mushrooms seal the deal (or maybe it’s a hint to the sort of trip we need to be on this week). Even for an explicit dream world, things get super silly. There’s dapper bears. Mecha bears. Mushroom bears. All the signs of an extremely unhealthy obsession (also, the signs of a one note character). And of course, let us not forget the magical backscratcher that allows Pretty Princess Kurumi to nuke the mechabear. It’s supposed to symbolise… her mental fortitude? Was that right?
The fact that it symbolises anything at all, though, may be a problem. Part of me feels that Musaigen no Phantom World really, really wants to be a parody. But at the same time, it wants a meaningful character development episode for Kurumi. Those two goals, unfortunately, work at cross-purposes to each other. Parody needs to be completely over the top lest it becomes the thing it’s trying to parody. By its nature, it eschews meaning (unless it’s satire, which is a different ball game). So we have a conflict here—the silliness belies a meaningful narrative, while the meaningful narrative undercuts the silliness. At best, they have to take turns, but it’s easy to screw up the balance. Lewis Carroll never lets up in Alice to Wonderland, to his credit. But in Musaigen no Phantom World, we pause in the the middle of this episode to explain that, this whole Mushroom Kingdom is the literal mental world of Kurumi, manifested for her to deal with her personal issues (may be a serious family breakdown too, like the rest of the cast) by proxy! So what we’re actually left with is an extremely heavy-handed metaphor that would have worked just as well, arguably better even, without beating us over the head with it. Sure, Reina’s episode was not exactly subtle either, but at least her fantasy was worked into a story, as phantoms come to spirit her away to a happier place yada yada. Sure, Fate/stay night also had the obvious-metaphor-Reality Marble, but at least there it was woven into the narrative as the protagonist’s appropriate super power yada yada. Here, Kurumi’s dream world is entirely and transparently a plot device, with the sole purpose of igniting her fighting spirit. For all the wild imagery (and even interesting imagery) used in this episode, the story it was shoehorned to was awfully flat.
As a demonstrative point, why was Haruhiko even in this episode, except to serve as the obligatory point of view character or, more banally, the Greek chorus? The cast is finally all assembled now, but note that group shot. Haruhiko’s not in it. Make of that what you will.