「母は帰りぬ」 (Haha wa Kaerinu)
The title of this episode is actually a rather archaic form of Japanese (y’know, stuff like ‘Kaze Tachinu‘) and I’m not really sure how to parse it. Crunchyroll has it as ‘The Mother Hath Returned‘, which is abominable.
So, this show is about phantoms. It has ‘Phantom’ in the title. And finally, in episode 12, is a Haruhiko lecture about phantoms.
Which, I suppose, is Musaigen no Phantom World‘s way of saying, the show starts now.
This has been a long time coming. But, somehow, at the same time it also felt very sudden. One would think that the mostly serious episode last week should have been enough to ease us into a big finale arc, but everything still felt like a sudden progression, in that previous gag material is suddenly not. The fights are now played for drama. The Phantom Menace is now played for drama. The fanservice is now played for drama. Heck, even Ruru—Ruru!—is played for drama, something that she didn’t manage to do even in her own episode. While there were still some humour to break things up, those are no longer the over-the-top, episode-centric gags that Phantom World had previously employed. Phantom World has inverted from mostly being a gag anime with schizophrenic bursts of seriousness to a serious story with some lighthearted dips in the tension. It’s strange, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think I’ll save the conclusions for next week, which would also save me from having to do serious analysis until the finale.
I will admit, though, that this episode has been the most not-dumb that Phantom World has ever been. I was thinking how awfully suspicious it was that Haruhiko’s mother just pops up out of the blue after an episode about her, her easy it was for them to have their confrontation and then patch up, and immediately after everything is hunky dory. And lo, Phantom World is actually self-aware, with Ruru questioning how suspicious it all was! It was incredible! Characters on Phantom World never used to call this stuff out! It’s almost as if Phantom World was actually taking its own narrative seriously! Sure, if we dig into the details it’s still all contrived (let us not pretend that the ‘Enigma’ phantom is anything but yet another monster of the week created for the sole purpose of driving this specific piece of plot), but while Phantom World has been content with letting its cast be brain-dead before, it’s now infusing them with a level of competency that almost—almost!—borders on agency. Wow. I’m so proud.
But while this has been a relative triumph for Phantom World, it’s not like it hasn’t hinted that it was capable of functional storytelling before. I am concerned, despite my highest regard for this show, that even this grand finale is already overshadowed. We’ve had a variation of the phantom family with Reina’s story. And, in my opinion, Haruhiko’s issues with his mother were tackled much better already, in the episode right before. And the phantom possession reminds me of Yumekui Merry, which is unfortunately not a good association (which is no fault of the design, but let’s face it, the design of this phantom is a random grab bag). We’ll have to see how all this sudden PLOT is going to pan out, because right now I can’t really tell what we were doing here except 1) introduce a strong last boss and 2) poke at Haruhiko’s family issues again for no related reason. No doubt the plot coupon will be instrumental to explaining everything (or, at least, invent some extra depth that needs explaining).
They’re not going for a season-2-cliffhanger, are they? Ugh, that gives me the chills. No, surely not. I dread the very thought.