「影と戦う影たち」 (Kage to Tatakau Kage-tachi)
“Shadows Who Fight Shadows”
In that other show about vampires I’m introducing this season, I wrote a big spiel about the role of exposition and the perils of using too much of it. I’m going back to that because this week Phantom in the Twilight demonstrates another potential misstep when an anime spends time explaining stuff: explaining stuff that the audience already knows. This episode, Phantom in the Twilight goes out of its way to tell us exactly what manner of supernatural oddity its main characters are. Vampire, werewolf, zombie, poltergeist, yada yada. But does it really need to? I mean, when it already spends so much time showcasing the powers and eccentricities of a vampire, is it really necessary to spell it out? When each episode is only 20 minutes, dialogue is a resource, and some can be saved by not telling the audience things they should already know. I suppose the worry always is that there is a portion of the audience who do not understand, and that it’s important to keep everybody on the same page. I would say: it’s okay if the audience does not understand everything immediately. I don’t think most viewers who have chosen to engage in your fantasy, when confronted with an obvious mythological reference they don’t recognise, will be turned away. It instead gives the setting a sense of depth and if they’re turned off by depth then they weren’t very interested to begin with.
Trying to explain everything you reference also runs the risk of explaining things wrong. You’ve probably watched at least one anime that has tried to incorporate some Schroedinger’s Cat metaphor only to bungle the explanation badly. Then, all the effort to look smart by referencing quantum physics is squandered by looking stupid for getting it wrong. To note: werewolves didn’t come from fairy tales. The wolves that eat grandmothers and blow down houses may be big and bad, but they’re just wolves. Werewolves — humans that turn into wolves — are from Scandinavian folklore and Germanic paganism. Phantom in the Twilight apparently has an entire writer dedicated to setting design and it still goofs, which demonstrates how difficult it is to keep research straight. Or maybe it just means an intern needs to be fired. Point is, people always seem smarter saying less rather than more (not very convincing coming from a rather wordy blogger, I know).
Even if you do explain your reference properly, it still detracts from the effect. One of the compelling aspects of a reference or homage or Easter egg is that little lightbulb moment when the audience recognises it and momentarily feels quite clever for having done so. It might not have been all that clever at all, but as long as the audience feels like they’ve worked something out for themselves, that’s enough. Going out of your way to explain that undercuts that sense of achievement. It’s the same reason why one should never explain a joke; it will never make it funnier. To completely disect the reference, like Phantom in the Twilight seems to enjoy doing in its omake segments, is even more egregious. You know what they say about dissecting a joke, it’s like dissecting a frog; nobody enjoys it and the frog does not survive the process. If education is the goal, it would probably be more effective to leave some deliberate holes and the inquisitive will look it up. I don’t know about you, but a lot of my knowledge of mythology came from natural media osmosis. As a child, there’ll be some summon in a Final Fantasy, I’ll wonder about the funny name and go look it up, and it’ll turn out that it’s Hindu, actually supposed to be a dude, and has nothing to do with ice. Hurrah, tangential learning, life enriched.
While in writing all this I’ve been rather critical of Phantom in the Twilight I still, on the balance, like the show. I’m willing to be patient with it for now since it still seems to be setting things up. We have protagonist who’s supposed to be a lot like a grandmother we know nothing about (and who is apparently vulnerable to vampire charms but apparently immune to abs). We have some app that is at once an extremely convenient plot device and also the most intrusive privacy breach ever invented. I can see the pieces being arranged and am curious enough about they’ll come together to keep watching Phantom in the Twilight. Of course, there’s only so much patience to go around. Next week we’ll do our usual three-episode-rule summary, talk more about the show itself, and pass better informed judgment.