Adapting a proper novel series. Not light novels, with series composition being done by the person who did series composition for both seasons of Gatchaman Crowds, and a proper mystery tale to boot? This is one of the three shows I was most hopeful about before the season started, so let’s see if it delivers.
Themes / Story:
I want to start by quoting this show’s synopsis, from MAL:
The story of the original novel revolves around Souhei Saikawa, a member of the Saikawa Research Lab. On a vacation held for the lab, he meets Moe Nishinosono, the daughter of his mentor, who joins the group on their vacation despite not being a part of the lab. After meeting each other, the two end up finding a corpse. The two work together to solve the mysteries of what becomes a serial murder case.
Almost none of this materialized in the first episode, which felt more like a prequel to the above narrative. It’s been the case with multiple shows this season, but damn, a premiere is supposed to provide some sort of hook, to grab you into watching the show, and to tell you what sort of story it’s going to tell. It really didn’t seem as if Perfect Insider was terribly interested in that.
However, if you watch the show with the above knowledge, some things, some associations, come to mind, such as Dr. Magata basically being Hannibal in Silence of the Lambs. She will be the genius they call upon to help them solve crimes (unless she’s the one who dies, which I doubt). The show, sadly, isn’t at all elegant in how it tries to present its characters as intelligent, or even as geniuses, rather we say how Sensei won every possible academic award, then he completely negates his own value in comparison to Magata.
And then there’s the philosophy. As a Philosophy grad student, I have to say that this episode was pretty embarrassing. A lot of ideas that you hear in your first semester or two, and several that point to pre-Platonian Greek philosophy. Sensei didn’t come off as smart, or deep, or complex, but as someone who wants to appear that way. But no, it’s the show using these shallow methods to try and paint him as such. All of his thoughts about others, his “cynicism” paint him as an older Hachiman (from OreGairu) who simply didn’t grow up, or a Hotaro (from Hyouka). We’ll get back to that in a moment again, but I really wonder how the show wanted him to come off. Immature? Well, Moe ignored him and his curmudgeony ways, so I feel that bit is indeed something we shouldn’t take as “true”, but all of the low-level psychology and philosophy was supposed to impress us.
Even “The Three Worthwhile Questions,” those are actually worthwhile questions, and were introduced for the purpose of later having us realize just how brilliant Magata is, that she pondered these questions when she was 5, trying to find her place in the world. That was actually pretty elegant, but combined with how the show started and ended with classical music, and kiddy-pool level psychology and philosophy, the whole effect was somewhat tarnished.
In that aspect, this show really reminds me of this season’s Beautiful Bones: Sakurako-san. Both shows try really hard to sell us, rather than let the show breathe a bit more on its own. A bit more “show, don’t tell”, such as letting us understand how otherworldly Magata is rather than have Moe describe her as “Angel or Devil” would’ve been welcome as well.
But Moe is actually one place where the show had really pulled that off. Sensei never showed emotions except when Moe suggested the trip to the island, and wasn’t really an interesting character, to the degree he seems purposefully so, but Moe? Lots of small and elegant characterization details, from how her car is big and shiny, to how she actually spent a lot of time on her “casual outfit” before heading to school, to where Sensei made an analogy between her hair growing to him growing older, she ignored his kvetching but latched onto the comment revolving around her looks, especially by him.
Going back to Hyouka, both this and Sakurako-san seem as if they want to be it, with the literary references, the “doldrums”, but this show in particular, with how hard it’s trying, and the type of character Magata seems to be, seems to have infused quite a bit of Death Note into it. I like both Hyouka and Death Note, and this could still be great, but this episode did lack a hook, and I had to groan at its attempts at sophistication. The psychology bent also lent credence to the Silence of the Lamb direction, which is where I expect this to go. It was a pretty solid episode, but it didn’t really sell itself as a premiere.
OP – Pretty nice sound. When your average OP isn’t very good, an above-average pop song like this is nice, I guess, but it’s still not a song I’d listen to multiple times. The visuals have their own minimalistic stylistic attraction, no doubt.
ED – I liked the sound. The vocals and the melody worked well together. The art reminded me of Windows 95, and of internet pages around the turn of the millennium. Nice fractals, though that bit feels as if it could also be thematic with how the ED started and ended – everything unpacking from such tiny a box, so small a window, and then folding once more. A vastness contained in something small.
I know it wasn’t the first show to put heavy emphasis, but now every show that makes such use of stark lighting and contrasts makes me think of Zankyou no Terror. This show definitely looked good, aside from the CG car that we kept seeing. They wanted to drive home how rich Moe is, but the CG just made the car feel plasticky and cheap, ironically enough.
I quite liked the character designs, they were refreshingly un-anime, I mean, when was the last time you’ve seen a shot such as this in an anime, at least not as part of a gag? While the characterization in the story was over the top, the art, especially in how it treated the characters, was delightfuly understated.
Of course, whenever Magata’s grandfather(?) discussed her, she was surrounded by filters, the better to heighten how special she is within the show.
(Themes-related) This is also related to the Hyouka/Sakurako-san comparison, but Moe’s long period of time of picking her clothes, or the time we’ve seen the Professor before Moe came into his office, a lot of attention to small details, a lot of space and time where the characters are allowed to breathe and give us insights to their characters. This is probably a complement and contrast to what I wrote under themes but just as important, there was the moment when the Professor said “Never tell people what you’re really thinking,” so all of their chatter is idle and full of nonsense, but it is when you observe how they act, especially alone, where you can see their actual character – Moe and her attention to her looks, and her wish to be noticed by the Professor, and the Professor’s anxiety and stress, by what? I’m sure we’ll find out, but he’s not as uncaring and aloof as he seems to be. He’s troubled by something, and in a mystery show, that matters as a premonition.
P.S. “Aiming for the Hyouka crowd” isn’t a dig on either this show or Sakurako-san, and is in fact a large factor in why I decided to check them out. That’s a good thing. It’s just that it feels a bit too much like “Trying to appeal” than “Capture the same spirit as”.