Whoah, that's dark. I can't say I enjoyed it, but you're not meant to. If you liked Serial Experiments Lain
, this is another gloomy existentialist headfuck that's received critical praise.
Personally I thought it was no fun at all, but then again I'm not wild about Serial Experiments Lain
either. The story is... confusing and not particularly clear. It's more like a series of inventively bleak meditations on despair, tragedy, loneliness and escaping from reality. It occurred to me during episode 5 that it's technically horror, although I'm reluctant to mention that because it might give people the wrong idea about the series. When people get killed and eaten, that's almost a release compared with where their damaged psyches have previously been taking them. Hmmm. Let's give some examples.
The first episode stars a self-hating wallflower with a cleanliness fetish, obsessively washing her hands or wiping things with tissues. "Why are we all alive? Even though we're going to die." There was a boy she loved, but she never said anything to him and now he's been taken from the world. By the end she's in a mental state where she's volunteering to be killed and eaten. What's more, for this show that's normal. The next episode's protagonist gets addicted to eating giant bugs and sucking out people's bad memories while telling himself he's helping them. Naturally we'll later see that his actions had sickening consequences and that the guy's a monster, although in fairness we already had a pretty good idea of that. Five years ago, there was a spate of serial killings involving super-evolved humans and an Angel of Death. We're now seeing the fallout of this. People have superpowers, although these are drab, low-key powers that mainly involve finding unexpected ways of themselves and other people miserable, dead and/or an empty, soulless shell of their former selves.
This isn't a plot-driven show. Instead it's about its themes. The main one involves change and people's perceptions of it. On the one hand, human evolution is what's created all these monsters that need exterminating. However people keep trying to flee from reality and cling to the past, sometimes even discarding their memories or identities in order to do so. Poom Poom is the most literal example of this. He's the Pied Piper. People bring terrible things upon themselves by rejecting the future, or even the present. There's also a thread of parent-child relationships, with misunderstanding, alienation and people just being too busy for each other. (That's not the worst-case scenario, by the way. That would be the woman who strangles her own granddaughter.) You don't watch this show in the hope of enjoying it, but you'd have to be impressed by all the surreal and horrifying ways they find for their characters to dig their own psychological graves.
The colour scheme is part of this too. The series looks as if it's been dipped in a toilet. It's like a variant of monochrome, either based on (a) burnt ochre and sepia or else (b) drab blues and greens that are either dark or washed out. It's a grey, ghost-like world in which nothing's concrete or in primary colours. Needless to say, this is depressing and the production staff later commented on how much more effective this was than they'd expected and how bleak it helped make the series.
None of this applies to the final episode, though. We end with hope. It's a year later and the surviving characters are getting on with their lives again in Tokyo. The colours are pretty and there's been reconciliation between children and parents. We've spent eleven episodes in darkness, but here in the end it's as if the sun's come out.
All that's potentially interesting. What could have been executed better is the storytelling. It's told in a vignette fashion that jumps around in time and will often show the same scene from different viewpoints, thus de-emphasising narrative. This is confusing. If you want to remember who's who, you'd better be taking notes. When we reached the end, I couldn't remember who all the survivors were and what we'd previously been told about them. I'm sure I could rectify this by reading the original novels or by rewatching the series, but to be honest I tended to find myself watching psychological problems rather than people. The characterisation's all rather dour, without easy hooks by which to remember everyone. Mind you, I'm pretty sure the information's all there. In hindsight the backstory seems fairly clear. It's just fragmented, abstract and not the most important thing about the series.
There's also a live-action prequel, Boogiepop And Others
. These are all based on novels, you see. The plan had been for the film to come out before the anime started its TV run, which would hopefully have made things clearer, but unfortunately the film got delayed. With hindsight I should probably have watched that first. Ah well.
The closing theme song's lively, though. At least to that extent, we end every episode on an enjoyable note.
Would I recommend this show? Possibly, to the right person. If you know what you're getting into and are prepared for it, you'll find a lot in here. It's certainly a million miles away from empty bubblegum anime and the only real flaw I've been able to find is that it's expecting its audience to work hard at following it. Well, that or be familiar already with the Boogiepop universe. In episode eight they more or less do Memento
in a minor character and that was Oscar-nominated in the same year for Best Original Screenplay. Just don't expect it to be emotionally involving, except in a distantly horrifying way. Its characters are too broken for that.