Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Apr 20th 2009
Night Head Genesis
Nothing sharpens the wits like a man-made plague capable of wiping out humanity. With motivation like that, it's no wonder that sensitive psychic Naoya and his fiercely protective telekinetic brother Naoto muster every ounce of their persuasive power to convince genetic scientist Kanako Kurahashi to cease her tinkering with the building blocks of life. And after some dickering, she does. But the visions of apocalypse don't stop. Later, with that particular apocalypse behind them, Naoto and Naoya get down to the business of tracking down the psychics who seem hell-bent on interfering with their god-given right to avert disaster. Primary among them is Michio Sonezaki, a mind-control specialist who could serve as a nasty little lesson in power gone amuck. After a less-than-civil discussion of good-guy/bad-guy dynamics (the quick and dirty: good guys are destined to lose 'cause they're too darned good), the brothers leave to investigate the mysterious cessation of communication from Mikuriya's institute, their first return to the site of their incarceration since they escaped to find their parents. What they find there brings them face-to-face with Ark, the organization behind Sonezaki and his evil ilk.
Night Head Genesis is a show at war with itself, and no, it's not just the war between its vaguely dirty name and its somber content. It's a war between its writing and its execution: the script spicing up standard psychic detecting with tense scenarios and a seemingly endless supply of psychological nastiness, only to be torn down again and again by some of the shoddiest visuals to ever blight a modern anime.
Night Head took an unusual path to the (animated) small screen. Unlike most series it began neither as a manga, a book nor an original idea in some influential producer's otakufied brainpan. It instead began in 1992 as a live-action television series spearheaded by director George Iida (the Dragon Head movie). In keeping with the intent (and limited budget) of Iida's original series, Night Head Genesis eschews psychic warfare in favor of the psychological effects of paranormal abilities—both on the psychics and the humans they encounter. It's a slow series, heavy on the dialogue and portentous flashbacks, but it builds its psychic confrontations carefully, using high stakes (the fate of the world anybody?) and some truly detestable villains to lay the tension on thick. It's pretty good stuff, involving even when it gets predictable or bogs down in its omnipresent atmosphere of doom. That is, so long as you can ignore the series' many quality control issues.
The importance of a little spit and polish is most obvious when it's completely missing, and my, is it missing here. You Higuri's character designs aren't bad—her reputation for pretty men is well earned—but they are inconsistent and inexpressive. Body and facial proportions fluctuate from scene to scene, and the characters are wooden even by anime standards. The latter is part of a wider pattern, a general stiffness of animation that afflicts the show like a disfiguring case of artistic lockjaw. Director Yoshio Takeuchi does what he can by introducing arty flourishes whenever possible, but they fail as often as they succeed, and usually because of flat, unconvincing motion. The 3-D animation fares better, but suffers from a lack of detail and some of the worst 2-D/3-D integration since the technologies were first combined. Try as the series might to be brooding and atmospheric, with technical merits like those it only comes across strained and clumsy.
When the script and visuals do come together, the show can be quite effective—almost hallucinogenic in its effect. That's thanks in no small part to Shigeru Umebayashi's queerly old-fashioned, Twilight Zone-ish score, but also owes a lot to the arty flourishes that Takeuchi does manage to pull off. But those moments are all too rare—only one over the course of these five episodes: a scene in which Sonezaki dances to the accompaniment of a crowd of clapping mind-control victims. The rest of the time the show is just flat and ugly, one giant parade of arthritic visual distractions from Iida's solid paranormal tales. Tales that, treated right, wouldn't lose out—not to their low momentum, not to their well-worn basic premise, not even to Naoya's incessant whining. Which makes it that much more painful to watch them being killed by something as prosaic as a budget.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : D-
Art : C
Music : B+
+ Continues the series' run of solid short stories about a pair of naive psychics and their crash-course in human ugliness.
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