Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jul 13th 2009
Night Head Genesis
Ark's plan to ensnare vulnerable psychic Kirie has gathered a full head of steam now that she is implicated in the drowning deaths of five classmates. Her parents, fearing the worst, entrust her to the evil corporate empire while the Kirihara brothers rush to put a stop to the all-too-familiar familial fracturing. Dogging them is slimy psychic Mikumo, who is doing his best to neutralize Naoto by subjecting him to a non-stop barrage of psychic psychological abuse. Can Naoto overcome his rage and Naoya his feelings of impotence in time to save the girl from becoming an unwilling sacrifice in Ark's plan to stop the mysterious "reformation?" A year and a half later, the now peacefully-settled brothers are once again called into action by Mikuriya, who has in his possession a prophecy of doom drawn in crayon by a pre-school precognate. The brothers reluctantly pursue the premonition, and stumble upon an oncoming disaster of global proportions—a disaster that may well be beyond the ability of even the paranormally-gifted to avert.
Night Head's glacial pacing is both its greatest asset and its most lethal flaw. It was the pokey plot that turned the last half of the previous volume into a patience-trying yawn party. And it is that same unhurried pace that leaves the first half of this disc stewing in nerve-wracking suspense. The villains—Mikumo, Ark CEO Okuhara, and the snaky Sakaguchi—are so hugely detestable, and their plan so cruelly heartless, that the series' slow crawl forward becomes almost unbearable. In a good way. The tension of watching their plan move forward in excruciating increments makes their inevitable defeat, and the brothers' triumph, all the sweeter. Unfortunately writer George Iida undercuts that sweetness with an ill-advised attempt to garner last-minute sympathy for the defeated villains. In addition to pasting false-hearted smiley faces on what should have been moments of mean-spirited satisfaction, the attempt to grow Mikumo a back-story introduces some unnecessary speechifying, while the revelation of Okuhara's true motives produces more plot holes than it resolves.
Following the first two episodes, which for all the world feel like the conclusion to the series, is a two-part coda—a sort of standalone sequel. Though slow by any other standard, by Night Head standards it's pretty briskly paced. It has the feel of, say a Quantum Leap episode: a forty-minute sci-fi adventure in which established characters meet and assist in resolving the issues of a set of decently-written one-off characters. It contains some of the series' worst pseudo-scientific BS (pent-up negative energies causing shifts in the Earth's crust? WTF?), but makes up for it with unusually, if not exceptionally, solid supporting characters and visuals that appear to have taken a quantum leap of their own, particularly during the snowy Russian sequences, which are as close to beautiful as the show has ever gotten. The ultra-cute kid psychic doesn't hurt either.
The remainder of the visuals are up to—or should I say, down to—the series' usual standards. In short, they're bad. As respectably attractive as the characters (particularly the earthquake-investigating high-school cutie) are, they move in odd and awkward ways that make them look stiff and unnatural. With the exception of the majestic Russian architecture, the settings are all flat and uninteresting, and we won't even waste time enumerating the shortcomings of the awful, shortcut-riddled action sequences. Even composer Shigeru Umebayashi seems aware of the action's irrelevance, preferring Halloween-styled atmosphere to blood-boiling heroism.
In retrospect, Night Head is an archetypical mixed-bag. Iida's writing is at times insightful and at others psychologically inept, his plot smart in some places and complete Swiss cheese in others. Some of his ideas—such as his vision of a world on the edge of an evolutionary leap—are interesting, while others (telekinetic pyramid-builders) are completely boneheaded. The pacing alternates between cold deliberation and simple sluggishness, while the leads are split evenly between alluring strength (Naoto) and whining wimpiness (Naoya). From its live-action TV roots the series retains both its addictive serial structure and its preponderance of underwritten roles obviously intended for idols, debutantes and down-on-their-luck character actors. Not surprisingly the end result is periodically good and just as often downright infuriating. It is, however, unfailingly mature (that's aimed-at-adults mature, not MPAA mature), and regardless of its variable quality is worthy of serious consideration by anyone looking for a change of pace in today's teen-dominated market.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : D
Art : C+
Music : B
+ Slow-burning but effective conclusion to the Ark material, followed by a solidly entertaining two-episode pseudo-sequel.
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