The Fall 2015 Anime Preview Guide
The Perfect Insider
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Perfect Insider ?
I have to give The Perfect Insider some credit. The first episode felt more like a cinematic experience than what I typically get from animated television. Moe is a rich girl, with a rich dad and a rich aunt, but she's fascinated by the chain-smoking college professor Sohei Saikawa. Saikawa is either a nihilist or has some kind of personality disorder. He cares only about what interests him and is bored at the idea of discussing anything else, except genius murderer and doctor Shiki Magata. Magata could be considered a kindred spirit to Sohei, as she's also uninterested in anything other than herself.
Nothing much happens in this episode. It's predominantly spent establishing the relationship between Moe and Sohei, who are both completely insufferable in different ways. Moe can read the impenetrable Sohei, but she also regularly engages in juvenile attempts at emotional manipulation. These don't really work, because all Sohei wants to talk about is how observing the self and discovering the self's purpose is all that matters. This is all well and good, but I showed up for the serial murder mystery that original plot synopsis promised me. I'm okay with philosophy, but I have to like at least one character if I'm going to put up with the protagonist inferring that everyone around them is stupid.
What this episode does is set the slow wheels in motion to get Moe, Sohei, and two other colleagues on a boat to the island where the possible killer Magata is researching...whatever it is she researches. Moe was able to meet with her (because her aunt is a politician's wife) and ask her a bunch of personal questions. I think we're supposed to kinda glaze over the believability of that part. It's the equivalent of Zachary Rodham getting to sit down with Casey Anthony for shits and giggles. It doesn't seem like something that would happen outside of a student request for a paper or a journalist on a specific work assignment.
This is one of the more attractive shows of the season thanks to some unique cinematography. The muted color palette mirrors the tone of the characters in the story. I wouldn't expect flashy visuals when the protagonists are so openly bored. I was mostly enticed by the show's opening narration, cinematography, and the way Moe's interview with Magata was cut into the show's timing. It gave such a strong impression of a film opening instead of a premiere episode that it would have benefited from the treatment Unlimited Blade Works got when it opened. It needed some time expansion to up the stakes a little more.
The Perfect Insider left me feeling frustrated but still curious enough to want to see what happens when they get to the island. I have hope that the characters are far more tolerable when they have something to do other than sit in their self-absorbed bubbles (like solve murders). Viewers who aren't interested in waxing self-important philosophy will probably be bored, but I think it would be too soon to write the entire series off as a snooze fest.
The Perfect Insider is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Whew. Finally. Every season, I hope for at least one new show with some real character and idea meat to dig into. We've already got Owarimonogatari this season, but that's a known quantity, and I've spent plenty of time hanging out in Nisio Isin's brain. As far as new shows go, The Perfect Insider was the last real shot this time, and it doesn't look like it'll disappoint.
The Perfect Insider introduces us to Moe Shishinosono, a young college student, and her professor Sohei Saikawa. Moe is smart, upbeat, and way too smitten with her teacher. Sohei is self-involved, pretentious, and way too assured of his own profundity. In the first two thirds of this episode, we see them leisurely banter back in forth in Sohei's office in a sequence that basically exemplifies everything I look for in my own unique version of “slice of life.” Sohei's a perpetually bored pseudo-philosopher, and his lines about identity and purpose ring true to a very specific idea of the insular academic. He comes off as essentially what a character like Hachiman from My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU would grow into if he were smart enough in some specific way to never be challenged to engage with other people - his lines about thought being the “only thing that is truly free” and conversations with others being a burden come off as the petulant complaints of a much younger man. Moe is unfortunately just young enough to be fooled by this nonsense, but demonstrates far more adaptability and cunning in the ways she reads his actions and pushes him around.
If the show were taking Sohei at all seriously, this would be a frustrating episode - fortunately, it's got a wonderfully understated sense of humor about his personality, and the viewer is far more often placed in Moe's perspective. That remains true when the show introduces its third critical variable, the genius programmer Shiki Magata. In a bizarre, almost interrogation-esque central sequence, we see Moe exchange questions with the elusive Magata, each of them feeling out the other and attempting to gain something from the exchange. Basically all of the dialogue in this episode is both infused with character and charged with hidden intent, and that peaks as the two women converse across a screen.
If this description seems to include a lot more talking than doing, that's because talking is basically what this first episode was. Alternately light and heavy banter between a few central figures, conversations that established personality and relationships while also gesturing towards future ideas about purpose and identity. If you're not on board for low-key conversations between muted adult characters, there's probably not much for you here - but if that sounds like a good time, Perfect Insider's execution certainly sells it well. The show's opening and closing are both excellent on a musical and visual level, the show is buoyed by great classical tunes, and the visuals offer strong use of light and a keen eye for composition. The world presented here feels both lived-in and beautiful, and the characters’ unique designs are expressive and appealing. Everything that happened here basically felt like prologue, and Moe's infatuation with Sohei was a bit overplayed (I'd really, really prefer if she had more motives outside of annoying or impressing him, since she otherwise seems like the most interesting person of the three so far), but outside of that I have few complaints about this first episode. Here's hoping it stays strong!
Review: If you like your anime talky and overtly philosophical then this offering, which aired in live-action form on Japanese TV last year, may be the anime of the season for you. If you don't like such fare then you should probably stay away, as the first episode has almost nothing to it beyond that.
And really, that isn't an exaggeration. Moe Nishinosono is a stylishly-dressing college student from a wealthy background (her family has a servant and she is shown driving an expensive sports car) who is clearly smitten with brilliant professor Setsuko Gido, who was also her late father's final (and possibly favorite?) student. Most of the episode involves her and him exchanging philosophical points as she tries to get him to go out on a date with her and they both deal with various characters popping in for one reason or another. The only other element to it is a teleconferenced visit Moe makes with one Magata Shiki, a beautiful, young-seeming woman who is both a renowned genius and a supposed murderer (or her parents). Moe uses Setsuko's envy over this as reason to propose making the upcoming seminar trip be to the island research lab where Magata is allegedly in residence.
Both visually and in a storytelling sense, The Perfect Insider stands apart from everything else this season. Most of its artistry, though very high-quality, is painted in drab, subdued tones, as if to indicate that the whole world and life experience is a gloomy one. Its animation is top-notch – in fact, this is probably the top title of the season in that regard – and the character designs successfully make everyone look interesting even when their appearances shouldn't stand out. The scenes where Moe is talking to Magata (one part of which is represented in the screencap) seem deliberately designed to evoke the famous scenes of Agent Starling's early conversations with Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, but curiously, nearly the entire episode goes by without any soundtrack, so how that scene is intended to be interpreted is left more open. The overall vibe, though, is that this is building towards some sort of cerebral mystery.
The problem is that all this episode does is set-up, and rather bland set-up at that. Though the characters are well-articulated and converse very naturally, they are not dynamic enough, and do not yet have sharp enough chemistry, to power the series at this point, and much of what they debate about or analyze about each other is, frankly, not all that interesting. And in the lack of a clear direction yet on where the story is headed, that's critical. Anime has proved several times before that intellectualism and entertainment value to those not enamored with intellectualism are not mutually exclusive, but the writers here seem to have lost sight of that. That is why I am giving this a relatively low overall score even though its individual merits in several categories are far higher.
Who are we, as people? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Are our identities fixed in our DNA and life experiences, or do we all just wake up every morning and subconsciously decide to act like the version of ourselves that everyone expects to see? All these questions and more will be posed to make the author sound really smart in The Perfect Insider. But do they succeed?
Eh. Kind of? The Perfect Insider isn't a stupid show, and it isn't wholesale pretension in service of nothing, but it's definitely trying way too hard to impress people. The episode begins by introducing a cynical, borderline misanthropic genius and his young, cheery, normal assistant who harbors not-so-secret feelings for him. (Hey, it's like a gender-swapped Beautiful Bones!) This genius, Sohei Saikawa, is studying the "programming" of the human psyche through a special student lab program.
Not that you would know it from his dialogue. Saikawa only speaks in half-baked pessimistic platitudes about consciousness and human potential, mostly about how we're all wasting it. Then again, that explanation suggests that he has any faith in human nature at all, which he doesn't. Saikawa is one of those geniuses who seems way more interested in proving that he's smarter than everyone else in the room. His raison d'etre isn't seeking the higher truth behind the human mind, just telling everyone else that he "gets it" and they don't. His assistant, Moe Nishinosono, loves him for this because his attitude is so tortured and cool. This is her only distinguishing characteristic, and the episode doesn't seem to think highly of her having emotions and feelings and impulses like some kind of girl. At the same time, I'm not sure it sees Saikawa as much better? It's too early to say. The show is clearly framing them as S (sadist) and M (masochist) respectively, but that's just a label with nothing meaningful behind it at this point in the story.
The show's real central driving force is a mysterious woman signified by the letter "F." (And the number 7, but I'll get to that in a minute.) Shiki Magata is a master programmer, mathematician, alleged murderer, and Saikawa's muse. So of course Moe arranges a cyber-meeting with her to pick her brain and possibly make Saikawa jealous. This results in an open invitation to meet with Dr. Magata on her secluded island lab, where she lives after being acquitted of the double murder of her parents on an insanity plea. (She said that a "doll" did it. Why, she must be insane!) Saikawa is obsessed with Dr. Magata as a fellow intellectual, but he probably also sees her as a kindred spirit. She says things like: "Every human starts as a genius, and as they age, they become average. It's because they get stupid that they can work. They learn to make small talk." It makes most people (like me) roll their eyes back until they can see their own brainstem, but it's poetry to Saikawa. (And therefore catnip to the lovestruck Moe.) So next week, Saikawa's lab members and Moe will head to Dr. Magata's island and get embroiled in a murder mystery of some kind. Credits.
That was more plot description than I usually write up in these previews, but that's because The Perfect Insider is all intrigue and no substance at this early stage of the game. Most of the episode's runtime is spent mistaking cleverness for depth, equating keystrokes and mathematical concepts to human behavior, like the S,M,F, and number comparisons I mentioned earlier. I get that the central conceit here is "programming as metaphor for the human psyche," but I also find that concept kinda amateur and maybe even repugnant depending on where the story takes it, so combining that with the fart-sniffing dialogue doesn't exactly set my heart on fire.
The Perfect Insider might as well have "for hoity-toits only" branded onto its surface, and hoity-toit though I may be sometimes, that's not actually my personal bag. I prefer stories that make complicated ideas and feelings accessible to all audiences, rather than stories where the characters openly revel in their superior intellectualism (or what they think is superior intellectualism). This image sums it up pretty well:
So this show has high aspirations, and that's good! I think that means it's worth giving a chance. At the same time, it hasn't provided the audience with any genuine depth yet. It might be a slow burn for this series, and the end result will have to be satisfying to make up for all the smugness in the lead-up.
I had such high hopes for this one. Noitamina and a mystery? Sounds right up my alley, and at first I was fairly certain that it would be, because those opening credits are spectacular with their fluid dancing and various styles and choreographies. It's easily my favorite animated dance scene since the Wakfu tango. Sadly the opening theme proved much more interesting than anything else this first episode had to offer.
The story appears to follow university student Moe Nishinosono, whose late father was the president of her school. She's got a crush on her professor Saikawa, a type I know all too well from faculty meetings: the academic who has to be More Academic Than Thou and only discusses Deep Things so that you'll know that his research is more important than yours – kind of a grown up Emo kid. In any event, Saikawa knows that Moe is crushing on him and appears to enjoy being nonchalant about it and making it difficult for us to understand why she likes him in the first place. But Moe has a means of getting his attention: she's somehow gotten to meet the (in)famous Dr. Shiki Magata, a brilliant woman who got her PhD at age eleven and killed her parents at age fourteen. She got off by claiming a doll did it and was declared unfit to stand trial, and now she has locked herself away in an island lab. Since Moe's classmate is trying to decide where the class trip should be, she suggests Dr. Magata's island. Roll credits.
If you read that description and wondered how it could fill twenty-three minutes, the answer is “excruciatingly.” Some shows can pull off being comprised of different scenes of people talking, but The Perfect Insider is not one of them, as characters do little more than talk, sulk, and smoke with little other movement and facial expression. When there is movement it looks good, and Moe does have excellent body language as she slumps around Saikawa's office, but it really isn't enough to make this visually interesting. Compounding that is the color scheme, which is more gray than anything, as if someone spilled the water they were using to clean their paintbrush all over the screen. While this can make details like Moe's parti-color hose stand out more as well as softening Saikawa's very harsh features, it also isn't exactly easy on the eyes and makes it difficult to pick out details. None of the characters are particularly interesting when the episode ends, even Dr. Magata, the supposed murderess, and I find it difficult to imagine watching a second episode to see if it does improve.
Now it is entirely possible that this show is suffering from excessive prologuing, which could mean that the supposed mystery plot will surface next week. All of these bland characters do feel like they might be hiding something, and what I'm seeing as stand-offishness might in fact be an ominous edge. Be that as it may, and amazing as this looks in the opening theme and when characters bother to move, this was a very dry, dull first episode that felt like it didn't even try to get me interested. But at least I can go rewatch the dancing.
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