The Spring 2016 Anime Preview Guide
The Lost Village
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Lost Village ?
What is this?
All aboard Noah's Ark! Thirty winners of a secret online contest have boarded a bus to the mysterious Nanaki Village, abandoning their old names to travel under aliases and start their lives anew. Their destination is at best a legend, and only a select few know how to find the Eden-like place, but most of these people seem to have nothing to lose. "Dahara" leads the enthusiastic tour group, prompting the other twenty-nine to introduce themselves along with their reasons for wanting to leave their old lives behind. But not everyone on the bus is quite so open. Our protagonist "Mitsumune" isn't sure what to think of his future village-mates, like "Hayato," a pessimistic boy who seems to think the trip is already a bust. There's also a space cadet named "Masaki" with intensely neurotic tendencies, but Mitsumune still thinks she's pretty cute. She's certainly more charming than the seat-kicking "Lion," who seems to think that her foolish travel companions will all start eating each other sooner rather than later. Of course, that still leaves 25 other strangers, not to mention the ornery bus driver! Why did all these mysterious figures decide to give up everything for this sketchy one-way ticket to an uncertain future? And just what is waiting for them all at Nanaki Village? The Lost Village is an original anime work and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Fridays at 9:30 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
The Lost Village was one of my top picks coming into this season. Its director, Tsutomu Mizushima, has earned a reputation as one of anime's best working creators. Between Shirobako and Girls und Panzer, his work on anime-originals has been stellar, and he's also made a variety of strong adaptations. The Lost Village's composer, Mari Okada, has a much more uneven reputation, but she can create strong shows. I wasn't sure how the two of them would play off each other, but with Mizushima at the helm, it seemed guaranteed to at least be entertaining.
Well, after this first episode, I can confirm that The Lost Village is entertaining - but not necessarily because it's trying to be. This episode quickly introduces a very contrived thriller premise and dumps a million characters on top of us, presumably because half of them will be dead soon. These characters are debuted through a long series of seemingly intentionally ridiculous introductions, and then they all bicker and sing songs about hippopotamuses and generally get to know each other on their way to the titular village.
All of that would be fine enough stock thriller nonsense, but what makes The Lost Village stand out is its relentlessly, staggeringly bad writing. The premise is already theatrical and artificial, but beyond that, all of the characters in this episode act like larger-than-life caricatures of their own types. This is expressed both in small ways and large ways; the incidental dialogue is all nonsense non-human stuff like “I think smart guys are cool,” but the show is also graced with standout lines like “crows eat their friends when they're dead. I hope we don't end up cannibalizing each other,” and “adults are all the same. They act nice at first, and then they try to kill you if you don't do what they say.” The show is going for lurking menace, but its writing is so cacophonously over-the-top that it consistently arrives at unintentional comedy.
The actual storytelling matches the absurdity of the individual lines. When the bus's driver gets mad about the carefree attitudes of his employers, he almost drives them off the road - in response, one member of the party actually elbows him in the face while he's driving, and then another girl pukes in his lap. This episode also features a dream sequence where the “ticking bomb” of the protagonist is represented by an exploding basketball, but frankly, that sequence seemed only slightly less lucid than the rest of the material. Basically everything about this episode was gloriously, deliriously stupid.
And for all that, I actually had a pretty fun time with it! Mizushima's record with horror/thrillers is far less stellar than his general reputation - he's the director behind the staggeringly bad Another, after all. But he still knows how to make a scene move, and frankly, once you move past the heightened clumsiness of the writing, the story here seems just as interesting as any other thriller. But “so bad it's good” only has so much appeal, so going forward, it will really depend on how effectively and intentionally The Lost Village can embrace its own camp identity to decide whether it stays entertaining or simply becomes irritatingly bad.
If The Lost Village was a person, it'd be one you want to bring a cup of hot chocolate, a blanket, and pat on the head saying, “It's okay, sweetie. You don't have to try so hard.” Because that's the main issue with this first episode – it is trying way too hard. The premise itself – mysterious quasi-mythical village, group of people wanting to start over – isn't fresh, but it's also one with lots of potential if done well, because those are tropes in horror and suspense fiction for a reason. It's like a more evil Brigadoon, or a whole village that moves around on chicken feet like Baba Yaga's hut in Russian folklore, and that's really appealing. Sadly, this episode doesn't actually get us to the village, but instead focuses on making sure the mood weather sets the proper vaguely unsettling atmosphere, while the people on the bus sing a creepy song about an unlucky hippo, trying too hard to set up a contrast between a premise we know can't lead to anything good and the naïve fools who think it will.
Speaking of those naïve fools, we get introduced to all of them by name – and if you recall, that's thirty named characters right off the bat. Granted, remembering names has never been one of my strong suits, but even if you're really good at it, that's asking a lot of the viewer. Important characters (I assume) get their names repeated a couple of times, which makes it feel like the several minutes of introductions could have been left out, with people being named as they become relevant to the plot. As it was, I couldn't quite recall which quirky girl ostensible hero Mitsumune was interacting with; she was just “the increasingly weird one.” Not that that's a great way to set her apart from the others – the bus feels like it is filled with the occupants of a dissatisfied internet chatroom, which it very well may be. Everyone introduces themselves by handle rather than name, but they don't seem to know each other beyond a few duos who came together, so they're clearly not all recruited from the same online forum. This is actually one of the things that I thought worked quite well; the tension laced with a sort of acceptance that none of them were quite who they presented as gives the episode more of a “trapped online” feel than a lot of video game shows. You've seen these guys in comment threads online, so they're familiar in an off-putting way.
If there was more actual plot in this episode, it might be easier to forgive The Lost Village, but it's so busy trying to build an atmosphere and introduce characters that it sort of forgets that whole plot thing. This episode has a premise, not a plot, and if that's the way the show is going to run, that'll be a problem. Of course, they may instead just start killing all those named characters off in ways that somehow correspond to their reasons for being on the tour in the first place, and hey, that would mean fewer names to remember! As it stands, this show will need some serious actual storytelling and real suspense/horror next week for it to hook me, because just being Dark and Foreboding is not actually giving me a story, and that's what I tend to want in my entertainment.
Review: The first episode of this anime-original series is far stronger in concept than it is in execution. The concept – of a group of 30 people going to a mythical hidden village to start their lives over – is an intriguing one, rife with all sorts of philosophical possibilities, lessons, and even a variety of potential directions. What angle will it take? Will it aspire to be more like the American movie The Village or the American TV series Lost? Or will it be a quasi-horror story where the cast members gradually get whittled away? That it's starting with such an unmanageably huge cast tends to suggest the latter, and for some reason – maybe the artistic style – I can't quite shake the impression of the anime series Another. Could also be that depressing song about the hippopotamus (which is an exact rip-off of the English nursery rhyme about Solomon Grundy) or the creepier song that the group director's associate sings that's supposed to be connected to Nanaki Village.
But while the first episode does drop all sorts of tantalizing hints and character tidbits, it just doesn't provide enough for us to be sure about anything. The bus ride to the place – an event which in many other series takes at most a couple of minutes – takes the whole damned episode here. Clearly getting the whole cast (including the bus driver!) established was deemed more important than actually moving the story forward at a reasonable pace. Normally that wouldn't be bad, but the thoroughness of the approach here makes the story drag. All it really does is give us a sense of who the major players are going to be: the teenage boy Mitsumune is shaping up to be the lead, and the girls Masaki and Lion are looking to be the next most important characters. So we can expect that whatever else happens, none of them are going to die early. But that would liven up the series pretty quickly. Of course, this is probably going to be one of those cases where every little bit from this episode comes back up again later.
Maybe I'm just being too cynical here, but I am very concerned about how this series is going to go based on the first episode's pacing. That's disappointing, because so much could be done with the concept. For instance, the inherent logical flaw in the existence of utopia (which is essentially what Nanaki Village is supposed to be) is that even within a like-minded group of people, what one person calls a utopia could be another person's prison. And these are most definitely not a like-minded group of people, as the 30 individuals state roughly a couple of dozen different reasons for wanting to start over. The bus driver pointing out how petty and foolish some of those reasons are seems to suggest that examining the inherent selfishness of such a desire could be another angle to play too.
So yeah, because of its conceptual potential, I'm going to give this one a couple more episodes to prove itself. But it will need to show more than it has so far to keep me watching.
The spring season kicks off with a completely original anime written by Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans's Mari Okada. As a writer, Okada's got a mixed bag of credits to her name. Orphans stared unblinkingly at the horrors of war, anohana introduced viewers to a group of friends grappling with childhood loss, and A Woman Called Fujiko Mine reinvented Monkey Punch's well-known femme fatale. On the other hand, Okada also penned the middling M3 the dark metal and A Lull in the Sea, the former of which didn't exactly set the world of mecha on fire.
The Lost Village is revisiting the psychological drama territory Okada tried out before with M3, but with a far more bloated cast. The show quickly sets up an eerie town with the group host's introductory monologue that includes enough red-flag phrasing that I half-expected him to pass out spiked Kool-Aid after he was finished. Instead, a bus of 30 would-be cultists are quickly introduced in the episode's first few minutes, with personality types ranging from a hot-headed delinquent, a self-centered rich boy, a two-faced queen bee, and a chronically carsick girl suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Our protagonist is the seemingly naïve Mitsumune, who is running away to a creepypasta village with the rest of these misfits to start a new life.
Already, there isn't a lot of nuance here for a psychological character drama where the participants' neuroses are supposed to play off one another. The mysterious village premise is merely window dressing for taking a large cast of characters, putting them in a jar, and shaking it aggressively. This can work out well when the main point is to better understand humanity and its suffering. Cases like Death Parade did this extremely well by pitting two characters against one another in an enclosed environment. But this is 30 characters, and I'll eat my fancy hat if we manage to genuinely care about more than five of them.
What I'm hoping is that the show skips overwrought, forced drama about “Jack's” horrible childhood (I think this was the dead-eyed one that kicked the bus driver but maybe that was “Toshi Boy,” who knows) and just fully embraces psycho-faced characters snapping left and right and chasing one another around the compound. Director Tsutomu Mizushima could try to top the Final Destination-style deaths of Another, something we haven't had since. That would be entertaining.
Jacob Hope Chapman
Thirty characters. On a bus. To ominous-cryptid-village-that-may-entail-cannibalism. It's a nifty and insanely ambitious premise, but after watching this first episode, my faith in Mari Okada's writing ability is not strong enough to hold out much hope for The Lost Village.
It's not that this is a bad episode exactly. The direction, courtesy of the incredibly talented Tsutomu Mizushima, definitely keeps you on your toes and does a solid job of making it easier to remember who's who and what might be on their minds. It's just that the writing is so overwhelmingly over-the-top and unintentionally silly that it's extremely difficult to imagine a future where this show is good. If a sturdy thriller like ERASED (and many other anime) can start by yanking you to the edge of your seat and still inevitably lose you now and again with moments of goofiness, what does that say about a thriller that begins with goofy off-tone misstep after misstep?
The best example of this comes when the driver of the enigmatic cult-bus suddenly starts shaking his fist at all these damn kids for not pulling themselves up by their bootstraps instead of running away from life. Sure, okay. Makes sense. But then he starts going into intense detail about all the things he hates about his own life and decides that THEY SHOULD ALL DIE TOGETHER, I'LL JUST DRIVE THIS WRECK RIGHT OFF THE MOUNTAIN! Huh? What?! The ominous music that hasn't let up since the episode started goes off the rails to a yakety sax sequence of people falling over in the aisles.
Given that the scene ends with Masaki barfing in the driver's lap and saving them all from certain death, I'm almost positive it's supposed to be funny. It isn't, but I think it was supposed to be. But then right before this was a scene where Mitsumune woke up from a nightmare within a nightmare that involves a time-bomb inside a basketball and an ominous stuffed penguin so I don't even know. Also, cannibalism is mentioned out of "pure coincidence" like three times in this episode so I hope that isn't the twist.
This is definitely bound to be an interesting show, but it's already playing out like a messy irony-watch where the writer has mistaken insanity for intrigue, and it would be far from the first time Mari Okada has done this. For me at least, her worst habits as a writer come out in her genre work, with frequent forays into farcical soap opera character writing and giant shark-jumping left turns that play out more stupid than shocking. The Lost Village is just more "weird" than anything else, all the moreso because after all these bizarre scenes play out, the episode just sort of ends. No arrival at the village or transition to a strange new character, it just stops at a seemingly arbitrary point in the already slapdash adventure. So yeah. This is weird and headscratching and a little bit stupid. You might wanna brace yourself for so-bad-it's-good-at-best on this one.
Rating: A Shocking 3
Thirty complete strangers desperate to redo their lives have hopped onboard the M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN MEMORIAL BUS TO SHOCKING TWISTVILLE!
Okay, so that's not exactly fair – this show is directed (very nicely!) by the same guy who handled Shirobako, and the lovely, crisp character designs (shockingly not by the same character designer, although all these cuties could've been lifted straight out of that show) are a complement to this series, which is a bombastic, hilariously overwrought thriller with a gimmick: there are 30 characters on their way to Nanaki Village, and we're gonna give ‘em all names and defining character traits.
Normally when I start writing one of these previews I keep a notepad open and write down character names so they're easier to remember later when I actually write the review. The Lost Village wants you to keep track of a literal bus full of people, and I just started laughing and gave up about halfway through the 10-minute “getting to know you” segment that kicks this thing off. In terms of tone and execution, this show is about halfway between a particularly heartstopping Twilight Zone episode and something you'd see advertised as “A SHOCKING 5-NIGHT MINISERIES EVENT, ONLY ON FOX”, which is another reason I started laughing and didn't stop – at a certain point the show starts seeming like a thriller where the gimmick is that someone stuffed too many anime characters onto this bus, and once that theory held up, I couldn't stop laughing.
I wasn't laughing at the show, but the sheer number of characters, each one announcing something that'll probably be tragically ironic or ironically tragic later on, the absolutely relentless tension-building creepy string music that accompanies even mundane scenes… it seemed like this show wasn't trying to be the best thriller, it was trying to be THE MOST THRILLER YOU'VE EVER SEEN, which I have to tell you, sounds fantastic. I want to see wherever this barely-held-together pile of ambition goes. Bring it on! I'll just pop open a spreadsheet to keep track of these names.
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