The Winter 2016 Anime Preview Guide
Myriad Colors Phantom World
How would you rate episode 1 of
Myriad Colors Phantom World ?
What is this?
Ever since a horrible containment breach at a secret bio-lab unleashed a mysterious virus on the unsuspecting populace of Japan, people everywhere have been able to perceive "Phantoms." Phenomena like yokai, kaiju, and all manner of fantastical creatures are real, and now that they can be seen with the human eye, they've started affecting our world in more powerful ways. Fortunately, humanity's fresh-faced generation of youngsters have evolved powers to combat the Phantoms as well, and they're trained in the art of spirit-sealing at the illustrious Hosea Academy. Hapless Haruhiko Ichijo and busty Mai Kawakami are the clumsiest problem students in this elite class of Phantom fighters, but they may have a shot at improving once they add the gentle-hearted Reina Izumi to their team: a girl who can swallow up Phantoms peacefully once they've been appeased. Myriad Colors Phantom World is based on a series of light novels and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Wednesdays at 12:30 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
I never thought I'd find myself shouting "Boobs don't work that way!" at a KyoAni show, but here we are. No Virginia, it is not possible to bounce your Double-Ds so hard that they swing/squoosh down lower than their horizontal resting state to win a limbo competition. Breasts are made of fairly compact glandular and fatty tissue that does not magically jello-ify at the application of mild centrifugal force. They can be compressed with direct pressure from hands or other objects (like a limbo rope), and if you got into a literal Gravitron and reached a couple Gs of force, that might also make a difference on the roundness of your chest. However, normal gravity will only pull them as low as they are already going to be when you are laying horizontally, so flopping them up and down will not result in an instant pair of watery, malleable, limbo-contest victors. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle (against terrible boob physics.)
Lay any and all of your Kyoto Animation expectations aside, because Myriad Colors Phantom World is the rotest of the rote light novel premises, nothing more and nothing less. Group of "worst" students at magic academy who will secretly become the best? Check. Long-winded world-building explanations prompted by nothing and interspersed with chuunibyou-style trivia to make a stupid story seem more complex? Check. World's oldest fanservice-driven harem humor dressed up and wheeled out without shame? Check-check-checkeroo.
In any other studio's hands, this barrel-bottom material would be unwatchable, so I guess KyoAni deserves at least a mild back-pat for giving it some life through their always stellar production work. The jokes aren't funny, but they're delivered with polished timing and enthusiasm. The fanservice is groan-worthy, but it's lovingly delivered if you're in the mood to ogle some cartoon chesticles. Talented stable of animators notwithstanding, Kyoto Animation is a company in the business of turning a profit, and if they've decided that this totally forgettable light novel stuff is worth their time this quarter, at least they're pulling out all the stops to make it look good. So on the one hand, I'd much rather watch this than any other magic-high-school-light-novel anime that I've seen pop up so far. On the other hand, I'd rather watch something from any other genre in anime right now than even the "best" amongst the magic-high-school-light-novel stuff. Normally, you don't want to be forced to damn a show with faint praise, but Myriad Colors Phantom World, as equal parts extremely watchable and completely disposable, definitely deserves that degree of damnation.
I don't think Kyoto Animation's stellar reputation can save this boobtastic retread of Beyond the Boundary. Our literary nerd Akihito has special powers to exorcise phantoms with a sketchbook because he was breastfed as a child, if I'm understanding correctly. The same can be said for his upperclassman and partner Mai, whose breasts were routinely the focus of this episode. Actually, looking at the breastfed thing, maybe boobs were the starting point of this light novel adaptation and the rest was just built around them, like a supportive, supernatural brassiere.
Supportive might not be the right word, as the supernatural elements were hardly clear. The technicalities of phantoms in the show's info dump, which is comparatively sparse for a light novel adaptation, are contradicting. I came away from the show unsure if humans could just perceive phantoms which always existed or if they are illusions projected by the human mind. Both are mentioned, although only the former actually makes sense in the context of the show. I had similar confusion over the introduction of Haruhiko's bedroom, which initially appears like large pixels but becomes “real” as he interacts with objects. So, is it real or is it some kind of metaphor that the actual world is really made this way but can only now be truly perceived?
The characters themselves are beginning to run together with other KyoAni shows. Mai bears a decent resemblance to Amagi Brilliant Park's Isuzu while “Reina the Manticore” looks like Beyond the Boundary's Mitsuki Nase. Two other characters are briefly introduced and are a little more striking, design wise. Koito Minase (the girl with the headphones at the end) will obviously be some kind of hard-ass since she wears a boy's tie and maintains a perfect glower. Kurumi is a purple-haired grade schooler who looks like a rabbit.
The team of three, nerdy Haruhiko, self-groping martial artist Mai, and all-you-can eat Reina team up to defeat phantoms for payment. Throughout the episode, we see a large variety of these monster types, from weird toy ducks with pink legs to limbo-ing utility poles. The limbo sequence is the climax of the episode, which already included plenty of Mai in bloomers, Mai rubbing herself, and establishing shots of girls running track. The audience is now treated to Mai literally bobbing her breasts up and down so she can slide them under an electrified wire.
The supernatural elements here are as exhausted as the fanservice. About midway through the episode, I realized I already watched these kinds of super-powered teens in Charlotte last year. No matter how technically attractive this show is, its lack of originality compounded with its hardly subtle bosom obsession isn't something I'll be tuning into each week.
Given the fact that their last show was my number two show of the year and I recently wrote an editorial specifically dedicated to their talents, it'd be understandable for one to make the guess that I “like KyoAni shows” or something. And as a general rule, I'd say that's probably an okay assumption to make. But there's a reason I spent so much time highlighting individual creators within that editorial - companies aren't monoliths, they are collections of individuals. Some individuals, like the almost-certainly-a-genius Naoko Yamada, go from directing carefully observed slice of life (K-On!) to well-composed drama (Sound! Euphonium) to likely-to-be-stunning anime films (A Silent Voice). Others, like Yasuhiro Takemoto, trade off between rousing dramas (The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya) and lighter fare (Amagi Brilliant Park).
And then there's Tatsuya Ishihara, who apparently just wants to see some bouncing boobs.
Like basically every Kyoto Animation show, Phantom World features a lush and well-defined color palette, lovely animation, and filmic tricks involving focus and depth of field most television anime never bother with. Unfortunately, basically all of these strengths are in this case being put to use in service of a textbook fantasy high school light novel adaptation, with all that implies. There's endless fantasy exposition, with the main character narrating all of his day-to-day events seemingly just because he likes the sound of his voice. There's winking nods to how self-aware this genre has become, from main character Haruhiko emphasizing his own “as we both know” exposition to him later remarking on how a boob grab situation is “just like a visual novel.” There's some wacky fights with spirit monsters (the monster designs are pretty much the only creative element of this episode), and there's the reveal that Haruhiko and his classmate Mai are, of course, the worst team at their school.
To accompany all this seen-it-every-season storytelling, Phantom World also throws in the most direct and consistent pile of fanservice Kyoto Animation has ever indulged in. The soft focus shots that normally are used to convey a sense of timelessness or emotional breathlessness are here used just to highlight girls’ soft lips. Mai herself seems primarily designed to facilitate fanservice, from her improbably bouncy figure to the way she's introduced boobs-first, in bloomers. And the narrative even finds ways to further emphasize the fanservice, with highlights including Mai's boob-groping magical rituals and the fact that this episode ends with a friggin’ limbo dance. If you're here for fanservice specifically, there is definitely a lot of it, but it sure makes the characters harder to take seriously.
As far as uninspired and fanservice-focused magical high school light novel adaptations go, Phantom World obviously has some things going for it. It's a Kyoto Animation show, so it's going to inherently look better than most things out there. Unfortunately, the sense of humor that usually elevates even their lesser works (Amagi Brilliant Park, for example) seems to be taking a vacation this time - most of the jokes here are of the same tired, basic style that you see in most light novel adaptations, from the pervy sidekick character to the self-aware commentary. And the plot doesn't really have any hooks yet, either; it's mostly just introducing characters so far. Even within this generally lousy genre, Phantom World doesn't really do much to distinguish itself outside of its visual style. If this were a different studio, this would just be a run-of-the-mill bad show; from Kyoto Animation, it's certainly a bit more of a letdown.
Review: Although Myriad Colors Phantom World is a novel adaptation, making too many assumptions about the series based on that fact might be dangerous. While its first episode does retain a fair amount of standard elements seen in light novel-derived content, it also puts in at least a bit of extra effort, too. That's what could ultimately make this series watchable.
Of course, it certainly doesn't hurt that this is a Kyoto Animation production helmed by Tatsuya Ishihara, the man behind quality adaptations like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya;, Love, Chunibyo, & other Delusions; and Sound! Euphonium. And boy, does its first episode look sharp! That extra richness of detail, depth, coloring, and quality control which has long been KyoAni's visual trademark is fully evident and the animation is remarkably robust; this is already an early candidate to be one of the season's best-looking shows. And, well, where else are you going to see limbo-dancing utility poles?
That kind of visual and narrative quirkiness looks like it might be as much the hallmark of the series as KyoAni's production values. Even more importantly, the writing actually feels like it's trying. Sure, you have high school students combating Phantoms for pay, but the nature of their abilities is quite a bit different from the norm. Haruhiko can seal Phantoms by drawing them, Reina can eat them by sucking them into her mouth like Miroku's Wind Tunnel in Inuyasha (and the way this is visually handled with her face distorting to pull off the trick is quite interestings), and Mai beats them into submission physically, though she also uses elemental powers based on touching relevant parts of her body; she places her hands over her chest to draw wind from her lungs or over her abdomen to draw water from her kidneys, for instance. The way the (very mild) fan service is handled also shows that someone was thinking about how it could be done differently, such as one somersault used to partly avoid a clichéd breast grab or the amusing way that the busty Mai uses her inherent disadvantage at limbo to get around a potentially electrifying situation.
The key to the series will probably be how personable the characters turn out to be. Usually that is a strength of KyoAni series, and this bunch does seem to be off to a decent start, although they have not distinguished themselves enough yet to stick out. Aside from integrating Koito (the headphones-wearing girl) into the group, the first episode also offers little evidence of where the plot might go. The visual quality and creativity shown so far, as well as some light touches of humor, are enough for me to give it the time to show its merits on the storytelling front, too.
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